30 June 2010

In Otter News

Last week a Cape Clawless Otter passed by my new Cuddeback trail camera and resulted in a great shot.

Cape Clawless Otter (Groototter - Aonyx capensis) walking clawlessly off into the sunrise

I like this location and might keep my camera here for a month or so. Maybe I'll get a photograph of the otter walking towards the camera next time...

28 June 2010

Six Months At Tygerberg

I thought I'll include some more flowers to brighten up this post a bit

It has been about 6 months since I started camera trapping at Tygerberg Nature Reserve. I started there not knowing what to expect. To be honest I wasn't expecting much more than a mongoose or two and some Bontebok. However, I'm very happy to say that I have been pleasantly surprised.

Below are some statistics from the first 6 months. I did a similar report a while ago so please take note that there might be some slight differences in the numbers (I cleaned up a few uncertain records and only included camera trapping data this time around).

Species list of Tygerberg based on my camera trapping data

In general I try to keep my cameras almost constantly in the field. I started with two cameras, but earlier this month I got two more. I think 45 creatures in 6 months is pretty good. I'm also happy with the 18 mammals photo graphed thus far, especially since some "easier" larger mammals are not present on this small reserve.

Some tiny flowers growing next to the road

The management of Tygerberg has also benefited greatly from this. I have managed to provide up to date confirmations of many "previously known" species and even added a few "new" species, some of them even outside their previously known ranges. It has been great having their thanks and support from day one.

Accumulation graph for all species

My species list have continued to grow steadily and I'm sure there are still a couple of mammal species out there to discover. I got a couple of photographs of species not listed above, but unfortunately the quality is to bad to make a positive identification, so I had to exclude them from my data.

Accumulation graph for mammals only

The two sites with the richest diversity of mammals where both near water (one near the pond and the other across a small stream). There are still many areas I haven't visited yet. I have only trapped at two locations on the western slopes. The reason for this is that I purposefully focused on the more grassy eastern slopes at first, and that the western slope is mostly covered by dense bushy vegetation making it difficult to find a good (open) location for a camera.

A big piece of neighbouring land will be included under the management of the reserve soon and this will greatly increase my available camera trapping area. This is great news for all the critters (plants and animals) and will provide some much needed (protected) breathing space for them. Tygerberg is one of the last remnants of Swartland Shale Renosterveld and is surrounded by urban development to the east, south and west. To the north it is bordered by mostly wheat (I think) and wine farms.

Map showing camera trap locations at Tygerberg

Although camera trapping at Tygerberg can be somewhat "less glamorous" than other places with more large mammals I enjoy the smaller beasts just as much. I'm also able to contribute to the conservation of the plants and animals living there. Before I started camera trapping there nobody really knew how many small animals still manage to scrape together a living on the slopes of Tygerberg hills and the cameras have helped to reveal a bit of their world.

Surprisingly I'm still not bored with Tygerberg, so I'm looking forward to the next couple of months at the reserve and maybe I'll finally get a (better) glimpse of a Cape Fox or Bat-Eared Fox... :)

A tiny grasshopper on a flower

22 June 2010

A Slightly Floral Mix

Some flowers growing next to a dirt road at Tygerberg Nature Reserve 

This time around I thought I'll mix in some pictures of random flowers I photographed during my most recent trip to Tygerberg. Unfortunately I don't know their names, but they are still pretty to look at none the less.

Bontebok in the mist

The Bushnell is still at home recovering from its month-in-the-mist-flu. I'm making sure it is kept warm and stays in bed. I tested it today, and it seems to be working smoothly again and I'll take it back to work later this week.

Some more photos of the floral kind

When the Bushnell gets back to work I'll pick a new area for it to keep under 24 hour surveillance. The old spot turned out to be very productive. A Large-Spotted Genet paid the set a visit. This means both the Small- and Large-Spotted Genet was photographed at the same spot.

Large-Spotted Genet (Grootkolmuskeljaatkat - Genetta tigrina) gracing us with its presence

There where also many photographs of Four-Striped Grass Mice, but none particularly worthy of posting on this blog (although I admit that my standards are sometimes shockingly low, he he he).

I love the little grass mice. They are so much fun to watch, especially in the late afternoon. They are always busy, scurrying about,climbing bushes and then taking the shortcut down by just jumping off the twigs. There are a ton of them around and result in almost constant "company" as you walk along the dirt road.

