What is BushCam Adventures?

BushCam Adventures attempts to share some of the amazing images, stories and insights that I've collected during my camera-trapping adventures.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

A Cederberg Survey

As regular readers of my blog will know I'm fortunate to be able to spend a fair bit of time in the wilds of Southern Africa with my camera traps. Over the last few years I've visited many fabulous sites, rich in biodiversity, but seldom get to spend long at any one of them.

So I've been looking for a site that is reasonably close to home where I can leave out a few cameras for many seasons - and possibly even a few years. I'm not exactly sure what I'm looking for - in fact, I have no idea what I'm looking for. I just like the idea of surveying a location that's wild and remote enough that my cameras are unlikely to be spotted by anyone. I'm keen to produce a video rather than a snapshot - if you will excuse the metaphor.

One such place is the Cederberg mountains where I've recently spent a few days. My local readers will know the Cederberg as a wonderful place for hiking and exploring. It is criss-crossed by hiking trails and the odd 'jeep track' but there remain many remote valleys that almost never get visited. But the vegetation has a low carrying capacity and the term 'abundant' would not be used to describe its wildlife. So its certainly not  'big 5' territory but I'm always more interested in the smaller animals: call them the secret seventeen.

The owners and managers of a wonderful place called Mount Ceder ( www.mountceder.co.za ) have agreed to let me leave my cameras on their vast property. I've done a bit of scouting around and I think I've found, with their guidance, a few great spots for cameras. So they're installed and, hopefully, clicking away (to the extent that camera-traps ever click away) as you read this.

During my few days there I didn't get too many images but there were a few that I liked:

A one-horned Grey Rhebuck ram (Pelea capreolus) who seemed totally oblivious to my camera. These guys are fairly common in the Cederberg but one generally only sees them bounding away with their characteristic rocking-horse motion - their white tails flashing prominently.

An African Wild Cat (Felis silvestris) - and again not a particularly uncommon species. However, what is interesting to me is that it was out at midday. There could be plenty of reasons for this but I wonder whether the remoteness of the location could make them more diurnal.

The only primate in the region, the Savanna Baboon (Papio cynocephalus ursinus). Do their babies suck their thumbs too?

One of my favorites, the Caracal (Caracal caracal) - also not often seen during the day. I've been lucky with images of these beautiful cats recently but I particularly like this one. Those eyes are mean!

So I'm hopeful that this new site will produce something interesting. And I'm looking forward to getting back there on a regular basis to check the cameras and swap out the cards.

Monday, 10 December 2012

What are the odds.....

Some friends recently asked me to check out a camera-trap that didn't seem to be working. I established that there was a defective battery in the set and replaced it. It then appeared to work fine but I though I'd put it out overnight to make sure that the flash was working perfectly too. So I propped it up outside our back door knowing that our dogs would trigger it a couple of times before the next morning.

So when I checked the card the next day there were indeed a few doggy pics in addition to one that gave me quite a shock:

This dude clearly jumped our fence (which is not difficult) and was having a furtive prowl around.
I don't recall ever putting out a camera at our back door so what were the odds of getting an image like this?

So given that millions of people around the world read my blog (yeah right!) I thought I'd take a chance and see if anyone knows him. What are the odds of that? Please tell him I'd like a quiet word.

Similarly, if you are the LOSER in this image you can be proud that you are now famous. Your image is on the database of our local neighbourhood watch, the South African Police, Interpol and the FBI! What were the odds that you'd have been so famous doing anything else?

Friday, 7 December 2012

Who's Killing the Penguins?

I've written before about work that I've done with the African Penguin (Spheniscus demersus).

This is the only species of penguin breeding in South Africa and, sadly, its numbers are dropping rapidly. Some of the  known causes of this are the depletion of its food supply, damage from oil spills and loss of breeding habitat. Fur seals are known to predate on penguins at sea but it was sad to hear that something was killing the penguins at the Stony Point colony in Betty's Bay - the only colony in the region that is actually growing.

