30 April 2010

Some Work With You, Some Work Against You

Tuesday was a public holiday and I thought it might be a good idea to drag my better half along with me for the company to check up on my trail cameras at Tygerberg. I thought the going should be easy because both cameras are reasonably close to a gate and it should be a nice outing. As it turned out the Plattekloof gate was closed (because of the public holiday). After some second thoughts (because of the wrong shoes for the job - slops/sandals are not good at off road walking) we decided to do the grueling walk to the Plattekloof pond, during the heat of the day... It ended up being tiresome (as expected), but the company was good (also as expected) and we took it slower than I usually do it when I'm alone after work (again, also as expected).

The results? Nothing much. It has been a bit slow recently, but there where still a few good results.

The Moultrie had some better luck pointing in its new direction and got this great shot of a Small Grey Mongoose (Kleingrysmuishond).

Very attractive little fellow posing nicely for the camera

The Bushnell however has been continuing its recent streak of bad luck. It has been only downhill after snapping my first Small Grey Mongoose a while ago. Last week it (finally) ran out of batteries on the second day after I checked it, and this week it was moved by the local Bontebok (Bontebok) on the first day after I checked it.

The culprit in action, tampering with the hardware

I had really high hopes for this spot, but I keep on running into problems. It is also very close to a busy road and it draws to much attention from passers by, so I guess I'll be forced to move it soon. I just wanted to give it one last try this week...

While going through some of my pictures I stumbled upon this little gem. I just love how the cheeky Egyptian Goose (Kolgaans) and Bontebok (Bontebok) have a face off at the pond.

Egyptian Geese (Kolgaanse) are b-a-d-a-s-s-s-s-s!!

And if you where wondering, the goose won the staring contest. But that is no surprise if you are familiar with these guys.

26 April 2010

Heuweltjies

I've been doing most of my camera trapping at Tygerberg Nature Reserve this year and some of you might have wondered where the name comes from. Well, the main theory is that is it comes from the Southern Harvester Termite.

From the City of Cape Town Nature Reserves booklet (online copy here):
"From a distance, the blotches visible on the hills of the Western Cape reminded Dutch settlers of a leopard's skin, and the hills became known as Luipaerts Berghen (1657). This was changed to Tijgerberghen in 1661, and is now known as Tygerberg. These regular round patches are called 'heuweltjies' or small hills. Many scientists think that heuweltjies are the remains of ancient termite nests. Harvester termites bring plant material into their burrows and over time they change the nature of the soil. As a result, the plants growing on heuweltjies differ from those in the surrounding veld."

Another site with some information about Tygerberg and the 'heuweltjies' can be found over here or check out the brief entry for 'heuweltjies' on wikipedia.

The spots are clearly visible from this Google Earth image

The Southern Harvester Termites are reasonably large. The soldiers have a body length of 7-13 mm and the workers are 6-8 mm long.

A Southern Harvester Termite (Rysmier) working in the late afternoon on Tygerberg hills

In soil with high clay content their mounds may become sharp and conical. At the base of the mound is a spherical hive with horizontal layers of chewed vegetable matter. The queen, king and nymphs live in the mounds. The mounds generally become covered in sand and form massive long-lived structures up to 20 m in diameter and 2 m high. These mounts are evenly spaced across the landscape (like all termitaria). The mounds are richer in nutrients than the surrounding area because of the pelleted feces and other waste that accumulate on the surface. These mounds are colonised by plants that favour disturbed sites and richer soils and can create remarkable patterns in the landscape.

Workers dragging twigs onto the heap at one of the entrances

Workers forage in large numbers by day and prefer woody plants. Plant twigs are cut and dragged to temporary storage areas around the foraging ports. The termites avoid fynbos and sandstone areas, but are common in more open veld.



References:
Picker, Griffiths, Weaving (2004). Field Guide to Insects of South Africa. 2nd ed. Cape Town: Struik Publishers. 54.

25 April 2010

WildLog v2.0


For those out there that might be interested, a new version of WildLog is available over here (use the link at the top of the blog for the latest version). I made a lot of changes to the back end and database and added a few new features. If you are upgrading you will have to first run the migration program before upgrading to v2.0.1.

