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News From The Field: 2003 Camera Survey Field Log

 

Log by Todd Lester, CRF Past President and fieldwork leader for the CRF's Remote Camera Survey for Cougars (mountain lions) in West Virginia

 

March 28, 2003:  Set all 18 cameras up.  Held two out for spares as agreed during our Field Advisory Committee meeting.  The 18 cameras are all within the 5 mile grid system we came up with during that meeting.  This covered 7 large creek watersheds.   

Deer sign was abundant, due to the animals being stranded in the lower elevations all winter.  Also saw a few fresh bear tracks.  So besides possible bear damage right now, ramp diggers are probably our biggest threat for theft or vandalism.  And around the end of April, we will have to deal with spring gobbler hunting.

The first check of the cameras will be April 4th & 5th.  And they are scheduled to be moved to another grid on May 2nd & 3rd.  I'll post the results of the first batch of film to the website as soon as the 36 exposure film is used up.

Field searches and camera checking trips are being planned many weekends this spring and summer.

April 4, 2003    I drove up to check the cameras for the first time since setting them up.  Jay Martin of the USFS also went along with me. 

Two days after the cameras were set up the area got over a foot of snow, and I figure this may have played a part in the way animals moved this week.  But most of the snow had melted off as of April 4th.

We started on the upper end with camera #19 and worked our way back. Sixteen of the cameras flashed 5 or less pictures, so they weren't opened up and the film wasn't changed.  Both Jay and I were surprised at the low number of pictures considering the type trails that most were on. Maybe animals avoid these cameras at first (first week) since they are something new in their territory?  Also the bad weather during the early part of the week could have been a factor as some of the cameras were probably under the snow.

Camera #15 was not active due to an error in setting it up.  This was my fault, and it was corrected and is now active.

Camera # 2 had run off 25 pictures.  I changed the roll of film and had it developed.  The first picture was of myself holding up the card for the camera # and date.  But the other 24 pictures didn't have any animals on them at all.  The date and time were clearly stamped on the pictures, but a pattern could not be established.  The pictures were taken in 14 hours time the very first day it was setup.  Both day and night pictures were present.  I will switch this camera out with camera #20 (spare) next weekend.  I will then run through the troubleshooting guide on it here at home.  If it continues to do this, I'll have to send it back for repairs.

A bear track was visible on the trail near camera #3, so we possibly got a picture of it, but only 4 pictures had been taken by #3.  Jay Martin, USFS, took camera #21 (spare) to practice with in order to learn to operate these cameras.  I also gave him a spare set of keys to all the cameras & locks, as he may be checking the cameras in the near future. Next trip is planned for Saturday, April 12th.

Saturday April 12, 2003.  I drove up to check the cameras, which have been active for two weeks now. ECF volunteer Helen McGinnis drove down and met me and we headed to Camera #19 on the upper end of the study site and planned to work our way back to camera #2.

The temps this week had been cool, coupled with almost daily rains which had swollen a lot of the streams in the study area.  But we had warm temps this day with lots of sunshine.  Helen accompanied me to the first 8 cameras and then she headed out.  Sorry you got wet Helen, and thanks for coming down and going along.

I went on and finished checking the other 10 cameras (18 total).  Most of the cameras are taking a few pictures per week, but at this rate they may not use up a 36 exposure roll this month.  They are on good game trails or old grown up roads, so I don't think locations are the problem for lack of pictures.

 It could be partly due to the weather, as the first week had a foot of snow in the study area and the second week had rain showers every day with low temps.  And since the deep snows have melted, the animals are now able to spread out more and could possibly be in the higher elevations.

Camera #2, which had taken 25 pics in 14 hours the first day it was set up, was removed and Camera #20 is now in its place.  Camera #2 has definitely malfunctioned, as it only flashed two times to indicate two pictures taken.  But upon opening up the camera I saw where it had taken a whole roll of pics again.  I haven't had the roll developed yet.  I will send Camera #2 back to Highlander Sports to be repaired.

I placed some more tree limbs on the trail at Camera #3 to detour animals closer to the camera.  Camera #14 was slightly turned on the tree and was readjusted.  No damage or attempted theft was noted on the cameras.

Due to the low numbers of pics being taken, weekly checks are not warranted.  After two weeks none of the cameras are in danger of running out of film.   I have to admit, I'm a little shocked that we aren't running through more film, but looking on the bright side, it only takes 1 picture to document a cougar.  And we aren't using up a lot of film on non-target animals.

