17 December 2009

It all started in the Magaliesberg

The Magaliesberg
I got my first camera while still living in Johannesburg (as a present from my wife). Our family has a small holiday house in the Magaliesberg at a place called Utopia (next to Mountain Sanctuary Park). We had some great times there and I miss it A LOT (after we moved down to Cape Town). Unfortunately my parent also moved to the Eastern Cape during the same time and now almost nobody ever goes there anymore. We'll probably have to sell it sometime soon :(
During the first visit with my camera I set it up next to the house to test the camera out. I had no way of viewing the images while we there and had to wait until we got back home in Jo'burg before I could download them. Below are some of the images I got:
Tree Squirrels (Boomeekhorings) eating sunflower seeds under a garden chair
I put out sunflower seed to attract animals and the squirrels worked in some overtime while the going was good
Vervet Monkeys (Blouape) also made their (unwelcome) appearance, but I quickly got rid of them
A Slender Mongoose (Swartkwasmuishond) was a lot more welcome to have it's share of the feast

I was pleasantly surprised to see that a second mongoose also payed the camera set a visit

During the night a Rusty-Spotted Genet (Rooikolmuskeljaatkat) looked around for some tasty treats

It considered whether a grape is worth eating or not... and decided it is not
Not strictly "camera trapped", but worth sharing were the local Warthogs (Vlakvarke) that would come by and dig around in the dirt in front of the house.

We had to hide inside the house because the youngsters where very interested in us but their mother did not think that we where appropriate friends for her little angles
The three youngsters messing up the "garden"
The next trip I decided to leave it in a more remote area that looked good on Google Earth. The camera stayed there for about 3 weeks before I went to retrieve it. I was really excited with the results, especially because it is not in a "well protected" area.
Warthogs where the most frequent visitor to this location
A face only a mother can love

A big surprise was this Lesser Bushbaby (Nagapie) - The Moultrie D40 is rather slow and bushbabies move quickly and don't easily come down from the trees to have their pictures taken
I was very happy to photograph two beautiful Black-Backed Jackal (Rooijakkals) - Only one of them was ever in flash range, with the other one's eyes sometimes shining just outside the reach of the flash

Sniffing around for some rib bones I scattered in the grass as bait

A few Common Duiker (Duiker) also passed by the camera, usually at night

In total I photographed 8 mammal species and 3 bird species in the Magaliesberg. Unfortunately I didn't have a chance to put my camera out again because we moved down to Cape Town shortly afterwards.
Maybe one day I will have some cameras to spare and get an opportunity to go camera trapping there again :D

13 December 2009

WildLog v1.5

Sorry for another "slightly off topic" post, but it is in fact very much related to the "inner workings" of my camera trapping and this blog :)

A few years ago I decided that I want to keep track of our (wife and I) vacation trips and the animals we see during these trips. I also wanted to be able to store information about the location and animal. I also want to be able to upload images to the location, animal and the sighting. I could not find any software on the Internet that would do everything I wanted and, since I am a software developer, I decided to start writing my own program. It has been a slow process and it is hard to find the time and energy to work on it, but over time it is starting to bare fruit.

With the camera trapping I realised early on that I wanted to keep track of the locations where I put my cameras and also the photos I recorded there. Since I had already started work on WildLog I decided to build in some functionality to help me keep track of my camera trapping activities.

The software is basically only used by myself and I develop it with personal use in mind. My dad is also using it, and maybe one day somebody else might find it useful. That is the main reason why I decided to provide the download link on this blog (to share it with family, friends and other interested people - it also saves me money on web hosting costs and is easier than sending huge emails around).

The software is free and open source, so anybody is welcome to use it as they please (at own risk naturally).

You can download the WildLog application here (use the link at the top of the blog for the latest version).
You can download the source code here (not available anymore).

12 December 2009

The secret police

While I was busy tracking down the resting place of the porcupines (previous post) I managed to attract the attention of the secret police...

Helmeted Guineafowl (Gewone Tarentaal) checking out the camera

These guys have been on my case before:

Playing good cop, bad cop

I have seen them around the parking area dishing out punishment on somebody's car. (They usually peck at shiny cars, possible trying to straighten out that "other guy" in the car's reflection.)

They like to keep a camera under good observation and will fill up the memory card in no time, if they deem it necessary.

I think the porcupines might have reported me a few days earlier because I suspect some of their spies where sent to do some reconnaissance work:

Red-eyed Dove (Grootringduif) investigating the camera

Here are some videos of the Red-eyed Dove pretending to feed in front of the camera:

Video: I can see right through this bad acting

Even the Olive Thrush, a friend to many gardeners, has joined their ranks:

Video: The betrial of the Olive Thrush (Olyflyster)

Finally the officer walks past the camera, clearly giving me a warning to back off:

Video: Officer heading towards the porcupines to make sure everything is in order

After such an onslaught I decided that it's probably best if I move my camera to a new location. I will return for some more porcupine picture when things have cooled down a bit...

11 December 2009

Camera Trap? Remote Camera? Trail Camera? Scouting Camera? Etc?

Just a quick post today:

There are many different terms to use for camera trapping. None of the terms listed in the post's subject are really "the correct" term. For me personally the terms "Camera Trap" and "Remote Camera" has started to grow on me and I'm using it a lot these days.

