Sunday, March 24, 2013

Busy Days

I've been busy, really busy.  Schoolwork, homework, studying, work, and volunteering is all part of my schedule.

Camera trapping never ceases though, as the cameras are hard at work as well.
Thanks to my girlfriend and fellow cam-trapper
for taking this picture and accompanying me this weekend.

I've been back and forth to my new camera trap sets in Leesburg, Virginia.  It gets really windy on some of Leesburg's hills and small mountains.

Autumn olive chokes the forests in these parts.  Although it is an invasive species, autumn olive does provide a lot of cover, and one thing you want in a forested area when hiding a camera-trap, is a great amount of cover.

Poison ivy is around here as well.  I can see the hairy stems, the spreading roots, and old growth of the plants.   It hasn't even grown leaves yet this year,  but that didn't stop it from leaving rashes on my body for the better part of last week.  Of course, there is no telling exactly where I got the poison ivy from since a great deal of my work, walks, and research is done outdoors.

The point is, is that poison ivy is nasty, and will still affect you even when it doesn't have its infamous "leaves of three".  Boots, jeans, long sleeves, hiking gaiters, and a shower afterwards are all necessary.

The good news though is that I have deployed a whole army of new cameras out and they are heavily covered and hidden in poison ivy patches where autumn olive also lives.

One of my newest camera trap sets has been at a fresh den site.  This den has three openings and seems well used.  Me and a few other people familiar with the area were wondering if it was a fox den or a groundhog's den.  We agreed to put a camera up and find out.

Turns out that it was indeed a fox den.  A pretty lookin' feral cat also came by.

There is a ridiculous amount of coyote scat located on the trail adjacent to the den.  There is also fox scat around as well, but the coyote scat is dramatically different in size.  It should only be a matter of time before a coyote gets curious or wants to take a whiff of the smell of the fox den.  During that time, I hope to get a picture of a coyote on this camera.

Also around here are many bluebird birdhouses lining meadows so they were flying all around. I also spotted an American Kestrel perched on a wire, and many vultures waiting for their next carrion meal.  All in all, camera trapping has been going well this week even though I personally have been very busy.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Missing Camera

A few months ago, one of my cameras went missing.  Now, I've had some cameras go "missing" before, but that has always ended up with retracing my footsteps and thinking more clearly until I find the place where I actually put the camera.

I looked at my GPS and walked around circles for a few minutes to locate the actual tree that my camera was placed on.  

Finally! I found the tree where I placed my camera but there was no camera on it.  In fact, the whole tree was knocked over.

Human tracks marked the area immediately around the tree.  Somebody had stolen my camera.  What makes this whole scene even more ridiculous is the fact that my cameras are locked around a tree with cables and locks. 

Of course, someone might be able to pick the lock or cut the cable, but not this criminal.  This person took out a saw, sawed the tree down, sawed the limbs off the tree, and then slipped the cable that my camera was on, right along the length of the tree.

How do I know exactly what this person did?  Well here's the thing. Other than the obvious human bootprints, the wrappers left at the scene, and the amount of sawdust under the tree, most of my camera sets are composed of 2 cameras, 3 cameras, or even 4 cameras!

These cameras are pointed at each other in opposing directions.  I've got some cameras that are in the holes of trees that even take me over 30 minutes to find.

This camera set actually had a few cameras at the set and around it that caught the action.

Now I'm not the one to investigate or accuse, but the picture below is of the only person that walked in this area (of 3 cameras) and was seen on other cameras with a saw as well.  Interesting. . . 

Even the local wildlife doesn't seem to steal my cameras, even though the deer get curious sometimes.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Scavenger Hawks

When there is fresh meat around, you never know exactly what animal will take the opportunity to eat some of it.

Red-tailed hawks have came by my cameras a lot to eat some of this fresh meat.  I've captured them eating  dead deer, as seen in Deer for Dinner: Food Fights.  

I captured this type of hawk recently again, but this time it was in Leesburg, Virginia.

The fields, meadows, and woods of Leesburg offer some prime hawk hunting grounds.  

Red-shouldered hawks, red-tailed hawks, cooper's hawks, broad-winged hawks, and sharp-shinned hawks populate the skies here. 

What really surprised me at this camera set though, was how quickly the hawk came in to eat after I set out the bait.  I placed the meat here at 3:08 PM as I had the camera rolling (as I realized when I got my picture taken doing so).  The first hawk picture (as seen above) was taken at 3:11 PM on the same day.

That's only 3 minutes!

What is even more surprising is knowing the fact that it took me at least 2 minutes to walk back to my car (located maybe 30 yards away), set my gear down, and pull out of the parking space.  If I was there for another 60 seconds, I may have been able to view this hungry hawk first-hand, but I didn't know it was there in the first place.

Friday, March 8, 2013

White-tailed Winters

White-tailed deer in northern Virginia are now just braving out the last few weeks of winter.  Loudoun County experienced snow storm just a few days ago.  Some parts of the county had a measly 3 inches, while the western stretches of the county saw around 10 inches of snow.

White-tailed deer don't seem to mind the snow and cold too much though.  Their winter coat is made up of hairs that are thicker than in summer.

These hairs are actually hollow.  Hollow hairs allow air to become trapped more easily within the deer's coat.  Once air becomes trapped, it quickly warms up due the great amount of body heat that the deer produces.

I've caught a lot of deer lately on my cameras at this location.  This camera is actually pointed at a fox den, but there is a deer trail adjacent to it.

Deer travel along this trail at least every 2 days and do basically the same thing every time in front of the camera.  They walk up with their noses pointed down, smelling the scents of other animals and for food.  When the camera makes a very quiet clicking noise, they bolt their necks up and move their heads and ears around to recognize any danger.

They then get curious to the camera, as cameras are not in their natural habitat.  They look at it with their bulging eyes for a few seconds and turn their heads one way or another.  Once they realize it is not dangerous to them, they put their heads down, sniff the ground, and walk away.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Deer Skull Questions

Once in a while, while camera-trapping, working, or walking, I'll stumble across the remains of an animal that has been long dead.

Usually it is deer that I find.  This one is an interesting of example that harbors so many questions to me.

First and foremost, how did this young buck die? Of course it could have been natural causes, but could it have been mortally wounded in a fight with another buck?  Was it the prey of another species of animal?  Did it get shot by a poacher who couldn't track the deer after shooting it?  Or, did it spend its last moments of life in a street as cars were speeding by, waiting for a chance to get to the other side?

Another question I am asking myself is, "how did the antlers form this way?"
Without DNA testing and other genetic tests, it is hard to tell what exactly caused the differentiation of the shape and size of the antlers.

Genetics is only one explanation of this anomaly though.  The young buck could have had other testosterone deficiencies that are not genetically related.  It could have also broken part of the shorter antler during the earliest periods of its growth, such as in a fight with another buck.  Maybe it tripped and fell as a fawn, making its antler indent a certain way.  It could have some kind of disease contracted from other deer, the environment, or even a genetic disease.

There are so many explanations to as why deer antlers may grow this way.  Just looking at the skull and antlers from all directions is an extremely difficult way to tell what caused this in the antlers.

One thing is sure though.  If this buck did have a genetic disease or problem, it is dead now.  Since it is dead, it can no longer pass these genes to potential offspring.  

Nature continues to take its course in northern Virginia.