Sunday, January 29, 2012

Baby Bobs Captured on Video in Bell County

I managed to get out and check on my game cameras this afternoon. I was three weeks past due on checking on them. This was due mostly to weather related issues. We’ve actually received a fair amount of rain over the last several weeks and I knew the road into the area would be very muddy and that the creek bed in which the cameras are deployed would be full of water. I didn’t want to get my truck stuck and walking that creek while it was full of cold, rushing water didn’t appeal too much to me so I decided to bide my time until things dried out a bit.

Finally, I got to the point that I couldn’t stand it anymore and decided to give it a go this weekend. The road in was still very soft but passable so I made my way to the creek. The water was still flowing but had receded enough so that I could traverse the creek bed so in I went.

I only had three cameras operational for this last set. You may recall that one of my Cuddeback cameras was submerged in rising waters during a very heavy rain event last month. I’ve cleaned it up but still don’t have it working at this point (I did purchase a used Cuddeback that I placed out today so I’ll have four cameras deployed for this next set). Since there has been water in the creek bed most of the last six weeks I was not expecting as many pictures as usual from the location. It turns out I was right; however, several of the photos I did capture more than made up for the lack of quantity.

While none of the pictures captured any unusual animals this time around there were some outstanding shots. I particularly liked one coyote shot and another of a great blue heron who were both walking the creek. These two photos, while very nice, were far from the stars of the set, however. That honor belonged to three bobcat kittens and their mother.

Three bobcat kittens (Lynx rufus) appear in the lower left-hand corner of the photo below. You can see the eye-shine of one of the kittens clearly and a second slightly to the left of the first. It appears to be descending the bank and moving toward the creek. The third kitten is not easily discernible in the photo but can clearly be seen in the video that follows the photo.

When I saw this photo and realized I had managed to get these “baby bobs” on video, I was thrilled. I also wondered where the mother might be. It would not be like a bobcat mom to allow her kittens to wander too far out of her sight. It didn’t take too long to figure out that mom was right there all along. The video below shows the mother jumping up into the tree to inspect my camera. She is so close to the camera that she appears a solid, ghostly white; however, there is no mistaking her identity. My guess is that she was with the kittens all along, maybe a bit closer to and almost underneath the camera location, and became aware of the camera once it fired. This is especially interesting as this is a digital, supposedly silent, camera that utilizes infrared and does not use a flash. What alerted her to its presence is a bit puzzling. Regardless, become aware of it she did and she quickly jumped up onto a branch to check it out and make sure it was not a threat to her young. She inspected the camera briefly, turned, and jumped down out of the tree. This was the only time I saw her or her kittens during this set.

The presence of bobcat young in late December is a bit unusual. I’m certainly not going to try to pass myself off as an expert on bobcats but from what I’ve learned they usually give birth in April or May. The gestation period is 60-70 days. So, this means that this female was mating in September or October. Normally, mating takes place from February through March. Obviously, everything happened earlier than that for this female. The whole cycle was accelerated for some reason. Could this be due to environmental conditions or is this bobcat family just one of the exceptions when it comes to the normal reproductive cycle of the species? I have captured quite a few photos of different bobcats over the last few months. Now that I’ve seen the female with kittens, it is likely that some of the individuals photographed were males following her around in the hopes of mating.

This location continues to yield some great images and interesting data. The previous set yielded images of river otters (never before documented in Bell County) and this set gave me images proving that at least some of the bobcats found here are mating and giving birth much earlier than the expected norm for the species.

I wonder what the next set of photographs will show?

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Exotic Lionfish Invading Texas Coastal Waters

When you think of the various dangerous fish that swim the waters of the Gulf of Mexico, images of tiger sharks, bull sharks, stingrays, and jellyfish probably come to mind. The exotic lionfish (Pterois volitans) would likely not jump to the top of your list of dangerous Gulf species. Unfortunately, that may change soon.

