15 July 2017

Camera Trap Quickies

When I visit Cannon Rocks I like to bring one or two camera traps with me. While the SecaCam was busy at the birdbath (see older post over here), the Bushnell NatureView HD was used for a day or two at three different locations.


Bushnell NatureView HD strapped to a huge aloe

We are fortunate to have some lovely Aloes growing next to our house. I don't understand how its possible but these Aloes are almost always in bloom throughout the year. If there is ever a time without blooming flowers then you will be sure to find at least one plant with new flowers already on the way. As a result these plants are a magnet for nectar feeding birds.

Greater Double-Collared Sunbird (Groot-Rooibandsuikerbekkie - Cinnyris afer) fueling up at the aloes

I've personally seen five species of Sunbird visiting these plants, not to mention all the other birds with a sweet tooth.

I had some Butternut pumpkin one evening for dinner and thought it might be interesting to see what animals might be interested in the scraps. I must admit I was quite surprised with the results.

Southern Boubou (Suidelike Waterfiskaal - Laniarius ferrugineus) searching for pumpkin seeds

The Southern Boubou was on the case immediately, and would come back time and again until there was nothing left. Interestingly it was the female that was the most frequent and persistent visitor.

The male in the font has more white on his chest and belly compared to the female in the back

The female was after the pumpkin seeds and didn't show any interest in the pumpkin peel or flesh. According to the internet pumpkin seeds are very nutritious.

What makes this interesting to me is the fact that these birds eat predominantly insect, snails, worms, etc. and small animals such as lizards and even baby mice. But they do also have some omnivorous tendencies, enjoying a drink of nectar and are keen to dig into some fruit, and apparently now we also know that the females enjoy pumpkin seeds.

Female Southern Boubou with her prized pumpkin seed in her beak

I'm assuming that the seeds help to get the female in good shape for breeding (egg laying in particular)?

I've always wanted to try camera trapping on the sea shore, but my biggest concern has always been the fact that it is hard to hide the camera trap from people walking on the beach. I'm particularly concerned about poachers...

However, this time around I decided to take a risk and set out the camera trap for two night, in the middle of the week.

Camera trap on the shoreline at the Woody Cape

Because I only wanted to leave the camera trap there for a short time I decided to empty a can of tuna in front of the camera as some bait.

Marsh Mongoose (Kommetjiegatmuishond - Atilax paludinosus) in the mist

The Marsh Mongoose showed up on the first night. On the second night a Large-Spotted Genet made sure to cleanup any bits of tuna the mongoose might have missed.

Large-Spotted Genet (Grootkolmuskeljaatkat - Genetta tigrina) sniffing around for some tasty tuna

I often find tracks of these two nightly beach visitors along the vegetation edge, but its good to finally see them "in person" doing their rounds up and down the beach.

Munch munch munch munch...

01 July 2017

Getting Fishy On The Rocks

My dogs, Scout and Mushu, enjoying the low tide

The Sony Xperia Go was my first smartphone, in fact it was the first cellphone I ever bought for myself. I really liked the fact that it was small, had a good camera and was water resitant. About a year ago I upgraded to the Sony Xperia E3 Compact, leaving the Go gathering dust. During my recent vacation at Cannon Rocks in the Eastern Cape I decided to see how far I could push the "water resistant" feature of the Go.

Definitely not National Geographic or BBC footage, but I'm fairly happy with the results.


Video: A collection of video clips of fish in the tidal pools at the Woody Cape

Look carefully around the 2:15 minute mark, the one larger fish, I believe a Klipfish, catches one of the small ones. It happens so fast!

I'm going to guess this was the Super Klipfish (Clinus superciliosus), but I'm likely to be wrong since there are about 40 species found along the South African coast and my field guide only shows 8...

I was surprised to learn that Klipfish are internally fertilized and give birth to fully developed young.

Some species of Klipfish amongst the tidal rocks

I didn't only rely on the cellphone, but also took some photos the conventional way: With my digital camera millimeters above the surface of the water.

Rocksucker (Chorisochismus dentex) sucking on a rock

For some photos I couldn't get close enough to the fish, so I had to use the zoom to get close.