A Small Grey Mongoose also popped by every now and again.

Small Grey Mongoose (Kleingrysmuishond - Galerella pulverulenta) gazing into the distance (probably writing some mongoose-poetry)

And I'll end the post with a bit of a bang by adding a splash of red/orange. These are quite nice little plants and I'm tempted to dig one up for my garden, but I just can't get myself to actually do it (it just feels wrong)... I think I'll wait for it to set seed and then steal some and see whether it might sprout at home.

Yes, I'm terrible with plant names and can't even guess what family this little guy comes from (but in my defence: I'm terrible with all names, for everything! )

20 June 2010

First Images From New Cameras

I've been saving up some money for two new cameras and this month I finally bought them.

The first one is another Bushnell Trophy Cam, but this time it is the 2010 Viewer model with (obviously) a built in viewer and printed at the bottom of each photo is the temperature (in Fahrenheit) and the current phase of the moon. The reason for buying another Bushnell Trophy Cam was because I'm, in general, very pleased with my old model. It has great battery life, its trigger speed is fast and its sensor range is very broad. It has proven useful at photographing a wide range of animals from big to small and the night time videos are fun and compensates for the lack of a natural flash.

Caracal (Rooikat - Caracal caracal) walking down the hill, past the Bushnell Trophy Cam 2010

However, the Bushnell Trophy Cams aren't without their flaws. As with many other trail cameras, they tend to over expose under tricky lighting conditions. This is clearly visible in the above picture from my new camera.

These Bushnell cameras are also not entirely water tight. I found that both the old and new models will tend to get damp inside during severe rainy and misty weather. This is particularly common to see water droplets on the batteries when I open the cameras to switch the SD cards after windy rain and mist. Under severe and prolonged conditions the moisture even manages to penetrate into the sealed compartment that contains the electronics, lens and digital display. The old camera was so badly "moisturised" yesterday that I needed to bring it home and dry it out. The electronics stopped working correctly, but hopefully the camera isn't damaged permanently and seems to be behaving better now that it is somewhat dryer...

Grey Rhebok (Vaalribbok - Pelea capreolus) enjoying the sunrise from Tygerberg Hills next to the Bushnell Trophy Cam 2010

It is normal for all cameras to sometimes take blurry pictures if there is water on the lens, but the Bushnells seem to be extra sensitive for this under severe conditions. The interesting thing is that I didn't experience this to such a great degree last year at Kirstenbosch (where it rains even more). This leads me to think that it is not the rain as such that might be causing the problem, but rather the mist. Kirstenbosch doesn't get a lot of mist, but the section of Tygerberg where the cameras are now gets a lot of very heavy mist. Lastly, I have noticed that the cameras are a lot better if I shelter them from the direct weather or if they get enough sun in between wet spells to dry out thoroughly.

Regardless of these drawbacks the Bushnells are still very nice cameras and a great deal for the price.

The other new camera is a Cuddeback Capture. My oldest camera, the Moultrie D40, is slowly but surely grinding to a halt and I was hoping that the Cuddeback might be a good replacement for it. I wanted another "white flash" camera, because the color night pictures are much prettier than the grey images from the infrared Bushnells.

Small Grey Mongoose (Kleingrysmuishond - Galerella pulverulenta) darting past the Cuddeback Capture

The interesting thing about the Cuddeback is that it has a very narrow sensor range, but a very fast trigger speed. This enables it to get pictures of animals traveling sideways across the photo, because the sensor only activates once the animal is in the centre of the photo and then it is very fast to react and take the photo. The down side is naturally that it will miss animals that don't walk into the middle of the frame.

So, what is next? Well, I think that maybe my next camera should be a hacked commercial digital camera and controller board like the ones used by The Camera Trap Codger and the like. The image quality of those cameras are awesome. I guess I'll have to start saving up again :)

08 June 2010

Weaseling Abound

The other new species I photographed at Tygerberg last week was a bit of a surprise to me. It is a African Striped Weasel (Slangmuishond).

I'm sure of my identification, but had to convince some of the people from Tygerberg (and City of Cape Town). It can easily be confused with a Striped Polecat. It is always best to be as sure as possible of an identification, especially for a rare and somewhat out of range find like this, so questions are welcome (and usually fun to talk about). So, how can I be sure? Easy, the simplest way to tell them apart is by the white facial marking of the Striped Polecat, which the African Striped Weasel does not have (clearly visible below). There are other things also, but the facial markings and hair length are the easiest.

