Thursday, August 27, 2015


Trail cameras are still running heavy in Purcellville and other parts of Western Loudoun by two of my favorite volunteers, Paige and Peter.  We've been getting all sorts of results, though bobcat and coyote activity have seemed to slow down recently out there.

The biggest excitement with the Purcellville cameras has been images of "Tank". He's a white-tailed deer buck that has been growing an impressive set of antlers. Peter named him, of course, and the name is not only fitting, but has stuck well for the past month or so.

Here is "Tank", one of the biggest bucks around this year.   It's hard to tell from this image, but there are (what we think and have seen in other images) 12 points on his antlers.  It'll be interesting to see if Peter is able to hunt this beast this year.

Tank is the closest deer, followed by two other impressive bucks behind him.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Shenandoah's Skyline Sunrise

I hit it hard the past 24 hours with "wildlifin" and hiking.  It was my time to go to the mountains of Shenandoah National Park to help with some biologists with their projects.  This was one of those things that I will probably only do in my early 20's, as I was driving at 3 A.M. to go see animals 2 hours away on a whim chance that I might to get to see some really cool stuff with others.

We saw all kinds of stuff (more on that in a later post!).

After a bit of bear excitement and mammal projects, I had about 45 minutes of "me time" on Skyline Drive that happened to coincide with the sunrise.   This was my break time, and I had to do something cool, right?

I sat on one of the rocky overlook walls and awaited the first rays of sun. Not long after, some other young twenty-somethings came up and joined me on the perch.

I was wearing a blaze orange hat with camo trim and they were wearing their Bob Marley t-shirts with their finest dreadlocks.  The Grateful Dead was playing on their radio and I was playing Little Big Town, both probably a little bit too loud.

We didn't care. 

All that mattered was that we were there, under that first ray of sun. 

A few words about where we came from were exchanged and then silence. Not at all an awkward silence, but rather one that was not only necessary for our enjoyment, but also peaceful.

The sun's light made its morning debut with all kinds of dark reds and purples.  It rose higher until yellows appeared.

Eventually, the sun rose above the horizon.  All of us "young twenty-somethings" squinted as it got too high to enjoy.

We looked at each other, smiled and talked about how great that was.

Some handshakes were given and both parties went opposite ways down Skyline Drive.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Wood Turtles

I was going to write up a detailed post about wood turtles a little bit ago from one of my little side adventures, but figured this even shorter post would be a lot better.

I'll post this link to Ed Felker's website called Dispatches from the Potomac.  It's a great blog, has phenomenal photos, and even better writing.  I could be biased though, as it's operated by my buddy and fellow conservationist, Ed Felker.  Either way,  I think his works and writings always are top of the line for what him and I do.   It really is great stuff!

Ed and I did some wood turtle finding this summer, read all about it and about wood turtles here: Virginia's Threatened Wood Turtle .

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Watch Them Grow

Antlers are one of the most fascinating things to watch grow on camera traps.  Each week, the deciduous growths on white-tailed deer bucks get bigger and bigger, sometimes growing more points as the summer goes on.

My buddy Peter and I have been using camera traps recently to do a bit of a deer survey on his property in Loudoun County.  We'll be counting deer for at least the next few weeks, and hopefully we will capture a coyote or two on camera as well.

The antlers almost never look the same in spring as they do the following winter.  They just grow so fast, in all sorts of shapes and directions.  I'm fascinated by that.

Peter was really excited to get this buck on camera, as he is both an avid conservationist and a hunter.  If we keep recapturing the same individual, I hope to put a video compilation together of all the images, showing the growth of the antlers throughout the summer.

That's a bit far in advance though, and completely depends on this buck coming up at least once a week, but you never know what could happen.
We also captured a fawn (baby white-tailed deer) on camera a few times, though it has only been photogenic once or twice during the day.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Mama Bear and Her Cub

Paige is one of the volunteers who spends some of her free time running some of my trail cameras and is even starting to build up her own trail camera arsenal.  We're always comparing results and trying to find new things and big ideas.  It's great, and I can't thank her enough for her time and effort in the outdoors.

We've been putting in a lot of work to capture footage of baby black bears on trail cameras in Loudoun and Fairfax lately, so these results were a big success in my book.

This will help with some sort of population density estimate or survey, but for now, I am just really enjoying these pictures.