Most of the carcasses were only partly eaten but it was estimated that, potentially, hundred of birds had died this way. So I offered to install a couple of camera-traps to see if we could identify the culprit.

Most carcasses were located near a thick stand of Rooikrans (Acacia cyclops) which suggested that this would be a good place to start looking. 

There were a couple of well used animal trails leading into the thicket so we installed the cameras a few metres into these trails. It didn't take long before the suspect was 'caught'.............

These aren't great images but they're quite good enough to identify a Caracal (Caracal caracal) as the likely culprit.

The cameras didn't catch much else other than some Rock Hyrax (Procavia capensis)  - who had better also watch out for the Caracal........

......and live penguins that wouldn't be in that thicket if they knew what was good for them:

In hindsight, getting images of the culprit was the easy part. What to do with them is way more tricky. I love the idea that we still have Caracals in coastal villages like Betty's Bay but I accept that ongoing predation of the African Penguin, now classified as endangered in the latest IUCN Red Data list, is a big problem. Translocating the cat (if it can be caught) is a possibility but it has also been suggested that it gets fitted with a tracking collar. The authorities can then monitor its movements and chase it away from the penguins when it gets too close. That's the idea anyway........

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Camera-Trapping in the Tankwa

There are many extraordinary places in South Africa but the Tankwa Karoo National Park is certainly one of them. Its a place of harsh beauty where one can only admire the failed attempts of pioneer farmers to eke out a living here.

So its not what I'd call a camera-trappers paradise.

However I doubt many people do any camera-trapping around here so my friend Dave and I decided to give it a go. We certainly weren't expecting things to be easy but were disappointed that the windmills and waterholes marked on our map were bone dry.

There were certainly signs of life but not always the sort that I catch on my trailcams.

So our best option seemed to set up in a seasonal river bed where there were numerous game trails. Trees for mounting the cameras on were at a premium but there were plenty of large rocks which did the trick.

Not surprisingly it didn't take us long to go through the images each day but there were a few that turned out well:

A Small Grey Mongoose (Galerella pulverulenta) which posed for one quick image....

..and a mangy looking Common Duiker (Sylvicapra grimmia) who did hang around for a while.

But the image I was most excited about:

Its an African Striped Weasel (Poecilogale albinucha) and the first image of a live one I've ever taken. I consider these little guys to be quite rare and, sadly, seen most often as road-kill.

So while the Tankwa would never be called a place of abundance it remains, for me, a very special place.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Bonus Birds

I've not been well lately! My self-diagnosis leaves me in no doubt that that I have a bad case of cabin-fever. This as a result of not getting out into the wilds for about a month now. I've had to console myself with browsing through my old camera-trap images. However, while doing this I decided that I needed to pull together a post about birds - specifically those that have walked in front of my cameras.

We're extremely fortunate to have a wide variety of large raptors, as well as terrestrial species, that are quite big enough to trigger a camera at some distance. So while I've only once actually set out to get images of birds (African penguins) I do get other big fellows fairly frequently. These are some of my favourites:

Secretary Bird (Sagittarius serpentarius) at a spot where I was hoping to get an image of a leopard recently seen in the area.

Lappet-faced Vulture (Torgos tracheliotus) bullying the other birds at the water-hole.

An African Hawk-Eagle (Hieraaetus spilogaster). What was amazing about this series of images was that the other mammals in the images waited in the background for it to finish (about 20 minutes) before drinking themselves.

Marabou Stork (Leptoptilos crumeniferus)

Kori Bustard (Ardeotis kori) - apparently the worlds heaviest flying bird.

A male Ostrich (Struthio camelus) with his young.

Hadeda Ibis (Bostrychia hagedash) an extremely successful species whose range is expanding dramatically in Southern Africa.

Black-headed Heron (Ardea melanocephala).

However I can feel the fever starting to subside already since I'm headed off next week to a remarkable place called the Tankwa Karoo National Park. Its renowned for its natural beauty, rather than abundance of mammals, but I'm hopeful that the cameras will pick up something interesting.
 I'll keep you posted.........

