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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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!
Look at these photos to see what’s going on and then meet the subjects below!
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
“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
Critter Camera Captures