Wednesday, January 30, 2013

"How about any wild turkeys in your area?"

A few days ago I received an email from one of my readers** (we'll call her by her initials: J. H. in this blog),  regarding wild turkeys.  In it, she detailed that in her area wild turkey reintroducing had been an ongoing project and wondered if I had any around where I live.

The answer to her and any other readers is yes.  I've seen a few wild turkeys in Sterling and Great Falls alike.  I have also seen them off the Appalachian Trail as it borders Loudoun County, Virginia near Clarke County and also at the land adjacent to the Potomac River near Lowes Island in Virginia.

A camera that I had set up at the end of last year in Sterling, Va, captured one of these turkeys.

The odd thing about this turkey is that it is walking in a spot about 10 feet from the den of a red fox, a predator that could easily take advantage of this opportunity.

Another odd thing is that it is not in a flock.  Usually turkeys will travel in a small groups, especially during the colder months of the year.

Maybe this turkey got lost.  Maybe it is the only one that survived a series of attacks by predators.  Who knows, maybe the camera was triggered by more turkeys, but only snapped a picture of this one.

Wild turkeys feed mostly on small nuts and seeds (acorns, beechnuts, hickory nuts, and grass-grains) and small animals such as insects and slugs.

I believe that this turkey was feeding on a slugs because under just about every single leaf it walked on, lies a buffet of slugs.

Here is another picture from this site to show you where exactly the fox den is.

**A special thanks to blog reader, J. H. for providing me with a wealth of information and for inquiring about turkeys around where I camera trap.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

First Otter Pictures!

I was back at one of my favorite camera trapping sites after a few snowy days.  I checked the two cameras in a meadow and results were as I expected.  Deer, raccoons, and foxes came by a few nights in a row but then all pictures stopped suddenly a few days ago.

I'm assuming that the cold played a big part in this cease-firing of the cameras.  The temperatures in the past week have been very cold for northern Virginia. 17 degrees a few nights ago, to be exact, was the coldest I've seen it here so far this year.  That's clearly cold enough to freeze batteries for a few nights.

The good news however, was at another camera where river otters finally appeared.

These pictures are stills that I captured from a video.  They were only in front of the camera for a few quick seconds, so I thought a few pictures might be better than posting the video.

It took some hard work and patience to do this set correctly and it really paid off.  Hopefully I'll be able to keep my camera there in the spring when this resident otter couple might have some young.

As for now, I moved the camera a bit higher so that rising water levels don't have the chance to interfere with it.  Hopefully in a few weeks, I'll have even more pictures of otters to share with a slightly different view at the same site.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Thorns, Briers, and Brambles

Sometimes dense forest or ground cover leads you right into briars, brambles, and thorns of every shape and size you could imagine.  I seem to have mastered the art of getting stuck by these plants.

Like Velcro, some of these plants cling on for a ride of their life.  They slow me down, prick me, poke me, and frustrate me.

Here is a list of sorts of some of the plants that cling to my skin and clothes while walking in the woods to camera trap and hike.

Green brier.

One of the eastern United States’ most unforgiving briers.  This vine has the ability to grow high and hard.  Some other briers and brambles break or fall when you walk across them, but this one does not.  It secures itself with very hard, woody, green stems and thorns.

You can’t just walk past this one in hopes of “bushwhacking” through it.  Forget about a quick walk in the woods if you get entangled in a few feet of this.  What you might have thought would be a quick weekend outing, is now a challenge full of pricks.  If you’ve never had this experience,  try to compare it to getting a few thumbtacks embedded in your calves for a few seconds.

Multiflora rose.

One of the most beautiful flowering plants around but it packs a punch to your unprotected legs. It is a woody rose plant that grows all over.  Walking through this stuff without 7 pairs of wool socks, boots, 9 pairs of jeans, and 10 pairs of long underwear will get you into some outdoor prickly trouble.  Stay away!

Raspberry and Wineberry

“A fantastic edible plant with prickly consequences” is how I like to describe the raspberry plant to park visitors.  It can grow many stems and shoots that are full of hard spines (growing to around 7mm) and hair-like spines that are only a few millimeters long and are much softer.

The wineberry plant is usually red with some greens mixed in on its leaves and some stems. This is considered only a type of raspberry as it is in the genus, Rubus, that raspberries are also classified under.  Wineberry is easily confused with raspberry (a mistake that even I have made) but they both have nasty prick producing spines.

The raspberry plant is actually greener than wineberry and has spines that are less hair-like.
When walking through a plot of these in the woods, I tend to trek through at a fast pace so that they might brush past my clothes.  This plant painfully resembles modern-day Velcro but with a slightly sharper side-effect.

American Holly. 

This is not a hard one to spot or get out of, but still harbors some nasty spines.  American holly, one of America’s native trees and a symbol of Christmas traditions all over the world, can pack an unpredictable prick.

It’s delightful green leaves stick out like a sore thumb in the wintertime here in Virginia but even so, I somehow find myself amidst its prickly leaves a few times month.


