Thursday, May 25, 2017

The Saga Concludes

In an earlier post (here) the saga of the dead bear began. That post catalogued the species that my camera trap photographed as they came to feed on the bear’s carcass. It extended from the day we found the bear until an eastern coyote dragged away the remains. There was a lapse of a bit more than a week between the coyote’s removal of the carcass and when I found its new location.

The camera trap was moved to a spot where it could capture photos of the species visiting the new location. Fly larvae had devoured much of the carcass before the coyote dragged it to the new location and, after another week, there wasn’t much left. The first to arrive after the camera was re-located were two common crows –

That night an opossum came by –

Several days later a dog smelled the remains but only stayed long enough for the camera to take one photograph –

The ‘possum visited the carcass each night –

And on one rainy night was accompanied by a moth –

On a day in early May turkey vultures arrived –

The birds scattered the bones as they fed and squabbled over the remaining edibles –

The final photos were of two eastern coyotes when there was little if anything left for them to eat –

One of the coyotes appeared to scent roll on soil containing the odor of the carcass. All canines (wolf, dog, coyote and fox) scent roll to anoint themselves with strong odors. There are several theories about why they do this, but the actual reason(s) is not well understood.

With only a few bones and some hair remaining, it was time to remove the camera and leave the remains to bacteria and other microscopic scavengers. Thus the saga of the dead bear came to an end.

The story may have ended, but a host of questions remain: 
  • Why didn’t the large mammals in the area (bears, coyotes, bobcats) feed on the dead bear during the winter when food was scarce and the meat was fresh? 
  • Although they depend on larger mammals to open a carcass, the ravens that passed over the carcass’s location regularly apparently never even examined the remains, nor (except for two on only one day) did the locally abundant crows – why? 
  • What was the reason that it took until mid-April, when fly maggots had devoured  much of the flesh, for a coyote to finally show interest in the carcass?
  • By the time the vultures arrived the carcass was beneath rapidly expanding foliage; they apparently found it by scent - but it had smelled strongly for a while and the vultures had been back in the area for weeks - what took them so long to find it? 
  • Scavenging wildlife quickly find deer carcasses and rapidly devour the organs and muscles (see this post).  Do most species that scavenge from carcasses deliberately avoid a bear’s remains? If they do, why? 
Questions, questions and more questions. 

Thursday, May 18, 2017

A Dog in Forest and Field

The dog’s name is Trudi; although she vaguely resembles a small German Shepard, that's not what she is – she’s pure dog of undetermined ancestry. She was a shelter dog twice over, adopted once and returned until she was adopted by our son and his family. Trudi doesn’t like strangers, especially men, and really does not like other dogs. Perhaps that’s why she made two trips through the shelter. But with her family, including her “grandparents” she’s calm and apparently loving.

Each year, for a week or so, Trudi comes to stay with us and she and I spend time wandering in forest and field, and especially the Big Woods. There she hunts chipmunks, mice and voles with enthusiasm but very little success. If those small rodents had a choice about the predator by which to be hunted, they’d be foolish not to pick Trudi as their pursuer. But she enjoys the chase and puts a lot of effort into the quest.

Thanks to our son’s training Trudi won’t chase deer and will sit when I spend a bit of time photographing plants or other interesting features. While she sits she’s always alert and looking.

Trudi’s a bit over nine years old now and starting to get gray in the muzzle. She gets tired sooner than she did in her younger days (don’t we all?).

And after a good romp in forest or field takes a long nap –

Come to think of it, that’s not a bad idea.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

"Beneath the Ledge" is Finished

The most reliable spot for my camera traps to capture photographs of bobcats was beneath the ledge of a rock outcrop on the edge of a plateau. That location produced a number of very nice photos, some of which were featured in earlier posts: here and here, but some were never posted and there were more recent pictures too, here are some - 

The original plan was to keep the camera there indefinitely, but last year in mid-April the camera trap caught photos of two people clambering down over the ledge, fortunately the people hadn’t seen the camera trap

So I removed the camera trap for about six weeks just in case. After that hiatus, the camera trap went back and it’s been in place ever since, capturing interesting photographs of whatever came by.