The lionfish is a beautiful animal that is characterized by reddish-orange, black, and white stripes, flashy pectoral fins, and venomous spikes. Adults average about 12” in length and are native to the waters of the Indo-Pacific. The lionfish is prized by aquarium enthusiasts due to its distinct and colorful pattern.

Three different lionfish have been spotted at Flower Garden Banks National Maritime Sanctuary. The sanctuary is east of Galveston Island and approximately 100 miles south of the Texas-Louisiana border. The spot is very popular among divers and fishermen due to the abundance of marine life living in close proximity to the coral reefs found there. That abundant marine life may now be in danger.

Lionfish are voracious predators that live near structure (coral reefs, oil rigs, shipwrecks, etc.) and feed on an extremely wide variety of creatures including important commercial fish like grouper and snapper.

Emma Hickerson, a research coordinator at Flower Garden Banks said, “They are pretty indiscriminate. They eat fish, crabs, shrimp, everything.”

The species has been known to completely take over reefs and other structure and virtually wipe out other species living there.

“What we have seen in the Tortugas and the Florida Keys is that they dominate and there are no small fish left,” Hickerson said.

The presence of lionfish in the Gulf of Mexico could have a domino effect. One such effect pointed out by Lance Robinson, executive director of coastal fisheries for the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department, was that the species feeds on parrotfish. Parrotfish are vital to the health of coral reefs as they eat algae. If the parrotfish disappear then there is a very real possibility that the algae will grow unabated and smother the coral. It is scenarios like this that have had the attention of organizations like the TPWD and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which oversees Flower Garden Banks, for the better part of 12 years.

Officials have watched as the lionfish’s territory has expanded. The species, first spotted off of south Florida in the 1990’s has moved up the Atlantic coast as far as Long Island, infested the Caribbean, and spread to the Gulf coast. Lionfish have been found off the coasts of Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, northern Mexico, the Yucatan Peninsula, and Cuba.

Hickerson pointed to the presence of the Gulf’s many oil rigs as an aide to the lionfish’s quick migration.

“Not only are there reefs for them to live around, but you have the added dynamic of up to 4,000 oil rigs in the Gulf, which provides them places to live. That’s how they ‘island hop’ around,” he said.

Experts feel that there is little possibility that the lionfish will not continue to spread and infest the Texas coast. Beside the favorable habitat found in Texas waters, there are no natural predators of the lionfish to be found here.

“There is nothing to keep them in check,” Robinson said.

So, how did this happen? As with other invasives, the problem stems from issues within the exotic pet trade. In this case, it is the aquarium trade.

“They are pretty fish, that’s why they are popular for aquariums,” Robinson said.

Hickerson adds, “They really are quite pretty. They just don’t belong here.”

Efforts to control the lionfish population will likely have to be multi-faceted. They are good to eat and have a white, mild flesh that is quite tasty. Officials hope that a market will develop for the meat of the lionfish. This won’t be enough alone, as divers can’t easily get to the depths where lionfish live (they’ve been observed as far down as 1,000 feet). Direct removal of the species and the development and management of a healthy population of natural predators will also have to play large roles. Along these lines, park officials at the Roatan Marine Park in Honduras have attempted to train sharks to feed on lionfish in an effort to control the Carribbean population of the species. Results thus far have been mixed. Likely, the only way the lionfish population will be kept under control will depend on whether or not a natural predator steps up that feeds off the larvae and young of the species. Without that the population could skyrocket.

Due to the depths at which lionfish usually live, there is only a minimal risk to swimmers. Divers and fishermen are more at risk, however, as lionfish have a nasty and aggressive disposition and are extremely territorial. Cases of aggression against divers have been documented. Lionfish venom produces systemic effects such as vomiting, fever, and sweating. Generally, while extremely painful, the sting of the lionfish is not fatal to humans though there have been a handful of deaths attributed to the venom of the species.

