Like any good story, our day began with a dark and foggy morning…! The crew has decided we can meet at 8am going forward until the warm weather comes.  While early starts are always good, we’ll start an hour later so we’re driving in daylight during the darker winter months and we will still plan to be off the remote pond areas on the Preserve by 10am.

The migratory waterfowl who spend their days on those ponds usually loaf and forage in the morning and we don’t want to spook them into flight unnecessarily.  Every time a crane, heron, egret, duck, swan or goose goes airborne in alarm, they’re expending incredible amounts of hard-gotten energy without cause as we are just passing by.

In the Field

Several days after a rain like we just had is a pretty dramatic time to be out on the Preserve.  The water levels can flood up pretty quickly, cutting off access to our trail cameras and causing wildlife to consider other travel routes, and then drain off again in an amazingly short amount of time.  This is because there hasn’t been much rain yet this season so the ground is still getting saturated and groundwater aquifers are still recharging.  When we get farther into the rainy season, we’ll see more sustained flooding that will take longer to run off.

Crew members Patrick, Kristin and Rick changing SD cards and checking camera operations. Erin Hauge

But for today, we were able to reach all the cameras and see the difference with the two we weren’t able to access last week because of the high waters. Here’s an interesting comparison at the same camera site – flood up and receding water – with deer!

Flooded up near one of our cameras and deer are wading through several inches of water. Courtesy of Bureau of Land Management


About 24 hours later, the same location is drying out with the water receding back into the the ponds. Courtesy of Bureau of Land Management

And here’s a great series of photos from one of our camera sites that flooded that shows how fast the water level was changing.  All of these photos were taken within a little over a 24-hour period!

Notice the variety of wildlife that moves by this camera and see how quickly beavers come out to help manage flooded wetlands.  Beavers are a keystone species for wetlands and help control flooding, assist with water filtration and provide lots of habitat for important native species.

A Striped skunk walking along the road we usually take to get to this camera. Courtesy of Bureau of Land Management


The skunk’s back! And the water’s up! Courtesy of Bureau of Land Management


A raccoon family spent some time wading back and forth in the flooded road area! Courtesy of Bureau of Land Management


The water’s really up now and the beaver’s out, coming to inspect the newly wet situation! Courtesy of Bureau of Land Management


Water even higher! And Beaver’s still afoot. Courtesy of Bureau of Land Management


This Great Blue Heron looks kind of pleased with his or her new wading pool! And our camera is officially inaccessible. Courtesy of Bureau of Land Management

Four days ago, the flooding seen above prevented us from reaching this camera, but this morning, the water had receded significantly and while there was still flooding and lots of mud, the water was low enough that we could get to all cameras.

With more rain predicted later this week, we may have access issues again next week but we’ll keep an eye on the discharge rate up in the foothills and that will give us about a 24-hour notice to pull cameras should that become necessary.  We’ve assembled an emergency response short list of crew members who will be able to activate either same day or early the following morning so we’re ready to retrieve cameras if the water rises too high.

We came across a beaver dam next to the other flooded road that made a second camera inaccessible last week.  The dam was holding the water back off the road fortuitously so we could pass!  If the dam hadn’t been there, there would likely have been water still running across that road.  The water that’s being held back in the north part of the slough is busy recharging groundwater and providing more habitat for aquatic species!  Beavers are amazing, both for what they can do and for how fast they can work!

Typical beaver chew markings. You can see the tooth grooves on the right side of the fresh cut. Erin Hauge


Head on shot of the beaver dam. That’s a lot of work in just under 4 days! Erin Haugefresh cut. Erin Hauge


The beaver dam is holding water in the north slough, making the road passable so we were able to reach our camera. Erin Hauge

Our second crew was out on the other camera route and visited the low flow dam and they got quite a surprise when they got there! The water is definitely on the rise in the Cosumnes River but there was a huge tree that had been carried downstream by the incredible force of the flowing water and then dropped on top of the low flow dam! It was quite a sight. Our crew has alerted Preserve staff so that the necessary actions can be taken to deal with this large deadfall resting with it’s entire water-logged weight on the concrete low flow.

Water-logged deadfall resting directly on the low flow dam across the Cosumnes River. Courtesy of Richard Larson

The crew also stood next to the Cosumnes River near one of our cameras on a game trail there and we can see that it’s rising! In the background of these photos you can see there’s a swirling current of action in the river as the water flows down from the foothills, out to the Delta and then to the sea.

Crew members Chris and Elizabeth take a look at the rising river! Courtesy of Richard Larson


Crew member Richard in the field! Courtesy of Richard Larson

We came across some clear bobcat scratch on the muddy road and we got down on hands and knees (yes, in the mud and muck!) to see if we could sniff out bobcat urine that would identify this as a territory mark. These scratch marks are very clear and made with what looks to be sharp, smaller claws, not blunt, thicker scratch, as a coyote’s claws would make. We didn’t smell anything and saw no scat, however we can be pretty certain that this bobcat was marking territory on the road there by leaving the visual clue of the scratch and the discreet scent from his or her scent glands located on their paws. While indiscernible to us, we know that other bobcats were getting some important intel from that scratch set.

We think this is bobcat scratch! While we saw no scat or detected urine, bobcats leave indiscernible scent with their scratches that gives information to other bobcats. Erin Hauge

We checked our new telephone pole camera but didn’t have any photos except photos of our crew from our set up and first check.  Oh well….We try to be careful about getting ourselves on the cameras because it just uses valuable card space but sometimes we get a little series of selfies and action shots of the crew at work!

