10 December 2012

Watery Ways

Next week this time I'll be back in the Eastern Cape. The past year I've been helping my mother finish the retirement home they started building before my father passed away. This December will be the first time we are going to stay in it and I'm very excited to experience the (almost) finished product :)

Some finishing touches are still needed, but at least it doesn't look like this anymore...

I've been a little concerned about my camera traps recently. The previous time I was in the Woody Cape I decided to take some risks with a few of my cameras because I was under the impression that I'll be back two weeks later. I was planning to receive the truck with furniture from Johannesburg, however my mom was able to fly down and do it herself, so there was no need for me to go as well.

It is now over a month and a half later and I hope I find them where I left them...

As some of you might have noticed the Woody Cape has been a somewhat "slow" location. I was glad to finally get another new species during my last visit. Hopefully I'll be able to spend more time during my next visits to explore new locations I couldn't get to during my house building trips.

A Marsh/Water Mongoose (Kommetjiegatmuishond - Atilax paludinosus) at the Woody Cape

Not the greatest photograph, but I'll take anything at this point.

It has been raining heavily in the Eastern Cape during the time the cameras where out. The photograph below shows a dune that was washed away by the small temporary stream that turned into a small river after some heavy rains. The water normally stops towards the back of the photo, in the thickets, and never runs all the way to the see as it did during this visit.

The heavy rains at Cannon Rocks resulted in the spring going into flood and washing away a large portion of the dune

Maybe a better way to illustrate the heavy rains are the following selection of images. The photos were taken by the same camera as the Water Mongoose above, but about a week later.

A young Bushbuck (Bosbok - Tragelaphus sylvaticus) next to a temporary puddle/stream

You can see the ditch in the ground has filled up. The next image was five days after the one above.

Aaaah, nothing like a foot-spa to work up an appetite

By now the ditch has turned into a stream with water everywhere!

But all of the rain didn't dampen the spirits of the resident animals. One of the other cameras got some interesting photographs of two Bushbuck males getting a little frisky.

A Bushbuck male raising the long hair on his back in response to the other fellow approaching in the background

If we can get the internet sorted out at the new home, and if I'm in the mood I'll try and do some posts over the holiday period. If I don't get around to it: Have a great holiday time and rest well.

07 November 2012

Hangin' Around

A Vervet Monkey (Blouaap - Cercopithecus pygerythrus) at the Woody Cape

As can be expected the Woody Cape is home to monkeys. I seem to encounter them more frequently in the forest-like parts of the national park. The high and open trees seem to fit them better than the low and thick bush of the tickets. They are quite common throughout a large part of South Africa, preferring Savannah bushveld and river vegetation.

They can become a huge nuisance if they get accustomed to humans, especially if they get food from them (either being fed, or stealing it).

I'll confess that I'm not a huge fan. A few years ago I noticed that even though I've had hundreds of excellent sightings of these monkeys, I didn't have any photographs of them at all. I had to force myself to take a few so-so photographs "for the record". I guess I'm just not a big primate fan...

Showing off an intimidating set of crown jewels...

In Afrikaans they are know as "Blue Monkey", I'm guessing that the reason for this can be seen in the above photograph. They live in troops of 20 or more and have a well defined social hierarchy.

Vervet Monkeys spend a lot of time on the ground looking for food

These monkeys are active during the day and usually sleep at night in trees or sometimes on cliffs. They eat mostly plant material, but also snack on insects and small animals such as lizards, bird eggs, etc.

This monkey seems to know it's corridor safety checks: always look left and right before crossing

The above photograph's camera (a Bushnell Trophy Cam) was placed on a small trail crossing an open patch in the forest-like area. I was curious what animals use the trail. The most common were the Vervets, but a few other species also showed up.

A Blue Duiker (Blouduiker - Cephalophus monticola) following similar corridor safety procedures as the monkey

The above image gives a good idea of just how small a Blue Duiker is, compared to a monkey.

The members of the Duiker subfamily are quite different from many of the other antelope and one might thing that the Duiker subfamily might be somewhat "primitive" compared to some of the other antelope species.

However Duiker remains are fairly uncommon in fossil records and there are indications from their anatomy and behaviour that they are amongst the smartest and most complex of antelope. Their brains are apparently the largest (proportionally) of all bovids (ruminating animals with cloven hoofs). They also have a relatively long gestation period and slow growth rate, which might indicate a prolonged learning period. They are known to predict and exploit other animal's behaviour including monkeys, bats and birds. They often seek out these animals and eat the fruit they drop from the trees. Duikers are also know to stalk and eat insects and other small animals. They are also excellent at hiding.

