17 December 2009

It all started in the Magaliesberg

The Magaliesberg
I got my first camera while still living in Johannesburg (as a present from my wife). Our family has a small holiday house in the Magaliesberg at a place called Utopia (next to Mountain Sanctuary Park). We had some great times there and I miss it A LOT (after we moved down to Cape Town). Unfortunately my parent also moved to the Eastern Cape during the same time and now almost nobody ever goes there anymore. We'll probably have to sell it sometime soon :(
During the first visit with my camera I set it up next to the house to test the camera out. I had no way of viewing the images while we there and had to wait until we got back home in Jo'burg before I could download them. Below are some of the images I got:
Tree Squirrels (Boomeekhorings) eating sunflower seeds under a garden chair
I put out sunflower seed to attract animals and the squirrels worked in some overtime while the going was good
Vervet Monkeys (Blouape) also made their (unwelcome) appearance, but I quickly got rid of them
A Slender Mongoose (Swartkwasmuishond) was a lot more welcome to have it's share of the feast

I was pleasantly surprised to see that a second mongoose also payed the camera set a visit

During the night a Rusty-Spotted Genet (Rooikolmuskeljaatkat) looked around for some tasty treats

It considered whether a grape is worth eating or not... and decided it is not
Not strictly "camera trapped", but worth sharing were the local Warthogs (Vlakvarke) that would come by and dig around in the dirt in front of the house.

We had to hide inside the house because the youngsters where very interested in us but their mother did not think that we where appropriate friends for her little angles
The three youngsters messing up the "garden"
The next trip I decided to leave it in a more remote area that looked good on Google Earth. The camera stayed there for about 3 weeks before I went to retrieve it. I was really excited with the results, especially because it is not in a "well protected" area.
Warthogs where the most frequent visitor to this location
A face only a mother can love

A big surprise was this Lesser Bushbaby (Nagapie) - The Moultrie D40 is rather slow and bushbabies move quickly and don't easily come down from the trees to have their pictures taken
I was very happy to photograph two beautiful Black-Backed Jackal (Rooijakkals) - Only one of them was ever in flash range, with the other one's eyes sometimes shining just outside the reach of the flash

Sniffing around for some rib bones I scattered in the grass as bait

A few Common Duiker (Duiker) also passed by the camera, usually at night

In total I photographed 8 mammal species and 3 bird species in the Magaliesberg. Unfortunately I didn't have a chance to put my camera out again because we moved down to Cape Town shortly afterwards.
Maybe one day I will have some cameras to spare and get an opportunity to go camera trapping there again :D

13 December 2009

WildLog v1.5

Sorry for another "slightly off topic" post, but it is in fact very much related to the "inner workings" of my camera trapping and this blog :)

A few years ago I decided that I want to keep track of our (wife and I) vacation trips and the animals we see during these trips. I also wanted to be able to store information about the location and animal. I also want to be able to upload images to the location, animal and the sighting. I could not find any software on the Internet that would do everything I wanted and, since I am a software developer, I decided to start writing my own program. It has been a slow process and it is hard to find the time and energy to work on it, but over time it is starting to bare fruit.

With the camera trapping I realised early on that I wanted to keep track of the locations where I put my cameras and also the photos I recorded there. Since I had already started work on WildLog I decided to build in some functionality to help me keep track of my camera trapping activities.

The software is basically only used by myself and I develop it with personal use in mind. My dad is also using it, and maybe one day somebody else might find it useful. That is the main reason why I decided to provide the download link on this blog (to share it with family, friends and other interested people - it also saves me money on web hosting costs and is easier than sending huge emails around).

The software is free and open source, so anybody is welcome to use it as they please (at own risk naturally).

You can download the WildLog application here (use the link at the top of the blog for the latest version).
You can download the source code here (not available anymore).

12 December 2009

The secret police

While I was busy tracking down the resting place of the porcupines (previous post) I managed to attract the attention of the secret police...

