13 February 2011

Cat And Mice

Recently I've started stalking Gerbils again. The reason for this is that I recently built my first homebrew camera trap. The camera has a few bugs, but it seems to be working OK. I used our old Sony s600 camera which had a faulty lens. I managed to semi-fix the lens and hooked it up to a YetiCam controller board. It is in the field now trying to get some good nighttime shots of the Gerbils at Tygerberg.

(If you are wondering what on earth a homebrew camera trap is, then I'll save us all some trouble and point you over to RandomTruth's excellent blog post over here.)

A Cape Gerbil (Kaapse Springmuis - Tatera afra) presents us with "his good side"

Getting back to business: So, why am I photographing Gerbils again? Well, a while ago I had my a Bushnell Trophy Cam near the same colony and got some decent videos of their nightly activity. However the Bushnell only takes black and white nighttime photographs and the image quality isn't comparable to the Sony's.

Identifying small mammals from camera trap photographs can be rather tricky and I'm hoping to get a few nice photographs of the resident rodents to see whether there might not in fact be another Gerbil species using the same area.

I tested the camera for two/three nights and got some results. I set it out again last week and I'm hoping for some more success, which has been sorely lacking recently... The camera was not out long, but a Caracal managed to pass by non the less.

Caracal (Rooikat - Caracal caracal) swerving past the camera

The problem with my first homebrew is that the camera itself takes very long to start up. This seems to be related to the broken lens gear that I managed to semi-fixed. At least the lens is working now, but does not seem to be working 100%. I hope I'll find a replacement part sometime, and meanwhile I'm testing to see whether the camera is still usable under certain conditions (and I expect will be).

While I'm on the subject of mice:
A couple of House Mice have been seen around our kitchen so I decided to set out a trap for them. I played around with a few home made models, but in the end I settled on buying a Sherman Trap for future use and convenience. I had some interesting camera trap videos of the mouse outsmarting my home made trap, but I think it got lost along the way. (Being outsmarted by a mouse wasn't something I was awfully concerned keeping a record of...)

The House Mouse (Huismuis - Mus musculus) making a run for it

We took the mouse to a close by park we go to often to walk the dogs at. There are plenty of new (and improved) houses bordering the park, so I'm sure the little guy will settle in quite well.

The mouse is pretty small and dashed around a lot, so taking a good picture without stressing the poor thing out even more becomes very tricky.

run run run run run run run run ... pause "I'm gonna faint!" ... run run run run run run run ... dash for cover "I made it!!"

He dashed for cover as soon as he exited the trap. The funny thing was that he didn't head for the tall grass right next to him, but instead choose the first open space and ran for his life. Only then did he pick out the first decent looking cover and made straight for it. Stopping once or twice to catch his breath (he was running uphill).

The park also borders on Tygerberg Nature Reserve and if his a smart city mouse he'll know to stay out of the country mouse's territory. There are plenty of birds, reptiles and mammals that would love to order a Four-Striped Grass Mouse main meal with a House Mouse on the side...

3 comments:

  1. Yay! Glad to hear you got your homebrew going. Bummer about the lens though. You might consider buying a broken s600 off ebay to fix it. The time to take the first photo should be under 2 seconds, with about 2-3 seconds between subsequent shots.

    Feel free to email me if there's any questions you have about it that I might be able to answer.

    Looking forward to seeing your results.

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  2. Really looking forward to some homebrew images from you. While rodents are tough they aren't impossible.

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  3. Wow, interesting stuff! Sounds like fun.

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