An invasive species to Virginia that reminds me of American holly.  In the places I hike and camera trap, it usually grows a few woody stems straight up a few feet.  These stems are extremely tough to the touch and contain small branches with many leathery leaves.

The leaves are similar to American holly in that they are evergreen, leathery, and have spines lining the leaf.  Its leaves are a dark green color and will prick you if you try to step to the side of it, around it, or over it.  Cut its woody stems open, and you will be greeted with a fluorescent yellow color that a highlighter has a tough time competing with.

Autumn Olive.

This one is a real pest to everyone around.  It is not native at all to anywhere in Virginia but has established itself as one of the rest.  It is an invasive species that grows as a tree-like shrub, having many stems shooting upwards and eventually sideways.  It is a beautiful silver with silver-green leaves though.  Even though it may look pretty and provides great cover for birds, it is one of my most hated plants.

Autumn olive grows extremely dense in some parts of the woods that I camera trap in.  It goes up my jeans and in its later stages of live, grows centimeter long thorns around its many shoots.  The thorns have bark that very irritating to my skin and after a week of getting pricked by them, I can still feel exactly where they punctured me.

**A personal thanks to fellow park employee, Julie for catching an earlier mistake I made regarding raspberry vs. wineberry identification.  She has provided me with a lot of wildlife information and I can't wait to learn even more!

Monday, January 21, 2013

January Buck Battles

I haven't captured any images of fighting foxes since the last time I posted them, but the newest battle scene in the woods was that of the white-tailed deer.

Tempers start boiling just after 7 p.m. and won't stop until there is a clear winner.

Clearly in the first few pictures, you can see that there are only three bucks.  After some noise is made by clashing antlers and assumed grunting, another buck shows up at the scene and quickly joins in.

Then things take a turn and it becomes one buck against the other three.

He manages to defend himself against one of them,

and then there were three. . .

He beats that one too!

and then it was just the two of them. .

. . . and if you can believe it, he even beats that buck. 

That's a whole trio of rival bucks that he just fought against.  Here he is, fading into the background and almost onto the horizon as he exits the scene, just as you would see in an old Western film.  This is one tough buck that fought his hardest  for 10 minutes straight.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Bobcats in Fairfax County?

I'm going to go ahead and say it.  I believe there are bobcats living within Fairfax county.  I've got the trail cameras to use.  I've got the correct permissions and credentials. My plan is to find and identify the homes and roaming territories of your very own, Fairfax bobcats.

Believe it or not, Fairfax is home to these sly cats.  The bobcat (Lynx rufus) is native to these parts as detailed by the Virginia Dept. Of Game and Inland Fisheries website.

Did you know that Quantico Marine Base has had extensive research detailing their own bobcats? They've got the proof here!

  A bobcat seen in one area that I put a camera in might coincide with the time of another bobcat picture in another area. Eventually I hope to get enough pictures of bobcats to prove this method even though it is not entirely scientific.  There are many variables with this research that I am not covering and a ridiculous amount of errors that may occur, so this is more of a personal project (in conjunction with the parks) to see how many cats there are out there.

Also, I am hoping to recognize individual bobcats that appear in my pictures.  Once I do this, I hope to have somewhat of an answer as to how many (if there are) bobcats in these detailed areas.

Again, I follow all VDGIF rules and regulations, park regulations, and private property owners' rules.
I will not be scenting, baiting, harassing the animals (or their dens, homes, or young) to get these results.
I am trying to do this research in the least invasive way possible to the cats, you, me, the land, and other forms of wildlife.

Have you seen any bobcats in these areas?
Did you know that there are documented cases of bobcats here?

 I would love to hear from you about these sightings.

A Skunk Picture


Just adding to my "camera-trapped species" list with this stinker.  I see these guys all the time around my neighborhood.  It was only a matter of time before one would walk by one of my cameras.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Opossum Gets A Bite While Foxes Fight

Excitement continues at "The Downed Buck".  Foxes always seem to provide some interesting fighting photos at these carcasses.  This fight quickly turned into something else though as you will see in the following images.
Here we go.  Foxes meet once again at a dead deer carcass.  I blew the picture up so you could
more easily see the opossum (located in the middle-left of the picture) that is watching the action.

What could be going on here?
Did you expect this "fight" to end like this?  I didn't.
After a little canid copulation, it's back to some roughness.

All that opossum (Didelphis virginiana) wanted was some dinner, but he got a view that most humans would have to do a quick Google search for.

In previous posts, I detailed fox meetings at carcasses.  I wonder now if these foxes were actually mating with each other as well and that my cameras just didn't catch it.  It amazes me how much action and behavior   is possible to capture on night vision camera traps, but what is more amazing is how much we STILL do not see even with cameras taking multiple pictures with each trigger.  It's fun speculating these "between triggers" actions of animals.