African Striped Weasel (Slangmuishond - Poecilogale albinucha) popping out from amongst the ground cover

Some interesting facts about this little creature is that, together with the Dwarf Mongoose, it is Africa's smallest carnivore. It is a specialist rodent killer, but will sometimes also eat birds and insects. Their short legs and long, thin body is perfectly adapted to follow rodents into their hiding places. It bites it's prey on the back of the neck, rolls sideways to knock it off its feet, clasps it tightly and then thrust vigorously with its hind feet to break the animals spine.

They are good diggers and will dig their own burrows or adapt those dug by rodents. They are very short and their shoulder height is only 5-6 cm. Males are up to 50% larger  than females.

A weasel darting past the camera

African Striped Weasels are predominantly nocturnal and are only occasionally seen in daylight. They are considered rare, but are easily overlooked, due to their small size and nightly habits.

I'm hoping for some more photographs of this guy during week :)

Chris and Tilde Stuart (2008). Veldgids tot Soogdiere van Suider-Afrika. Kaapstad: Struik Uitgewers. 142-143.
Gus Mills and Lex Hes (1997). The Complete Book of Southern African Mammals. Cape Town: Struik Winchester. 203.
John D. Skinner and Christian T. Chimimba (2005). The Mammals of the Southern African Subregion. Cape Town: Cambridge University Press. 505-507.

05 June 2010

New Spots At The New Spot

I moved the Bushnell Trophy Cam to a new spot last week. When I checked the images today I saw I got my first Small-Spotted Genet! This means that both the Large-Spotted Genet and Small-Spotted Genet are found at Tygerberg. Everywhere I look people manage to confuse the Small-Spotted and Large-Spotted Genet with one another. They are actually not that difficult to tell apart. The Small-Spotted Genet is reasonably well defined in all field guides and can be distinguished from the other species found in South Africa. All experts and field guides do, however, not agree on whether the Large-Spotted Genet might be one or two species. While the scientists are busy making up their minds, I (and it seems most other people) continue to treat all Large-Spotted Genet as only one species.

Small-Spotted Genet (Kleinkolmuskeljaatkat - Genetta genetta) brightening up my day 

The above photo would have been a great shot if only I dimmed down the flash a little bit more. These trail cameras I use are made to be placed a good distance away from the animal/trail. They produce a bright flash at night to photograph large animals that might be some distance away, but I often use them very close to a small trail for smaller animals. Under these conditions I need to stick some electrical tape over the flash (or I use a few layers of plastic from white shopping bags) to dim it down for the closer shots. This usually helps a lot, but the flash is especially strong in the centre of the frame.

I put some scent out at this location today and I'm curious to see whether it changes the animals' behaviour or attracts some new visitors. I don't usually use bait/scent, and this is my first time doing so at Tygerberg (I think). I've heard rumors about a Black-Backed Jackal that might be around, and I'm also still hoping for some Canid action... If the canids over here are anything like the ones over in Amerika, then I'm hoping some strange scent might attract their attention.

01 June 2010

Curious Cat

I got a nice video of a Caracal checking out the camera last week.

Video: Caracal (Rooikat) checking out the camera one evening at Tygerberg

One would expect that these cats would be mostly nocturnal, but my sightings (personal and camera traps) show that they are a lot more active during the day than some people might have expected.

I have more sightings of Caracal during the day than at night (only 3 of the sightings were not by a camera trap)

In comparison I have 25 sightings of Porcupines at Tygerberg and all of them are at night. One of the reasons for the Caracals to be active during the day might be the large number of Four-Striped Grass Mice which are active during the day and probably forms a large part of their diet.

While looking for new camera locations I stumbled upon some of the Bontebok enjoying the green grass.

Enjoying the short green grass on a part of the hill that was burnt a few months ago

I also saw the Grey Rhebok (Vaalribbok) herd in the distance. The Grey Rhebok are a lot more skittish than the Bontebok and it is hard to get close to them. The Bontebok on the other hand are very relaxed around people.

Four Grey Rhebok (Vaalribbokke) enjoying the morning sun