I remember once stumbling across a Grey Duiker in an open field in the Magalies Mountains. As soon as it saw me it froze and didn't run, but instead started to sneaked to the closest tall grass and trees. Even though it was fairly close to me and in plain sight for a good couple of seconds while moving towards the cover my brain didn't fully register it's present, and then once it reached the cover it just vanished, completely! Never was there a rush of sound or movement to "trigger" my attention. It was as if it was never there. The animal just slipped away. I could almost feel it "brain washing" me: "I'm not here I'm not here I'm not here I'm not here". On that day I got respect for the intelligence of Duikers. It is a difficult thing to explain to somebody else, but the animal was able to actively counteract my instincts, to put my senses off balance and then just vanish.

I believe this guy knows some Karate (but don't worry he isn't any good because his headband is only white)

What would a camera trap set at the Woody Cape be without a smiling Bushbuck dropping in for a self portrait. Seriously whats up with the smiles from these guys...

It's a good life being a Bushbuck (Bosbok - Tragelaphus sylvaticus) in the Woody Cape

It has been raining heavily in this part of the country during this camera trapping session and a lot of photographs have moisture on the lens. But sometimes everything comes together in a good way. For instance, I quite like the way the following photograph turned out.

A male Bushbuck browsing in the Eastern Cape forest

14 October 2012

On The Move

Two months ago I had my Bushnell Trophy Cam XLT setup in part of the more forest-like sections of the Woody Cape. Reviewing the first moths images I noticed that a Blue Duiker was active in this area and I wanted to get some video of it. I moved the camera to a different tree and waited.

Below is a collection of the video clips I got. Although the Blue Duiker was active during the day, the forest is so dark that the flash kicked in on most occasions.

Video: A series of Blue Duiker (Blouduiker - Cephalophus monticola)  visits at the Woody Cape

I think in the last clip you can see it using its facial glads to scent mark.

For a long time I've been playing around to reduce the flash of my Bushnell camera traps. Most camera traps, especially the IR models, tend to have a very strong "spotlight" flash. This might be great in wide open areas where the target is fat away from the camera. However, almost all of my camera trap setups are in confined spaces and very close to the animals. This can cause severe whiteout.

In the past I used black isolation tape to reduce the flash, but after giving it some thought (and talking to some knowledgeable friends at work) I decided to try something new.

Two pieces of the textured glass that I'm currently using to improve the flash of my camera traps.

I got some textured glass cutoffs from our local hardware store. The idea is to get the glass with the roughest or most irregular surface.

I'm no expert, but in theory if I can't move the flash further away from the camera's lens to reduce the direct (harsh) reflection of the flash's light, then I can try to deflect the flash's light, thus creating a softer more natural spread. The idea is to diffuse the light, turning a spotlight into a more natural light and allowing the environment to reflect some light back onto the subject.

Since all of my cameras are in the field I haven't been able to do a direct comparison, but based on my observations in the field I do believe that this is making a noticeable difference. I've even put some glass over the new Cuddeback Attack (even though it comes with an "adjustable flash").

My old Cuddeback Capture and the Birdcam each take excellent white flash images. Interestingly, if you look at the flash covers of these cameras you'll notice that both of them don't have a clear smooth texture, but that they actually have different segments that deflect the flash into different directions.

This definitely isn't a magical fix to the flash problem but I think it does help.

Video: Large-Spotted Genet (Grootkolmuskeljaatkat - Genetta tigrina) catching something in the leave litter

I'm sure the above Large-Spotted Genet was in the neighbourhood for a dinner date with one of the regular visitors to the area, the Woodland Dormouse.

Video: A series of clips showing a Woodland Dormouse (Boswaaierstertmuis - Graphiurus murinus) zooming about

I love the way their eyes glow as they zoom around. It reminds me of the cat bus in My Neighbour Totoro...

Another well known species is the Bushbuck. One of the sequences was long enough and interesting enough to put together into one two minute segment.

Video: Bushbuck (Bosbok - Tragelaphus sylvaticus) out for lunch
I usually prefer photographs, but it is nice to switch over to video once in a while to capture some natural behaviour.

30 September 2012

Smile! Please?

I had a set of Large-Spotted Genet photos on my computer waiting to be posted, and yet not a single one of them has a Genet facing the camera!

Large-Spotted Genet (Grootkolmuskeljaatkat - Genetta tigrina) showing off it's lovely tail

In fact, I have a history of not getting these spotty characters to face the camera. By sheer random luck I should have at least a handful of images showing a face. However, I have very few, compared to the number of tail shots I have.

