Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Death of a Titan

A Titan has fallen. individual hasn't fallen in the way you might imagine.

This Brute wasn't felled by a bullet or an arrow (he was far too smart to be outwitted by the average hunter).

It was the mechanical beast.....that metallic slayer......death on wheels.....which brought this Titan down.

A student forwarded these pictures to me a few days ago.  They were taken in a cornfield along a roadside not far from where we had obtained photos and video clips of large bucks just a few weeks ago.

Photo by B. Chapman
Photo by B. Chapman
Photo by B. Chapman

Comparing pics of the roadkilled specimen above to the individual below, would suggest to me they are one and the same.

A fairly sad state of affairs, if you ask me.

This impressive individual was removed from the breeding population at (what would appear to be) the prime of his life.'s not all gloom and doom, I suppose.  As far as I can tell, the big fella below is still wandering around out there somewhere (he was also the star of a recent blog post here).  We'll see if he lasts the hunting season.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Happy Walkin' Bird Day!

I know it's cliche and all that jazz....but why not show some pictures of Walkin' Birds to celebrate how delicious they taste?  AND to celebrate Thanksgiving with family and friends, of course!

Below are some recent pics of the rafter that's been hanging out behind the house all year.  I'm assuming these are the poults that were hatched on-site this summer (see here).  It's interesting that despite the resident Red Foxes and Coyotes in the area, most of these poults are surviving.

One morning last week, I took the dog outside for one of his daily evacuations and heard the unmistakable sound of turkeys clumsily flying through tree branches.  I looked up and the group of them had been roosting in the pine and oak trees right behind the house the night before. 

I saw the same rafter again this morning as I walked behind the house to check my cameras.

I was able to count 15 of them.

I, personally, can't wait to tuck in to some juicy Walkin' Bird....sweet potato souffle....maple pudding...sunshine corn bread....mashed bean casserole.....rice pudding.....pumpkin pie........and etc.

Happy Walkin' Bird Day (and a Happy Thanksgiving)
to Everyone!!

Friday, November 16, 2012

White-Tail Chemical Ecology

I accummulate hundreds and hundreds of White-Tail Deer pictures and video clips throughout the year.  I realize that countless pictures of deer get a bit boring and repetitive.  This is evidenced by the fact that my blog entries related to deer consistently have the lowest numbers of views compared to my other entries. 

Therefore, I try to limit the number of entries I write that are focused solely on deer.  I obviously can't help showing you all any large bucks I happen to get (at least once or twice a year)....they are just too impressive when in their prime not to be enamoured with them.  Yet, I try and focus deer-related posts to something specific regarding interesting behavior or phenomena....and I think the interactions below fall into that category.

The video clips below provide a bit of insight into how frequently bucks and does return to investigate a scent location....and also for how long they will return to this spot over time.  Granted, this is a sample size of 1....but it's still neat to see.

You'll also note that there is not a single clip that occurs during the daylight.  Even though the behavior below is occuring outside of the rifle hunting season in our area, most of my pics/videos of deer activity throughout the fall and winter (particularly for the large bucks) happens at night.  There's tons of deer out there....but they're just too dang "smart".  I often wonder if pressure from hunting hasn't acted as a force that drives natural selection to "favor" individuals that more often operate at night....and thus don't get shot! 

But, that's a different topic of discussion.

The camera that took these clips is mounted on the trunk of a very young tree.  The trunk is pretty narrow and the branches are low to the ground (in fact, I had to trim some away just to access the tree trunk for camera mounting). 

The camera was deployed to this location on the morning of 9/26/2012.


9:23 pm:  Doe browsing a bit, but also stopping by to investigate some fox urine that I put out.

11:28 pm: One of The Brutes comes by to investigate....

9/27 to 9/28/2012 (evening to early morning)

7:24 pm: A doe (perhaps the same one from the previous night) once again is sniffing around the same spot...

10:07 pm: The Brute comes by to get a nose-full.....
He then moves towards another low-hanging branch.  He appears to browse a bit, but also deposit scent from his forehead glands....

11:32 pm:  A small buck stops by.  I think he's part of  set of twins that belong to the doe that visits this spot.  He does some browsing, but also appears to investigate the scent from the larger male....

 1:42 am:  The young feller comes back to sniff around a bit.

1:46 am: There's a-doings a-transpirin' off to the right of our field of view!  Something is shaking the limbs of the tree the camera is mounted on, and kicking up the grass.  You can also barely see a pair of eyes watching cautiously in the background (far left).

You can probably guess who's responsible for the ruckus (the little buck also skee-daddles in the background).

......wait for it.....

"Holy .....!  What was that all about?!"
9/28/2012 (evening)

8:59 pm: A doe sniffs the branch that appears to be a despository for scent from the forehead glands of the big male...
For the next two days, the doe and the young bucks come back and sniff around some more.

9/30 to 10/1/2012 (evening to early morning)

11:39 pm: The Brute comes back to invesitage his scent branch...

1:03 am:  There's another ruckus off-screen....and then....

