19 July 2012

Adorable Mouse

I like to do some research before I start (and during) camera trapping in a new area. As a result I usually end up forming a "wish list" for the area. I tend to group species into some "loose" categories:
  • Done deals
    • Known to be present, common and easy to photograph.
  • Good bets
    • Not known to be present or difficult to photograph, but common and should be around if you know what or where to look for.
  • I'll have a shot
    • Known to be present, but uncommon or rare.
  • If I'm lucky
    • Not known to be present or was historically present and uncommon or rare now.
  • Yeah right
    • Myths and legends, either believed to be present and most likely not, or vice versa.
The Woodland Dormouse was on my "Good bets" list: They should be fairly common in the forests and thickets, but might be tricky to photograph and identify.

Woodland Dormouse (Boswaaierstertmuis - Graphiurus murinus) in the Woody Cape forest near the towns of Alexandria and Cannon Rocks

When I first got to this location I had a Cuddeback with me. Since I wasn't in the mood for mice, but instead had Blue Duiker on my mind I decided to strap the camera around the tree and point it towards the clearing. In the end I only photographed a couple of Bushbuck. (I've posted some of the pictures before over here, see the 3rd and 4th photographs.) When I went to collect the camera I noticed a big hole on the other side of the tree.

The hole in the back of the tree that caught my eye

It looked promising and since I had a Bushnell with me, which is much better at photographing small critters than a Cuddeback, I decided to strap it to an adjacent tree and see whether anything uses the hole or climbs up and down the tree. I wasn't disappointed. The tree was crawling with Dormice!

If this was a staring contest then the Dormouse won...

There was only one problem: Which species of Dormouse is this? Although the infrared Bushnell Trophy Cams are great at capturing anything, big or small, passing by the camera the grainy grey night time photos aren't pretty and makes identifying most rodent species very difficult. Luckily, back home, it was around this time that I took the plunge and bought my first Birdcam. This was going to be it's first field test. I pointed it to the tree and hoped for the best.

The Birdcam in action

I still don't know what to make of this camera. It seems to have a very good flash (for a commercial camera trap) that doesn't need to be dimmed even for very close shots. The strange thing is that it only has a manual focus. This allows it to take photographs of creatures very close to the camera. The problem is that if you have the setting wrong, or the animal isn't in the "sweet spot" then the animal will be out of focus. Thus the Birdcam can be set to focus much closer than normal commercial cameras. I'll keep you posted about this camera as I try it out in different situations, but my initial impression is that it is decent choice for some specialised camera setups.

On the hunt

I'm reasonably pleased with these initial results. Unfortunately all of the Woodland Dormouse images are slightly out of focus, but it is partly my own fault. I measured the focus point to be higher up on the tree, but almost all of the images has these little gray ninjas much lower and closer to the camera. I should have used a closer focus setting...

The camera had only one empty photograph, but in general it trigger far less often than the Bushnell did. But then again the Bushnell covered a larger part of the tree and has an excellent detection circuit.

Enough about the cameras, more about the animals!

Is he practicing his ninja-chop?

Woodland Dormice are rodents, however unlike most mice and rats they have very furry tails. They nocturnal and very good climbers. They are often found in houses and can become fairly tame. They eat insects, fruit and seeds. They are known to hibernate during winter and go into torpor during food shortage or cold spells.

Dormice live alone or in family groups that may share a nest. Nests are built in trees or amongst rocks from grass, lichen, etc. Family groups defend their territory fiercely from other Dormouse intruders and will even kill and eat the intruder! These sweet looking little mice are more like fierce ninjas that will take over another families home, eating any family members that get in their way.

I actually put some peanut butter and sunflower seeds on the tree in the hope that they will stick around longer, but they seemed to have ignored it completely

What predator would be brave enough to prey on such a fierce little rodent? Well, I'd put my money on this guy: The Large-Spotted Genet.

A wet Large-Spotted Genet (Grootkolmuskeljaatkat - Genetta tigrina), a wet tree and a wet camera

The Large-Spotted Genet payed a couple of visits to this Dormouse-highway.

"Mmmm, I think I'm going to jump onto that box-like-thing. I'm sure nobody will mind..."

A more curious visitor was this Small Grey Mongoose that dropped by one day.

Small Grey Mongoose (Kleingrysmuishond - Galerella pulverulenta) checking things out

The tree saw very little action during the day, so I have to wonder what this guy was thinking. Maybe, like me, he just wanted to have a look in the hole (you never know what might be down there). Maybe it was looking for some sleeping Dormouse to snack on?
All in all this has been a fun location and I might revisit it some time in the future. And with that it is the end my the tail.

Dormouse sending a clear message that it doesn't appreciate this intrusion on it's privacy

08 July 2012

Plenty Of Pigs

Bushpig (Bosvark - Potamochoerus larvatus) in the Woody Cape section of Addo Elephant National Park

The Woody Cape is home to plenty of Bushpig. These hairy pigs seems to be pretty common, yet very elusive. Signs of their digging can be found everywhere and they seem to be the second most camera trapped mammal thus far.

A Bushpig putting his nose to work

They use their hard snouts to dig through the damp soft soil looking for roots, bulbs, etc. However they also eat leaves and being true pigs they have an omnivorous tendency to indulge in anything from insects and frogs, to carrion and small lambs. They also have a sweet tooth for fruit.

Sniff sniff sniff sniff...

They are for the most part nocturnal. In fact I haven't photographed any in daylight yet at the Woody Cape. They live in groups of around 4-10 individuals. I've some photographs with at least 5 animals visible at once.

"OK guys, I'm sure I dropped my earring somewhere around here... Just keep looking..."

A group usually consists of a dominant male and female. The male is usually in charge of a few other females and youngsters as well. However you can also find loners or bachelor groups. The males are slightly bigger than the females.

I like it when some of the photographs show the underside of the animal's foot/paw/etc.

The Bushpig in this neck of the woods are pretty hairy! Most of them also have a rich orange-brown base colour, with a white mane. They have longer black hair over most of their body. I think they look rather nice (for pigs) in colour, but on the grey scale infrared Bushnell's they look much worse.

Missing half a tail.

This individual, above, seems to have lost part of it's tail. Bushpig can be fierce when wounded or trapped. They are at home in the thickets of the Eastern Cape.

I'm starting to suspect these guys are in fact elves in disguise!

Their weird elf-like ears and hairy appearance give them an interesting look. I'm sure I'll get plenty more photographs of these hairy swine!

The guys put their heads together and decided that this should be the end of the blog post...