Even if population control efforts are largely successful it appears the lionfish is here to stay. The successful invasion of lionfish in the Gulf of Mexico once again points to the need for much stricter regulations on the exotic pet trade. Invasives like zebra mussels, snakehead fish, Burmese pythons, and even the wild burros of west Texas are wreaking havoc on ecosystems that have no defense against them. We’ve got to get this problem under control.

There is just too much to lose if we do not.

Source: “Invasive species on the prowl along Texas Coast,” Galveston Daily News, 28 January 2012.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Still Here

I just wanted to touch base and let everyone know I'm still here.

This week has been crazy busy and I just have not been able to get any writing done. It has all been good stuff, thank goodness, keeping me tied up but it has hampered my blogging activities.

Part of what has kept me busy is looking into a black panther story. I will be posting that write up very soon. It will include a very intriguing photo.

I'll also be getting out to check on my game cameras this weekend. I am about two weeks past due on refreshing batteries and checking memory cards. I can't wait to see what these cameras have captured in this latest set.

So, I am still here and will be getting back up to speed as quickly as possible. Hang in there with me.

More soon...

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Monocled Cobra on the Loose in Brownwood, Texas

Here’s a scary story that illustrates one of the issues created by the exotic animal trade.

KCEN, an NBC affiliate out of central Texas, is reporting that a deadly sunset monocled cobra (Naja kaouthia)is on the loose in Brownwood, Texas. Brownwood is a town of roughly 20,000 people about 150 miles to the southwest of Dallas.

Nick Ferguson, the animal control officer in Brownwood, said the 12-16 inch long cobra escaped from its enclosure sometime last Monday. The owner had been looking for the snake for several days when he was arrested on Wednesday on a drug charge (obviously, this guy is a real winner). It was at this time that the authorities became aware of the missing cobra.

Ferguson feels the snake could still be somewhere in the house but can’t be sure of that. It is quite possible the snake has escaped into the surrounding area. A herpetologist from the Abilene Zoo has been brought in to help with the search as has a Texas Parks & Wildlife Department game warden.

I am no herpetologist but from what I can tell the “sunset” monocle is simply a pale, almost albino, monocled cobra. Like other cobras, the monocled cobra is extremely venomous and dangerous. The venom is neurotoxic in nature attacks the nervous system of the prey. This leads to flaccid paralysis and possible death due to respiratory failure.

Let’s hope that the snake has not left the home of the owner and that the authorities are able to get it rounded up quickly.


Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Wisdom of Aldo Leopold

"There are some who can live without wild things, and some who winds and sunsets, wild things were taken for granted until progress began to do away with them. Now we face the question whether a still higher 'standard of living' is worth its cost in things natural, wild, and free. For us of the minority, the opportunity to see geese is more important than television, and the chance to find a pasque-flower is a right as inalienable as free speech."

- Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Most Recent European Great Ape Discovered; Provides Clues to the Adaptability of the Great Ape Diet

According to an article on the Science Daily website, a team of scientists from Germany, Bulgaria, and France have discovered a 7 million year old hominid molar that proves that great apes survived much later in Europe than had been thought.

The tooth, a pre-molar, of a hominid was discovered near the Bulgarian town of Chirpan and proves that great apes were present in Europe until 7 million years ago. This is 2 million years later than anyone previously believed. Scientists from the Bulgarian Academy of Science, the French Centre national de la Recherche Scientifique, and the Senckenberg Center for Human Evolution and Paleoenvironment at the University of Tubingen teamed up on the project and share credit for this discovery which may cause some major changes in how the timeline of hominid evolution is viewed.

Scientists have long thought that great apes went extinct in Europe approximately 9 million years ago due to changing climactic and environmental conditions. The gradual change of European ecosystems from thick jungles and evergreen forests to a savannah-like landscape with a seasonal climate was thought to be too much for apes, who were heavily dependent on fruit, to survive. This newly discovered pre-molar, identified as hominid based on morphology and the thickness of the enamel, was discovered in fossiliferous sands estimated to be 7 million years old. Whatever this European great ape was, it post-dates the Ouranopithecus macedonensis fossils, found in Greece, by 2.2 million years.