I (as well as you might be) am getting a little tired of so many fox pictures.  I've gone through a few thousand of them in the past week alone and want something even more exciting.  I got a little excited though with a new camera-trapped species for me today.  

Skunk at my set for birds and squirrels in a very productive cam-trap site.
Mephitis mephitis came by one of my camera trap sets recently.  That's right, your very own, Virginia native, Striped skunk.  Striped skunks as you may or may not know are actually not quite yet in mating season.  They'll start in about a month or so and will start having their offspring around mid-May in northern Virginia.  So no, I do not have any skunk mating pictures to share just yet, but getting a new species today was just fine with me.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Mad Fox At "The Downed Buck"

I've been getting some good results at "The Downed Buck" lately.  So far I've logged and photographed black vultures (Coragyps atratus), red foxes (Vulpes vulpes), gray foxes (Urocyon cinereoargenteus), and a feral cat (Felis catus).  These results were as expected, as just about any foul carcass will bring in a wide diversity of carnivores and scavengers.

As stated in an earlier post, I put two cameras up at this site.  These cameras are best ones that I have used so far.  They are of course, Bushnell and Stealth Cam Brands.  The picture quality is fantastic so expect some great detail for trail cameras that are not of the home brew sort.

After eating some dead meat, this fox must have heard the camera's soft click as  it snapped and took a series of pictures.  

The fox didn't seem too happy and made a stance against the camera.  The camera didn't care though and went along taking pictures as usual.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

A Warm Winter's New Sets

It's been unseasonably warm this winter in Virginia.  We still have yet to see more than an inch of snow in my area which means the cross country skis are still hung up and animal tracks are still in mud instead of snow.  There is no reason to fret though because this winter has harbored some interesting sights in the natural world  for new places to camera trap.
 Here is a quick overview of some of my newest camera trap sets to look forward to:

  1. Dead deer again (I'll call this set, "The Downed Buck"). A different deer has died in the park! I stumbled across this deer only a few days after taking down the cameras at the other deer in the last post  It is also located not even 200 yards from where the other deer's bones lay.  A young buck most likely killed on the road by a car; he is now the centerpiece of two camera's field of views.  I placed a camera trap there and checked it the next day just to see what I got.  Red fox came by and that was it.  I can assume that there will be more foxes, raccoons, feral cats, and domestic dogs around the area.  Will a coyote come by to take a look?
  2. Squirrel and Bird Set #1.  Peanut butter and bird seed (both legal bait for birds in Virginia) have been placed to attract squirrels and birds alike.  My fellow employees and I have our fingers crossed that we will get some shots of a flying squirrel, but that could be too much of wishful thinking.
  3. River Den Set #1.  A seemingly promising location, this den has four entrances (2 of which are over 1 foot wide) and is only about 5 feet from the bank of the Potomac River in Riverbend Park in Fairfax County.  Fresh scat of a light gray-brown color and containing fish scales was found on a mound a few inches from an entrance.  Could it be the den of an otter, mink, or weasel? Will I get more camera trap images of another fox or raccoon? We'll see some results starting in a week or two.
  4. Meadow Set #4.   Deer and raccoons have came by in the first week already.  We're looking specifically for some carnivores here such as red foxes, gray foxes, bobcats, and coyotes.  I set up two cameras (one video, and one set for stills) at this location located on a game trail in Riverbend Park's famous meadow.
I am thrilled to have gotten the cameras up and running in these hopeful locations but I am specifically excited to see the results of the new sets in Riverbend Park (River Den Set #1 and Meadow Set #4).
Some self-proclaimed "exterior decorating"  at  River Den Set #1 in Riverbend Park, Fairfax  County

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Deer for Dinner: Food Fights

Even red-tailed hawks couldn't pass up the opportunity to check out some free venison. 

While camera trapping,  I am always on the lookout for new game trails, dens, scrapes or sights, but there is almost nothing more valuable to a camera trapper than a carcass.  Carcasses are a surefire way to see what carnivores are around the area and who is hungry in the woods.

 This deer was no exception. Gray foxes, red foxes, feral cats, hawks, and raccoons all came to pay respects to their lost member of the wild, and to devour her guts.  

The "Food Fights" at this site were intensive standoffs between species.  Fox vs. fox became really interesting with foxes always standing up to bat each other's paws like kittens.  

Feral cat vs. fox even surprised me.  Obviously a fox can easily put a cat in its place, but this cat was persistent to the goal of scoring some food.  The cat and fox circled around the deer for over 3 minutes before lunging at one another.  One lunge was all it took though for the cat to realize it was no match for a dog relative.

Raccoons vs. foxes were quite intense.  Every time there was more than a single raccoon already at the deer,        foxes would take a few extra minutes to sniff out and check the scene more closely.  The two different animals battled at least 4 times in 13 days.
The foxes were victorious in 3 out of the 4 battles.

The dead deer was a productive site with 2 placed cameras and over 3,000 pictures in a period of 2 weeks. It's all skin and bones now but this site is my favorite camera trap site so far.