The tidal pools also contain "normal fish" like this unknown yellow finned character

I prefer using a "compact super zoom" camera, like my Nikon S9900. Sure the image quality isn't comparable with that of a DSLR, but it is a one-size-fits-all solution. The camera is small enough to carrying around with me wherever I go and it can instantly go from photographing a flower up-close to snapping a shot of a bird that landed on a rock in the distance. What I liked about this particular camera was the size and the fact that it has a built in GPS, making it much easier to get the GPS co-ordinates when I add the photo to WildLog. The WiFi features are also nifty.

Some species of Goby lazing around in a shallow pool

Trying to identify these fish is a daunting task... I'm using the excellent Two Oceans field guide, but I suspect some of these tidal pool fish are juveniles of larger species... The field guide also definitely doesn't cover all species either, but only lists a few common / unique ones.

I have no idea what type of fish this little beauty is, never mind the actual species...

Next time you are at a beach with tidal rock pools consider doing yourself a favor by spending an hour or two at low tide discovering the variety of life.

Pssst, I'll tell you the secret: Don't give up after the first 5 minutes ;)

03 June 2017

Spying On The Bathing Birds

I'm starting to get a feel for when to use my new SecaCam HomeVista, and when to use a different camera trap instead. I had a feeling that the SecaCam HomeVista will be amazing when used at a birdbath, and I was right! The wide field of view is excellent for covering the entire area. The camera is also pretty good at handling close-ups and the final images have very little motion blur.

SecaCam HomeVista monitoring the birdbath 24/7

I had the camera monitoring the birdbath for 12 days. In total the camera recorded 140 observations. In total 20 bird species, one mammal species, one unknown reptile species and the local Clicking Stream Frogs showed up. I suspect that many bats also came to drink, on the wing, but I didn't get a clear enough photograph to be sure.

 

On the one hand I feel OK about the 20 bird species. My personal bird count for the property is currently at 66 species, so camera trapping about a third of the species at the birdbath sounds like a pretty good start.

However, I don't feel good about the only mammal species, especially considering the species in question: The bringer of destruction, the Domestic Cat...

Southern Boubou (Suidelike Waterfiskaal - Laniarius ferrugineus) on the left, and Laughing Dove (Rooiborsduifie - Streptopelia senegalensis) in the back

There were at least two different cats frequenting the birdbath. These cats are new on the scene. As a result I've noticed a major decrease in animal activity on the property. I heard talk that one of the cats a few houses down the road recently spawned new young and that there are now something like 9 cats roaming around, destroying everything in the area...

In the past Small Grey Mongoose and Large-Spotted Genet would frequent the property but this time around they stayed away. I don't think they avoid the cats directly, but instead the cats have likely killed to many of the small prey animals in the area. As a result the wild predators likely prefer to hunt in areas with more prey, and thus with less cats... (As proof of the decrease in the amount of prey available I've noticed a drastic decrease in the number of Clicking Stream Frogs at the birdbath.)

Sombre Greenbul (Gewone Willie - Andropadus importunes) coming for a bath

The Sombre Greenbul are common in the area, but they are secretive and like to hide in the thick vegetation. Seeing one out in the open like this is a nice treat.

I don't often see the African Firefinch, and this one below visited the birdbath only once.

African Firefinch (Kaapse Vuurvinkie - Lagonosticta rubricate) coming for a drink

Interestingly some species, like the sunbirds, are very common on the property, but almost never seem to visit the birdbath.

Some time after I bought the birdbath a Brown-Hooded Kingfisher started frequenting our property. I think it happened shortly after I installed the pipe to redirected the rain water from the roof into the birdbath, to help keep the water fresh and maintain the water level better.

Brown-Hooded Kingfisher (Bruinkopvisvanger - Halcyon albiventris) bathing on the wing

I'm fairly sure the kingfisher wasn't trying to catch anything, but was rather bathing - by diving into the water repeatedly. Like many other Kingfisher species this one is not restricted to catching fish for a living. Instead they catch all sorts of insects and other small critters, not just fish.

The Unknown Reptile waving us farewell...

06 May 2017

Slimy Surprises

I have been fortunate enough to enjoy some holiday time at the coast in the Eastern Cape. One of the things I wanted to make time for on my trip was to visit the rock pools during low tide.