Scientists found other animals in the fossil bearing level of sediment that one would expect to find in a savannah environment. The fossilized remains of elephants, giraffes, gazelles, antelopes, rhinos, and sabre-toothed cats were all found in the strata with the hominid tooth. The discovery strongly suggests that European hominids were able to adapt to the environmental changes far more easily than previously suspected. This hypothesis is backed up further by analysis of the tooth’s masticatory surface under an electron microscope. This analysis revealed that the Bulgarian hominid had partaken of some rough and abrasive foods like grass, seeds, and nuts. This diet would make the Bulgarian ape’s feeding behavior very similar to that of later African hominids like the australopithecids who survived up until about 4 million years ago.

The article, which you can access here, goes on to share some thoughts about where the origins of humans might actually lie. Scientists have long thought that human evolution took place exclusively in Africa and that humans migrated to other continents from there. Evidence is beginning to pile up that point to a significant part of human evolution taking place in Europe and western Asia. What really caught my eye, however, was the final statement in the article which says in part, “…both investigations document an at least 10 million year lasting population of great apes in Europe and a significant evolution from fruit-eaters to harder object feeders.”

Followers of this site likely can guess where I’m going next. If the great apes of Europe were able to successfully adapt to a pretty substantial change in climate and transition from feeding almost exclusively on fruit to eating all manner of rougher foods, why couldn't a great ape that had migrated to North America do the same? The short answer, in my opinion, is that they could...and did. Many will concede the point that it is possible for an ape to subsist on rougher foods than fruit but few think it is possible that it could have happened here in North America, much less the bottom-lands of the south. The environment, the thinking goes, simply is not rich enough to support a population of large apes. The seeming paucity of food on our continent has long been one of the primary objections by mainstream scientists to the possible existence of the sasquatch. Great apes simply could not survive on the types of food found here, they claim.

Sasquatch researchers have long argued that our continent is rich in food-stuff and that there is an abundance of edibles that could sustain a population of large primates. Pine nuts, hickory nuts, acorns, various algaes (black algae) and fungi (mushrooms), greenbriar, various tubers, berries, many types of seeds, and the like are all abundant. This is especially true of the bottom-lands of the American south. Wildlife biologist Dr. John Bindernagel, who visited east Texas in 2001 and 2002, was struck by the richness and scope of the region's forests, which are predominantly mixed deciduous, as opposed to the largely coniferous forests of the Pacific Northwest. Dr. Bindernagel recognized the value and productivity of deciduous forests in terms of wildlife habitat and he pointed out that large species of mammals living in southern forests would almost certainly require smaller home ranges than in northern coniferous forests. Anecdotal evidence also strongly suggests that America’s great ape is omnivorous. When you add items like small mammals, deer, shellfish, insects, frogs, grubs, worms, fish, eggs, and birds to the menu, you have a veritable buffet in the forests and bottoms of the south.

It would seem disingenuous to claim there is not an adequate enough food supply in North America to support a large primate when the continent has shown it is capable of supporting animals the size of the grizzly bear (Ursus arctos horribilis) and the black bear (Ursus americanus), not to mention a large number of Native American tribes, some of whom lived in what would seem to be very inhospitable regions, for thousands of years. When that is taken into consideration, to still claim there is not enough food to sustain a small population of large primates is ludicrous. One could argue the evidence needed to prove the sasquatch is real beyond the shadow of a doubt is lacking. That is something I can understand and will gladly discuss. To simply dismiss the possibility of a North American primate outright due to the “fact” that there is nothing for it to eat, however, is ridiculous and indicates laziness on the part of any who take that stand. Don't believe me? Just do a quick Google search on edible North American plants and see what you come up with. Anyone who argues that there isn't enough food for an animal the size of the sasquatch to subsist on simply has not done their homework.