However, it looked like there was fresh scratch on telephone pole, just about 6 feet high.  These scratch marks had wood slivers about an inch long that were peeled downward, as though a cat had been scratching.  And we found lots of wood peels at the bottom of the pole as well, indicating there’s been activity of some kind.  We set the camera and will take a look next week.  It’s important that we don’t spend too much time at the pole, touching it or clearing brush because that just leaves our human scent.  But we have to take a little time to check the pole each week for wildlife sign nearby and for fresh activity on the pole.

This fresh scratch activity is about 6 feet high. You can see the wood peels pulled downward, as though a cat was using a scratching post. Erin Hauge


The fresh wood peels on the ground at the foot of the pole. Most of these could be from the buck rubs that occur at about 2 to 4 feet high on the pole. There was fresh buck rub activity as well as the much higher and unusual scratch activity. Erin Hauge


Crew member Kristin held her hand just to the left of what looks like four claw-like imprints, as though a large cat was grasping the pole. If that’s so, this would be the mark of a mountain lion. Erin Hauge

As we headed back to the Visitor Center to check the SD cards we loaded up next to a large machine shed, a building that houses tractors. The walk-through entrance door was hanging open so we went over to check it out as that should have been closed. When we stepped into the high, cavernous building we saw a barn owl, panicked and flying around and around the building trying to find a way out. There were no windows we could open and the regular door was too narrow for his or her large wing span to straddle the doorway to fly out.

A stock photo of a barn owl. The background wall is similar to the machine building where we saw our barn owl flying. Pexels Freephoto

Another barn owl had flown off as we originally approached the building so we figure they may be a pair and the second owl outside may have been waiting for the trapped one. Barn owls mate for life. They will often perch in the rafters of pole barns, and lofts and any enclosed dark areas that are accessible during the day and then come out at night to hunt for mice, rabbits and other small animals.

Our awesome crew were barn owl heroes!  We went back to take a look and see if we could raise the large garage-style door to let the owl out and found that it was possible to hoist the huge door up by the chain mechanism.  As the door was slowly raised, several of our crew stood outside with cameras ready to take a picture of the owl flying to freedom.  What you see below is the very end of the owl’s tail feathers!  As soon as the garage door was high enough, the beautiful owl made a dash and flew out and away to perch in a large oak tree not far away.

A good ending for this barn owl and a good day for the crew!

The garage door was still being raised, the barn owl flew out, and in the yellow square to the middle left you can just see the barn owl’s tail, hightailing it away from that machine garage! Erin Hauge


A stock photo of a barn owl that gives an idea of their wingspan. There’s no way this owl could have flown out the little doorway on the right side of the garage door above.

Mystery Photos

Look at these photos to see what’s going on and then meet the subjects below!

Mystery Photo 1: Long, tawny back bone. Whoever it is, they look well fed. Courtesy of Bureau of Land Management


Mystery Photo 2: This one might be easy. Look for clues at the tail end on the left. Courtesy of Bureau of Land Management


Mystery Photo 3: Hmmmm, another easy one but it might call for a double-take until you notice all the details! Courtesy of Bureau of Land Management

Meet the Crew

Our amazing crew is out in the field looking for mountain lions and other wildlife rain or shine!

Meet Elizabeth Claramo, CRP Volunteer Naturalist and Citizen Scientist

Crew member Elizabeth Claramo

“I am always impressed by the dedication of the Mountain Lion Study crew and their passion for wildlife.  It doesn’t matter what the weather is like when we go out to check cameras, the enthusiasm is high and it’s so easy to get caught up in the excitement that maybe this will be the day we get a shot of the elusive mountain lion at the Preserve.  The amazing thing is that no one ever gives up or is disappointed but continue to look forward to the next time.  Being part of the team is an amazing adventure for me and I find it just as exciting to see on camera the wildlife that reside on the Preserve.  It is so refreshing to work with and be a part of an amazing crew.”

Mystery Photos Revealed

Mystery Photo 1 Answer: It’s a doe, it’s a deer! Courtesy of Bureau of Land Management


Mystery Photo 2 Answer: A passing buck gives himself a mega-selfie! In Mystery Photo 2 up above, you can see that his tail end has a bit of white and seems to end abruptly. It doesn’t look like there’s a long cat tail attached. Courtesy of Bureau of Land Management


Mystery Photo 3 Answer: A young spike buck but the angle of the photo is very interesting until you notice his spike! Courtesy of Bureau of Land Management

Critter Camera Captures

River otter runnin’! Courtesy of Bureau of Land Management


Wet does – note their wet coats. Likely they had to swim part of their regular route because of the recent flooding. Courtesy of Bureau of Land Management


Bobcat out in the rain – looks like a young one. Courtesy of Bureau of Land Management


Coyote listening…. Courtesy of Bureau of Land Management


Group of does. Notice how they’re all standing at different angles, attentive to different directions. This is a defensive action where they take in all the information about their surroundings. A mountain lion would choose to ambush what they perceived to be the most vulnerable individual and the rest would scatter to safety. It’s still a dangerous bet for a mountain lion when they choose an individual from a healthy-looking herd like this. Courtesy of Bureau of Land Management


Great blue heron hunting on the water surge of a remote Preserve roadway. Courtesy of Bureau of Land Management


It Was a Dark and Foggy Morning….

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