A Triton snail (maybe Ranella Australasia gemmifera) at the Woody Cape

My exploration started off with a bang! One of the very first creatures I saw was this amazing Four-Tone Nudibranch.

Four-Tone Nudibranch (Godiva quadricolor) gliding along the edge of a small rock pool

From what I understand the nudibranch is basically a kind of predatory sea slug-like animal. It feeds on sea anemones and other nudibranch-like animals.

This encounter inspired me to try and return to the rocks at low tide on subsequent days in search of more interesting sea slug-like-things.

Blue-Speckled Dorid (Dendrodoris caesia) hiding under a rock
I turned over many rocks in search of interesting creatures. At first I didn't notice the Blue-Speckled Dorid under the rock, but when I dropped it back into the water it magically transformed.

The Blue-Speckled Dorid unfolded in the water

The little dorid feeds on sponges. I believe the fluffy bits at the rear of the animal is are the external gills.

Another, even smaller, sponge feeder is the Lemon Pleurobranch.


Lemon Pleurobranch (Berthellina granulate) hiding under a boulder

The animal below might seem artificially similar to the sea slug-like animals above, but this beautiful little critter below is actually a tipe of Flatworm.

A species of Carpet Flatworm (Thysanozoon sp.) found along the intertidal shoreline at Cannon Rocks

I was fortunate enough to be able to view one of these flatworms under a field microscope on a recent visit to De Hoop and my breath was taken away by just how beautiful they are.

I found another tipe of flatworm on the rocks, but this one looked a bit like a living blob of slime...

Gilchrist's Booger ergmm I mean Gilchrist's Flatworm (Planocera gilchristi) under a boulder

The Gilchrist's Flatworm feeds on tiny animals found in the tidal pools, such as worms and crustaceans.


Video: Flatworms moving about at Cannon Rocks

My attempt at filming a flatworm swimming failed, but trust me that it is something to behold. Luckily there is always next time. I'm already looking forward to visit the rock pools again and again, in the years to come.

Turban Shell (Turbo cidaris) heading back to the water

There is still plenty more to share from the Cannon Rocks coastline, even some camera trapping, so stay tuned.

08 April 2017

The Goose Mysteries

Back in November I placed my old Cuddeback camera trap amongst some boulders at Paarl Mountain Nature Reserve.

Camera trap at Paarl Mountain Nature Reserve

When I first came across the boulders it really struck me as an atmospheric place. Naturally I wanted to see what animals visited this place.

Common Duiker (Duiker - Sylvicapra grimmia) checking out the camera trap

It turns out that boulders can be tricky places to camera trap.

It is hard to find a good spot that does the landscape justice. Then the next problem is that the animals can come from any direction, because there isn't really a clear path in and out of the boulders.

As a result I got rather few photographs at this location. There was however two photographs that made it worth the effort.

Large Grey Mongoose (Grootgrysmuishond - Herpestes ichneumon) sneaking past the camera trap

The Large Grey Mongoose visited the boulders at 10:31 am. I don't camera trap these guys often, so it is always a pleasant surprise when one shows up. It is also a valuable addition to the reserve's species list. I saw one in person a few weeks before this photograph was taken, but having a camera trap photo is much beter for record keeping.

Precisely 24 hours later, on the dot, I got another unexpected photograph.

Spur-Winged Goose (Wildemakou - Plectropterus gambensis) mother with chicks well in line

Those chicks look awfully young to me. They must have recently hatched, very close by. This makes me wonder about two things.

Firstly, was the mongoose in the area because it knew the chicks where busy hatching?

Secondly, what are they doing so far away from water? These boulders are almost 1.5 km away from the nearest farm dam, and even further from the larger catchment dams. I did some reading and apparently the Spur-Winged Goose is know to breed up to 1 km away from water, so 1.5 km sounds plausible.

They will have a long walk down to the water and some might not make it if that mongoose is still in the area.

18 March 2017

Rolling With The Golden Mole

I'm still busy forming my opinion about my new SecaCam HomeVista camera trap. I believe in finding the strengths and weaknesses of each camera trap I own. For the HomeVista the wide field of view and dynamically adjusting flash intensity sets it apart from other camera traps.

This is the first camera trap I've seen that is capable of adjusting the intensity of the flash based on the distance between the camera and the animal. This helps to reduce the amount of overexposure in the photographs.