...wait for it....
The Crown!


Although the buck meandered by this spot again once or twice, I never saw the back and forth investigation of scent after the first of October.  The camera was moved from this location on November 14, 2012.  So all of that activity was occuring over a period of about 5 days.  An important caveat: almost immediately after I mounted the camera...I was getting clips of this behavior.  Who knows how long it was going on prior to me mounting the camera.

It is worth noting that I started seeing the first actual buck scrapes on the ground in about mid-October at this site.  You may also recall that I first started seeing velvet rubbed off of antlers (at a different site) on September 8, 2012.

It is also fun to go all the way back to the beginning of the year and look at when the antlers first starting showing on these bucks. At the site where the video clips above were taken, antler nubs first became evident on April 17, 2012.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Hedonist Coyote

These are probably some of my favorite Coyote (Canis latrans) video clips that I've been lucky enough to get with a camera trap.

The majority of the pictures and video clips that I have of Coyotes are fleeting....mostly I have quick shots, or blurry shots of an individual before it was spooked and ran off.

Not the case here.  In fact, this Coyote appears to be luxuriating in the fact that he can roll around in a bit of urine.  Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes) urine to be precise.

I'm obviously anthropomorphizing, but he almost appears to dive in with great relish.....and expresses little obvious concern for any potential threats.  This is not at all what I'm used to from Coyotes on my cameras....

He also gets alittle mouthy on one of the stakes that I use to hold scent.... the past, I've gotten pictures that appear to indicate Coyotes show some hefty aversion to the red LEDs on the camera traps (see here and here).

This individual shows none of that (particularly in the second clip below, where he must be getting a face-full of red LED).  I've been camera trapping this site for over a year now.  Perhaps that's enough time for them to fully acclimate.  Also...the fact that we are not too ridiculously far out of the mating season (January/February) may have something to do with it.

Also of interest:  there is a similar scent stake on the left of our field of view that is holding Coyote urine.


Once satisfied, Wil E. decides to move along in search of other opportunities.

I've posted on this type of "scent rolling" behavior in the past (involving a Gray Fox, Urocyon cinereoargenteus) from North Carolina.  I also included a brief review of existing literature that I could find on the topic, which I'll re-post at the bottom.

Roughly half an hour later, a trio of rather concerned White-tails cautiously come along to check things out.
If they are the group I've seen most of the summer/fall, it's a doe and her twin boys.....

The reason why canines roll in scented-stuff is not fully understood or agreed upon.  Although a plethora of anecdotal and pseudo-scientific explanations for this behavior can be found on many websites (usually associated with training domestic dogs), I have not found one that backs their claims up with hard data, or references to scientific literature.

Mech and Boitani (Wolves: Behavior, Ecology & Conservation, 2003) summarize research that has been done on wolves to help better understand this phenomenon.  But even the work they cite, although giving good information about what type of scent-stimuli wolves will choose to roll in, does not clearly indicate why they do it! 

The general possibilities proposed to explain this behaior include: (1) "familiarization with novel odors or change in odors", (2) "strong attraction or aversion to particular odors", (3) "concealing one's own scent with something more pungent" (an obvious advantage for a hunting carnivor), and (4) "making oneself more attractive by applying novel odor".  An interesting study on African wild dogs found that females will roll in the urine of the lead male in a pack they are trying to join.  This may increase their chances of acceptance becuase they are coated in a scent familiar to the pack they are hoping to get in with (Frame et al. 1979).  It has also been proposed that individuals roll in specific scents to bring back information to others in their packs.  For example, bringing back information about the age of a carcass found to others in the pack.....

Literature Cited and Further Readings on Scent-Rubbing in Carnivores:

Frame, L.H., J.R. Malcolm, G.W. Frame, and H. van Lawick. 1979. Social organization of African Wild Dogs (Lycaon pictus) on the Serengeti Plains, Tanzania 1967-1978. Zoological Tierpsychology 50:225-249. (note: I could not find the above article, and was not able to read my comments on this study are based on what Mech and Boitani report)

Reiger, I. 1979. Scent rubbing in carnivores. Carnivores 2:17-25.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

That Darn Cat!

The number of feral cats round these parts is staggering.  Last year, I posted a round of mugshots from individuals skulking around the property (see here).  Since that time, our local feral cat population has not appeared to decline much.

This summer we experienced an unusually long period of drought (weeks long, in fact).  We don't normally feed the birds because we have a nice variety already without spending the cash on birdseed.  Yet, after seeing American Robins hopping around our back porch trying to drink water from the saucers below our potted plants....we caved and put up a makeshift bird bath. 

It wasn't long before Sylvester started stalking around the perimeter of the bath, watching the inhabitants.  I made sure that every puddy-tat I saw got chased off...hoping to instill in them some negative association of the Pavlovian variety with our house. 

Didn't seem to work, though.

A manuscript published several years ago estimated that feral cats and pet cats allowed to roam free kill roughly 1 BILLION wild birds annually in the U.S. (and this is a conservative estimate; Dauphine and Cooper 2009). 

