Friday, July 29, 2011


Well, the time has come.

We're leaving the fine state of North Carolina tommorrow, and although being here has been a truly wonderful's time to move on.

I've taken a new position back in my home state of Wisconsin, which I am incredibly excited about.

I have some amazing colleagues and friends here that I will miss very much.

I'm happy I had the opportunity to meet them.

I'll also miss my study sites.  I spent almost every waking moment when I wasn't teaching either planning for the research projects I conducted there...or actually out there collecting data.  But, last week I pulled the transmitters off the box turtles, disengaged the drift fences and checked the camera traps for the last time.

Luckily, Dave will be here to continue the camera trap work in my absence.  He'll keep me updated with data and pictures after I leave and is more than capable of handling it.

So, I'll be away from blogland for a while.  Packing, moving cross-country, unpacking, and preparing for a new job will consume most of my time for the forseeable future.  I've tried to start a couple of "draft" entries that I can stick in every so often....just to let you all know I'm here....and at least until I start collecting new data and pictures from the upper Midwest.

In the meantime, here are a few pictures of spots from my study sites that I was particularly fond of.

See ya at the other end of the trail, folks!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (i.e., camera thieves)!!

I can't believe it.

Today, Dave went to check his cams as part of his ongoing camera trap project.

I get a call on my cell phone:

"Doc, bad news.  Someone stole three of our cameras."

"You're &*$@ing kidding me??!!"

"Nope, they pried the security cases open and stole them."

"Sonova bleepity, bleeping, bleep!!  Pull the rest.  This project's over!"

Three RECONYX HC600 cameras.  All of the lithium batteries (36 total).  Three SD cards.  And three security boxes.  All stolen or ruined.  All on private property.  The landowners were all shocked and very unhappy. This is a fairly remote location.  No random foot traffick.  Someone had to have heard about this through the grapevine (maybe the landowners told someone, who told someone, who told the wrong person).  They had to have come out there with a prybar looking for cameras (or they happened upon them and then came out looking for them later).  They only found three....had they found all of them, they'd have stolen all of them.

So, nearly $2,000 gone because a some useless wastes of space couldn't keep their sticky fingers to themselves. 

The worst is that Dave's project gets truncated.  He's an undergraduate and has worked his backside off on this project.....searching and writting grants proposals to get money to purchase the cams....writting research proposals to the university......fighting the heat to service the cameras....spending hours organizing the tens of thousands of pictures....  And a coupla backwood yokel idiots do no work, and get all of the spoils.

I just hope that some day these useless idiots get what's coming to them!


Here's what one of the cases looked like afterwards.  Fairly good evidence that they don't hold up well to this type of attack.

My only consolation is that...maybe they either (1) hurt themselves during the process, (2) were bitten by a copperhead on the way out of the properties or (3) broke the cameras when breaking the boxes.

Friday, July 22, 2011

The Coyote Cache

Reconyx cameras are picture taking machines.  After getting the chance to work with these cameras....which I had to acquire through blood, sweat and's hard to go back to other brands.  These cameras are part of a research project that I've alluded to in the past (see Anatomy of a Camera Trapping Project, posted on March 22, 2011). 

One of the reasons a Reconyx camera is so much fun, is that it can fire off up to 10 pictures like a fully automatic rifle every time its triggered.  For that reason, it's possible to catch some interesting behavior (without the need for video).

One of the reasons why they are sort of a drag, however, is that they are very expensive.  And after recently running afoul of camera thieves, the thought of loosing one of these cameras is too much to bear! example of interesting behavior caught by a Reconyx:

A Coyote (Canis latrans) caching food.  Right in front of the camera, no less!  I can't really tell what the prey is...small enough to be a bird, squirrel, rabbit, etc..

Unfortunately for our wiley canine, the scavengers will not allow him his spoils.  It's not long before an opposum shows up digging around where the cache is (see background).  A raccoon also lumbers along to get a free meal, but is denied by the ornery little marsupial.

Notes on Coyote Caching.

Caching of food has been reported for Red Foxes (Vulpes vulpes; Macdonald, 1976).  Information on caching behavior in Coyotes is fairly uncommon, although the behavior has been recognized in Coyotes for some time.  For example, Murie (1940) reports an observation of two coyotes attempting to hide food caches from ravens, and Young and Jackson (1951) also make mention of it.  Yet...some of the most detailed information on caching behavior in Coyotes comes from captive individuals.  Observations of captive eastern coyotes indicates that dominant male individuals do most (78%) of the food caching in a social group (Way and Carbal 2009), a phenomenon also observed by Phillips et al. (1991).

So, there is still a lot to learn about this behavior in wild Coyotes.

I'm just happy we actually caught it on our camera!

Literature Cited:

Macdonald, D.W. 1976. Food caching by red foxes and some other carnivores. Zeitschrift fur Tierpsychologie 42:170-185.