This bear was not baited at all, so I feel good about getting these pictures as a naturalist and wildlife conservationist.  Sometimes, you just get a trail camera in the right spot, and that's exactly what this was.  In fact, it was only until Paige moved these cameras around to better spots, that we really got decent bear pictures.   I used my best judgement a few weeks ago with her on a "perfect" location, but she had better ideas, and it's because of that, that we got these amazing animals on cameras like this.

We are trying to figure out if the black bear above is the same as the black bear below on a different camera in the same area.

We are unsure as of now, but we'll figure it out by better comparing times, dates, and locations.

Black bears in Virginia will be gorging on berries pretty soon, specifically raspberries, wineberries, and blackberries in only a matter of a month or so.

We'll find a good wineberry patch to hang a few trail cams in early July for more bear results.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Virginia is For Fox Lovers

Nothing strikes the hearts of Northern Virginia's suburbanites more than baby red foxes.  It's incredible how much interest there is in these animals.

Foxes are cool, and lots of people are enthusiastic about seeing red foxes in their neighborhood, but when the bright eyed, curious babies come out in late April, people go absolutely wild for these things like you wouldn't believe.

It was a bit of a goal of mine to capture some of them of, at least one of my camera traps this year, as I did fairly well with footage last year (The Best Fox Kit Pictures So Far- 2014 ).  Emails have been pouring in with unconfirmed leads of the whereabouts of fox dens, and I have worked so hard with landowners, parks staff, and other naturalists to try to provide everyone with some interesting photos (and video!).  One lead from Northern Virginia was clearly the best one that I have ever had.  It's amazing, it's a secret location, and I can't thank the colleague and friend of mine who led me down the right path to this one, enough.

As previously stated in an earlier blog post (Fooled and Fooled Again), the amount of groundhog dens that were fooling me and my colleagues was getting high.

Discouraging, might be the best word to describe this whole situation of not finding any fox dens.

Amazed, would be the word to describe my thoughts when first seeing this footage.

It's only fitting that I release these now on the blog.

These were posted on Facebook, and one specific video almost went viral, being shared many times, and generating a huge interest in camera trapping and wildlife.

I have seen both the mother and father on camera and in person.  4 individual kits (fox babies) have been identified, so in total, they are a family of 6.  Each kit has a different personality, and it is quite an experience watching the videos of all of them nursing, playing, fighting, and yelling.

As you can see in the second picture above, the kits are only eating the milk provided by their mother.  This will last for a little while, until eventually they ween themselves onto a diet of rodents, birds, snakes, berries, carrion, and much, much more.

Pictures like these are ones that a Northern Virginia naturalist and camera trapper dreams of, and I thank you for visiting this site to enjoy them as well.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Bluebells and Turkeys

While a lot of the camera traps I use are for scientific surveys and research, I do really enjoy the ones that I set aside for my own personal use.  It's good to take a break from regular work and data entry, and just get out in the woods for some good ol' camera trapping creativity.

That was the mentality recently, when I took friend, naturalist, and professional photographer, Jeff Mauritzen along on a hike and paddle.   Him and I have been working on a few projects with all kinds of camera trapping and local wildlife, so it was a great experience for both of us to meet up and get outside.

Author in Virginia bluebells.  Photo:  Jeff Mauritzen
The best part of the day was meandering around a carpet of bluebell flowers that sprawled all over a forest floor.  There were thousands of them!

It was a humbling experience; one that almost took my breath away with the sight of so many flowers.

We took some photographs, walked carefully, and of course, got to work on a camera trap set.

I already knew that no matter what animals we would capture on the camera trap, they would be beautified by being in a sea of bluebells, but was completely amazed when I got incredible pictures of wild turkeys.

One of the projects that Jeff and I have been working on is an article in National Wildlife Federation's Magazine, "National Wildlife".  We had an idea of a few camera trap setups to provide the magazine with photos, so it was really nice to get these turkeys in this setting.  I'm excited to get on board with this and hope to share even more photos of wild turkeys in an upcoming issue of the magazine.

For now, enjoy this picture of a turkey in the bluebells.

Wild turkeys are one of my favorite creatures to watch. Endless hours of entertainment can come out of sitting quietly where there is a turkey roost.  Turkeys fight with each other, putz around, and then go on "missions" to mate with each other.  As a naturalist, this is my television, as it's a wildlife version of the Kardashian's.

I did a little bit of a count and individualized multiple males (including two really beefy "Toms"), at least 7 hens, and also got a few pictures of white tailed deer.

The camera has since been taken down, and will be placed somewhere new.  What's next?

Follow along and find out!

-Big thanks to Jeff Mauritzen for taking amazing photos and coming along on my local excursions.  Click to see more of his work here:  Travel and Wildlife Photography .