But, you may ask, didn't black bears disappear from the Ark-La-Tex-Oma region? Doesn't that show the area can't sustain a population of large omnivores? No, it does not. Black bears were extirpated by human hunters and did not disappear due to any environmental factors. Take a look below at a passage from a paper written by TBRC members Alton Higgins and Daryl Colyer that addresses this very point:

"Did black bears disappear from East Texas because of a shortage of suitable habitat? No, or so says the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. Biologists conducted a black bear habitat suitability study in four areas of East Texas: the Sulphur River Bottom (51,000 acres), the Big Thicket National Preserve (97,000 acres), the Middle Neches River Corridor (247,000 acres), and the Lower Neches River Corridor (312,000 acres). The purpose of the study was to determine the suitability of habitat in East Texas for the black bear, a large omnivorous mammal. The study is relevant because there may be a correlation between purported sasquatch and suitable black bear habitat. If an area is suitable for a large omnivore such as the black bear, it seems reasonable to posit that it is just as likely to be suitable for a small population of omnivorous sasquatches.

One part of the study dealt with food availability in summer and winter; all four areas scored very high. Biologists calculated a strong favorable rating for the availability of protection and concealment cover in all four areas. In the category of human/bear conflict zones, a less than favorable rating for the Big Thicket National Preserve was determined, but a moderately to strongly favorable rating was found for the other three areas.

Overall, the study indicated that the most suitable region for bears among the four study areas was the Middle Neches River Corridor, followed in order by the Lower Neches River Corridor, the Sulphur River Bottom, and the Big Thicket National Preserve. All four areas have had an abundance of bigfoot sighting reports.

Environmental suitability issues were also addressed by another group of scientists. While the curators of Chimp Haven in Northwest Louisiana probably do not spend too much time contemplating black bear habitat factors, they do devote much of their time discussing and evaluating primate habitat. According to their web site, Chimp Haven provides a permanent home for chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) retired from biomedical research, the entertainment industry, and those no longer wanted as pets. Their new sanctuary, presently under construction, is planned to accommodate 300 chimpanzees, animals which may be the closest relatives of sasquatches. Due to its ecology and climate, Chimp Haven curators believe that Northwest Louisiana is ideal primate habitat. Western Louisiana and East Texas are virtually ecological clones. It should come as no surprise that Northwest Louisiana was selected as the new site of Chimp Haven’s operations, given what we believe about sasquatch habitat."

The discovery of a Bulgarian hominid that survived in the savannah grasslands of Europe until 7 million years ago strongly implies that great apes have the ability to eat all manner of items and can adapt more easily and faster than anyone previously suspected to a variety of ecosystems and habitats. If the great apes of Europe could adapt to a seasonal climate and rougher diet, why could an ape that had migrated to North America not do the same?


Universitaet Tübingen. "Most recent European great ape discovered." ScienceDaily, 13 Jan. 2012. Web. 15 Jan. 2012.

Daryl Colyer and Alton Higgins. "Bigfoot/Sasquatch Sightings: Correlations to Annual Rainfall Totals, Waterways, Human Population Densities and Black Bear Habitat Zones." TBRC Featured Articles. Texas Bigfoot Research Conservancy.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

More Black Panther Reports

Readers continue to send in reports of their encounters with black panthers from across the Lone Star State and beyond. Most of these reports have been submitted via the “comments” option at the bottom of various posts on big cats and are submitted by people who prefer to remain anonymous. This is unfortunate as it does not allow for any follow-up on my part. I thought I would share some of the latest reports that have come my way with you all.

Remember that I have no way of verifying the veracity of these reports. Having said that, and I think you’ll agree, the reports are not overly sensational and do not seem full of hyperbole. Nearly all of the reports are short and to the point. They describe what was seen and don’t go into a lot of extraneous detail. Now, having got all of that out of the way, here we go:

Submitted 12/3/11 from the Hillsboro, Texas

“I can't believe we took our picture card out of our camera and a hunter on our ranch saw what they thought was a black panther! We live near Hillsboro, Texas!”

