Sunday, August 5, 2012

I'm on a Perch!

Speaking of birds, I recently tried a little camera trapping creativity over in the Mono Lake Basin to see if I could catch a few.

You see, I like birds, but I'm not much of a birder. They hide in bushes and don't stay still (birds and birders). And standing around with a monster zoom lens waiting for them doesn't interest me at all. Plus, people that call themselves "birders" kinda frighten me. They standardize common names, and use words like "jizz" somewhat casually. And, I've heard that some have the savant-like ability to estimate flocks of thousands of birds to single digits of precision.

eBird record: "saw 8,412.5 Euro Starlings. An Accipiter took the other half."

Oh, and most good ones can stand with hands cupped to ears at 5am listening to the cacophony of sunrise calls in an oak canopy and tell you the 28 species concurrently communicating.

And, while I'm seriously envious of that last skill, I don't much care for 5am.

But, the wetland on the Mono survey property is chockers with great birds that I've wistfully watched come and go through my binocs.

Thus, I've often wished there was an obvious perch that I could point a camera trap at.

wetland on the rocks
Wetland in Mono Lake Basin at 6,700 feet

So, on my recent visit, I decided to put one up:

perch set
Homemade perch and cam trap (the brush is to keep birds from landing on the cam)

perch set on wetland
Perch and camera in place on edge of wetland

And pretty much immediately started getting results:

Western Kingbird

Western Kingbird

Swallow - maybe a Northern Rough-winged Swallow?

brown-headed cowbird
Brown-headed Cowbird

brown-headed cowbird
Brown-headed Cowbird

Not bad for a first try, and only 2 days.

I'm definitely going to put it out again, and during various seasons - there's a whole lot of cool birds I've seen around the place: Harriers, Prairie Falcons, Dusky Flycatchers, Say's Phoebes, Pinyon Jays, Clark's Nutcrackers, Juniper Titmice, Sage Thrashers, Green-tailed Towhees...

In fact, the pro birders that survey there have documented 150 species.

Here's several more I've been able to catch on my handheld camera while out and about:

mtn blue
Mountain Bluebird

friendly kestrel
American Kestrel

lady black-chinned
Black-chinned Hummingbird

rock wren
Rock Wren

So, maybe I am a bit of a birder. A lazy one.



  1. I would say that you are an "inventive" birder. Are some triggered cameras better at catching birds than others? Last year I had only a few birds on a camera (Cuddie) set along a brush edge, this year I put a different camera there (Moultre) and am getting gazillion photos of a scrub jay hopping around, sometimes even feeding juvenile or chasing other birds. Almost daily visits by the quail covey.

    1. Thanks Cindy. The sensitivity differences you're seeing probably aren't bird specific - you'd likely see the same diff with a set for small rodents. Why? Some cams are set to be more sensitive than others. Especially in the world of trail cameras that are designed for deer at 20 feet. If I remember correctly, the older Cuddebacks were relatively insensitive, with algorithms designed mostly for larger animals. Some of the cams do have sensitivity adjustments though, which can be used to increase or decrease the IR-motion sensitivity. Handy if you want to target small animals, and if you don't - you can tune down the sensitivity and the cam will ignore the small frys.

  2. What a wonderful post. I am a sorry excuse of a birder with bad eyesight who cannot tell a meadowlark singing from a frog croaking.
    I think that you have hit upon a whole new field of camera trapping. You could set up perches in many different habitats to get photos of things that would not normally allow a close approach. How about setting up a camera pointed at a prefered cliff face perch for a raptor like the Prarie Falcon you mentioned?

    1. Thanks John. Very kind. Lots of other folks have done cam trapping for birds on perches, though. The general difficulties: figuring out which perch to set on when an area has many, and keeping your camera from getting stolen - perch sets tend to make the cams very obvious. E.g., I'd love to leave the above perch and cam in place for a month, but doubt it would be there when I returned.

      And yes, I've been keeping an eye out for good cliff perches. Finding ones that are accessible and settable has been tough, though. Posts don't work very well in rocky areas...

  3. Incredible idea to put the perch in front of the cam, like that!!!

    Also nice that you have a place you can do that, and the cam not get stolen. If I even thought about putting a camera on a stake in the middle of an open expanse (rathern than lag screwed to a tree in a metal security box), I'm certain the camera would somehow be stolen before I even finished the set-up. :)

    Very cool stuff, RT!

    1. Thanks TB. Unfortunately the location isn't all that safe, so I only left the cam and perch in place for the couple of days I was staying. Too bad - a month long set would be very interesting.

      I wanna do grasslands sets as well (harvest mice!), and am thinking of making a fake rock cam to use. I'm hoping that if made well, it'll look real from a distance and people will ignore it.

  4. Yeah, this is brilliant. I'm totally stealing this idea! What a great way to target birds...

  5. I loved your description of counting birds! and strongly - nay, vehemently - recommend "How To Be A (Bad) Birder" by Simon Barnes. It will have you laughing and, if you have the right wrong attitude, in no time at all you will be saying "Hey look it's a sea gull!"

  6. just caught up on two months of your posts. As always Ken, very insightful, innovative, and inspiring. Keep it up!


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