Helmeted Guineafowl (Gewone Tarentaal) checking out the camera

These guys have been on my case before:

Playing good cop, bad cop

I have seen them around the parking area dishing out punishment on somebody's car. (They usually peck at shiny cars, possible trying to straighten out that "other guy" in the car's reflection.)

They like to keep a camera under good observation and will fill up the memory card in no time, if they deem it necessary.

I think the porcupines might have reported me a few days earlier because I suspect some of their spies where sent to do some reconnaissance work:

Red-eyed Dove (Grootringduif) investigating the camera

Here are some videos of the Red-eyed Dove pretending to feed in front of the camera:

Video: I can see right through this bad acting

Even the Olive Thrush, a friend to many gardeners, has joined their ranks:

Video: The betrial of the Olive Thrush (Olyflyster)

Finally the officer walks past the camera, clearly giving me a warning to back off:

Video: Officer heading towards the porcupines to make sure everything is in order

After such an onslaught I decided that it's probably best if I move my camera to a new location. I will return for some more porcupine picture when things have cooled down a bit...

11 December 2009

Camera Trap? Remote Camera? Trail Camera? Scouting Camera? Etc?

Just a quick post today:

There are many different terms to use for camera trapping. None of the terms listed in the post's subject are really "the correct" term. For me personally the terms "Camera Trap" and "Remote Camera" has started to grow on me and I'm using it a lot these days.

One of the great camera trappers out there is Camera Trap Codger. He has an excellent blog which I really enjoy a lot. He has a good post about the term "Camera Trap", so if you are interested and would like to read more you can check out the post over here. I highly recommend it :)

10 December 2009

Concerning Porcupines

An attractive Porcupine (Ystervark) presenting its best side to the camera and waiting for a picture to be taken

When I first started camera trapping on Table Mountain I really wanted to get a picture of a porcupine. I regularly saw their quills in the road and I knew that they must be common in the area. I also saw the little holes they dug while foraging along the dirt roads on the mountain slope.

Evidence of porcupine activity next to the road

Another digging found next to the road

The problem is that I cannot put my camera next to the road, because passers by might just decide to pick up an early Christmas present for themselves. So I have to put my trail cameras just slightly off the road (out of sight of passers by). I tried to lure them to these areas with potatoes, but to no avail. Then I started paying more attention to the small pathways in the vegetation. At first I thought that they must have been caused by water flowing down the mountain when it is raining, but then I noticed that some of them run up hill... Suspicious... It turned out these runways are frequented by all sorts of animals, especially porcupines. Some are trails created entirely by animal traffic, others are a mix of water and animal activity and a (unfortunate) few only ever see rain water running down them.

A frequently used trail

It was on one of these pathways that I got my first glimpse of a porcupine:

Disappearing into the darkness

It was a terrible picture but I was very pleased. With time I discovered some trails that are used extensively by the resident porcupines. Most are used by other animals also (including people - for hiking or jogging). This presents a problem: Which trails are "safe" to leave my camera on?

Camera trapper's nightmare: Humans (Mense)

Luckily I haven't had any trouble with passers by thus far, but photos like these strike fear into the hart of a camera trapper.

Porcupines have thick, long and hard hair of different shapes and sizes which they use for protection. The quills are often found on the ground when one walks on the mountain. Porcupines are fairly big animals with a total length of 75-100 cm and can weigh anything from 10-24 kg. The females are sometimes heavier then the males. Porcupines are in fact the largest rodents in southern Africa.

This "less feisty" individual carried her hair flatter and seemed rather "sweet" on the photos, compared to Mr Confidence over here

Porcupines eat bulbs, tubers, roots, fruit, bark, vegetables and will sometimes eat carrion. Sometimes they will carry animal bones to their daytime resting place. They chew on the bones to enrich their mineral intake and to keep their teeth sharp.

Video: Walking down the trail

Porcupines have a lifespan of up to 20 years and get one to three babies after about 3 months. During the day they sleep in holes, between boulders or in thick plant cover. They leave these areas just after sundown and return just before sunrise. Even though they sometimes share a shelter with other porcupines they tend to forage alone.