The following sequence of a Porcupine family at Paarl Mountain illustrates the dynamically adjusting flash very well.

Porcupine (Ystervark - Hystrix africaeaustralis) with full flash - showing the bushes in the background

Porcupine with medium flash - note that the bushes are no longer visible

Porcupine with low flash - notice that the Porcupine in the background is barely visible

The combination of the wide field of view and the dynamically adjusting flash felt like the perfect combination to test on my resident Golden Mole.

Cape Golden Mole (Kaapse Gouemol - Chrysochloris asiatica) showing his shovel like hindfeet

I usually have to physically dim the IR flash and set the camera trap to use the lowest flash setting available, but with the HomeVista I didn't need to change anything. It works great in a confined space.

I find that videos usually work best when dealing with very small mammals, but I wanted to test both the photo and video settings. I had the camera trap take 5 photos and then a short video clip, but I think only 1 photo and then a video would have been be better.

The video clip below turned out rather comical, albeit a little bit distressing to watch.

Video: Cape Golden Mole slipping and rolling down a slope

I'm also trying out new ways of creating the holes I use when camera trapping underground. I want to make the holes a bit larger and more sturdy so that they will last for longer. I'm now covering the hole with wooden planks, for easier access to the camera trap. The wooden poles, which are used to support the planks, can be seen in the video.

This hole is fairly deep, much deeper than my previous attempts, and as a result the tiny Golden Mole struggled a bit to climb up the slope. The bottom half of the soil is rather hard, so the subterranean traveler wanted to get back to the softer top soil. Once he makes it to the top you can see him quickly tunneling away.

Golden Moles are completely blind with no external eyes at all (their eyes are non-functional and covered by skin and fur). It really is a marvel that the critter is still clearly able to know where it is and where it wants to be going.

It has been hot and windy here in Cape Town and I've been having trouble using this camera trap in more conventional locations. It seems to trigger very easily from warm wind and vegetation.

Luckily it seems to work well for Golden Moles and I'm excited to try this camera trap out in more areas where very small mammals might be scurrying around.

25 February 2017

The Grey Buck Of Paarl

Dense vegetation is an important requirement for Cape Grysbok, and Paarl Mountain Nature Reserve overs plenty of very dense vegetation. It is no wonder that these secretive antelope like to call the reserve their home.

Cape Grysbok (Kaapse Grysbok - Raphicerus melanotis) at Paarl Mountain Nature Reserve

Cape Grysbok can be hard to see in person because of their secretive and nocturnal nature. They tend to hide in the dense vegetation and can go unnoticed, even when you get very close.

Luckily they are still fairly common around the greater Cape Town area and can even be found living close to human development. If you are lucky you can spot one crossing a road or darting for cover as you come around a bend.

Sneaking past the camera trap

Last year I was approached by a company that manufactures camera traps to test one of their new models. I received the camera trap late December and have been using it since then. The camera is the SecaCam HomeVista and the photograph below was take by it.

Young male Cape Grysbok with a very grey coat

I'm planning on doing a longer review of the camera trap at a later stage, but one of the things that stand out for me is the incredibly wide field of view. I'm sure it will be a blessing and a curse in the future.

I had the camera set to take a combination of photos and videos. The video clip below shows the restless youngster on a very windy summers day.


Video: Cape Grysbok walking through the boulders on a windy day

Only the rams have horns and this individual above seems to be still a fairly young male.

The Cape Grysbok is mostly active at night and about 65% of my camera trap observations have thus far been at night.

The white hair is much less visible in this wet female

They are solitary animals and scent mark their territory using the pre-orbital gland (in front of the eye). One of the cameras was lucky enough to catch a Cape Grysbok in the act of scent marking.

Cape Grysbok scent marking on the slopes at Paarl Mountain

The Cape Grysbok is endemic to South Africa and an iconic species of the dense vegetation along the coast and mountain ranges of the south and south-east.

02 February 2017

RIP BirdCam 2.0

It is time to retire yet another one of my camera traps, the BirdCam 2.0. This camera was a bit of a roller-coaster ride and true to its nature it took some great photographs just before finally breaking down completely.