Tentative camera checking schedule: April 18 & 19, 2003:  Will check cameras one day, camp out that night and do field searches in the grid where the cameras are to be set out in May 2003.  April 25 & 26, 2003:  Probably will not check the cameras this weekend. May 2 & 3, 2003:  Will gather up the cameras on the 2nd, camp that night, change film and check all batteries. And set them up in the new grid on the 3rd.

April 18 & 19, 2003
Drove up and met Jay Martin-USFS.  We looked over the topo maps of the study area and decided on an area to look over as the next camera site for May 2003.  It wasn't a very good day for doing this task as it poured the rain all day and the temps were rather cool.

We had to cut a few trees from one road in order to get into the site in the higher elevations.  But the area looks really promising based on the amount of animals seen, and from two scats that were found. One of the scats was weathered and could not be collected for testing, but it was obvious that it had been around 1 1/4" in diameter and had a piece of bone in it roughly 2" inches.  The second scat found was a lot fresher, and about 1 1/4" in diameter as well.  It had constrictions and a couple segmented pieces with blunt ends.  These certainly raised my blood pressure up a few degrees.

We also saw a number of white tailed deer and some ruffed grouses.  The males are now strutting as breeding season is beginning.  With the low numbers of pics that we have been getting on the cameras in the lower elevations, I had been wondering if maybe the animals had moved higher up since the deep snows had melted.  From this trip in the higher elevations, it’s obvious that they have moved higher up.

All 18 cameras were checked and no film had to be changed.  There was no theft or damage to report on the cameras.  Camera #2 was sent back to Highlander Sports for repairs on April 15th.  Camera #20 is now in its place, but had only taken 1 picture during its week of coverage. I'm expecting to get more pictures from the May 2003 camera setup as it appears to be a much better area.

I probably will not check the cameras on the 25th & 26th, as they are not in any danger of running out of film, and based on the last 3 weeks, they are only taking a few pics per week.  Cameras are scheduled to be moved to the new location May 2 & 3, 2003.

West Virginia Spring Gobbler Turkey hunting season opens April 28 and runs thru May 24.  This will bring more people into the woods and possibly near the cameras.  But the setup in May should get us miles away from any hunters or hunting activity.

Friday May 2, 2003: I had all the film developed and here are the picture totals for the April study site:  51 deer, 6 coyotes, 2 raccoons, 1 bobcat, 1 black bear, 3 hikers and a turkey hunter.

 **3 animals need to be looked at by our Field Advisory Committee for identification**.  I only have the small index prints right now, and the pictures are too small to judge these three.  I'll get larger prints made and send/email copies to the FAC members. [[Follow up note, May 5:  I had normal prints made today from the three animal pictures that were in question.  Two of them are definitely "BOBCAT".  The third animal, I still can't say what it is from the normal size prints.  It is so close to the camera, all you can see is a brown/tawny coat color from its rear hip to its neck.  I doubt a positive ID could be made.]]

I was accompanied by Jay Kirk, reporter from PA.  He agreed not to reveal specific locations.  Seventeen of the cameras were removed from the April study site.  Camera #20, which had replaced Camera #2 was left at the site.  #20 will have to remain set, for an additional two weeks in order to make up for the loss of two weeks when #2 malfunctioned.

The seventeen cameras were opened up, film removed and replaced with new rolls of film, and new packs of desiccant.  All batteries were also checked, but none had to be replaced.  No damage was noted.  Three of the cameras had some moisture inside the housing:  #9, #16, & #19.  I left all seventeen cameras opened up overnight in the motel room with heat on in order to dry up any remaining moisture.

Saturday May 3, 2003:  We headed out early Saturday morning to the new site, to set the cameras up.  Camera #2 (back from repairs) was added to the 17 other cameras to make 18 cameras currently deployed at the new site.  It rained several times during the day, and we barely finished that evening as lightening was moving in.  Cameras at the new site range from 3,900 ft to 4,200 ft.  I think we will get more pictures from this site, as animals signs are fresh.

 Status of each camera:  April site:  #20;  May site:  #2, #3, #4, #5, #6, #7, #8, #9, #10, #11, #12, #13, #14, #15, #16, #17, #18, #19;  Spare:  #21; Rapid Response:  #1.

Camera #13 & Camera #16 the film was "overexposed", so we didn't get any information from them.  #13 had only taken two pics, and #16 had taken 5 pics.  Don't know what happened to #13, but the moisture could have played a roll in #16.  I can't see the date/time on the index prints, so I'm not going to be able to document it using that.  But we are saving a lot of money by getting index prints.