Monday, April 13, 2015

Bears in Northern Virginia

Putting the terms "bear" and "Northern Virginia" in the same sentence always seems to stir people up.  It's really not at all what I intend to do, in fact, I would really prefer to do the exact opposite.

Like something out of a horror story, some people around here are absolutely terrified by black bears.  Other people are in shock to hear about them roaming around suburban neighborhoods in Loudoun and Fairfax counties.  There's a whole mix of emotions that come into play, and people sometimes come to me to ask what emotion they "are supposed to have" or how they should react.

I find the interest and intent that people have with their native and local black bears absolutely fascinating.

Author with black bear tracks.  Loudoun County, VA.  Photo Credit: Ed Felker
There a tons of wildlife agencies that may possibly handle, talk to you about, or give advice on what to do if you see a black bear, and for the protection of my jobs and my sanity, I will not be going into much detail here about those organizations.

What I will do though, is provide you with information about some bears that I've seen.  I'll show you pictures and tell you cool stories, and immerse you into the world of northern Virginia's largest living mammals.  I'll do this on this blog post, and more in the future.

Let's first look into a common question that people have for me; the question: "Where are the black bears around here?"

My answer:  "All over the place, as they can be anywhere and everywhere and have very large territories as compared to other local mammals"

Seriously though, I've seen black bear sign (scat, tracks, fur, and/or actual sightings) in every northern Virginia county that you could think of. 

One of the most interesting bear tracking episodes came out of Loudoun County, Virginia this past winter.  A bear was seen multiple times on private properties, crossing traffic, and really all over the place.  I'll keep the exact locations to myself for now, but this bear had a very specific territory in mind.   I spent a good amount of my spare time tracking it through woods and fields, and even managed to see it a few times.  One day, I followed the tracks for over 3 hours, and even then, there was no end to its walking in sight.  The tracks lead to and were on top of large fallen logs, across streams, onto an icy pond, straight over barbed wire, and even into a bedding area where it probably stayed during that same day.

To put it simply, this bear seemed to have almost no problem going over and across all these obstacles, as the gait in the tracks seemed to almost always be consistent over short distances.  In the long run though, I could tell where it "picked up" its pace and almost did a galloping-like motion and could also tell when it got near potential food sources, as it would stand on its hind legs, walk a few steps, then go back down to all fours.  I think that it did this as if it was smelling the air more closely each time it neared a garbage can or bird feeder.  Bears will often stand on their hind legs to get a better look at something with their eyes and to hone their sense of smell when their nose is a few feet higher when standing.

Speaking of bears eating, it is actually illegal to feed black bears in the entire state of Virginia.  For more information on this, visit this website Living with Black Bears in Virginia .  That site also has various other information for the state of Virginia regarding black bears. 

Curious young black bear looking around and doing "bear things" in Northern Virginia.

So with all this information in mind, I'll lead everyone to another common question that people ask me:  "If you can't feed black bears in Virginia legally, then how do you get them to come near the camera?".

This question has tons of answers, none of which lead me to feeding black bears.  A really good way of getting bears on camera trap is to just get lucky and have one walk in the field of view of the camera.  It's kind of an answer that most people who camera trap do not want to hear, but it really does work if you put out enough trail cameras or have a lot of patience.

Another answer to that question might be to set up a camera trap where other animals are living and eating.  For example, a recent camera trap bear sighting around here came from this incidental capture.  The camera was actually pointed at a tree to see what woodpeckers would come near the freshly carved woodpecker holes, and boy did the woodpeckers arrive.  Though, a bear did too.

Why is this? 

It's almost like the bear could have been targeting this tree just because the woodpecker might have had success in getting insects out of the tree too.  Do black bears know to specifically seek out fresh woodpecker sign so they can also get a bite of insects?  I'm not sure about that one, but hope to find the answer sometime.

If you ever see a bear or bear sign in northern Virginia, I would like to know.  It could really help me track these carnivores better, and ultimately might even give me some basis on making a more accurate estimate of the black bear population in these counties.

Look for holes in trees that are this size.
What I would really like to do next year, is do a large camera trap survey just on black bear dens.  I've heard rumors and know of a few in the area that are actually confirmed by various biologists, but would like to expand on what most people (me included) already know.

I'm looking for holes in trees that could easily fit a person, brush piles where you think a bear could be, old barns where a bear has gotten into, and of course, any place where you have actually seen a bear sleeping.  Even though it is months in advance, I would still like to know. 

Please and thank you!