Submitted 12/6/11 from New York state

“I live in western N.Y. and saw a black panther in our back yard.We live in the country and have 10 acres that are next to another 100 acres belong to a family member.There is an old apple orchard on the property and deer, coyotes, rabbits,turkey,racoons- plenty of food for this cat.It does concern me, as our dog roams the land rather freely and wouldn't be able to contend with an animal this large.I have to say, it looked beautiful,lying in the sun, but what havoc it could wreck in our lives. I don't know the laws about protecting our pets and would really hate to waste the animal's life, but we need to be safe. Any suggestions?”

Submitted 12/7/11 from Frisco, Texas

“I live in Frisco and once saw a large dark brown or black cat while driving at night, not more than a mile from my home. It was most definitely a cat with a long tail, although it was more like a German Shepherd in size.”

Submitted 11/9/11 from Llano, Texas

“Last week while hunting in my deer stand in llano, TX. I saw a large black cat. At first i though it was a bobcat and rejected the fact that it may be a black cougar but as i looked at it harder i noticed the cat was abnormaly large and had a tail as long as its body, and he was absolutly black. In a daze i grabbed my gun and shot twice at him. And missed before he tauntingly turned around a walked off. I later found out my guns scope had been knocked off sight. I told the land owner and he said he has seen him before. To me i have all the proof i need to know the cats are real.”

Submitted 11/24/11 from Denison, Texas

“I spotted a large black cat in the field next to my house this morning. I live in Denison Texas. It's long tail and the way it leapt through the grass assured me this was not a bobcat.”

Submitted 1/5/12 from Fort Worth, Texas

“I'm located south of Fort Worth and people around here, including myself, have spotted large black cats, as in panther size, I've been told many a story yet every game warden denies it.”

Submitted 1/5/12 from California regarding a sighting in Hunt, Texas

“Tell your doubting game wordens to go to Hunt Texas, from there drive a few more miles to what used to be called the " HEART OF THE HILLS GUEST RANCH " Maybe it still is. Once there go to the main building which should be about dead center of the other smaller buildings, The main building is backed by a large mountain/cliff as are most of the smaller buildings. One will have to work your way around to get to the top, I'm sure the owners will know the route, once on top get your bearings by walking towards the main building so as you can look down on it, you'll know your there because you'll find several 3 toed dinasaur tracks set down 5 or 6 inches in solid stone, I know, there the one's I played in as a boy in the 1950's . Now your in Black Panther country, this is where I saw the yearling pair of black panthers as a boy with my dad. Now, just set up some of those fancy tree cameras, don't check them but every couple wks. as to give time for your scent to wear off, and I'll bet you dimes to dollars you'll get the proof them city boys says ain't there. If nothing else, you get to see some tracks made a few million years ago.”

Submitted 1/9/12 from the Texas Hill Country

“Today, Jan 9th 2012, I spotted a solid black mountain lion. I live in the rural Texas Hill Country. The cat was the size of a medium dog with a tail as long as the body. It was 2:30 pm in the afternoon so there is no mistake of what I saw.”

Submitted 1/11/12 from Fort Stockton, Texas

“Coming up HWY 285 south of Fort Stockton, TX. I saw a black panther crouched down on the side of the road waiting to cross. I slowed down and saw it clearly and am positive it was a black panther. A local rancher told me he has seen them in that area as well.”

These are just some of the latest reports. I’ve received others. Could some of these people be mistaken about what they saw? I suppose. The fact of the matter, however, is that people continue to claim sightings of an animal that is not supposed to exist. What are they seeing? They can't all be mistaken can they?

I would be especially interested in any black panther sightings here in central Texas. I have game cameras ready and available for deployment and would love to take a shot at getting a photograph of one of these elusive big cats. Once we have a picture we might be able to deduce whether they are melanistic jaguars, exotic black leopards, jaguarundis, unusually dark cougars, or something else.

