Thursday, February 26, 2015

Tracking Wildlife Through Social Media

Facebook, Twitter, and all the rest of them have a place in the lives of everyone who uses them. From the completely addicted Facebook user, to the Weekend Twitter Warrior, everyone seems to be connected with them these days.  I was thinking about this a few days ago and was going through my head to classify myself or put myself under the category of some kind of social media demographic.

I never found out the real answer to my own question, but I did realize that my Facebook usage is unlike most people's.  I use Facebook and Twitter to track wildlife.  I do it all the time by just being connected.

Facebook has "Groups" and "Pages" for those of you who are unfamiliar with the website.  You can join these groups and see exactly what people post to the public.  Groups range from hobbyist groups, to family groups, and even classmates in a specific college class or study groups.  Pages are a bit different, but with a similar concept.  We'll leave pages for another day.

Black bear reported to the public on Facebook
What intrigues me though, are Facebook groups that cover people of a certain geographic area. Homeowners associations and neighborhood watch groups are a perfect place for a bit of interesting wildlife tracking.

People post all kinds of important information on the whereabouts of all sorts of species.  Most posts regarding wildlife have to do with what comes up to bird feeders, "too many deer", red fox appearances, and the occasional coyote post from around the area.  Once in a while black bears and bobcats are talked about, and very rarely, someone will post something about a mountain lion.

All of these sightings are important to me.  It helps me out with my trail camera surveys and gives me an opportunity to talk to private property owners about what is really around here.  What usually happens in situations where I see people posting about wildlife sightings, is that I will comment that I'm interested and take it from there.  Sometimes this leads to me trusting the people enough to get the chance at putting up a trail camera on  their property.

I find it fascinating to not only see what people see, but also to see what they completely miss.  It's incredible how many animals seem to "go under the radar" of lots of people.  I have known about bears, bobcats, and whole packs of coyotes that visit people's yards.  Some visit almost every single night, and people never even know.

A good way to skip through posts not having to deal with wildlife is to go on the specific Facebook group and hit the "search" bar up top.  I type in words such as "coyote", "bear", and "wildlife" and all kinds of stuff may come up.  This is usually done once a week on my areas' that I cover on wildlife sightings and trail cameras.  It is something that is free and doesn't take much time at all.  For those two reasons, it is well worth it for me to do this.

A large portion of the work I do covers sightings and opportunities that come directly from my bosses in the parks and wildlife careers.  Tracking wildlife through social media is an opportunity that takes me off the beaten path of professional animal sightings and is a whole "science" in itself.  It's amazing.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Where the Bear Was

Ed Felker joined me on a short hike to track a bear through the woods yesterday.  Ed is another outdoor blogger with a great site at http://dispatchesfromthepotomac.com/ .  He's got some amazing pictures and a fantastic way of writing about what he sees. We've been conversing about hunting stories, coyote sightings, and hikes lately, so it was only fitting that we'd get the chance to meet up on the trail. We pussyfooted around logs and dense brush, while throwing in all sorts of outdoorsmen lingo to make it a great day.

I took him directly to where a nice black bear was frequenting in Loudoun County, Virginia.  In some spots, 4-6 inches of snow was still on the ground.  With the extremely cold temps that we've been experiencing lately, the fresh tracks barely melted away at all.  The definitions of toe pads, palm pads, and even claws were incredibly preserved.

Pictures and measurements were taken.

I'll share this one, but if you want to see more, check out Ed's blog post about it here: Bear Tracks.

Black bear tracks in Sterling, Virginia.










Sunday, February 15, 2015

Bears and Batteries

When the cold sets in like it is right now, most of my camera traps don't work.  This happens for various reasons, but mostly because some kinds of batteries tend to freeze up a bit and the fact the even the camera's internal electronics get frozen if there's a trace of moisture inside of them.

Regardless, they usually kick right back in when there's a bit of a thaw.  For now though, it's just a sort of waiting game until the batteries continue to work again.

In other Northern Virginia wildlife news, there has been a huge increase in the amount of bear related sightings, emails, and inquiries to me in the past two weeks.

Mostly, this has happened in Loudoun County, specifically Potomac Falls, Sterling, Lowes Island, Cascades, and the Great Falls Forest neighborhoods.  So here's a little bear information for everyone.

Whether or not this is the same bear as what people have been asking about, is still a bit of a mystery to me.  Either way, it's exciting to see bears roaming around.

I caught one of them on a camera trap recently.   Take a look!




In typical "bear fashion", it came near the camera, sniffed around, got a bit curious, and went on as usual.  That's what I like to see though.  The bear just seemed to get curious about the camera, my human scent, and whatever I touched.   There was no food put down.  In this way, the bear was never rewarded for just coming by and there was barely (bearly?) any human interaction other than a trail camera being around.   Feeding this bear would not only have been illegal, but also wrong on many levels.   Doing so may have led to unhealthy behaviors and unwanted human/wildlife interactions.

It didn't just leave pictures though.  It left some scat in a very obvious place, and I had to take a picture to send to various naturalists and biologists to identify.