Video: First adult porcupine entering the resting place at 4:24 AM

Video: Juvenile entering just after the first adult, also at 4:24 AM

Video: Second adult entering at 5:01 AM

The videos show both adults spending time sniffing the rocks on which I was standing during the day while setting up the camera. The youngster looked a little confused for a few seconds, but then entered without really sniffing much.

They seem to be widely distributed and are still common on the slopes. They have a wide habitat tolerance and can be found in most vegetation types. They prefer broken veld with rocky outcrops or rifts.

Contrary to popular belief a porcupine can not shoot out its quills, but it does storm backwards or sideways towards its attacker in an attempt to penetrate the predator's skin with its quills.

Youngster trotting along

Some information from my camera trapping records:
* Currently I have about 40 sightings of porcupines.
* My first picture of a porcupine was on 14 April 2009.
* The most porcupines photographed in one picture: 3.
* There are only 2 sightings of a porcupine still active as the sky is starting to light up early in the morning.
* They don't seem to be bothered much by the cameras. They continue to use the same path (in both directions) night after night regardless of the camera and the flash.

(Note: I have noticed that videos don't display correctly if you are viewing this post from the email notifications, etc. To view the videos you will have to view the post online in your Internet Browser. You can do this easily by clicking on the title at the top of the email, or just type in the URL address for the blog into your browser.)

References: Burger Cillie (1992). Sakgids tot Suider-Afrikaanse Soogdiere. Pretoria: J.L. van Schaik. 106. Chris & Tilde Stuart (2008). Veldgids tot Soogdiere van Suider-Afrika. Kaapstad: Struik Uitgewers. 102-104.

01 December 2009

Giving up on the shrew, for now

Below is possibly the same Verreaux's Mouse as the one I photographed previously or maybe its a different individual. The flash didn't go on for the video and at first I thought it must have been a false trigger because the video was so dark and I couldn't see anything, but then I saw the mouse move :) The video clip is to dark to justify uploading it, but here is a frame from it to give an impression.

Verreaux's Mouse (Verreaux se Muis) sitting on the rock

The Small Grey Mongoose also graced us with its presence once more.

Video: Small Grey Mongoose (Kleingrysmuishond)

I decided to move the camera that was under the boulder. I haven't seen any shrew activity lately and I want to try out some new locations. I'm happy with the images from the boulder and I'll try to return to the same spot next year (possibly during the rainy season).

30 November 2009

Caracal Surprise

I was looking forward to check up on my cameras this morning. I managed to leave them alone for most of last week and I was hoping for some nice pictures.

I moved the Moultrie camera last time because I wasn't getting any pictures in the area it was in, and I'm very pleased with the results from the new location!

Caracal (Rooikat)

This picture was taken on 26 November 2009 at 11:36 AM. Caracals are mostly nocturnal, but they are also sometimes active during the day. This one was out and about during the heat of the day. This picture shows its eyes nicely. The Caracal is the top predator on Table Mountain and this one seems to be in a very good condition.

Some other visitors to the same area were an Olive Thrush and a Lemon Dove.

Olive Thrush (Olyflyster)

Lemon Dove (Kaneelduifie)

23 November 2009

Unexpected guests for lunch

Still no shrew, but some unexpected guests made their appearance under the boulder in the ravine. I set out some bait as a desperate attempt to lure the shrew, but no luck (yet). I'm happy with the results from the camera under the boulder and think I will leave it there a bit longer, but I've given up on baiting the shrew (for now)... I will be moving the other camera tomorrow to a better spot. I have had very bad luck with it this month.

The first visitor after the bait was put out was a Cape Robin-Chat:

Cape Robin-Chat (Gewone Janfrederik)

The second visitor was a Small Grey Mongoose. It spent about 8 minutes picking through the leaves for morsels of food (11:59 am - 12:97 pm). The videos are in grey because the light under the boulder isn't good enough to enable the camera to take photographs in colour. It switches to the infra red flash and lens to deal with the low light conditions.