Saturday May 17, 2003.   I went up to check the cameras.  It had been two weeks since I set them up in the new grid.  It rained the entire day.

Camera #20 was removed from the April grid.  As I stated before it was left for two additional weeks due to Camera #2 malfunctioning.  It only produced pictures of deer.  So the new & final total for the April grid puts the deer picture total at 55.  Everything else stays the same.

After closely examining all the pics from the April grid, I see that we have captured one female coyote that is definitely nursing pups.  I assume the large coyote that appeared a few minutes before her in the pictures was her mate.

The 18 cameras in the May grid are producing a lot more pictures than the April grid after only two weeks.  At this rate most of the cameras should be about out of film by the end of the month.  No film or batteries were changed.

Camera Status:
C#2 thru C#19 are currently set at the May site.
C#20 & C#21 are currently spares.

Camera # 14 was turned sideways and had been forced down on the tree.  I also noticed that there appeared to be some large teeth marks on it.  A bear had probably given it a taste test.  The housing was not broken and it appears to be functioning fine.  I reset it back on the tree.  Should be some interesting pictures of the culprit.

I also found and collected a suspicious looking scat for future testing.

June 28-29:  The unknown animal reported in the May update turned out to be a large bobcat.  It’s a beautiful picture of the bobcat with the early morning fog behind it.   

All the cameras were moved from the June grid to the July grid.  This was the first weekend I have had decent weather since I started the survey the end of March.  Chris Bolgiano, ECF vice president, & her husband Ralph helped move the cameras this time.  When we were setting up camera #10 they noted "hemlock wooly adelgids" on the nearby hemlocks.  Jay or Dan, if you want to get with me I can give you the location and more info.

Black Bears really hit the cameras hard in the June grid.  They tore up five cameras:  #3, #12, #13, #14, & #15.  The back plate that holds the straps was broken off all of them, and they were either laying face up or face down on the ground.  The chain and padlock held them to the tree.  We got super glue and fixed the backs on four of the units and set them up in the July grid.  The housing wasn't broken and they appeared to work properly on setup.

Camera #14 did not fair as well as the other four.  If you recall, a very large black bear had forced it to the ground in the May grid, but did not tear it up.  This time its luck ran out.  It was ripped from the tree, breaking the back plate along with the hole for the padlock.  We looked for the camera for over an hour, but couldn't find it.  There were bear tracks at the base of the tree.  I will go back and look this fall/winter after the vegetation dies down, and see if I can locate it.

We set a new record for black bear pictures in the month of June with 39 bear pictures.  They ranged from yearlings to record bears and all sizes in between.  We also documented a new species this month with two pictures of opossums. We got three pictures that are either coyote or gray fox.  I can't tell by the small index prints, and I'll have to get normal sized prints to tell for sure.  If any of them turn out to be gray fox, it will be the first fox picture. 

We also documented our first whitetail deer fawn picture in the June grid.  And the first whitetail buck with visible antlers (above the ears).  Deer pictures were down slightly, but it could be due to the large numbers of bears around the cameras, and a number of cameras being taken out of action by the bears.

 Here are the totals for the June grid. 

56 Deer
39 Black Bears
6 Bobcats
5 Coyotes
4 Raccoons
2 Opossums
1 Grouse

3 **either coyote or gray fox** I'll get a species confirmation on these three after I get normal sized prints.

We are now half way thru the six month study for 2003.  We have gotten a lot of great pictures of the wildlife in the area.  And we are getting an abundance of useful information that will be shared with the WV DNR, US Forest Service & USFWS.  Here are the picture totals for the first three months:

221 Deer
51 Black Bears
13 Coyotes
10 Bobcats
8 Raccoons
2 Opossums
2 Grouse
3 **either coyote or gray fox**
1 black dog
several hikers, one biker, and one turkey hunter

Any ideas on whether the smell of bears from one ridge (May grid) on the cameras would trigger such a hostile response by bears on the cameras on another ridge (June grid)??  We did wash cameras #3, 12, 13, and 15 – the ones disturbed and possibly mouthed by bears – with hydrogen peroxide to kill any odor before setting them out again.

And last question, both grouse pictures were taken at night.  Why do you suppose those grouse were moving around on the ground at night??