There's no doubt in my mind that this is bear scat.  It's large (over 8 inches long with a large mass), not human-like, seems to contain seed/nuts, and is the biggest piece of s*** that I've seen in this general area in a long time.  I've seen dog, human, coyote, and various other scats around, but nothing really compares to this one in Sterling.


So why is there a dollar bill in the picture?  Well, a dollar bill, in a pinch can act as a sort of ruler or object to compare to.  Other people may use knives, pens, and their shoes, but I like to use dollar bills.  They are almost exactly 6 inches long and when you don't have an actual ruler, they can easily be used as a measuring tool.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Northern Virginia Coyotes: Part II

Fairfax County coyote.  Photo Courtesy:  Renee Grebe
Last month, this blog got a lot of views from a post titled "Northern Virginia Coyotes", and from that, a lot of people contacted me and inquired about coyotes.  I was astonished at how many people have seen them around here, and learned a lot from discussing all things canines with them.

Fellow bloggers, naturalists, wildlifers, Facebook friends, and other hunters have sent me what they've seen.
Some of them have agreed to allow me to post their information and images onto here, which I greatly appreciate.  

Let's take a look some photos others have gotten around here.  First and foremost, direct your attention to the picture above at the top of this blog post.  This was taken by Renee Grebe.  Renee Grebe is an avid wildlife enthusiast in Northern Virginia and has taken some amazing photos of coyotes in the immediate Washington D.C. metropolitan area.  Amazing!

Below are more pictures from Renee and other people, some I've worked with doing trail cameras on their properties, others who I have just gotten in contact with.  I hope you all enjoy these as much as I do, as they are purely from in or around D.C.'s infamous beltway traffic.

Here's one from Sterling, Virginia right at Cascades Parkway.

That above picture has a coyote that may be suffering from mange.  It looks a bit skinny and possibly missing fur.

Below are some trail camera picture's from a property in Prince William County last month. 


Below these is one from one of my buddies named Cameron.  I've got trail cameras on his property, and he has agreed to let me use some of his trail camera pictures as well.  It's much appreciated, and I'm always glad to do small deals like that.

...and of course, another one of Renee's phenomenal coyote pictures.
Coyote sitting in Fairfax, Virginia.  Look at that face!  Photo Courtesty:  Renee Grebe
As for me though, I've also been getting some good coyote pictures lately.  Below are a few that I just got last night.


It doesn't just end here though with photographs for research.  There's a project that I have just recently gotten involved in with Princeton University and various parks departments and authorities around here.  
Doing some coyote sampling for the genetics projects.
We're collecting samples to send away to have various northern Virginia coyotes tested and determined for wolf and dog genetics.

I'm very excited to be part of the collection of this research and am curious to where the project will take us.

As always, if you know of any coyotes around, let me know by commenting below so that they may be added to camera-trap research or other survey projects.


Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Antler Shedding

It's that time of year again for our white-tailed deer.  The bucks are starting to shed their antlers and they are available for mice to chew on, for dogs to play with, and for some of us to collect.

So why do antlers drop in January, February, and March?  Well, to answer that question, we've got to think back to the previous year.

In late October, most of November, and early December the deer here are in rut.  This means that they capable of mating with females.  Antlers are used to display dominance and to fight off other bucks that may provide competition to the mating "rights" of a group of does.

The rut ends before the New Year starts and the antlers become less of a necessity for bucks.  Since they take extra energy to grow and walk around with, deer shed or drop their antlers to save energy and because they really aren't needed any more.

New antlers begin to grow and the process is repeated, year after year.

It's legal in Virginia to collect them and possess them (as long as you have landowner permission to do so), so I always like to find a few to collect.  Maybe I'll even make some new knife handles again this year

There is an importance to leave some for the animals though.  Mice, squirrels, and other rodents chew on antlers to sharpen their teeth and to gain important vitamins and minerals that can become extremely scarce in the winter from their regular food sources.

Monday, January 26, 2015

White Legs in 2015

White Legs is still alive and seems well in 2015.  The familiar face and white legs on this red fox are always a welcomed sight.

Red foxes are in their mating season right now in Virginia.  Their normal mating season here occurs in mostly January and February.  Will White Legs be the proud parent of another piebald red fox?


Friday, January 16, 2015

Snow Day Cold Case

It's a sort of "Whodunnit?" and most definitely still a cold case.

I doubt  that you would find this story in the mystery section of a bookstore though.

The victim was a mourning dove, whose feathers were sprawled over the freshly fallen snow on a property in Leesburg.

I discovered the scene while doing some animal tracking and of course, camera-trapping last week.

The mourning dove was probably picked off by bird, as there were no other tracks in the snow.

This could most likely rule our foxes, raccoons, bobcats, and coyotes, but who knows for sure.  Top suspects could be hawks, owls, or falcons.  I wish I had recorded the acrobatics of a bird of prey taking down this bird, but I was there a few hours too late.  Oh well.

As always, it's a fight to stay alive for wildlife, and in winter, things get even tougher.