Murie, A., 1940. Ecology of the coyote of the Yellowstone.  US Government Printing Office.  Public Domain (pp 34-35). NOTE: I have not read this document, but found this reference here.

Phillips, D.P., J. Ryon, W. Danilchuk, and J.C. Fentress. 1991. Food caching in captive coyotes: stereotypy of action sequence and spatial distribution of cache sites. Canadian Journal of Psychology 45:83-91.

Way, J.G., and R.D. Cabral. 2010. Effects of hierarchy rank on caching frequency in a captive Coywolf (Eastern Coyote) Canis latrans x lycoan, pack.  Canadian Field Naturalist 123: 173-175.

Young, S.P., and H.H.T. Jackson. 1951. The clever coyote. The Stackpole Company, Harrisburg, PA.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Your Weekly Fawn Part II

There has been plenty of fawn activity in front of my camera sets over the past few weeks.

Here some most recent pictures.

I've got two separate sets of twins at completely different sites.

Here's the first pair.  Momma's looking a wee bit skinny. 

Trying to consume enough calories to feed twins, while also meeting her own metabolic needs must be a herculean task (especially with the brutal heat we've had lately).  Research investigating the energetic demands on female Black-Tailed Deer (Odocoileus hemionus columbianus) that are lactating to feed juveniles illustrates what I'm talking about.  According to Sadlier (1982), female Black-tailed Deer that are lactating and feeding a single fawn consume 135% of the food/energy intake of non-lactating females.  Females lactating to feed twins consumed 170% of the intake of non-lactating does!

Here's the twins from the other site.

This momma looks a bit more heathly.

A couple of does with only one mouth to feed are also hanging around...
I think this is the same fawn as in the picture above.  This fawn and momma pass by this camera at fairly regular intervals.

More fawns in the future, I hope!

Literature Cited:

Sadleir, R.M.F.S. 1982. Energy consumption and subsequent partitioning in lactating black-tailed deer.  Canadian Journal of Zoology 60:382-386.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Turtle Dogs!

Above: the students, the teachers, the turtle dogs and the turtle dog master!
Photo courtesy of T. Tomasek


Well, this week it was hot.  Hot!  Hot!!  And humid.  Sticky, wet, humid.

Heat indices of over 100 on several days....and in the upper 90s every other day.

The worst is that humidity.  Air so thick ya feel like yer swimmin'!  You just can't cool off.  Especially when one is an over-weight male of Germanic/Irish descent (like me :)  )  the humidity is brutal.

Anyhoo, that really did a number on how many critters we caught this week during our normal drift fence and coverboard surveys.  The total captures were down from the last two weeks.

So, that should result in a boring survey round up for this week right?


This week we got to take part in one of the coolest things I've been involved with in years.....the use of "turtle dogs" to survey for Eastern Box Turtles (Terrapene carolina) at one of our survey sites.


A colleague here at the university has a doctorate in Science Education.  Luckily for me, she also likes amphibians and reptiles!  She created a summer herpetology class for high school students who are interested in going to college. She recently wrote a successful grant to help design and fund this curricula..... and with some of that money she wanted to expose her students to doing surveys with turtle dogs.

Lucky for me, she also wanted to use one of my study sites (which is great, 'cause as much as I wanted to experience turtle-dog surveys....I have not got any money!).

Meet John Rucker (below):  box turtle enthusiast, naturalist, outdoorsman, and turtle dog master!!

Above: John preparing to release the dogs from their holding crates on the back of his van.

Above: John explaining the process to some students.

Above: one of the Boykin spaniels who ran turtles for us.  I can't remember this one's name.  Although John brought 8, we worked most closely with three: Mink, Greta, and Ginny Ray.

John drove from Tennessee with his fine pack of 8 Boykin Spaniels.  With noses like these canines have...they can sniff out whatever you teach them to find.  Some folks teach their spaniels to retrieve waterfowl they've shot.....some teach theirs to flush quail or pheasant.....John taught his to find turtles!   John charges a very reasonable price for his services, and because of this has done work all over the U.S.

Above: although we only ran a few dogs a day, the others got to be let out of their crates and staked to the ground with a lead to stretch their legs and get some water.

Not only can they find turtles, but they can do it while still thinking for themselves.....and surviving.

John told a story about a little gal of his named Greta that brought this point home brilliantly.  He was in the Badlands of South Dakota...working for a group that was having his dogs look for Ornate Box Turtles (Terrapene ornata).  At one point, Greta caught the scent of a Pronghorn and was gone.....John said they were specks on the horizon before he even realized it.  He waited (his dogs usually come back), and looked for Greta.  He slept in his van out at the spot he last saw her, hoping she'd Greta.  He figured she had been taken by the land, some Coyotes....or perhaps a Cougar.  But just in case, John had his girlfriend place an ad in the local paper and hoped for the best.

Fourteen days later, he gets a phone call.  The dog had showed up on a rancher's property some 30 miles away.