Let’s get this done.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Tragic News

“A person that loses a partner is called a widow. A child who loses a parent is called an orphan. But there is no word to describe a parent that loses a child, because the loss is like no other.”

My good friend, and fellow TBRC member, Chris Buntenbah and his wife, Monica Rawlins, lost their 17-year old son Riley yesterday. Riley was struck by a car that was in the process of running through a red light while traveling at approximately 70 miles per hour. Miraculously, Riley survived the initial impact and fought bravely for his life for several hours before passing away. While it is, no doubt, small comfort, this did give Chris and Monica a chance to get to the hospital and be with him when he died.

I only had the privilege of being around Riley once and it was several years ago. The TBRC held a training camp for probationary members at Caddo Lake in northeast Texas. Monica was heading up the training camp and Riley accompanied her. I was very impressed with the young man at that time. He was intelligent, well mannered, and extremely polite and respectful. Despite the fact that it was very cold that weekend, he did not complain once that I ever heard. As a teacher/coach and the parent of a daughter his age, I greatly appreciated his positive attitude.

That Saturday night we decided, being so close to the Arkansas border, to visit the Fouke area. This is the home of the legendary Fouke monster of The Legend of Boggy Creek fame. The team split up into several groups and spread out up and down a road running through the swampland of Miller County in the general area where the sightings that inspired the movie took place years before and where sightings continue to the present day. Riley was assigned to my team and we spent several hours together that night. Again, it was very cold and absolutely nothing was seen or heard yet not one complaint was uttered by Riley; something I cannot say about some of the adults present that night. I came away impressed by the young man. I can’t remember if I voiced this to Monica before the weekend ended or not. I hope I did.

Riley was only months shy of joining the Marine Corps when he died. He wanted to serve his country. What could speak better of a young man than this?

I cannot imagine the pain my friends must be experiencing right now. My prayer is that the Lord will give them comfort and that they would turn to him rather than away from him at this time. While this tragedy will never make sense to us while we are on this earth, I hope that as time passes Chris and Monica can find peace.

The TBRC has set up a memorial fund for Riley. If any of you are so inclined you can go to the TBRC’s donation page and contribute. Any and all donations received by the group through this coming Thursday will be given to the family to help them offset the unexpected expenses something like this brings. Click here to donate. If you cannot donate please include the family in your thoughts and prayers.

I will close this post with the quote below which was actually posted on Facebook by TBRC member Daryl Colyer last night or early this morning:

"If anything is to be learned from this great tragedy, it is that life is far too short. It's too short to go around being mean to people. Our time is borrowed. It is but a vapor. So, in our borrowed time, be kind to people. Help others any time you can. Don't hold grudges. Forgive. Be compassionate. Treat others as you want to be treated. Do what's right."


Rest in peace, Riley.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Endangered Whooping Cranes Wintering in Central Texas

Six highly endangered whooping cranes (Grus Americana) are currently wintering at Granger Lake northeast of Austin. It has become something of a must see for birders who have never had the opportunity to see these awesome birds at their normal wintering grounds in and around Aransas National Wildlife Refuge north of Rockport.

Why Granger Lake? Experts theorize that the severe drought conditions Texas has faced over the last couple of years have severely cut into the population of blue crabs and other food sources for the wintering whooping cranes on the coast. A record 300 cranes were expected this year near Aransas Pass but it seems the birds have spread out a bit in search of enough food to sustain them. The drought has no doubt forced these birds to diversify their diets a bit. The whooping cranes at Granger Lake have been spotted feeding in cultivated fields near the impoundment and are probably subsidizing their diets with freshwater mussels, frogs, and fish.

While rare, sightings of whooping cranes are not unprecedented in central Texas. The cranes do fly to Texas yearly and there always seem to be a few that stop somewhere other than the usual wintering grounds along the coast. Each time it happens it, understandably so, creates quite a stir.

