25 January 2014

Welcome To Koeberg

Last year I started camera trapping at a new location. It is reasonably close to my home and offers some new habits and species to explore.

Yours truly, walking towards my Bushnell camera trap at Koeberg Nature Reserve

Koeberg Nature Reserve as a small nature reserve just outside Cape Town, along the West coast, close to Melkbosstrand, in the Western Cape province of South Africa.

It is still early days, but I think Koeberg offers some interesting opportunities for camera trapping. A large part of the reserve is Strandveld with large sections of sandy dunes. Some dunes are covered by dense vegetation, but there are also large stretches of open dunes.

I've seen fairly little camera trapping photos from "sandy" or "coastal" areas and have been playing around with the idea for a while now. I believe Koeberg is an excellent location to explore these types of habitats.

One thing I have noticed about this nature reserve is that it is crawling (or is it slithering) with snakes! I'm luckily not ophidiophobic, but I still have a healthy respect for any dangerous creature.

Cape Cobra (Kaapse Kobra / Geelslang - Naja nivea) baking in the sun on the edge of the road

Thus far the Cape Cobra has been the most frequently encountered snake, which is a bit of a problem since they are known to be very dangerous, biting readily. The fact that they are behind the most snake bite deaths in South Africa does not help... With the most potent neurotoxic venom on the continent, for a Cobra, you have to be careful. If bitten you have 1-10 hours to get to a hospital for treatment, or it might be too late.

These snakes are active during the day and most I've seen are (the usual) 1.2-1.4m in length, but snakes up to 1.8m have been found (luckily not by me). With this many dangerous snakes around I try to stay alert when I'm checking my cameras.

Another snake I've managed to snap a photo of was this Mole Snake. Luckily these snakes aren't venomous, but a bite from one may still result in a hospital trip, to get stitches. They use the cutting edge on their teeth to inflict serious wounds and may bite viciously when threatened.

Mole Snake (Molslang - Pseudaspis cana) slithering past me

But I'm not at Koeberg for the snakes, I'm there for the mammals.

A bit of a surprise for me, although I know it shouldn't be, was the presence of Steenbok in the reserve. I know it is perfectly normal for them to be there, but I'm used to seeing them in different parts of the country that don't resemble the sandy dunes at Koeberg much.

I'm also happy to say that this is the first appearance of this little antelope on this blog and coincidentally also my first time camera trapping one, which feels almost strange given how common they are and how often I've seen them in the flesh.

Steenbok (Steenbok - Raphicerus campestris) camera trapped at Koeberg Nature Reserve

18 January 2014

Magical Mobsters

I just arrived at the rest camp and finished unpacking my things when I decided to take a walk to the shop. I grabbed my wallet, binoculars and cell phone and started out in the general direction of the shop. But then I ran into a gang...

I borrowed my sister's car for the trip

I wasn't expecting to run into any bandits in broad daylight, but these gangsters are known for being active during the day. Their usual modus operandi is to only start moving about some time after sunrise. They will spend a few hours in the morning to hunt for unsuspecting victims and then laze around for the rest of the day. After an afternoon snack they head back at to their digs, well before dark.

Luckily these bandeds were not paying me much attention and seemed to be absorbed in their own frenzied activity. I took the opportunity to pull out my cell phone camera and tried to capture some of the action.

(You'll notice that I've clearly still not mastered the arts of videography, nor am I able to get a decent quality video out of Youtube... Yes Google, I hate you... But I can't live without you... Which just makes me hate you even more!)

Video: A group of Banded Mongoose (Gebande Muishond - Mungos mungo) running around in the rest camp

It was then that I spotted what the gang was up to. They were moving their latest recruits to a new pad! All members of the gang look after the new recruits, but the males in particular tend to stay behind to protect and entertain the youngsters at the den.

Interestingly several females in the group will breed at the same time. They even synchronise their births to the same night. These bandeds are so integrated into their gangs that the females will even suckle each other's pups.

Like all proper mob families the gangs are based on strong family loyalty. Males will occasionally leave the family to join or take over another family, but females and some males usually stay in the same family their entire lives. There is little internal conflict, and dominance seems to be largely based on age.

When there is danger all family members will huddle together and gang up on the intruder. The youngsters will be protected in the centre of the milling mass. Gangs are usually 5-30 strong, but mobs of up to 70 have been known. There is even a story of a male that climbed a tree to (successfully) rescue his brother-in-arms from the claws of an eagle. For these guys and gals the gang and its members are the number one priority.

These mobsters are quite a talkative bunch and like to keep in contact by talking amongst one another while scouring the neighbourhood for easy prey.

As with any proper gang, the mobsters are very touchy about their own turf. In general they prefer to avoid conflict when two gangs meet, but if things get rough they will face off (I imagine it similar to those "dance movies"). If things get really ugly the gang members will get physical. Individuals from the different mob families will battle it out ,one on one, for hours on end. Only stopping when night falls.

Video: Waiting anxiously for the rest of the group to bring the rest of the pups

These bandeds prefer to snack on beetles and grubs, although they won't turn their nose up at any other small critter, dead or alive, that cross their path and will even snack on the odd fruit. Like most mobsters they don't like to share, but they have a tendency to utter a few joyous curses when they stumble onto a hidden treasure. This obviously has the effect of attracting the attention of other gang member within earshot and suddenly the founder has to share the spoils with the rest of the family.

The mobsters weren't paying me much notice and I didn't hear any threats about swimming or fishes, so I decided to go under cover (literally) and see where they were taking the new recruits. I found the spot close by and crouched behind a small bush for a better view. I didn't have to wait long for the rest of the pups to arrive.

Gangs like to move around in their territory and will move to a new safe house even with youngsters about. Seldom sleeping at the same hideout more than a few nights. When the new recruits are ready to join the business end of the family each will form a bond with an adult whom will then show it the ropes.

Video: Two pups arrive safely at the new den

Although I wasn't able to get any good mugshots, I don't mind. It was a great sighting and I got some nifty video clips.

I don't like staying too long at an animal sighting. After snapping the last video clip I decided to leave them in peace. Moving pups is a stressful business and they didn't need the likes of me snooping around the new den. Besides, I didn't feel like going swimming with any fishes.

11 January 2014

Yellow Sungazers

I thought it might be a good idea to kick this year off with some flowers. Yellow flowers, to be precise.

One of the many benefits of camera trapping is that you get a chance to see some wonderful wild flowers.

Over the years I've built up a fair collection, however I am not even going to attempt to identify this lot. I simply don't have the time or expertise to tackle such a daunting task. Luckily, you don't need to know the names to enjoy the show.

I like to snap a quick photo when I run into a new or pretty wild flower. These days I tend to use my cell phone a lot since it has a decent camera and is usually at hand, but most of these were taken by my trusty old "bridge camera".

I don't really see myself as a "good photographer" and definitely don't try to get the most beautiful shot possible. When talking to more "serious" photographer I call myself a "for-the-record-photographer" :) My interests lean towards the record, not the art. I simply enjoy snapping a quick photo in honour of the huge variety of life we are blessed with.

(If you want to see some stunning wild flowers from America, then be sure to drop by RandomTruth's blog over here, or follow the link in the sidebar of this site. He frequently posts some amazing floral displays!)