19 April 2010

Going With Your (Well Informed) Gut

I would be more excited if I had the energy, but I'm plenty happy enough already :) I got a picture of an elusive little lighting bolt, a Small Grey Mongoose (Kleingrysmuishond) – but more about that later.

Some pretty clouds above Tygerberg on Friday

I was still on leave on Friday and ended up spending about 5 hours exploring the western side of Tygerberg. It was a nice walk. The Four-Striped Grass Mice where up in the bushes relaxing in the morning sun and nibbling at some veggies for breakfast. Once anything gets close they suddenly scurry away into the bush.

Four-Striped Grass Mouse (Streepmuis) chilling in the morning sun

Luckily a recently got a new digital camera. The nice part is that it is the perfect camera to carry around while doing my camera trapping rounds, because it is very light for its size, has x26 zoom, can take closeups and has semi-decent picture quality (if you have realistic expectations naturally).

I've seen leaves with thorns before, but can't recall ever seeing thorns with leaves...

When I saw the area, where the Bushnell is now, on Friday I thought it had potential. It was reasonably open, was close to the basically-dry pond, had some interesting scats in the area and had what appears to be some paths running through the open spot. My gut was getting good vibrations... The spot is a bit close to the road and not well hidden, but my gut won the argument.

A Small Grey Mongoose (Kleingrysmuishond) likes to carry its tail "floating" above the ground

The possible Small Grey Mongoose scats that gave me the feelin' to put my camera out at this location

I might be wrong but I'm under the impression that these guys move about rather quickly and don't stand still for to long, so I was lucky with these shots

I'm still hopeful of maybe getting something else here so I'll give it some time since the camera has only been out at this new spot for a few days. It would be great if my first confirmed Canid species at Tygerberg graces us with its presence.

On my way back I just had to snap this shot of the late afternoon sun on the western side of the hill

On my way towards the Moultrie camera I saw a small reddish shape move on the dirt road about 400 m away. I pulled out my camera and basically used it as a pair of binoculars :) As I said, its turning out to be very useful to have around and not much of a bother.

Caracal (Rooikat) about 400m away at x26 zoom

Checking up on the cameras turned out to be a lot farther trip than I expected and I was running out of time to get back before the gate closed at 6:00 pm. I had to run part of the way. Tygerberg is rather steep and the going was tough, but I made it back in time (sort of)  :)

14 April 2010

Some More Stats

I finally got around to putting together some species accumulation graphs for Kirstenbosch and Tygerberg.

Species accumulation chart for Kirstenbosch

At Kirstenbosch I photographed a total of 15 species during the year (more info over here). In October I got my second camera (Bushnell Trophy Cam) and it can clearly be seen on the chart how my species list increased. This is partly due to the ability of the Bushnell to photograph smaller animals more effectively.

Species accumulation curve for Tygerberg

I'm doing a lot better at Tygerberg and have much bigger numbers in far less time. I have two cameras in the field most of the time, and I have more experience. I also think that there is richer animal life at Tygerberg than at Kirstenbosch.

In the graph there is a big increase in species numbers during early February. This was then I was busy camera trapping near the pond and resulted in many new species.

It is really difficult to find all the species known or suspected to occur in the area. For instance I have seen Small Grey Mongoose while walking at Tygerberg, but I still haven't gotten any images of one even though they seem reasonably common enough. I think with more cameras, more time and good camera locations you can increase the efficiency of finding new species, but it seems as if there is always also an element of luck involved. But hard work and dedication does pay off :)

Species accumulation curve for Tygerberg, showing only the mammal species

12 April 2010

The Dogs Made Me Do IT

Not much have been happening recently at the camera traps. The Moultrie had a strange malfunction where it almost completely drained a new set of batteries in just 6 days without taking a single picture and the Bushnell filled its chip with a slightly moving twig on the first day... So, I thought that I'll compile a post with some "interesting" odds and ends in it.

Firstly, I have always wanted to create a time-lapse movie from the images when one of the cameras go into a picture taking frenzy. While I was recently busy processing the images from the pond (during February), I stumbled upon a sequence that was short enough and also interesting enough to try. The Bushnell Trophy Cam can fire away at a fast rate if there is something that triggers it constantly (1 photo every 3-4 seconds with a slightly longer delay between the sets of 3). I used PhotoLapse and VirtualDub (Xvid to compress) and then uploaded it using the (old) blog interface.