In late April when I checked the camera trap it had obviously been moved a bit, perhaps a curious bear had been rough on it as they sometime are. The memory card had two photos of a bobcat –

And then a photograph of three people’s legs

The next photographs (taken three days after that of the legs) were taken as the camera trap was moved and one included part of a person’s face. So, it wasn’t a bear – it was a human that moved the camera trap.

The camera trap was secured to a large fallen slab of rock with a cable lock which may (probably?) have kept it from disappearing. Camera traps are often stolen and unsecured camera traps are an open invitation to thieves - which is why mine are always secured with a lock. Needless to say, I moved it to a new spot and it will never go back beneath that ledge. Thus ends the series of posts from Beneath the Ledge.

The new location has already proven productive, with a series of photos of a young porcupine –

We'll see what the new location yields.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Saga of the Dead Bear

A couple of days before New Year’s Day our oldest granddaughter, her husband, their dog and I were walking in a wooded area when one of us (guess which one) found a dead bear partially covered with snow. This was an opportunity too good to pass up, so I decided to return and put up a camera trap to get photos of the scavengers that would come for a meal. 

I’ve spent all of my professional life and most of my recreational time in forest and field or on the water – well over 50 years now. This is only the second time I’ve found a dead bear in the woods; the first being in 2008 and that was only some of the bones and pieces of hide. This time it was an entire, intact bear of less than 100 pounds.

There were no obvious wounds on the bear, just a small patch of hair missing from one hip. The bear’s body was more than ¾ mile from the nearest road; perhaps the bear was hit by a vehicle and traveled that far before succumbing to its injuries.

To those who are squeamish – DO NOT READ FURTHER!

Every few weeks since putting the camera trap in place on January 3 I’ve checked on the photos it’s acquired. Surprisingly, it wasn’t until mid-February that the first animal appeared in a photo – and that was a flying squirrel on an adjacent tree

Then a cottontail rabbit passed on by

Next came a dog that grabbed the bear by the nose and tugged, moving the carcass a bit –

Then there was a white-footed mouse on the dead bear –

A mink briefly checked the remains

For a while a flying squirrel made nightly visits to eat from the bear’s lips and nose –

Raccoons swarmed the carcass, but apparently did not feed
On April 2 an opossum managed to get through the hide and spent 34 minutes feeding on the bear carcass –

So did a stripped skunk

The ‘possum returned repeatedly to have its nightly meal –

As the weather warmed the flies and carrion beetles arrived, attracted by the increasingly pungent aroma of the dead bear –

And still the ‘possum came, successive photos also showed the swarm of fly larvae (maggots) as they fed on the bear carcass –

As much as I anticipated seeing photos of a bear, coyote, bobcat, raven, crow or vulture feeding on the remains, none appeared. Why hadn't the typical scavengers of dead animals come to this abundant source of protein?

When  I went to check the camera’s memory card and change the batteries in late April – the bear was GONE!

Glancing around, I didn’t see the remains, so I checked the card in hopes of determining what happened to the bear. There were over 400 photos, most were of the opossum feeding; those photos also showed the progress of maggots working on the carcass. 

A coyote had finally appeared on April 17, but only in one photo. The coyote returned on the 19th – when it dragged the bear carcass away, as scavenging predators often do.

Looking more closely, I found a drag trail in the fallen leaves and located the carcass 150 feet away behind an old root mound. The idea of moving the remains back to the camera briefly crossed my mind, but it was such a gooey mess there was no way I was going to do that. Instead I moved the camera to a tree near the carcass’ new location. 

In addition to the photos of the mammals, there were photos of a hermit thrush that visited the carcass’s original location several times over the course of three days after the coyote had dragged it off – perhaps it was gleaning maggots that had been left behind when the coyote moved the carcass.

The camera trap will remain in its new location until there’s no evidence of further activity – Stand by.