28 February 2014

Too Cute To Resist

I just came back from checking my camera traps at Koeberg Nature Reserve and had to do a quick post of this cute little fellow.

Four-Striped Grass Mouse (Streepmuis - Rhabdomys pumilio) being cute

I love this photo. The mouse looks so adorable balancing on the twigs to sniff at the peanut butter I left there. This youngster must have been very curious about the strange new smell.

A closer view of the sniffing

I don't use bait or scents often, but I noticed a tiny amount of peanut butter on the side of my lunchbox after I finished my sandwich and carefully tried to get some onto a twig. I didn't think it would be enough to attract the attention of anything passing by underneath, but it was insanely hot and I was starting to get more delusional than usual and thought I'd give it a shot.

The camera was placed next to a little runway used by the mice between the two shrubs

This is not the first time I've had a Four-Striped Grass Mouse home in on a deposit of peanut butter. A few month ago I tried the same trick and again our little striped friend was quick to pay it a visit.

Digging into some peanut butter (the good stuff, old school Black Cat, not those "plastic" versions)

At first I was surprised that the huge Eland also seemed to respond strongly to the peanut butter (and sunflower seeds), but by now I assume they must have an excellent sense of smell since they consistently home in on any place I use peanut butter. By now I think twice before using peanut butter at Koeberg since the Eland tend to knock over the camera traps.

Eland (Eland - Tragelaphus oryx) homing in on the peanut butter

17 February 2014

Spotting Mr. Spots

It might be true that I've never gotten a camera trap photograph of a Leopard, but then again I've never really tried either. I've always had good luck with Leopard sightings in the flesh and I guess that might be one of the reasons I've never felt the need to go chasing those spots with my camera traps. Another reason would be that it sometimes feels like the focus of every second camera trap photograph (or at least survey) from the African continent are of Leopards.

However, to prevent you, my loyal readers, from feeling unloved (because I never post anything about Leopards on this blog), I'll resort to some bad video clips I was able to take during the December festive season of everybody's favourite spotty feline.

True, not camera trapped, but I hope it's close enough ;)

I drove into the park late in the afternoon. It struck me that the road I was on was teeming with baby antelope, Impala to be precise. Surly this concentration of easy and juicy meat on tiny and clumsy hooves must attract the attention of the local predators? I made a mental note to drive out on this road early the next morning to see what predators where around for the feast.

The next morning I was up early and sure enough, there it was, a Leopard strolling down the road.

Leopard (Luiperd - Panthera pardus) spotted in the distance

As any experienced park visitor will tell you the key a great sighting is to work for it. You have to be up and ready for action as the camp gates open.

Despite my sometimes feverish intensity I like to think of myself as being a fairly calm guy and don't mind not being the first car out the gate. (Yes, people queue at the gate before opening time.) As it turned out I was the third car to turn down this road.

I was pretty happy with third and even thought the photograph looks terrible it was a good sighting.

When more cars arrived the Leopard started moving, leisurely, off the road and deeper into the vegetation. The cars in front and behind me started to setup the usual traffic jam that follows any glimpse of a big cat in the park.

Having had a good view of the animal already, I decided to leave the Leopard behind and continued on. I don't like haunting a sighting or milking it dry. It was still very early in the morning and you never know what might be around the next corner.

In this case, another, bigger, Leopard.

It was 04:51 in the morning and the light was still to weak to get a photograph without motion blur

A mere 3 minutes after spotting the first leopard I stumbled onto this huge male. The rest of the cars were all still forming the ritualistic traffic jam at the first Leopard in the hope of getting a fleeting glimpse of it disappearing into the veld, and here I was pulling up to a perfect Leopard sighting, all on my own. Great stuff!

Video: Driving up to the Leopard

Now before any animal rights activist come dragging me to jail, from the video it might seem like I'm racing towards the poor animal at rocket speed, but it's much slower in real life. You'll just scare the animal away if you come racing down on it. You have to be smoooooth.

Sometimes luck works for you, but at the same time it might also balance things out and work against you... As Lady Luck is the younger sister of the Camera Trapping Goddess, the two conspired against me. The result of which was me forgetting my digital camera in Jo'burg (4+ hour's drive away).

But luckily Luck is a Lady and I still had my cell phone with me. I think the phone did a very decent job.

People sometimes get so obsessed with getting the perfect photograph that we miss the moment. Even worse is when we think back to the event and feel bitter because we didn't get the perfect shot. Maybe camera trapping has helped to lower my standards, but I've embraced the self invented label of a "for-the-record-photographer". I try to snap a photo as an aid to remember the event. Taking photographs shouldn't overshadow the real event, simply help to remember it.

Video: Showing off a bit

It was a great sighting. My one small car did not bother this guy in the least and he went about his business, crossing over to the other side of the road to do some scent marking.

I was still fortunate enough to see a few more Leopards during my trip, but those sightings paled in comparison after my one-on-one with this fine specimen. You just can't beat great sightings of animals in the wild.

Video: Going for a stroll

The moral of the story? Some people will sit the entire day in front of a tree waiting for a Leopard to climb down and get that "perfect photo". Sure you are entitled to do it and it might pay off, but I like to enjoy the sighting for a while and then leave. You never know what might be around the next corner. Most often nothing, but sometimes you spot a spotted something.