Monday, 8 October 2012

Lovely Legs

When setting up a trailcam I usually attempt to position it about 18" off the ground. I do this for a couple of reasons:
- it usually means that you don't miss the little guys, like a mongoose, that pass close by to the camera
- a lot of wildlife photography (especially that of mammals) shows the subject level with, or slightly below, the photographer. I've got bored with this slightly 'superior' feel to wildlife photographs and so now prefer the quirky images that I get from the low angles.

What it does mean though is that I get a lot of leg shots when large mammals walk too close to the camera. Ideally, you might say, I should position the camera further away from the likely path that an animal might take. That's absolutely true but one doesn't always have too many options.

Notwithstanding the benefits of a well-framed photograph I always enjoy my leg shots. I think they often give a better 'sense of place' than would a photo of, say, an antelope's rump.

Monday, 24 September 2012

Camera-trapping Workshop

I  recently ran a camera-trapping workshop in the Waterberg region of South Africa. The wildlife reserve I used had a good variety of mammals but no lions, elephants or buffalo. So it was safe to walk around and set up our cameras as long as we kept a look out for the resident rhinos and hippos.

The management of the reserve had pointed out the carcasses of a wildebeest and a couple of impala that had been struck by lightning - which seemed like a good place to start. We also chose a couple of water-holes, rhino middens and interesting looking spots in some riverine vegetation. But we had less than 48 hours to get some good images so luck did need to be on our side.

Our first evening was very windy and cold which is seldom good for camera trapping. The results from the cameras confirmed this and the results were disappointing. However the following night was way better so we were cautiously optimistic that we might have bagged something interesting. This is what we got:

An African Hawk-Eagle (Aquila spilogaster) on a piece of the carcass. I've always known them as competent hunters so was surprised to see them scavenging a carcass.

But I wasn't surprised to see these two around the carcass:

A Brown Hyaena (Parahyaena brunnea) who enjoys nothing more than some ripe wildebeest and an African Civet (Civettictis civetta) who didn't hang around too long.

An then we were fortunate to get:

A Caracal (Caracal caracal) who seemed to find the camera's flash a bit much........

......an Eland (Tragelaphus oryx) who wandered past on one of the few occasions when the sun shone.....

....and a Waterbuck (Kobus ellipsiprymnus) with its characteristic 'toilet-seat' marking on its rear end.

I'd also spent the night before the workshop on the reserve and had picked up this Large Spotted Genet (I'm not sure if it is Genetta maculata or Genetta tigrina )

We also got unexciting images of giraffe, warthog, kudu, impala, zebra, jackal, wildebeest, bushbuck, baboon and vervet monkey. So I guess that wasn't bad for a weekend of 'trapping'.

Thanks to the management of Jembisa as well as my 'students'. I had a lot of fun!

Saturday, 18 August 2012

Water to die for....

In our recent quest to get images of Brown Hyenas (see Brown Hyenas at Tswalu) we set up a camera-trap at a small water-hole. We did get some fleeting images of a Brown Hyena but, for me, there was something more interesting happening there.

This image, taken at mid-morning showed a pretty peaceful scene: Wildebeest (Connochaetes taurinus) doing what they probably do most days of their lives.

They were followed a little while later by some Plains Zebra (Equus quagga) and Gemsbok (Oryx gazella) who initially looked pretty chilled......

......until the Zebra got spooked by something.

The Red Hartebeest (Alcelaphus buselaphus) then ambled down to the water..........

....until they too had a panic attack.

But this is dry country so it wasn't long before the Zebra were back......

.....but didn't stay long.

However their thirst got the better of them....

The reason for their panic became obvious shortly thereafter:


I'm grateful for a great many things in my life but I've just added a new one:
that I don't need someone to watch my back when I get a drink of water!

We were driving in the area the next day when we came across this scene:
There is not much of the carcass left, but the last remains of a Zebra can just be seen.