Thursday, February 4, 2010

Gullies Make Good Sets

One of the many bits of wisdom I learned from the Camera Trap Codger while scouting for good locations on the Chimineas Ranch: gullies & washes make good sets.

Some reasons why:
  • gullies tend to be one of the easier ways to go up and down hills
  • runoffs from seasonal rain and snowmelts churn up tasty snacks
  • extra water cultivates plants, mosses & fungi that are also often tasty snacks
  • gullies trap puddles for drinking, and attract herps and insects - more tasty snacks
  • wind/air moves down and up them - helpful for sniffing out tasty snacks
  • gullies often have cover and shade that's handy for a kip, hide or ambush

Well, when you have property in the Sierra Nevada Foothills that sits above a few thousand feet, you get a lot of gullies. Every hill has one - the rain and snowmelt have to flow somewhere, and the soft Sierra clay is happy to erode out of the way. The back slope of our family property has several small gullies. One has especially been intriguing me because it runs down from the fence, is full of poison oak, and always seems to show signs of wildlife transit.

While there in December I noticed that the poison oak was dormant, so I slipped in and set my fast Reconyx trail camera up. The Reconyx shoots at only 3MP, so the quality isn't terrific, but it's soooo fast to wake and repeatedly take, that it rarely misses anything, and thus is perfect for surveying. I figured that if the set showed interesting beasties, I might wanna try again later with one of the higher quality 8MP Codger-style cam traps I'm now hacking together.

Well, the set didn't disappoint. The Reconyx logged 113 animal triggers in 35 days (with 5 photos each). It snowed once, but it was only on the ground for 5 days. Overall, 12 species showed. And while the deer and wild turkeys were the most commonly caught, they didn't dominate the scene - the other California characters were on stage regularly too...

The Frequent Fox
This gully seems to be a fave route of the local gray fox(es). It/they accounted for 13 triggers. One even came through near midday and gave me my first ever full color daytime shot - but the rascal turned away! Still - it's cool to see their stunning colors in natural light.

gray fox by day

Foxy mostly came by at night:

gray fox


The New Year's Day Coyote
A handsome winter-coating coyote slipped through on 2 nights. On New Year's Day he/she even paused to give the camera a defiant "what are you looking at?" stare that I think I recognize from my set on the poop rock...

new year's day coyote

new year's day coyote

Whaddya think - same coyote as was "showing off" on poop rock back in late 2008? Maybe I'm anthropomorphizing, but that curious stare looks awful similar to me...

can a coyote get a little privacy?

wile e. coyote on marking rock


The Merged Wild Turkey Flock
For winter, the small local matriarchal turkey flocks merge into a large communal flock. On one of the snow days the entire merged flock decided to strut up the gully. It took 4 minutes for them all to go by the camera trap, and I counted at least 40 wild turkeys in the 65 photos taken!

many turkeys


The Rest of the Cast
Here's some of the other characters that like the gully - a nice ensemble indeed:

A shy bobcat sticks to the sidelines

California quail pick through the black oak leaf litter

Persistent possums came up and down the gully over 20 times

A 2009 fawn with its new winter coat poses for the camera in the snow

don't eat the camera!
A young prankster buck mule deer makes raspberries at the camera

A tiny chipmunk forages about

Striped skunk rambles by


Just the Stats Man

113 camera events in 35 days showed 12 species:
Misses (no visible animal)4
Mule Deer27
Wild Turkey25
Gray Fox13
Domestic Cat5
Striped Skunk2
Gray Squirrel2
California Quail1
American Robin1

No black bear - perhaps they were already asleep.

No jackrabbits - too thick with brush I think - no where to easily run.

No raccoons - bit surprised by that. They're around.




  1. Very nice set! Camera-trapping makes zoology even funner than it has always been. It also shows how much is really going on out there, which couldn't be more important.

    A quality gully.

  2. How cool is THAT!!?? Wow! I loved this post. It must have been very exciting to discover who visited the area! Thanks for such an interesting post! ~karen


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