08 February 2014

Those Common Birds

Birds are frequently photographed by camera traps. At first thought one might think their thick layer of insulating feathers won't trigger the camera, but birds are very active creatures. Their high metabolism (to power their aerial lifestyle) and other adaptions such as heat loss without sweat glands, makes it fairly easy for a trail camera to detect most birds.

Below are some common bird species from Koeberg Nature Reserve. I like the way this Bokmakierie blends into the surroundings.

Bokmakierie (Bokmakierie - Telophorus zeylonus) camofouging very well amongst the dead branches and lichens

Not all of Koeberg Nature Reserve is open or coastal dunes. Most of the reserve's dunes are covered by a wide variety of small plants and larger shrubs trying to find a foothold in the sandy soil.

It is not only the plants that have a hard time getting a foothold in the sand, but most land animals (like me) also struggle with the loose sand. Birds however don't seem notice.

Black-Headed Heron (Swartkopreier - Ardea melanocephala) hunting amongst the yellow flowers of the indigenous Pigroot (Varkslaai - Conicosia pugioniformis)

The Pied Crow are very common in the reserve and I've photographed a number of them with my camera traps.

Pied Crow (Witborskraai - Corvus albus) walking past the camera

For some reason many people have an unjust hatred of Crows/Ravens/etc., which I've never understood. I like them. They are incredibly intelligent and fascinating birds. The native species over here in South Africa are large, bold and rather handsome. I like the deep croaking call of the Pied Crow and to watching them fly. They are expert fliers.

A local neighbourhood squabble

I few months ago I got some nice action shots of a pair of crows chasing away another bird.

I like the "dramatic" shapes of the wings as they go about their business

I'm not sure what the scrap was about, but it is clear who the winners were.

Crow1: "Get out of here!"  Crow2: "Yeah, and stay out!"

Photographs of birds in flight can result in some strange images.

Cape Turtle Dove (Gewone Tortelduif - Streptopelia capicola) trying to do a cartwheel

Talking about doves, I enjoyed getting a visit at my Bushnell Trophy Cam from a Namaqua Dove. Even though these doves are indigenous and wide spread along the drier parts of the country, they always hold a strangely exotic look for me.

Namaqua Dove (Namakwaduifie - Oena capensis) paying the camera trap a visit

The Egyptian Goose is a fairly interesting goose, once you get to know it. Treated as sacred by the Egyptians, it was also semi-domesticated by them. From my experience I know these birds to be very successful breeders in urban areas and aggressively defend themselves and their little angle-biters from harm. I remember a pair of Egyptian Goose losing only about 2 of their more-or-less 11 chicks to the local feral cats at a small pond in Johannesburg, compared to other duck species at the same pond losing their entire brood, or all but a few, in the first few weeks.

Egyptian Goose (Kolgans - Alopochen aegyptiaca) strutting past the Cuddeback Attack

The photograph above provides a good size comparison between the goose and an antelope. The tip of the Steenbok's ears match up perfectly with the tip of the goose's head. Steenbok might only be 50 cm tall (at the shoulders), compared to the 68 cm (tail to head) of the goose, but the antelope ways in at 11 kg, and the goose only brings 2 kg to the fight.

Female Steenbok (Steenbok - Raphicerus campestris) tip-toeing past the remote trail camera

04 February 2014

The Elusiveness

There are two species of Genet in this part of the world, the Large-Spotted Genet and the Small-Spotted Genet. At most locations the Large-Spotted Genet has been the more frequently camera trapped one of the two, but at Koeberg the Small-Spotted Genet seems to be the Genet of choice.

Unfortunately I believe the two Genet species are exchanging tips on how to dodge my camera traps. I've had bad luck with the Large-Spotted Genet somehow always finding a way to not look at the camera and now the Small-Spotted Genet seems to be following suit. (See one of my older posts over here.)

Small-Spotted Genet (Kleinkolmuskeljaatkat - Genetta genetta) on the coastal dunes at Koeberg

For the above shot I had to tilt the camera trap down to focus on the rodent hole, but if you step back a few paces the scenery looks like this.

My camera trap hard at work with the infamous Table Mountain in the background

When these genets aren't either sliding past too close to the camera or walking in the wrong direction, they try to run past before the camera has time to wake up...

Another glorious tail waving us goodbye

Maybe they are overly proud of their fabulously ringed tails and try to make it the centre of attention, or maybe the tails are attention hogs, demanding to be in every photograph. Who knows?

I'm pretty sure it isn't in reaction to the flash. If the flash was bothering them then I would expect to see them coming at the camera at least once and then avoid it, but these guys are heading in the wrong direction or running past from the get go, whether it is a white flash or IR camera doesn't seem to matter much either.

Regardless every now and again they are bound to slip up and then I get a shot at a good photo.

But alas, the camera trap goddess is a mysterious beast that both giveth and taketh away (often at the same time)...

Wow perfect shot! O, wait, no, why is it all fuzzy...?

If it wasn't for the coastal mist this would have been a perfect portrait of a Small-Spotted Genet.

Interestingly this is almost an exact copy of a great photo I got of a Large-Spotted Genet a while back. (See the old post over here.)

Back then the lady of the camera trap was in a good mood and smiled on my endeavours. But I will not despair. This is the "month of love" after all and like any love struck fool I'll endure her antics and stay true. Always longing for that next moment of sweet rapture.