23 March 2013

Back At The Berg

Yep, I'm back at the Berg, the Tygerberg!

After being away from Tygerberg for more than a year it felt like a good time to get back up there, and the email from the reserve manager asking for help with a tortoise problem was the push I needed :)

First up is some Cape Gerbils. I have developed a fondness for rodents over the years. There is just something about their miniature lives that is wonderful, and they make for surprisingly co-operative camera trapping subjects.

Cape Gerbil (Kaapse Springmuis - Tatera afra) at Tygerberg Nature Reserve

To help things along I decided to put some bait out in an attempt to keep the action in front of the camera for longer. The Birdcam has a strange detection circuit and it is best used on a baited setup. I didn't have any Sunflower seed at hand so, before leaving home, I looked in the kitchen cupboards for something suitable. I went with a mix of Barley and Lentils.

The Afrikaans name "Springmuis" translates to Jump-Mouse

I think the bait did the trick. It was all gone a week later and I got lots of photographs of ransacking rodents facing off over the spoils.

"Back off! This is my lentil" "Grrrr I saw that barley first!"

We are in the last stretch of the warm and dry summer season here in Cape Town and these little critters must have enjoyed this bonanza a great deal.

Are these Cape Gerbils prone to the "Tripod Stance"?

Since the Codger's post about the "tripod stance" (standing on three legs with one paw close to the chest) I've enjoyed keeping an eye open for this stance in all animals from humans to gerbils. (You can read Codger's post over here.) Our one dog uses this posture a lot, especially when smelling strange new smells. Strangely enough it is also her preferred water drinking pose, so some mysteries still remain.

The Birdcam has a manual focus that must be configured when you setup the camera, this results in some areas being very sharp and others being out of focus, so "positioning" the animal becomes more important

I've been wanting to get more colour photographs of the Tygerberg Cape Gerbil colonies because I always felt there was something strange going on, maybe another species or something. This time around I think I've solved the mystery: Colour variation.

Two Cape Gerbils clearly showing the collor variation

The gerbils differ in size as well, I'm guessing they are of different gender and age.

This Cape Gerbil clearly shows a strange white marking on it's forehead

Another interesting thing about this colony was that some of the individuals had a strange white patch on their forehead. I couldn't find any reference to this in any field guide. I believe that more than one individual has this marking.

"Sniff sniff sniff, is that lentil and barley I smell? My second favourite!"

The camera trap didn't stay upright for the full duration. A few days into the session it got knocked over.

Sometimes when your camera trapping subjects decide to "readjust" your camera for you it can turn out for the better, however usually it doesn't...

And what was the last thing the camera saw? Did this fellow have enough of this flashing light interrupting his feasting and decided to put a stop to it?

Here we see the suspect loosening up his foot before undoubtedly unleashing an incredible flying kick that will knock over the Birdcam


  1. Must have been the Tygerberg Ninja Gerbil that kicked it over. Great pics - that Birdcam looks like an interesting option for small critters.

  2. Terrific! Well trapped and well told. Definitely looks like you have color variation based on age. Any idea if they have a seasonal molt? That can change their colors too.

    What a great species!

  3. Thanks for the comments guys.
    @RandomTruth: Mmmm I'm not sure, I'll have to dig around a bit to see if I can get more information about these Gerbils. Maybe I should ask a student at the reserve to mark a few and then we can monitor them over time :D