The Preserve was peaceful and quiet in the early morning fog. It’s funny how the thick moisture in the air dampens sound and makes everything feel silent and timeless. We gathered before 7am and headed out to see who moseyed by the cameras during the previous week.
In the Field
We had enough folks for three teams today so it made for fewer cameras on everyone’s route and left more time to explore and take in the ethereal beauty of the morning. The first team had several cameras on the Inner route that took them out to an open savannah area ruled by an ancient oak tree standing sentinel. We know they were having fun because they made time for a beautiful photo – crew member, car and wise, old oak tree!
Our second crew took the Outer route and made sure to stop by and check out our old friend, the low flow dam on the Cosumnes River. There are still lots of wildlife tracks there on the riverbank and the crew reported that the water is receding a bit. If we continue to have dry weather with no rain, we may be able to walk across the low flow again soon and that means wildlife will have that travel route back also, between the old oak forest and the open spaces to the south.
While the crew was out there they took the time to examine tracks on the bank of the river and speculate on what kind of wildlife activity might be going on at the location.
The third crew took several cameras on the Inner route and went out to a remote old growth oak forest. We were anxious to check the new position of the scratching post camera that’s out that way and see what kind of wildlife activity we got.
One of the things we pay attention to is how different species will show up on different cameras at different times of year. This has been true for the duration of the camera study, begun in 2014. For instance deer use different areas of the Preserve based on the season, available resources, temperature and there may be some motivation for movement from predator activity – coyotes, bobcats and mountain lions.
Coyotes are both solitary and pack hunters and when a pack family is moving together, they can take down a deer in a group effort. Coyotes mainly hunt for mice and other rodents, rabbits and other small mammals and birds but they’re opportunists. And while deer aren’t bobcats’ main prey, bobcats are known to ambush deer when they’re bedded down and fawns are easy prey as well. Bobcats prefer rabbits, of which we’re seeing quite a few of on the cameras these days. Also lots of squirrels, another tasty morsel for both bobcats and coyotes.
We got some excellent images of bobcats on one of our cameras this week. The images may even indicate that there’s more than one in the area.
As we walked through the oak forest, the fog hung heavy and persisted into mid-morning. It’s hard not to imagine that we might see a velociraptor stroll out onto the roadway, giving us the lizard eye while deciding what to do with us!
The scratching post had some good activity this week but no mountain lion. Several bucks and a trio of does, along with a raccoon came out of the woods just behind the scratching post and out onto the roadway where the camera is. This tells us what we had suspected – that there are lots of game trails through the woods behind the scratching post and animals are using them.
There was also fresh buck antler scratch on the post but the high ‘cat’ scratches at about 6 feet had not been touched or altered since last week.
While we didn’t see any deer, there is clearly lots of deer activity in this area. We saw buck tracks, usually easily discernible in mud and sand during rutting season especially because the hoof splays broadly under the weight of antlers and increased body mass for the competition of the rut.
Since does generally don’t weigh as much as bucks, their tracks don’t tend to cut as deep into the substrate, especially when the ground is a little harder. We got a great view of a ‘deer highway,’ lots of tracks. It looks like mainly doe activity but we got a buck on this camera as well so we know they’re in the area.
Next week we’ll be out there again and who knows what we’ll see? The important thing is to never give up. Looking for lions means watching the Preserve, observing the changes and the wildlife movement, and keeping those cameras firing away!
Mountain Lion 411
While we, the CRP volunteer lion camera project team, know that mountain lions are very elusive and that we’d be extremely fortunate to actually see one on the Preserve, we are always on the lookout for tracks, scat and sign that would indicate possible lion presence. We know mountain lions attempt to disperse using the Central Valley, that historically this has always been their habitat, and that they do pass through from time to time. But timing is everything. Well, almost everything. Remaining vigilant and observant to lion sign is also a big, big part of that everything!
The Mountain Lion Foundation posts an informative article on what to look for when in lion country. And may YOU, dear reader, be fortunate enough to one day find large tracks or maybe a scratch pile, and feel the primordial presence of a mighty apex predator! You might never see him or her, but knowing they’re there reaffirms the wild to which we all belong.
“Sign: Evidence of a Lion’s Presence” – http://mountainlion.org/featurearticlesign.asp
View from the Trail
With Spring just around the corner, that means great hiking weather is fast approaching, too! Be sure to put the Cosumnes River Preserve on your list of local ‘to do’ hikes! Just 20 miles from Sacramento and even closer to Elk Grove, Galt, Lodi, Wilton and Herald, it’s practically right here in our own backyard and too great a public resource to miss out on!
Just a few simple guidelines exist, including staying on designated trails and no dogs or other pets allowed because the Preserve is wildlife habitat, meant for native animals to exist and thrive in peace. Even dogs on leash can threaten wildlife through smells and barking. The Preserve has a list of nearby parks and open spaces that are dog-friendly and CRP volunteer naturalists will be happy to share the info!
Plan to bring water, snacks, sunscreen, a hat and your camera and enjoy the beautiful vistas and great photo opportunities! See you on the Preserve!
Critter Camera Captures