26 August 2017

Living Under A Boulder

Camera Trap Codger's recent video of a Pygmy Rabbit inspired me to upload these clips of rodents at Paarl Mountain Nature Reserve.

SecaCam hidden under a huge boulder at Paarl Mountain Nature Reserve

Lets first meet the Neophobic Four-Striped Grass Mouse.

Four-Striped Grass Mouse (Streepmuis - Rhabdomys pumilio) with a skeptical glare at the camera trap

I initially placed the SecaCam HomeVista quite far back, near the edge of the boulder. From the start the mouse already didn't like its presence, but the mouse didn't like it one bit when I later moved the camera trap much deeper into the boulder's overhang.


Video: The mouse's reaction after moving the camera trap closer

The twig nest in the background doesn't belong to the mouse, but is in fact of Vlei Rat craftsmanship. I believe this particular individual is a Saunders' Vlei Rat, but it is hard to be sure from just the photographs.

Saunders' Vlei Rat (Saunders-Vleirot - Otomys saundersiae) at its nest underneath a huge boulder

From the very beginning the Saunders' Vlei Rat showed very little interest in the camera trap, even when I moved it closer to the nest. Towards the end of the camera trapping stint I captured a photograph of the rodent fixating on what I thought was the camera trap.

Is this thing edible?

The camera trap was set to take photos and videos and as it turns out the rat wasn't really interested in the camera trap at all, but rather had its eyes on fresh new shoots growing in front of and next to the camera trap.


Video: The easy going vlei rat

The vlei rat seems to be quite the thoughtful character. He gave the camera trap a good lookover when it was moved closer and then afterwards didn't seem much bothered by its presense.

Both rodent species showed the "raised forefoot" position which I learnt years ago from Codger's blog often indicates uncertainty or analyzing a situation. The mouse however only felt safe to do this the third time it encountered the camera trap.

The rodents have good reason to be cautious, there are bound to be predators on the prowl!

Large-Spotted Genet (Grootkolmuskeljaatkat - Genetta tigrina) hunting on a misty night

One Four-Striped Grass Mouse also showed some signs of parasites or disease. It had a problem with its fur.

Bare skin and dark coloration on the back of this Four-Striped Gras Mouse

I've noticed this condition quite frequently in this species, not only at Paarl Mountain. I'm not sure what causes it, but I suspect some kind of mange (parasitic mite). The other rodent species living in close proximity to the infected Four-Striped Grass Mouse usually seem more healthy.

To close things off I must admit that I'm starting to become huge fans of the entire Otomys genus (Vlei Rats). This Saunders' Vlei Rat was super charming and the Karoo Bush Rat family at Koeberg was too sweet for words. May my future hold many more Otomys-moments.

12 August 2017

The Many Legs At The Tidal Pool

This post will be the last of my photos and videos from the tidal pools at Cannon Rocks, for now. The discoveries have been amazing and I will definitely be crawling over these rocks again. I hope to be fortunate enough to stare into tidal pools for many years to come.

Bright green Strap Caulerpa (Caulerpa filiformis) and other sea algae at the Woody Cape

One of the biggest highlight, for me, was finding this amazing little Cuttlefish.

I think this is a Tuberculate Cuttlefish (Vratjies Inkvis - Sepia tuberculata) hiding under a rock

I was busy filming an Octopus (below) when I noticed that one of the grey stones at me feed wasn't were it was last time I checked. At closer inspection it turned into this amazing little animal. What a sweetheart!



Video: A shy Cuttlefish sheltering in a tidal pool

A close relative, and always a treat to see, is the Octopus.

I think this is a Common Octopus (Gewone Seekat - Octopus vulgaris)

I'm always amazed at how effortlessly members of the Cephalopoda can change color!



Video: Octopuses at Woody Cape

There are also plenty of anemones to be found amongst the rocks.

Some kind of Sea Anemone

Another group of creatures that likes to stick to the sides of the rocks are the Seastars. Some of them can growing fairly large. I definitely don't want to step with my bare feet on one of these!

The Spiny Starfish (Stekelrige Seester - Marthasterias glacialis) is quite intimidating...

The Brittlestars on the other hand are much more, well, brittle compared to the Seastars. From what I can tell they also move around much faster, at times almost crawling like a spider.

Some species of Brittlestar crawling downwards to hide underneath the rock

The Brittlestars might look spiderlike, but at first glance the Sea Spiders seem to be the real deal.

Scarlet Sea Spider (Rooi Seespinnekop - Nymphon signatum) heading back to the water

However when you look closely it becomes clear that Sea Spiders aren't true spiders either.

Don't be alarmed, there are indeed true spiders living in the tidal pools as well. They like to feed on isopods and amphipods.


Chevron Shore Spider (Chevron Strand Spinnekop - Amaurobioides Africana) ready to ambush a Beach Hopper

It would appear that eight seems to be a good number of legs... If it can work for many of the creatures mentioned above then why not also for a Crab? And in fact it does work, crabs have eight (walking) legs as well - if you take some liberties and count the pincers as arms.

A tiny crab with interesting spotty pattern on it's legs

I'm particularly fond of Hermit Crabs, probably as a result of being a bit inclined to hermit-like tendencies myself. :)



Video: Yellow-Banded Hermit (Geelband Kluisenaarkrap - Clibanarius virescens) and Crown Crab (Kroon Krap - Hymenosoma orbiculare)

I've always had a soft spot for Shrimp. In fact I can't get myself to eat prawn / shrimp because they look too darn cute! I like the zebra striping of these Sand Shrimp. They are also semi-translucent.

Sand Shrimp (Sand Garnaal - Palaemon peringuyi) scavenging on the sandy bottom

In these last few blog posts I've only shared a small percentage of the critters I encountered in the tidal pools. This is only a tiny fraction of the diversity of life found in a small stretch of coastline. I don't know what the future will bring, but I truly appreciate the privilege to be able to explore these mazing tidal pools in the here and now.

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.