Small Grey Mongoose (Kleingrysmuishond)

These guys seem to be very active and always on the move. Even here underneath the boulder this one kept on moving about. They are active during the day. Their main food are rodents, also insects and other small animals. They also scavenge and eat wild fruits.

Their total length is around 55-69 cm, of witch about 20-34 cm is taken up by their tail and they weigh 0.5-1.0 kg. The tail is carried horizontally along the ground.

They have a wide habitat tolerance, from open shrub to forests. This is my first time recording them in a forest area around Kirstenbosch. I usually find them in the more fynbos-like areas.

References: Chris & Tilde Stuart (2008). Veldgids tot Soogdiere van Suider-Afrika. Kaapstad: Struik Uitgewers. 149-150.

18 November 2009

The elusive shrew: still elusive...

I remember setting the camera to video mode with high hopes. Well, the "shrew" struck again... When I finally managed to get back to the camera I found it flat on its side. "No problem" I thought, "surely it didn't happen on the first day, and surely even if it had I will still get some really nice pictures of the culprit in action". Well, below is the highlights of that fateful evening, 12 November 2009... You be the judge.

The most excitement after that was this...

The rest of the memory card was filled up the next day with videos of blowing tree tops and clouds hurling down the mountain (63 videos in total and 1.65 GB in total - the 2 GB card had some old photos still on it).

I'm getting a little tired of playing nice with this shrew, so I've decided to take the gloves off and bring out the big guns :) Tomorrow I will deploying all sorts of baits and lures to try and get a clean shot at the little guy (or girl). Usually I prefer not to use scents or baits, but when the going gets tough the tough gets going ;) Lets hope for some better luck this weekend!

(Regardless of the outcome it always stays fun, and the challenge to get a picture just makes you what the picture more. Its also a great excuse to spend some time reading up about nature and spending time in it. Trying to get your city eyes to read the signs in nature.)

11 November 2009

Playing Cat and Mouse in the Ravine

I made a dash for my cameras during a break in the terrible weather we have been having lately. It seems like the shrew is playing games with me... I'm sure he must be around, but I only get unclear images of possible shrews. I got this mugshot of somebody looking at the camera... Its difficult to be sure, but I think its the shrew toying with my emotions...

I set the camera to video mode in the hope of maybe getting a better picture of whether the shrew is still hanging around or not.

I did get some other interesting images. In the spirit of the shrew playing games with me a cat and mouse also made their appearance.

Verreaux's Mouse was seen under the boulder early one evening.

Then a Large-Spotted Genet was seen later the same evening... It might be coincidence, or maybe not... Maybe the Genet was just looking for shelter from the rain, or maybe it was looking for dinner?

The other camera is keeping an eye on an interesting trail close by, but no luck. The rain is not helping either.

03 November 2009

October Highlights - Cheeky Porcupine

While checking the pictures from last month I felt rather insulted by one of the porcupines! This fellow, below, came walking down the trail and noticed camera. He then spent about 2 minutes checking out the camera, during witch I'm sure he tried to insult my poor attempt at hiding the camera and disrespecting his privacy by shaking has but in the camera's lens! And he even has the cheek of looking over his shoulder to rub it in!

I must admit his mind games worked. I moved my camera to a new spot with hopefully more polite Forest Shrews...

The same porcupine above presented me with an interesting side profile. Look at the long spiky tail.

Unfortunately this camera also over exposes the images if the flash goes of while the animal is to close... I will have to cover a part of the flash each time I plan on taking closeup pictures.

The other camera was starting to run a bit low on battery power, so I decided to squeeze out the last bit of power from them at a location very close to my office so that I can check up on it daily. The problem with flat batteries are that the camera gets very slow to trigger (charging up the flash, etc takes longer) and it might not start up again after a flash.

This family of three was photographed passing the camera at the same time each day (3 days in total). The parents are always in front and behind with the youngster in the middle.

I also had the Bushnell camera for one day at the rock where I got the Caracal video, just to test it out. I got this shot of a Small Grey Mongoose in action. These guys travel quite fast and usually don't seem to hang around long. It was nowhere to be seen 5 seconds later when the second picture was taken. (The camera is set to take 3 picture each time something triggers it.)