I'll admit that these guys have marvelous tails

I sometimes come close, getting a half decent photograph from the side, but still no mug shot.

Almost there... But as always somehow managing to look in the other direction...

Meanwhile the quest continues...

One might think that this Genet might just as easily walked past the camera from the other direction, but by now we know better...

A much more co-operative set of characters are the Bushbuck. The following two images show two females at different stages of maturity. It is interesting to note the gradual colour change.

A female young Bushbuck (Bosbok - Tragelaphus sylvaticus) sniffing the ground

An older female sniffing the same spot

However, the males are much darker.

A male getting his share of the sniffing

But at least these guys don't mind smiling for the camera.

Now, if only one of the Genet could be this co-operative...

16 September 2012

Woody Cape Predators

There is plenty of meat available for a hungry predator at the Woody Cape in the form of Bushbuck, Bush Pig, Vervet Monkeys, Blue Duiker, etc. So where are the predators?

The most common carnivores camera trapped thus far have been the diurnal Small Grey Mongoose and nocturnal Large-Spotted Genet (see a previous entry over here). However, these little predators specialise on killing smaller animals such as rodents, bird and insects.

Luckily my most recent set of photographs from the Woody Cape contained some interesting finds. My old Cuddeback captured a distressed young Bushbuck running past the camera.

A young Bushbuck (Bosbok - Tragelaphus sylvaticus) making a run for it

The Cuddeback might take pretty photographs at night, but unfortunately it takes 30 seconds to recover, however that was just enough time to catch the tail of a Honey Badger zipping past the camera.

Honey Badger (Ratel - Mellivora capensis) in pursuit of the Bushbuck?

What makes these images interesting is that Honey Badger usually pray on small animals such as rodents and insects, but they are also know to take reptiles, birds, fruit and other small mammals, including small antelope. These guys are notoriously tough and I'm sure one can take down a small Bushbuck if it really wants to.

The Honey Badger isn't a new species to my camera trapping list at the Woody Cape, I regularly get images of them passing by (see a previous entry over here).

I don't see a Honey Badger as a primary predator of the larger mammal species. So, what other predators are still around in the Woody Cape?

Recently SANParks released a news headline that a Brown Hyena was camera trapped in the Colchester section of the park (story over here). I must admit that I'm a little envious :) The Colchester section is approximately 60km away from the Woody Cape section where I'm busy camera trapping. It has a different habitat and is on the other end of the protected coastline forming part of the Addo Elephant National Park.

Now, the Brown Hyena might be a large carnivore, but it is not really a predator, it is predominantly a scavenger and it is very seldom that it kills it's own food.

But last month I finally got a photograph of a real predator. One with the reputation to back it up and a familiar face for any long time readers of this blog.

A Caracal (Rooikat - Caracal caracal) in the Woody Cape, seemingly on a mission (as always...)

Caracal might prefer to hunt small to medium sized animals, but as any sheep farmer will tell you they are very capable in killing much larger animals as well. I'm sure that they will not think twice about having a young Bushbuck for a meal. They might even take on the odd adult, but since Bushbuck don't have a fixed breeding season there should be a constant supply of youngsters to pick from.

I've been hoping for a Caracal since day one, but I must admit that I was very surprised to finally get a picture of one at this location. This camera was a last minute setup and I had low expectations of it.

But this location had one more predator to reveal.

African Crowned Eagle (Kroonarend - Stephanoaetus coronatus) striking down

The African Crowned Eagle might not be the biggest eagle on the continent (the Verreauxs' Eagle and Martial Eagle are bigger), but it is considered to be the most powerful.

It is a specialist mammal hunter and has been known to kill adult Bushbuck, weighing over six times it's own weight! They have short but broad wings and a long tail to allow them to hunt in the forests and thickets of Africa. They prey mainly on monkeys, dassies and antelope throughout their range. They are even rumoured to kill human children.

The African Crowned Eagle usually hunts by waiting in the canopy for an animal to pass by and then swoops down onto it, crushing it with its powerful talons, easily puncturing vital organs/bones/scull with its 10cm long talons. They will sneak up on their prey if it doesn't move their way, moving through the vegetation into strike range.

The African Crowned Eagle has been listed as Near Threatened in recent years and it is good to see them around in the Woody Cape.

With the predators starting to show themselves I find my hopes rekindles for the elusive Woody Cape Leopard, and I'm still waiting for those Black-Backed Jackal I've seen in the neighbouring cattle farms to venture into the forest. Or maybe I'll find a Brown Hyena in the Woody Cape's coastal dunes when I get around to camera trapping there? Time will tell.

