18 September 2011

Magaliesberg Mongeese

Slender Mongoose (Swartkwasmuishond - Galerella sanguinea) in the Magaliesberg

The Slender Mongoose has always been, in my opinion, a rather handsome animal. Their colour varies from gray to reddish-brown, but the ones in the Magaliesberg seem to have an interesting mix of both.

Youngster checking things out

I'm pretty sure that I photographed two individuals, but it could be more. My guess would be mother and child. I've managed to photograph two individuals together on a previous occasion as well.

Although these mongooses are mostly solitary hunters they exhibit a surprising amount of sociality. Males sometimes form a type of "coalition" to defend their territory. The youngsters can stay in the females' territories for up to two years before dispersing.

Checking out the camera

Another interesting feature of these mongooses are that they like to lift the black tip of their tall of the ground.

Wearing that tail with pride

The weather was great but veld was still waiting for the first rain to arrive. Almost like the calm before the storm. Every plant and animal just waiting to switch gears into spring then summer.

Some Magaliesberg scenery

After my unsuccessful camera trapping the night before I decided to lay out a banquet in the hopes of attracting the local diurnal mammals. With the end of the winter and dry season at hand it didn't take to long for the first animals to show up.

Helping itself to some breakfast that doesn't try to run away

Interestingly enough the bread proved the most popular with almost all species (mammals and birds) taking a bite. But the mongooses also enjoyed the meat scraps. The sunflower seeds and fruit were enjoyed by the other visitors, but more about them later.

It's best to carry a mouthful of to a safe location and enjoy it in peace

The Slender Mongoose hunts mostly insects and small animals (reptiles, mammals, etc.), but they don't seem to turn up their noses at bread or an empty fish cans.

Mmm, I smell something fishy...

Most of these image where taken right next to the house. The animals didn't seem to be too alarmed by our presence as long as we remained out of sight.

The Bushnell hard at work

The Slender Mongoose is a very common species found throughout sub-Saharan Africa, with apparently up to 50 subspecies. To wrap things up here is one of these fellows munching on some bread, in style.

Keep it steady with your paw and then dig in

17 September 2011

One Night Stand

This past weekend my wife and I flew up to Johannesburg for a friend's wedding. The wedding was in the Magaliesberg and we took the opportunity to sleep over at the small nature resort called Utopia. We haven't been there in more than 3 years and were looking forward to it.

I think this is a Wild Pear (Drolpeer - Dombeya rotundifolia) flowering

It was here in the Magaliesberg that I did my first true camera trapping. You can find my old post over here.

This time around we only spent one night at Utopia, but I still made a last minute decision to take some camera traps with me. I ended up taking a Bushnell (2010 model), a homebrew Yeticam Sony s600 and a ScoutGuard (flash model).

A stream in the Magaliesberg

I had only one night to trap for the nocturnal mammals and I set out looking for a good location shortly after we arrived. I set the Bushnell next to a stream (in the picture above). I saw signs of Cape Clawless Otter (Groototter) and Water Mongoose (Kommetjiegatmuishond) and thought it might be worth the risk. The verdict: nothing passed during the night except for some humans. I'm assuming they were from one of the other houses.

Scrub Hare (Kolhaas - Lepus saxatilis) at dusk

Luckily there is plenty to see even without the help of camera traps. This Scrub Hare showed up just as the light was fading. I was hoping for some camera trap images of these guys (there were two), but they managed to evade the cameras.

The light was very bad and this is the best the camera could do

We also saw a Bushbaby (Nagapie), Baboons (Bobejaan) and plenty of tracks such as Porcupine (Ystervark), etc.

When I tried to setup the homebrew Sony I ran into another problem. The Sony's lensgears are problematic. I managed to fix it at home, but it started to give problems again. I think it might have been the vibrations during the flight. Luckily in the end I got it working.

I found a very promising spot for the Sony, but nothing walked past the camera during the night. If I had a week or two I'm sure I would have gotten some great images at the location.

Some kind of Coral Tree (Koraalboom) growing next to one of the houses

So, by now my last hope was on the ScoutGuard... I have one word to describe this camera: disappointment. If you are thinking of buying one, then don't. If you already bought one, then I feel your pain. On top of all it's shortcomings the camera chose this weekend to stop flashing. I had a great location and had some good bait set out. I even had nocturnal visits, but nothing to show except some completely black photographs. The camera still triggered, but the flash never fired.

So in the end the night was lost. I didn't get any images of the nocturnal animals, but I still had half a day to go and I pulled out all the tricks I could think off to skew the odds in my favour. I ended up capturing two mammal species and a couple of birds. Nothing new, but both species aren't found down here and make for a welcome change.

03 September 2011

Backyard Gold

I haven't written a post in a very long time, so I though I'll do a post about something interesting that happened today. Not strictly camera trapping, but I'm hoping nobody will mind :)

Cape Golden Mole (Kaapse Gouemol - Chrysochloris asiatica) found in our backyard

We were enjoying some sunshine in the backyard when Ralf (Doberman) came to the house carrying something gently in his mouth (like a puppy by it's neck). I don't want them eating random dead animals, so I rushed over to inspect what it was. It was a Golden Mole! I've always wanted to see one up close and, even though this one appeared dead, it was a great opportunity to examine the little critter up close.

Full body shot

It was still in perfect condition, except for some dog slobber on it's soft fur. The little body was cold, so I presume it must have died earlier. Ralf handled it very gently and it had no apparent physical damage.

The front feet made for digging

I've been aware of the presence of Golden Moles in our yard since moving in to the house a couple of years back. I regularly notice their little tunnels in the front and the back yard.

The hind feet made for shovelling

I'm pretty sure that this is a Cape Golden Mole (Chrysochloris asiatica), but it might also be a Fynbos Golden Mole (Amblysomus corriae) based on the distribution maps in my field guides. Not much research has been done on these amazing creatures and identifying species can be tricky.

Now, while doing this post I read up on Golden Moles and apparently they enter daily torpor (basically very short hibernation). During this time their body temperature drops to within 2 degrees Celsius of the soil temperature.

This got me thinking that the cold bodied animal that I photographed might still be alive! To make things wore I remember the body still being very soft and flexible.

I rushed to where I put the little body (out of reach of the dogs) to investigate. I looked at the body and the colour of the skin was now much paler, and the body was now stiff.

This makes me wonder... I'm pretty sure Ralf didn't kill the little guy, because his body showed no signs of damage and he was carrying it very gently. Possibly the dog found it while in a state of torpor, but surely being handled by a dog and human would wake it up?

Maybe it was old and weak and Ralf just happen to be at the right place at the right time (from the dog's perspective)?

I guess we'll never know, but I'll be watching the garden to see if we have another resident Golden Moles to keep those invertebrates in check.

A photograph of Mushu (left) and Ralf (right) taken today at a small park we frequently use to walk the dogs

The Doberman is Ralf and he is now almost 13 years old and doing OK for his age, but his starting to get old quick. Mushu was adopted so we don't know his age or what breed(s) he is, but his still young and some kind of Daxie cross. Both live in the house with us and provide endless joy (and the odd pain as well).

I haven't gotten around to camera trapping much recently, but once I've wrapped up some other projects I'm busy with I'm hoping to be back in full force. Meanwhile I'm thinking of doing a couple posts like this one that are not camera trapping related in the mean time...

By the way for those of you not following the Codger's blog he had some great subterranean posts recently over in America. Check them out over here.