31 October 2009

New Camera

This month I got a new camera :) The Bushnell Trophy Cam.

I tested it out in my garden on the first day I got it. The quality looks decent and the IR flash will be interesting to play around with. It is also a lot smaller than my other camera and has better battery usage. I now have two cameras so I hope to get more exciting pictures.

Speckled Pigeon (Kransduif) checking out the new camera.

Another one of the locals, an Olive Thrush (Olyflyster).

The day after getting the new camera you could find me crawling around on the slopes around Kirstenbosch looking for a spot to place the camera at. I'll be checking the pictures this week. I hope that the camera was in a good spot!

28 October 2009

Mistery Animals

Lately I have been getting a few pictures of animals that are just not clear enough to be 100% sure what species it is... Pictures like that always torment me and keeps me wondering what I could have done differently to get a better picture and whether I can do anything to not make the same mistake again.

The truth of the matter is, naturally, that we are dealing nature. These are wild animals and their behaviour is largely outside of my control. I prefer not to use sent or bait, but sometimes it is useful to do so.

I also depend on a cameras that tries to sense body heat and then has to wake up (trigger time) before it can take the picture. It also has to wait (recovery time) before it can take the next picture.

These are just some of the factors that influences being able to identify the animal or not. Below are some examples of pictures that are a little more difficult to identify.

Some of the animals are easier than others to take a guess at.

This is probably a Grey Squirrel.

But what is this? A bird, yes, but what species?

It seems to be some kind of Flycatcher, but which one? You really need to get a good look at the front of the bird to be sure...

And what about this? (The cat-like animal behind the rock.)

Is this a Caracal? Or is it just a house cat? I'm planning to go back to this spot with a measuring tape to see whether I can get some indication of the animal's size :)

And, lastly, I have to include the always popular over exposed flash...

This in fact is a porcupine. I know this because luckily another picture was taken as it got further away from the camera.

26 October 2009

September Highlights

During September I got some interesting pictures of Large-spotted genets. Here is one of them showing the genet close to the camera. I have learned to put some pieces of plastic bag over the flash to prevent it from over exposing animals close by and it seems to be working well.

I also got my first pictures of a Small Grey Mongoose. Most of my camera trapping has been done on the slopes of Table Mountain between Kirstenbosch gardens and Newlands forrest. There are more trees in this area and the Large-spotted genets seem to be most at home there. The Small grey mongoose on the other hand seems to be much less common in that area, but I managed to find this fellow in an area with a little less trees. The other day stumbled across him in person in the same area :) - that was after this picture was taken. In October I moved my camera to the Constantia side of Kirstenbosch and I have found plenty of these little predators there, on the lookout for some rodents and the like for lunch. The interesting thing is that I haven't gotten any Large-spotted genet pictures in that area yet. It might be due to the fact that that area has less trees and seems to be frequented more often by people and dogs...

The highlight was the Caracal! Usually I prefer setting the camera to Picture mode, but I was playing around with Video mode when the Caracal passed.

The Caracal is currently the largest predator on Table Mountain and it is great to see that they are still around and doing well.

19 October 2009

First step...

Lets start with a brief background. Almost two years ago my wife bought me a Moultrie D40 for Christmas. I was very happy with this great new toy. (Unfortunately for her she has since learned to dread that fateful day...) The past year I have been trying to find evidence of mammalian life on Table Mountain. This has proven surprisingly difficult. It turns out that fynbos is a little less large mammal friendly than other ecosystems, so I have my work cut out for me.

Recently I have focused my attention on the Kirstenbosch area, since it is conveniently close to my office. At first I tried week after week with no success. Finally I got some pictures and since then I've been improving (albeit slowly but surely).

Below are two of the regulars from the previous year: (I'll probably cover some of them in future posts)

Large-spotted Genets are common in certain areas around Kirstenbosch. These handsome small carnivores seem to prefer the more foresty parts.

After months trying to find a single picture of a Porcupine I now seem to find them almost everywhere!