One of the great camera trappers out there is Camera Trap Codger. He has an excellent blog which I really enjoy a lot. He has a good post about the term "Camera Trap", so if you are interested and would like to read more you can check out the post over here. I highly recommend it :)

10 December 2009

Concerning Porcupines

An attractive Porcupine (Ystervark) presenting its best side to the camera and waiting for a picture to be taken

When I first started camera trapping on Table Mountain I really wanted to get a picture of a porcupine. I regularly saw their quills in the road and I knew that they must be common in the area. I also saw the little holes they dug while foraging along the dirt roads on the mountain slope.

Evidence of porcupine activity next to the road

Another digging found next to the road

The problem is that I cannot put my camera next to the road, because passers by might just decide to pick up an early Christmas present for themselves. So I have to put my trail cameras just slightly off the road (out of sight of passers by). I tried to lure them to these areas with potatoes, but to no avail. Then I started paying more attention to the small pathways in the vegetation. At first I thought that they must have been caused by water flowing down the mountain when it is raining, but then I noticed that some of them run up hill... Suspicious... It turned out these runways are frequented by all sorts of animals, especially porcupines. Some are trails created entirely by animal traffic, others are a mix of water and animal activity and a (unfortunate) few only ever see rain water running down them.

A frequently used trail

It was on one of these pathways that I got my first glimpse of a porcupine:

Disappearing into the darkness

It was a terrible picture but I was very pleased. With time I discovered some trails that are used extensively by the resident porcupines. Most are used by other animals also (including people - for hiking or jogging). This presents a problem: Which trails are "safe" to leave my camera on?

Camera trapper's nightmare: Humans (Mense)

Luckily I haven't had any trouble with passers by thus far, but photos like these strike fear into the hart of a camera trapper.

Porcupines have thick, long and hard hair of different shapes and sizes which they use for protection. The quills are often found on the ground when one walks on the mountain. Porcupines are fairly big animals with a total length of 75-100 cm and can weigh anything from 10-24 kg. The females are sometimes heavier then the males. Porcupines are in fact the largest rodents in southern Africa.

This "less feisty" individual carried her hair flatter and seemed rather "sweet" on the photos, compared to Mr Confidence over here

Porcupines eat bulbs, tubers, roots, fruit, bark, vegetables and will sometimes eat carrion. Sometimes they will carry animal bones to their daytime resting place. They chew on the bones to enrich their mineral intake and to keep their teeth sharp.

Video: Walking down the trail

Porcupines have a lifespan of up to 20 years and get one to three babies after about 3 months. During the day they sleep in holes, between boulders or in thick plant cover. They leave these areas just after sundown and return just before sunrise. Even though they sometimes share a shelter with other porcupines they tend to forage alone.

Video: First adult porcupine entering the resting place at 4:24 AM

Video: Juvenile entering just after the first adult, also at 4:24 AM

Video: Second adult entering at 5:01 AM

The videos show both adults spending time sniffing the rocks on which I was standing during the day while setting up the camera. The youngster looked a little confused for a few seconds, but then entered without really sniffing much.

They seem to be widely distributed and are still common on the slopes. They have a wide habitat tolerance and can be found in most vegetation types. They prefer broken veld with rocky outcrops or rifts.

Contrary to popular belief a porcupine can not shoot out its quills, but it does storm backwards or sideways towards its attacker in an attempt to penetrate the predator's skin with its quills.

Youngster trotting along

Some information from my camera trapping records:
* Currently I have about 40 sightings of porcupines.
* My first picture of a porcupine was on 14 April 2009.
* The most porcupines photographed in one picture: 3.
* There are only 2 sightings of a porcupine still active as the sky is starting to light up early in the morning.
* They don't seem to be bothered much by the cameras. They continue to use the same path (in both directions) night after night regardless of the camera and the flash.

(Note: I have noticed that videos don't display correctly if you are viewing this post from the email notifications, etc. To view the videos you will have to view the post online in your Internet Browser. You can do this easily by clicking on the title at the top of the email, or just type in the URL address for the blog into your browser.)

References: Burger Cillie (1992). Sakgids tot Suider-Afrikaanse Soogdiere. Pretoria: J.L. van Schaik. 106. Chris & Tilde Stuart (2008). Veldgids tot Soogdiere van Suider-Afrika. Kaapstad: Struik Uitgewers. 102-104.

01 December 2009

Giving up on the shrew, for now

Below is possibly the same Verreaux's Mouse as the one I photographed previously or maybe its a different individual. The flash didn't go on for the video and at first I thought it must have been a false trigger because the video was so dark and I couldn't see anything, but then I saw the mouse move :) The video clip is to dark to justify uploading it, but here is a frame from it to give an impression.

Verreaux's Mouse (Verreaux se Muis) sitting on the rock

The Small Grey Mongoose also graced us with its presence once more.

Video: Small Grey Mongoose (Kleingrysmuishond)

I decided to move the camera that was under the boulder. I haven't seen any shrew activity lately and I want to try out some new locations. I'm happy with the images from the boulder and I'll try to return to the same spot next year (possibly during the rainy season).