Now, this work was conducted in an area where a lot of feral dogs run.  The rancher apparently has a policy that any feral dog that comes on his land is shot just as fast as he can get to his pistol.  But serendipity worked in Greta's favor.  The back door of their house happened to be open.  Apparently, the rancher's wife was working at the laundry machine when she felt something nudge the back of her leg.  She turned around and there was sweet little Greta.  Face covered in ticks....ears sticking straight out from all the cockle-burrs....alittle skinny and dehydrated....but alive.

The rancher announced he was going for his gun, but his wife told him to wait.....there was just something different about this dog.  Not a few hours later the rancher's neighbor happened to have seen the ad in the paper about the missing Boykin Spaniel and happened to call the rancher to let him know about it.

And that's how Greta survived her 14 day solo tour of the Badlands.


We had John and his dogs come to our study site for two back-to-back days.  During both days, we ran the same number of dogs, through the same area, for the same amount of time and let them catch as many turtles as they could find.

We started each day by taking the dogs to the area we wanted them to search (so they wouldn't become distracted with other scents).  Once we were to the right spot, the dogs went to work...and boy did they work!  The remainder of our time in the morning of both days was spent following and encouraging the dogs....letting them catch stuff...while we followed as fast as we could, flagging the site and bagging the turtles for processing.

Above: walking the dogs down to where the official surveys started.
Photo courtesy of T. Tomasek.

Above: the dogs at work!

Above: Success!

Above: more success!!

Above: Bagging a breeding pair of turtles that one of the girls found.
Photo courtesy of T. Tomasek

After a few hours of that (in brutal heat, I'll mention again)....the turtles were brought to a central location and important morphological data was recorded.  After the turtles were weight and measured, we gave each a unique mark so they could be identified in the future.  We ended by walking each turtle back to its original capture location using a GPS and looking for the appropriate flagging.

Above: My undergraduate research assistant, Dave, processing the turtles

Above: a turtle with standard data sheet.

By the end of that...usually anywhere from 1:30-2 pm...we were all tired and soaking wet with sweat....but did we ever have fun!

So let me put this into perspective for you:  from last August (2010) until this Monday...between myself, Dave, and all of my Wildlife Ecology students last fall....putting in a total of over 300 person hours on this property....have found about 22 Eastern Box Turtles.

In a total of 3 hrs over two days....these dogs found 25!  This includes 5 juveniles (of which I think I've seen ONE previously).

You know what I say to that?   Who's a good dog!?  Who's a good doggie? 

Above: Turtle number H023.  One of the turtles originally captured on day one, who was recaptured during day two of the surveys.

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Brute and His Friends: Act I and II

I'm not one to go nuts over "trophy buck" pictures, it's not the reason I got into camera trapping.

But there are a few huge bucks hanging around some of these cameras.

So....keeping with my series of posts on antler growth at one of my study sites (see recent posts here, here and here), I present to you: The Brute and His Friends; Acts I & II.

Act I:

One of these may be The Brute I posted pics of on June 12, 2011.  Regardless, there are four of these sizeable fellows that ambled past the camera on June 20th (all at about the same time!).

The first one goes past pretty fast....this picture is blurry, but you get the gist.

Then, number two.....

Followed closely by number three....

Bringing up the rear is number four, who is alittle bit asymmetrical.

This camera had been in this location for almost exactly a year.  My goal at these sites was to monitor locations for one year and then move the cameras to new spots on the same site for another year.

So it was moved at the beginning of July.


Act II:

We moved all the cameras last week...and we got more pictures of this hulking bachelor herd at two of the new camera locations on-site.

They all have nice antlers...but there's one (The Brute) that continues to out-shine the others in this regard.

I'm not a hunter...but if I were, I'd probably be salivating at these pictures....

They passed by these two cameras at roughly the same time (within an hour of each other).

First, the group moved in front of our new upland deciduous hardwood camera location.  The Bushnell can't handle tree canopy at dusk or dawn very the pictures are in IR even though its not even 7 pm.

These aren't quite as good as the next batch of pics because number of the bucks hang in the background.

Next, some pictures of them from one of our new grassland/old field camera locations.  This is a trail with brushy vegetation on either side...the trail runs in between two grassy openings and the brush pinches the critters to walk right in front of the camera that's placed along the trail.

Unfortunately, alittle something is obscuring part of the lens when this group went by...but you can still see them very clearly.

First is our asymmetrical buddy from the batch of pics at the top of this post.  Antlers are bigger, but still imbalanced.  I wonder if this is the same individual with the weird rack I photographed last fall.  You can't see it in this picture, but his left antler is mostly a single branch....sort of like the individual I called The Onlooker in my post on February 25th, 2011.

That strange antler is a tad more curved than last year...but might be him again.

Then...number two....

Followed closely by the main attraction: The Brute!  Figured I'd give you two shots of that rack.

Bringing up the rear is number four.......

Hopefully, the Brute and his friends will keep on passing by this new camera set from time to time so we can see how they progress.