The Preserve was covered in an early morning sea of mist and we watched as the sun rose and illuminated the tiny water droplets swirling around us. Ground mist even swirled out along the roadway as we passed ducks and coots quietly moving through the ponds on either side of the road.
We knew this might be an abbreviated camera check day due to last week’s heavy, steady rains and we weren’t disappointed about that! And actually, we were able to drive out pretty close to our first camera destination but we did walk in the last bit as the road was just too muddy. The sun was highlighting the rising ground mist as we walked beside a big oak forest and we stopped to appreciate the beauty of the scene. Even the cattails stood at attention as the sun warmed the ground around us!
In the Field
Our crews were ready to go today, and all smiles! A clear, beautiful morning in the Preserve’s misty fields and forests – what more could we want? Rubber boots, of course, so we beclad our feet in rubber and were instantly ready to wade!
The water had come down a bit on the Preserve but it was still high and blocked our access to some of the cameras but that didn’t stop us from trying! Both teams got ‘into the water’ in order to get cameras – both teams found that the water just got too deep for knee boots and we had to turn back for this week.
And it looks like one of our cameras may have been submerged over the last few days, as it was on a T-post at about 3.5 feet high, next to a field below the roadway. We could see the water level wet marks on surrounding trees, indicating the water would have been high enough to cover the camera for a brief time. Maybe briefly, but enough to destroy the camera most likely. These cameras are water resistant, but not water proof. We’ll try drying the camera out when we can get to it and see if it’s salvageable.
At one of our camera stops there’s a wide savannah grassland area next to an oak forest that’s frequented by coyotes hunting mice and also deer and other wildlife. Well, this was underwater today and we didn’t get anywhere close to the cameras down the road here, as the road was underwater! As the ground becomes saturated, run-off and flooding increase in these areas that are usually dry. The flooding tends to recede pretty quickly but we could be seeing higher water levels again this week with the rainfall that’s projected.
At another camera we were able to reach, just around the bend in the road there was water racing across the track and into a forest of young oak trees. It was amazing to stand there and see this natural flooding that is good for young oak trees. The intense water saturation will draw their roots deep into the ground towards accessible groundwater that can then sustain the trees as they mature during long, dry summers and in times of drought.
As we were taking in the water levels in the fields, crew member Duane spotted a bald eagle flying in a direct and purposeful way across the savannah area and we noticed he or she was carrying something. Upon closer inspection through a photo, we saw there were branches in the eagle’s talons! This bird was taking nest material back to a nest site! This means there’s a mating pair of bald eagles living on the Preserve! Bald eagles mate for life and both the male and female will help build the nest and this can take a few months. Incubation period for bald eagle eggs is about 35 days and both the male and female will spend time brooding on the eggs.
If you’re lucky enough to see a bald eagle pair in a cartwheel, or ‘death spiral’ courtship display, you’ll never forget it. Both the male and female will fly up to a high altitude, lock talons and tumble towards the earth, breaking apart at the last moment to avoid impact. As you might guess, this breathtaking and dangerous display is all about determining the fitness of a potential mate. Resource: https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Bald_Eagle/lifehistory
We also saw our old friend Coyote out in a field, moving between the hedgerows. As we drove near, she moved away but stopped to look back repeatedly as coyotes will do. She watched crew member Chris moving along the roadway to get a better view of her, and she had her eyes on the car as well, parked farther back on the road. She stopped and watched us all for several minutes before turning and disappearing behind a hedgerow.
We were treated to the agitated attention of a marsh wren as we walked along a roadway between two fields. He sat in the cattails at the side of the road and was quite vocal in a mesmerizing series of bubbling, trilling and ratchety type calls. We marveled at the variety of his vocalizations as he moved up and down the cattail stalks, observing us and vocalizing. It’s interesting to see how marsh wrens grasp the cattails to stabilize themselves by putting one leg on one stalk and spred-eagling the other leg over to another stalk!
We saw some great tracks out there including deer, otter, raccoon, coyote and bobcat. Bobcats are ambush predators and tend to walk heavier in the back of their tracks whereas coyotes are coursing predators and can tend to weigh forward into the toes of their tracks as they propel forward quickly. The baseline gait of a coyote is a trot. In perfect substrate, you’ll get nice clear tracks that register all toes and the heel pad nicely. In more compact or harder substrate, you may get only partial registers and it’s interesting to notice the differences.
And here’s a fun track that gave us a double take. At first glance it looks like two side twos and two big pads. Can you guess who made this track and which directions they’re traveling?
What is this we’ve captured on camera?
Well, we just had to do it! Crew member Chris wore her cool lion hat so we could finally get a ‘lion’ on camera! That’s whose in the photo above!
Since the Cosumnes River Preserve’s mountain lion camera project is coming to an end at the end of March 2018 we thought it would be fitting to get at least one large feline caught…..on camera!
Behind the scenes –
We ended the day with grins – a happy crew and a bunch of lions.
Critter Camera Captures