Believe it or not, I haven't seen a cat take a bird on our property (although I'm sure it happens).  I have, however, obtained evidence that they get other wild prey (see below).

Several of the original inhabitants, first photographed when we arrived over a year go, are still around......although a few seem to be gone.

There are are also some new faces.

Calico Joe
This one had been a constant figure on the property from last fall through early spring.  But I haven't seen much of old Joe this summer and fall.  He may no longer be around....although the other night as I drove up to the house I saw a kitty that looked very similar dart across the street.  Might have been him.

Mr. Marmalade:
He's definitely been around since last year and was the individual I captured a picture of killing a chipmunk a year ago.  He must be a wily sort.  Others have come and gone since last year, but Mr. Marmalade keeps on showing up.  He's the only one that I've consistently gotten pictures over the last year.  Probably his coat color helps him blend in.....something useful for hunting and hiding.

I first saw this one in early spring 2012, but he has been a permanent figure on my cameras since.  I probably have more pictures of Tiger than any other feral puddy tat on-site.  Although I don't think he's been around as long as Mr. Marmalade, he has staying power.

Mr. Boots
I only have one picture of Bootsie from this spring.  He almost looks like a Siamese, but I haven't gotten a face-shot of him, and he's only been through once.

I don't think I'd seen this one until late September of this year.  Yet, since that time she/he's been photographed consistently.  He/She seems a bit small, so might be a juvenile.

Another new one from late summer 2012.  Also looks on the small side, like it might be a juvenile.  Since late August, he has shown up on my cameras frequently. (Note; this picture also portrays how dry it was this summer.  Compare this picture to the picture taken of Mr. Boots above at the same location in May).

These are just the cats that have passed this one camera location. There are others on-site, and some that appear to have moved on.

For example:
Here Tiger is following a long haired such-n-such that I saw commonly last fall and in the early spring, but has been AWOL since.

There's also El Diablo, whom I've posted about before.  He was everywhere this spring, but has been gone for months.

BUT....don't be fooled by the cutesy names.  These kitties have claws!  And they use them to great effect on native wildlife.

What I find the most un-fathomable is that, of the literally tens of thousands of camera trap pictures and video clips generated from projects I've been involved with....I've only ever gotten pictures that definitively show predation being committed by one species:

Felis catus

No fox predation shots, no coyotes, no nothing.  But I have a numerous pictures of kitties carrying a meal of native wildlife in their mouth.

The first of these incidences involved an Eastern Chipmunk (Tamias striatus), which was in my post from a year ago.

There have been more acts of predation captured since that time....

Here is a picture of Calico Joe from last fall, as he saunters by with a bit of din-din.

After zooming in a bit, you can see he's carrying something in its mouth, which is the right size for a rodent (Peromyscus is common on site).

Below is Tiger trotting home with his meal of hapless Eastern Chipmunk.

The new crop of kitties don't want to be left out either.  Below is a shot of Whiskers with a mouse in tow (another Peromyscus sp.).  Note the set of eyes watching him in the background.  I have no idea what they are from.

Of course, we already know that Mr. Marmalade is very effective at catching wildlife.  But here's another shot of him in the act again (appears to be another Peromyscus).

Whenever I'm depressed about the impacts of feral cats on native wildlife, I like to watch this clip from the Muppet Show.  Rowlf sings The Cat Came Back in a way that makes me smile every time...


Literature Cited

Dauphine and Cooper. 2009. Impacts of free-ranging domestic cats (Felis catus) on birds in the United States: a review of recent research with conservation and management recommendations. Proceedings of the Fourth International Partners in Flight Conference: Tundra to Tropics, p 205-219.

Further Reading .

Crooks and Soule, 1999. Mesopredator release and avifauna extinctions in a fragmented system. Nature 400:563-566.

Guttilla, G.A. and P. Stapp. 2010. Effects of sterilization on movements of feral cats at a wildlife-urban interface. Journal of Mammalogy 91:482-489.

Foley, et al. 2005. Analysis of the impact of trap-neuter-return programs on populations of feral cats. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 227:1775-1781.

Hawkins, C.C., et al. 2004. Effects of house cats, being fed in parks, on California birds and rodents. Pgs. 164-170. In Shaw et al. (Eds.) Proceedings of the 4th International Urban Wildlife Symposium.

Lepczyk, C.A. et al. 2003. Landowners and cat predation across rural-to-urban landscapes. Biological Conservation 115:191-201.

Levy, J.K., et al. 2003. Evaluation of the effect of a long-term trap-neuter-return and adoption program on a free-roaming cat population. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. 222:42-46.

Nogales, M. et al. 2004. A review of feral cat eradication on islands. Conservation Biology 18:310-317.

Risbey, D.A. et al. 2005. The impact of cats and foxes on the small vertebrate fauna of Heirisson Prong, Western Australia. II. A field experiment. Wildlife Research 27:223-235.

The Wildlife Society. 2011. In Focus: the impacts of free-roaming cats (multiple entries by several authors).  The Wildlife Professional 5: 50-68.