 
July 2003 Update:

First, I'll start off this update on the subject of the three pictures that I mentioned in the June Update.  Due to the size of the small index prints, I couldn't tell if three of them were coyote or gray fox.  After getting normal sized prints made, it was easy to tell that all three were coyotes.  So as of today, no fox (red or gray) have been captured on film in 4 months.

In the June setup we had 39 bear pictures and I thought that would be a hard record to break.  Well, folks, we easily broke that record with  61 bear pictures in July and only camera #3 suffered damage.  The back plate was broken off, and I super glued it back on and it is now in the August setup. 

Most of the cameras now boast bear teeth marks on the camera housing, and so far none of the camera housings have been penetrated by the bears.  While on the subject of bears, I'll mention that they are now working some black berries and wild cherries in the August grid.  I noticed a lot of wild cherries already on the ground, and saw two large bears crossing the road while I was setting up the cameras.

In 4 months of running these cameras I hadn't seen a single turkey, or captured any on film.  But on August 2nd I saw two different hen turkeys in the August grid along the roads.

We got seven pictures of large white tail bucks, 8 pointers or better in July.  And several pictures of fawns, and doe/fawn combos.

We had two pictures of bear dogs (1 walker & 1 plott).  The walker bear dog was running a big bear.  The large bear appeared in one picture and the next picture was the walker dog trailing it.  The plott bear dog was just walking out a trail on a different camera.

And on a lighter note, we did get a picture of a "BIGFOOT".  Not exactly the kind you're thinking about.  Someone had removed their shoe and sock and stuck their big bare foot up to one of the cameras for a really nice picture.  I got a good laugh out of it.

Here are the animal picture totals for the July Setup:

146 Deer
61 Black Bears
3 Bobcats
7 Coyotes
2 Raccoons
2 Bear Dogs 

Malfunctioned/Lost:

Camera #4 & #18 malfunctioned during the setup phase in the August grid, so they are being sent back to the manufacturer for repairs.  Plus we lost camera #14 to a bear in June, so this leaves us with only 17 cameras now operating in the August grid. 

Food for thought:

We might want to consider pursuing a grant to replace Camera #14 and even add about 5 more cameras to the fleet.  This would give us more spares to work with during malfunctions, and we could even expand our coverage in each grid.

A lot of great wildlife pictures are being produced by this study, even though we haven't gotten a cougar picture yet.  Here are the new totals for April thru July (4 months):

367 Deer
112 Black Bears
23 Coyotes
13 Bobcats
10 Raccoons
2 Opossums
2 Grouse
 

August 29th.  The cameras were gathered up in the August grid. Camera #11 & Camera #13 had new bear bite marks on them, but neither were seriously damaged. Camera #10 & #20 were turned on the trees and probably resulted in a few less pictures. Camera #10 was turned slightly by a large buck deer that appeared to be horning it. But a large bear did the majority of the turning.

Camera #2 & #3 were damp inside the housing. Camera #9 & #16 were wet inside. #9 &#16 have had this problem for awhile and will be sent back for repairs soon.

Film was changed and batteries checked. C#4 & C#18 are back from repairs and were available to be setup in the Sept. grid.

August 30th.  Got a very early start as it was calling for rain. I started setting them up in the normal order with Camera #2. By the time I got to camera #7 it was very dark and the wind was blowing. It was starting to rain as I set C#8 up. And I had to use a poncho to shield the water off C#9 to finish setting it up, as it was pouring the rain.  It was still raining at 3:30pm and I decided to return home as you just can't set them up in the rain. You have to open the housing three times during the setup procedure, and when it's raining it allows water to get inside. That makes the electronics malfunction, so it's just not a good practice to do it in the rain.

We only have C#2 thru C#9 set-up in the September grid. We will have to do this setup again next year, as it's not getting the appropriate camera coverage. I tried my best to get all the cameras out, but Mother Nature would not cooperate.

We managed to capture two new animals on film in August:  one hen turkey and one rabbit. No cougar pictures in August. Here are the total animal pictures for August:

226 Deer (14 large bucks) (3 spikes)
59 Black Bears
11 Coyotes
7 Bobcats
1 Wild Turkey hen
1 Rabbit

We have gotten three pictures that I classified as coyotes for the animal totals, but honestly they look more like wolves instead of coyotes. Longer heavier bodies, and broader muzzles than the typical coyotes we usually see.

TOTAL ANIMAL PHOTOS, April thru August (5 months):

593 Deer
171 Black Bears
34 Coyotes
20 Bobcats
10 Raccoons
2 Opossums
2 Grouse
1 Wild Turkey
1 Rabbit

 

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