My brother, an avid birder, visited me over the holidays. He had gotten wind that two family groups of whooping cranes had been seen consistently over the last few weeks at Granger Lake. We made the trip out to Granger and managed to spot three of the great birds. Unfortunately, they were too far away for me to get any pictures. We could see them through binoculars but, alas, no photographs could be taken. The birds were just off an island in the middle of the lake. It might be more accurate to say what is left of the lake. The “island” was actually a sandbar that should be under water. It was only visible due to the extremely low water levels of the impoundment. That being the case, we simply could not get any closer.

Locals are hoping that these birds make Granger Lake their winter territory and will return year after year. It remains to be seen if this will happen but it would be a boon for local birders if it were to work out that way.

I would like to caution against approaching these birds too closely. Though the whooping crane population has bounced back over the last few years the birds remain highly endangered. As such, disturbing a family unit in any way could prove detrimental. Keep your distance and enjoy these great birds from afar should you decide to go see them.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Expanding Role of Camera Traps

A great article recently appeared on The Guardian website hailing the use of camera traps and how they are revolutionizing conservation. You can access the article here. I hope you will take the time to read it in full but I will attempt to summarize it for you below.

Writer Jeremy Hance notes some of the major discoveries that have been made by camera traps over the last few years. The list is extensive. The Amur leopard (Panthera pardus orientalis) was documented in China for the first time in 62 years by a camera trap. A remote camera provided proof that the world’s rarest rhino, the Javan (Rhinoceros sondaicus), was breeding as a photo of a female with a calf was captured. The hairy-nosed otter (Lutra sumatrana) was rediscovered in Malaysia, a wolverine (Gulo gulo) was documented in California for the first time since 1922, the first video ever shot of the rare Bornean bay cat (Pardofelis badia) was captured, a rare short-eared dog (Atelocynus microtis) was photographed hunting amphibians in the Amazon, and the Siamese crocodile (Crocodylus siamensis) was shown to still inhabit Cambodia.

Some species were photographed successfully in the wild for the first time ever by camera traps. This list would include the Saharan cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus hecki) and the giant muntjac deer (Muntiacus vuquangensis) of Southeast Asia.

Camera traps also provided the means for the discovery of some previously unknown species. Foremost among these would be the Annamite striped rabbit (Nesolagus timminsi) of Southeast Asia and the grey-faced sengi (Rhynchocyon udzungwensis) of Tanzania.

The author touts the usefulness of camera traps in raising conservation awareness worldwide. A picture, of course, is worth a thousand words, and photos of rare and endangered animals grab the public in a way no press release ever can.

Hance also provides a brief history lesson on the art of camera trapping. He details the first such devices used to snap photos used by photography pioneer George Shiras in the late 1890’s. These devices used trip wires and flash bulbs to capture animals on film. Early photos captured by Shiras in this way appeared in National Geographic magazine are likely the first camera trap pictures published.

Hance also details the many problems faced by users of early camera traps. I could relate to the issues he mentioned. I started out using 35mm film cameras and it was not a cheap proposition. Battery purchases were far more frequent than with digital models and the expense of buying film added up in a hurry. The worst part was you did not know if you had even photographed anything worth the cost of developing the film. It was quite frustrating to have purchased a 24 exposure roll of film, trek out to the middle of nowhere to retrieve it, wait a week to have it developed, and then find you had only six photos taken and they were all due to false triggers. Those of us now using digital models are quite spoiled. No two ways about it.

Hance also delves into what may be to come with camera traps. He notes that the practice is now widely accepted as scientifically viable and is on the brink of expanding to new areas of study. Cameras could be placed in rainforest canopies to study birds, reptiles, and monkeys. He also mentions something I’ve not given much thought to and that is the use of these cameras underwater to study marine life. How cool would that be?

I leave you with the following statement from the article which I think sums things up nicely:

“The camera trap has revolutionized wildlife research and conservation, enabling scientists to collect photographic evidence of rarely seen and often globally endangered species, with little expense, relative ease, and minimal disturbance to wildlife.”

I think that about says it all.