Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Cardinal on Camera

A few days ago, I had a special guest from WAMU 88.5 (Washington, D.C.'s NPR Station) come out and set cameras with me.  I've been out with a NPR reporter before doing a story, and I enjoying showing these representatives of the media what I do and what camera-trapping is all about.

Chris came to a local park and hiked around in the mud and trails while asking questions.  It was a good day to be out and about.  We set up 5 cameras along deer trails, near fox dens, and a few other places.

I had to take one of the cameras down right away because I was told that somebody already found it in the woods.  I didn't want it stolen, so it came down that day.  The other cameras though have been up for a few days and continue to be up.  I took one down today and checked the SD card.

Results were not phenomenal, but I was happy to see a Northern Cardinal fly down in front of the camera for a few seconds.

Cardinals are very common in Virginia and always seem to be the delight of nature watchers, families, and anyone who comes to local parks to hike or picnic.  They are a such a vibrant bird and the males are very hard to miss in any season.

These birds do not lose their summer feathers or molt into a completely different color when seasons change.  The males usually stay a bright red, while females almost always contain reds, grays, and browns.

The cardinal in the camera-trap video was not baited in or scented in at all.  It just happened by pure luck that a camera was there when the cardinal landed on the ground.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

American Kestrel: Virginia's Smallest Falcon and a New Species

I always welcome new visitors to my camera traps.

Here's my most recent and newest visitor.
This is an American Kestrel.  A beautiful bird, a small falcon, and a hungry predator.

This is the first time I've ever gotten one on a camera-trap.

Kestrels are not your "typical" predatory bird.  They're tiny compared to most eagles and hawks.

They are closely related to peregrine falcons and share the fast-paced and quick turns that are common of the falcons.  What's really interesting about this specific one is that it is on a deer carcass in the snow.  It chewed at the tendons of the deer for about 4 minutes and then flew off.

Also, you are not seeing wrong, that is snow on the ground on March 22nd in Virginia.  Not completely out of the question for late March here, but it was an interesting sight.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Vulture Posture

Vultures will often do this stance that appeared on one of the trail-cams the other day.

Why do they do this?

It's one of the easiest ways to dry off feathers.  Their skin is oily anyway and if mixed with animal gut juices, it can become a very dangerous mixture of liquid with too much bacteria.

So in short, vultures dry off their feathers in this way to ward off bacteria and disease.  They can also do this to regulate their body heat.

All this camera really got was this one turkey vulture and a solo raccoon.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Virginia Vernal Pool Surveying: What is it?

I found this one while looking for newts.  It might be little nasty, but I do need some external help from naturalists, outdoorsmen, wildlifers, herpers, and anyone who might have any idea what this is a photograph of.

Here are some core details necessary to ID the organism(s) in this photo:

Date Photo Taken:  3/21/2014
Location:  Great Falls, Fairfax County, Virginia.  3 feet from a vernal pool.
Size:  Each sphere 2mm diameter.  Total width of entire egg mass is roughly 2.5 inches long.
Not disturbed or touched by me in any way.

What is this thing?  Frog eggs that were eaten and not properly digested?  Salamander eggs?  Other eggs?  Scat of raccon?

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Red Fox Rendezvous

I am putting the final touches on some graphs, charts, and tables that show the results (and how-to's) of my red fox survey between the months of this March, 2013 and March, 2014 in park lands and private lands of Northern Virginia.

Results include current living foxes, foxes that have been hit by cars (or died by other means), foxes that have moved out of the area, and fox kits

Here is a very watered-down and simplistic version of my data:

In a 24 acre plot, there were 3 individual red foxes

In a 60 acre plot, there were 4 individual red foxes.

In a 350 acre plot, I've found that there were at least 7 individual red foxes.

In a 430 acre plot, there were 9 individual red foxes.

In a 600 acre plot, there were 9 individual red foxes.

I get this data by comparing camera-trap images of different cameras set up in each park.  A red fox that appears at one camera (under normal circumstances) cannot be the same red fox that appears at another camera 1 mile away, 30 seconds later.  BAM!  That's two individual foxes.  Some red foxes look completely different from eachother, others are a little more difficult to recognize.  Figure in more parks and a heck of a lot more cameras, and results like this pour in to my computer on a daily basis.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Virginia Vernal Pool Surveying: Wood Frogs

Vernal pools (in the simplest way of explanation) are small, seasonal bodies of water that form when there is an abundance of snow melt and rain.  They hold many forms of life and thrive until they dry up in May or June.

Brian (author) searching for animal life in a vernal pool.
Centreville, VA.  Photo Credit:  Fadhlan Amini
I've spent a lot of time in the past two weeks counting animals in these pools in Loudoun, Fairfax, and Prince William Counties.  I've stepped in 53 vernal pools  in 15 days, counted crazy amounts of amphibians, crustaceans, insects, and plants.

It's a lengthy citizen science project that helps the park systems that I work for.  When natural resource managers, land use specialists, and other naturalists know what is in a vernal pool, they compare results and can better identify and help certain species.

Leaning and bending over, in search of the small critters is just part of the sore of this.  I've also been bitten by leeches, got stuck for a few minutes in a quick-sand type of swamp, and tripped multiple times.  It's all part of the fun of being a naturalist.

Wood frogs (Lithobates sylvaticus) are a very typical and common visitor to vernal pools.  They lay their eggs here, sometimes in the thousands, and are a bit tricky to find.  The eggs are laid on sticks, branches, and rocks in the pools.  Like a lot of other amphibian species, thousands of eggs may only lead to a few individuals actually making it to adulthood.

Wood frogs and/or their eggs have been seen in 11 of the 53 vernal pools so far.  They will still be active through this week, so there might be more to count.
Wood frog egg mass in a vernal pool.  Great Falls, Virginia.

Cold-Weather Blues

It's been one rough winter with snow still on all of our minds here in Virginia.  Spring is here though, and fishing season has already started for me.

The Potomac River has blue catfish.  These things are monster bottom feeder that bite well in March and April.  I've never caught a big one before, so going last week was something that I was really looking forward to.

Blue catfish are a non-native species here and were stocked in Virginia in the 1970's  (source: Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries).  They can get big.  Really big.  They feast on herring, shad, bass, crawfish, and other marine species.

The section of the Potomac River where we were fishing is also prime bald eagle and osprey territory, and even they seemed excited about the fish that we were catching.  Other notable birds that were seen from the boat were wood ducks, grebes, coots, and canvasbacks.

This fishing trip kicked off my "official" start of spring.  Camera-traps, canoeing, and sunshine are now on my mind, and summer better come quick.

As for the camera-traps,  I've got them still out and taking photos.  Recent results from them have been more coyotes, red foxes mating, and the usuals (raccoons, deer, squirrels).