Kaapse Klipklaasneus Cape Elephant Shrew Elephantulus edwardii
Cape Elephant Shrew (Kaapse Klipklaasneus - Elephantulus edwardii) camera trapped with the BirdCam 2.0 at Paarl Mountain Nature Reserve

The BirdCam 2.0 was my "small mammal specialist" camera trap. It wasn't very good as a conventional trail camera, but it was amazing when used to target small critters in a fixed area.

BirdCam 2.0 placed under a large boulder

The best thing about the camera, by far, was its white flash. It was simply amazing and could be used even at close range. The camera didn't have any autofocus capabilities, but the adjustable fixed focus helped.

The worst things about the camera must surely be the build quality and strange trigger speed. It simply wasn't as tough as other conventional trail cameras. For example the LED setup screen stopped working long ago. As a result, for the past few years I just turned the camera on and hoped for the best.

This is the third camera trap I'm retiring, and to be honest I have no idea what camera to replace it with... I'm not aware of any good white flash camera traps on the market, particularly ones that can be used to photograph small mammals... (Having color night photographs can help a lot with identification.)

Not perfect, but good enough

I'm really glad that the camera produced some decent photographs of the Cape Elephant Shrew before finally getting retired.

The Cape Elephant Shrew was one of the species at the top of my wish list for Paarl Mountain Nature Reserve, and I was thrilled when I saw one in person on my very first day at the reserve.

Cape Elephant Shrew sitting in a small hollow on top of a huge boulder

Despite their name the Cape Elephant Shrews are not a type of Shrew at all, nor are they a type of Rodent. They are in fact related to Golden Moles, Aardvarks, Dassies and even Elephants. These animals are all members of the Afrotheria, which represents a group of mammals that are associated with originating from the African continent.

As with the Golden Moles, the Elephant Shrews are still somewhat shrouded in mysterious, although fortunately to a lesser extent. For example, many sources claim that Elephant Shrews, in general, are diurnal, but other sources say the Cape Elephant Shrew is nocturnal. However, I've been camera trapping these little critters during the day and night, equally. I found one source that claimed they were crepuscular (preferring twilight), but that seems a bit off as well...

Activity pattern of Cape Elephant Shrew camera trapped, thus far, at Paarl Mountain

I suspect there is still much we can learn about these cute little guys.

21 January 2017

Spotted On Paarl Mountain

It is the middle of summer at Paarl Mountain Nature Reserve and the world is hot and dry.

Paarl Mountain Nature Reserve in January

I've been camera trapping here since August last year and the species list is still fairly small, only about 15 mammal species thus far...

The strangest part for me is that I've yet to photograph a single Caracal (Rooikat). At both Tygerberg and Koeberg the Caracal was one of the first species to get photographed.

To make things even stranger one of my camera traps recently photographed a Leopard, and still not a single Caracal!

The photograph was taken at 6:21 AM in the morning. The sun was already up, but there was still some early morning mist hanging around.

Leopard (Luiperd - Panthera pardus) photographed by a camera trap on Paarl Mountain

I've been seeing possible Leopard tracks and scat on the reserve since I started camera trapping and knew it would be only a matter of time before one was captured by a trail camera.

Even though the odds of encountering such an elusive animal in person is very small, it is great to know they are still around. I love how camera traps enable you to "see" things you would otherwise never be able to see in person.

The camera trap also captured a lot of Grysbok and Duiker at this location. I'm sure these small antelope also caught the attention of the Leopard.

A female Cape Grysbok (Kaapse Grysbok - Raphicerus melanotis) aka Leopard-Food

I didn't find many Grysbok at Tygerberg and Koeberg, but here at Paarl Mountain they seem to be quite common. I'm looking forward to see the total number of sightings increase over time. It will be interesting to compare the data of all the small antelope I've camera trapped in the greater Cape Town area (Duiker, Grysbok and Steenbok).

There are lots of interesting landscapes at Paarl Mountain Nature Reserve

PS.
Paarl Mountain is a popular reserve and is visited by many people on a regular bases. Now, before the masses go crazy about the Leopard, please remember the usual storie of "your life is not in danger, we don't have to kill the Leopard, your kids will survive, etc." apply. If anybody has any concerns then please contact the reserve manager. Remember how fortunate we are to have a member of the "big five" still roaming wild on our doorstep.