25 February 2017

The Grey Buck Of Paarl

Dense vegetation is an important requirement for Cape Grysbok, and Paarl Mountain Nature Reserve overs plenty of very dense vegetation. It is no wonder that these secretive antelope like to call the reserve their home.

Cape Grysbok (Kaapse Grysbok - Raphicerus melanotis) at Paarl Mountain Nature Reserve

Cape Grysbok can be hard to see in person because of their secretive and nocturnal nature. They tend to hide in the dense vegetation and can go unnoticed, even when you get very close.

Luckily they are still fairly common around the greater Cape Town area and can even be found living close to human development. If you are lucky you can spot one crossing a road or darting for cover as you come around a bend.

Sneaking past the camera trap

Last year I was approached by a company that manufactures camera traps to test one of their new models. I received the camera trap late December and have been using it since then. The camera is the SecaCam HomeVista and the photograph below was take by it.

Young male Cape Grysbok with a very grey coat

I'm planning on doing a longer review of the camera trap at a later stage, but one of the things that stand out for me is the incredibly wide field of view. I'm sure it will be a blessing and a curse in the future.

I had the camera set to take a combination of photos and videos. The video clip below shows the restless youngster on a very windy summers day.


Video: Cape Grysbok walking through the boulders on a windy day

Only the rams have horns and this individual above seems to be still a fairly young male.

The Cape Grysbok is mostly active at night and about 65% of my camera trap observations have thus far been at night.

The white hair is much less visible in this wet female

They are solitary animals and scent mark their territory using the pre-orbital gland (in front of the eye). One of the cameras was lucky enough to catch a Cape Grysbok in the act of scent marking.

Cape Grysbok scent marking on the slopes at Paarl Mountain

The Cape Grysbok is endemic to South Africa and an iconic species of the dense vegetation along the coast and mountain ranges of the south and south-east.

02 February 2017

RIP BirdCam 2.0

It is time to retire yet another one of my camera traps, the BirdCam 2.0. This camera was a bit of a roller-coaster ride and true to its nature it took some great photographs just before finally breaking down completely.


Kaapse Klipklaasneus Cape Elephant Shrew Elephantulus edwardii
Cape Elephant Shrew (Kaapse Klipklaasneus - Elephantulus edwardii) camera trapped with the BirdCam 2.0 at Paarl Mountain Nature Reserve

The BirdCam 2.0 was my "small mammal specialist" camera trap. It wasn't very good as a conventional trail camera, but it was amazing when used to target small critters in a fixed area.

BirdCam 2.0 placed under a large boulder

The best thing about the camera, by far, was its white flash. It was simply amazing and could be used even at close range. The camera didn't have any autofocus capabilities, but the adjustable fixed focus helped.

The worst things about the camera must surely be the build quality and strange trigger speed. It simply wasn't as tough as other conventional trail cameras. For example the LED setup screen stopped working long ago. As a result, for the past few years I just turned the camera on and hoped for the best.

This is the third camera trap I'm retiring, and to be honest I have no idea what camera to replace it with... I'm not aware of any good white flash camera traps on the market, particularly ones that can be used to photograph small mammals... (Having color night photographs can help a lot with identification.)

Not perfect, but good enough

I'm really glad that the camera produced some decent photographs of the Cape Elephant Shrew before finally getting retired.

The Cape Elephant Shrew was one of the species at the top of my wish list for Paarl Mountain Nature Reserve, and I was thrilled when I saw one in person on my very first day at the reserve.

Cape Elephant Shrew sitting in a small hollow on top of a huge boulder

Despite their name the Cape Elephant Shrews are not a type of Shrew at all, nor are they a type of Rodent. They are in fact related to Golden Moles, Aardvarks, Dassies and even Elephants. These animals are all members of the Afrotheria, which represents a group of mammals that are associated with originating from the African continent.

As with the Golden Moles, the Elephant Shrews are still somewhat shrouded in mysterious, although fortunately to a lesser extent. For example, many sources claim that Elephant Shrews, in general, are diurnal, but other sources say the Cape Elephant Shrew is nocturnal. However, I've been camera trapping these little critters during the day and night, equally. I found one source that claimed they were crepuscular (preferring twilight), but that seems a bit off as well...

Activity pattern of Cape Elephant Shrew camera trapped, thus far, at Paarl Mountain

I suspect there is still much we can learn about these cute little guys.

21 January 2017

Spotted On Paarl Mountain

It is the middle of summer at Paarl Mountain Nature Reserve and the world is hot and dry.

Paarl Mountain Nature Reserve in January

I've been camera trapping here since August last year and the species list is still fairly small, only about 15 mammal species thus far...

The strangest part for me is that I've yet to photograph a single Caracal (Rooikat). At both Tygerberg and Koeberg the Caracal was one of the first species to get photographed.

To make things even stranger one of my camera traps recently photographed a Leopard, and still not a single Caracal!

The photograph was taken at 6:21 AM in the morning. The sun was already up, but there was still some early morning mist hanging around.

Leopard (Luiperd - Panthera pardus) photographed by a camera trap on Paarl Mountain

I've been seeing possible Leopard tracks and scat on the reserve since I started camera trapping and knew it would be only a matter of time before one was captured by a trail camera.

Even though the odds of encountering such an elusive animal in person is very small, it is great to know they are still around. I love how camera traps enable you to "see" things you would otherwise never be able to see in person.

The camera trap also captured a lot of Grysbok and Duiker at this location. I'm sure these small antelope also caught the attention of the Leopard.

A female Cape Grysbok (Kaapse Grysbok - Raphicerus melanotis) aka Leopard-Food

I didn't find many Grysbok at Tygerberg and Koeberg, but here at Paarl Mountain they seem to be quite common. I'm looking forward to see the total number of sightings increase over time. It will be interesting to compare the data of all the small antelope I've camera trapped in the greater Cape Town area (Duiker, Grysbok and Steenbok).

There are lots of interesting landscapes at Paarl Mountain Nature Reserve

PS.
Paarl Mountain is a popular reserve and is visited by many people on a regular bases. Now, before the masses go crazy about the Leopard, please remember the usual storie of "your life is not in danger, we don't have to kill the Leopard, your kids will survive, etc." apply. If anybody has any concerns then please contact the reserve manager. Remember how fortunate we are to have a member of the "big five" still roaming wild on our doorstep.