Sunday, January 27, 2013

Moon Creatures and Interesting Stream Ice

A yearling White-tailed Deer walks by the camera in the early morning hours

Recently, I've set up a trail camera to try to capture video of wildlife carousing around the nature preserve at night. I guess that most people refer to them as game cameras, since they are most usually employed by hunters monitoring an area for prospective game. I however, am using the same instrument for non-exploitative purposes (Yeah!) The first problem that I ran into had to do with the camera placement. Should I put it along a trail, or near a particularly promising den site? Should I have it placed high and pointing downward on the action or do I try to mount the thing at a much lower level, where it would be at eye level with a fox. In the end, I opted to alternately try all different angles and locations.

Gray Fox checks out the entrance to a burrow
Nighttime picture quality is pretty poor. Infrared shots as a rule look stark and unnatural. In fact the pictures are reminiscent of those taken on the surface of the moon by Apollo astronauts. Also, snow is heavily reflective, so any shots with snow are subject to appearing extremely washed out. As one could imagine, this presents a bit of a problem for winter photography! Another problem is that all animals’ eyes glow like crazy, and that makes them look even more like unearthly beings.  
The Fox  goes only  part way down the hole
After the fox leaves, a rabbit shows up and disappears down the hole
By far the most common animal in my night videos are White-tailed Deer. These were mostly adult females with their yearling fawns in tow, but also a few bucks did make cameo appearances. So far, I've captured no real amazing footage, but a few of my favorite moments involve the subject interacting with the camera. In one such clip, a young doe comes in from behind the camera gives it a going over with her nose; this creates some sizable camera tremors. She finishes up by putting her eye right up to the camera shutter for an extreme close-up.

An overly curious doe puts her eye right up to the camera!
One evening, I set the camera up in front of a Woodchuck hole. Though woodchucks are not active in winter, other animals often use the entrance ways of their burrows as their own make-shift shelters. There were some signs of recent excavations at this hole, so I thought that it was a promising place for nighttime action. The first night, a Gray Fox walked up to the hole, sniffed around it, but didn't attempt to enter. About an hour later the same fox returned and rechecked the hole; this time she even entered it, but then quickly backed out and departed. A short time later, an Eastern Cottontail Rabbit came into view. It hopped up to the entrance and disappeared down into the hole. The next night no rabbit or fox was captured. However, a deer approached the hole and seemed to be enthralled with the bare earth below the excavation.

The deer's turn to check out the Woodchuck/Rabbit hole

Rabbits get ready to face-off  (apparently, this too is on the lunar surface)
In the next set-up location, 2 rabbits were caught interacting in front of the camera. Most of us think of rabbits as the most peaceful creatures, but on occasion, they will let each other have it. On that night, a rabbit approached another one that was sitting in the middle of the trail. They touched noses and sat face to face for a few moments, and then the one that was approached suddenly lashed out and punched the other guy. Who expected that?

At first light, the crows begin to gather in front of the camera
It has been amazingly cold this week at the nature preserve. A few mornings, the temperatures have been well below zero, and they varied little during the course of the day. Extreme cold has an interesting effect on the streams –during the process of freezing, the water in the stream expands greatly in the creek bed, creating in places something resembling a miniature glacier. Moving water remains at the bottom of the channel, passing through, in some places, intricate labyrinths of ice. On our largest creek, the water level dropped considerably after the initial deep freeze, and this created a double layer of ice, with more than a foot of clearance between the layers. This ice tunnel will act as a passage way for small animals like mink, which can now traverse part of their territory without being seen.

The receded water-level leaves a large gap between the water and the surface ice
The stream becomes a show case of interesting ice sculptures

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