The movie might be a bit fast, but I wanted to keep it short enough... The video has about 170 images squashed into 11 seconds and spans about 30 minutes of activity.

video
Video: 30 minutes at the pond in 11 seconds

Another interesting thing that came my way recently was these pictures of White Blesbok. My parents saw them in the Eastern Cape. They are apparently bred for hunting. I felt its relevant enough to mention it in this blog because of my previous post on the species (consisting of the subspecies: Bontebok and Blesbok), over here.

A White Blesbok photographed by my dad in the Eastern Cape

Wonder why the youngsters aren't also white...

I also threw together a report for the camera trapping I did at the pond during February. I had both cameras near the pond from 7 - 17 February 2010. From the 17th I kept the Bushnell in the area but I set it to only take photographs at night. The Helmeted Guineafowl, Egyptian Goose, Blacksmith Lapwing, and Cape Francolin are severely underrepresented in this chart. These birds where so common that I didn't bother to add every sighting.

The letter to the left of the animal's name indicate Mammal, Bird or Reptile.

Then lastly and totally unrelated to camera trapping but I'll try my best: We went away on a short holiday this weekend, with the dogs, to a nice farm close to Ceres. I just had to post some pictures of the two spoiled brats in action. (I'll try to keep it remotely relevant to camera trapping...)

Unfortunately animals aren't allowed at Tygerberg because I found that dogs are really good with sniffing out signs of other animal

They were inspecting everything that looked interesting - this helped to draw my attention to some scats, etc.

At closer inspection this pond didn't appear to be a good camera trap location (although I didn't have any cameras with me anyway)

Taking a power-nap


Side-note: The Doberman is Ralf. He is 11 years old and have played a big part in everybodys lives on my part of the family over the years. I can write pages about  all his stories... The Dachshund-cross-something is Mushu. Sonja (wife) and I adopted him a year ago from the SPCA. I think he was still very young (about 9-12 months) when we adopted him (nobody knows for sure because he was a stray). Again lots of possible stories (mostly about how horribly cute he is)...
We love these two a lot :)

09 April 2010

The Tale Of The Genet's Tail

I got behind with processing the data from February, March, first bit of April and some older Kruger National Park trips for myself, but I managed to get everything done this week :) Don't ask me why I do it, I don't really know myself... While busy with this I noticed again how I haven't had any good Large-Spotted Genet photographs recently:

When I started camera trapping I was fortunate to get some great photographs of the closely related Rusty-Spotted Genets (Rooikolmuskejaatkattte). My first photos were in the Magaliesberg where I photographed one passing by the camera at night.

The Rusty-Spotted Genet (Rooikolmuskeljaatkat) is somewhat overexposed, but it is a great action shot

I first encountered the Large-Spotted Genet at Kirstenbosch early on and I got some great shots.

Large-Spotted Genet (Grootkolmuskeljaatkat) walking past the camera at Kirstenbosch

Large-Spotted Genet standing beautifully on a fallen tree in a forest patch at Kirstenbosch

But then it seems like my luck started to run out with these pretty little creatures...

The tell tale tail of a Large-Spotted Genet

Even after moving cameras around for better shots the genets still managed to always come from the wrong direction or move to fast.

How do they always know what way the camera is facing?

Like a master our friend the genet manages to avoid showing his face to the camera in every photograph

Most recently things seem to be improving. In late March I managed to photograph the front of one of these little critters, but unfortunately the head is blurry...

Large-Spotted Genet at Tygerberg teases me ruthlessly

And most recently I got this video clip. So close and yet so far...

video
Video: A clip from the horror film "The Curse of the Headless Genet"

I encounter them quite regularly in areas with trees. Now, I have to confess that I have some theories: The interesting thing about the early pictures are that I used bait for many of the good photographs and I haven't use any bait recently and most of those non-baited photos were of only part of the animal. They seem to hang around the camera a few seconds longer if there is bait, and this does seem to make a difference in getting good shots. However baiting doesn't seem to make a huge difference in how frequently I photograph them, just the quality, but this does need more testing to be sure. At the moment I encounter them often enough even when not using bait, but I'm getting a little bit tired of the same old tale, or should it be tail...

Side-note: For some reason I prefer not to use bait, although I don't really have anything against using bait/scent. Maybe one day I'll play around with it a bit more...