28 August 2012

From Out Of The Blue... Eh Black

I've always wanted to get images of bats on my camera traps. I assumed that it will require lots of hard work setting up various camera traps that specifically target bats. The dream was to, one day, get at least one semi-decent photograph of a bat flying past the camera. (I still hope to one day stumble onto a bat roost and find a way of setting up a camera close by.)

When I went through my Birdcam's most recent photographs I was very happy to find a few great photographs of bats. They were flying close to the ground amongst the thickets in the Woody Cape section of the Addo Elephant National Park.

Egyptian/Common Slit-Faced Bat (Egiptiese/Gewone Spleetneusvlermuis - Nycteris thebaica) flying in the thickets of the Woody Cape

The photographs are even good enough to identify the species! After spending hours going through my various field guides I managed to narrow it down to a handful of species, however I couldn't be sure... Then I noticed a picture in one of the books showing a forked tail! TA-DA!! As easy as that!

This is an Egyptian Slit-Faced Bat. As far as I know the forked tail is unique amongst mammals (being limited to this genus).

The photograph also nicely shows the elongated heel bone (aka the calcaneum) that helps support the tension in the tail.

I think this individual has the rare rufous coloration that is apparently more frequent encountered towards the eastern parts of its range. These images were photographed close to the coast in the Eastern Cape province of South Africa, which might explain the colour.

The stretch of thicket where the bat was photographed, with the small holiday town of Cannon Rocks in the distance

These bats have huge ears. They use echolocation for navigation and catching their prey, but they also rely heavily on the mechanical sounds emanating from the bugs to track them down. They prefer feeding on various forms of beetle and crawling critters, instead of the usual moths, mosquitoes, etc. Because of this they can often be found catching their prey on the ground. They also like to return to a feeding perch to finish the meal.

Catching something amongst the leaf litter

The Egyptian Slit-Faced Bat is a slow flier and this probably played a part in capturing these photographs. Their echolocation and good maneuverability allows them to navigate and hunt in the thick vegetation at night.

I'm not sure but I think the photograph below shows the bat either in the process of snatching up some dinner, or maybe it is carrying something it caught amongst the leaf litter in its mouth to a feeding perch close by.

I think this might be one of the more handsome species compared to some of the craziness found in other bat species

All in all I think these are some great photographs from the Birdcam. This is only my second round with this camera, and although it definitely has some flaws, it does seem to be able to produce some very pleasant surprises.

19 July 2012

Adorable Mouse

I like to do some research before I start (and during) camera trapping in a new area. As a result I usually end up forming a "wish list" for the area. I tend to group species into some "loose" categories:
  • Done deals
    • Known to be present, common and easy to photograph.
  • Good bets
    • Not known to be present or difficult to photograph, but common and should be around if you know what or where to look for.
  • I'll have a shot
    • Known to be present, but uncommon or rare.
  • If I'm lucky
    • Not known to be present or was historically present and uncommon or rare now.
  • Yeah right
    • Myths and legends, either believed to be present and most likely not, or vice versa.
The Woodland Dormouse was on my "Good bets" list: They should be fairly common in the forests and thickets, but might be tricky to photograph and identify.

Woodland Dormouse (Boswaaierstertmuis - Graphiurus murinus) in the Woody Cape forest near the towns of Alexandria and Cannon Rocks

When I first got to this location I had a Cuddeback with me. Since I wasn't in the mood for mice, but instead had Blue Duiker on my mind I decided to strap the camera around the tree and point it towards the clearing. In the end I only photographed a couple of Bushbuck. (I've posted some of the pictures before over here, see the 3rd and 4th photographs.) When I went to collect the camera I noticed a big hole on the other side of the tree.

The hole in the back of the tree that caught my eye

It looked promising and since I had a Bushnell with me, which is much better at photographing small critters than a Cuddeback, I decided to strap it to an adjacent tree and see whether anything uses the hole or climbs up and down the tree. I wasn't disappointed. The tree was crawling with Dormice!

If this was a staring contest then the Dormouse won...

There was only one problem: Which species of Dormouse is this? Although the infrared Bushnell Trophy Cams are great at capturing anything, big or small, passing by the camera the grainy grey night time photos aren't pretty and makes identifying most rodent species very difficult. Luckily, back home, it was around this time that I took the plunge and bought my first Birdcam. This was going to be it's first field test. I pointed it to the tree and hoped for the best.

The Birdcam in action

I still don't know what to make of this camera. It seems to have a very good flash (for a commercial camera trap) that doesn't need to be dimmed even for very close shots. The strange thing is that it only has a manual focus. This allows it to take photographs of creatures very close to the camera. The problem is that if you have the setting wrong, or the animal isn't in the "sweet spot" then the animal will be out of focus. Thus the Birdcam can be set to focus much closer than normal commercial cameras. I'll keep you posted about this camera as I try it out in different situations, but my initial impression is that it is decent choice for some specialised camera setups.

On the hunt

I'm reasonably pleased with these initial results. Unfortunately all of the Woodland Dormouse images are slightly out of focus, but it is partly my own fault. I measured the focus point to be higher up on the tree, but almost all of the images has these little gray ninjas much lower and closer to the camera. I should have used a closer focus setting...

The camera had only one empty photograph, but in general it trigger far less often than the Bushnell did. But then again the Bushnell covered a larger part of the tree and has an excellent detection circuit.

Enough about the cameras, more about the animals!

Is he practicing his ninja-chop?

Woodland Dormice are rodents, however unlike most mice and rats they have very furry tails. They nocturnal and very good climbers. They are often found in houses and can become fairly tame. They eat insects, fruit and seeds. They are known to hibernate during winter and go into torpor during food shortage or cold spells.

Dormice live alone or in family groups that may share a nest. Nests are built in trees or amongst rocks from grass, lichen, etc. Family groups defend their territory fiercely from other Dormouse intruders and will even kill and eat the intruder! These sweet looking little mice are more like fierce ninjas that will take over another families home, eating any family members that get in their way.

I actually put some peanut butter and sunflower seeds on the tree in the hope that they will stick around longer, but they seemed to have ignored it completely

What predator would be brave enough to prey on such a fierce little rodent? Well, I'd put my money on this guy: The Large-Spotted Genet.

A wet Large-Spotted Genet (Grootkolmuskeljaatkat - Genetta tigrina), a wet tree and a wet camera

The Large-Spotted Genet payed a couple of visits to this Dormouse-highway.

"Mmmm, I think I'm going to jump onto that box-like-thing. I'm sure nobody will mind..."

A more curious visitor was this Small Grey Mongoose that dropped by one day.

Small Grey Mongoose (Kleingrysmuishond - Galerella pulverulenta) checking things out

The tree saw very little action during the day, so I have to wonder what this guy was thinking. Maybe, like me, he just wanted to have a look in the hole (you never know what might be down there). Maybe it was looking for some sleeping Dormouse to snack on?
All in all this has been a fun location and I might revisit it some time in the future. And with that it is the end my the tail.

Dormouse sending a clear message that it doesn't appreciate this intrusion on it's privacy

08 July 2012

Plenty Of Pigs

Bushpig (Bosvark - Potamochoerus larvatus) in the Woody Cape section of Addo Elephant National Park

The Woody Cape is home to plenty of Bushpig. These hairy pigs seems to be pretty common, yet very elusive. Signs of their digging can be found everywhere and they seem to be the second most camera trapped mammal thus far.

A Bushpig putting his nose to work

They use their hard snouts to dig through the damp soft soil looking for roots, bulbs, etc. However they also eat leaves and being true pigs they have an omnivorous tendency to indulge in anything from insects and frogs, to carrion and small lambs. They also have a sweet tooth for fruit.

Sniff sniff sniff sniff...

They are for the most part nocturnal. In fact I haven't photographed any in daylight yet at the Woody Cape. They live in groups of around 4-10 individuals. I've some photographs with at least 5 animals visible at once.

"OK guys, I'm sure I dropped my earring somewhere around here... Just keep looking..."

A group usually consists of a dominant male and female. The male is usually in charge of a few other females and youngsters as well. However you can also find loners or bachelor groups. The males are slightly bigger than the females.

I like it when some of the photographs show the underside of the animal's foot/paw/etc.

The Bushpig in this neck of the woods are pretty hairy! Most of them also have a rich orange-brown base colour, with a white mane. They have longer black hair over most of their body. I think they look rather nice (for pigs) in colour, but on the grey scale infrared Bushnell's they look much worse.

Missing half a tail.

This individual, above, seems to have lost part of it's tail. Bushpig can be fierce when wounded or trapped. They are at home in the thickets of the Eastern Cape.

I'm starting to suspect these guys are in fact elves in disguise!

Their weird elf-like ears and hairy appearance give them an interesting look. I'm sure I'll get plenty more photographs of these hairy swine!

The guys put their heads together and decided that this should be the end of the blog post...