Mousecapades – Yellow-necked mouse infra red

Another denizen of my attic, the yellow necked mouse (Apodemus flavicollis). This little critter is caught on infrared trailcam as he darts to and fro.

While he may be cute, the yellow-necked mouse carries tick borne encephalitis and, worse yet, the Dobrava virus, which is the Eurasian Hanta virus. It has a 12% mortality rate. As the main cause of viral infection is from aerosolized yellow-necked mouse faeces, I’m glad I wear a gas mask to go into my attic. Shame the Beech Marten couldn’t get rid of the lot of them.

 

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Goat photo bomb

Goat photo bomb

One thing I’ve discovered from using a trail cam is that there are periods when nothing shows up, despite the camera being on a clearly marked game trail, or that the camera produces lots of File Errors, black photos or fails to take film footage. Another annoying aspect of using a game camera is getting excited because it shows that it’s taken 103 photos and they in fact turn out to be pictures of cows or goats which some local has been grazing in the vicinity.

Weather also heavily effects the camera. Dawn is one of the best times to capture the various denizens of the bush but now there’s a freezing ground mist which blurs the lens making most of the photos useless. The other day I discovered a layer of ice on both the lens and the IR flash from where the dew had frozen. I wonder how it will fare when real winter and massively sub zero temperatures hit.

Beech Marten infrared conundrum

Beech Marten infrared conundrum

I’m still having major problems getting a full-bodied picture or film of our resident Beech Marten (Stone Marten). When the camera’s there he can see the IR light and thus backs away – he can even see the range of it. When I remove the camera from the attic he’s back to his usual noisy stomping tricks.

Any suggestions?

Beech Marten in attic

It’s taken a very, very long time to get just these few seconds of footage – despite the Beech Marten (Stone Marten, Martes foina) having spent the last decade using my attic floor as a latrine. Until you’ve shared space with one of these creatures, you cannot begin to understand just how noisy or dirty they are. They won’t go near traps (I’ve tried various sizes and types of humane traps and numerous baits), and once they detect the infrared trailcam they vanish.

It still amazes me that I have a complete ecosystem living in my attic – shrews, mice, martens, edible dormice, bats, numerous bugs… Shame the buggers can’t move their little microcosm somewhere else and stop shitting everywhere and running about screaming all night.

Young Roe Deer daylight trail cam

Here’s some daylight-ish trail cam footage of a couple of Roe deer behind the house. They’re nowhere near as wised up as Red Deer – they’re basically overgrown rabbits. Compared to Red Deer, Roe are very cute. Perhaps I’m being specist but I’d rather eat Red than Roe merely because of the latter’s cute factor.

Continuing from the infrared-aware observations, I don’t think Roe Deer can detect it, unless I just happened to pick a particularly dumb specimen….

Stag and Red Deer herd

Stag and Red Deer herd

I caught this herd of Red Deer (only part of which is in the photo) as I was walking up the hill to the forest today. I found it interesting how each section of the herd was ‘segregated’ – the hinds (out of shot), the fawns, the hinds, the stag, and then the young bucks.

As I was looking for a place to put my trail cam, i followed them into the forest to see where their main entry/exit point was. The noise of a herd of red deer crashing through thick brush has to be experienced to be understood. A truck wouldn’t be louder. Also, as it’s still rutting season, I have to be a bit wary around stags as they can attack – they’ve killed a couple of people here over the last few years. My kids and I were charged by one we stumbled across in the forest years back and we had to hide behind a tree. During the rut they’re just bundles of hormones and adrenaline and testosterone and muscle with an immense rack of antlers at the front. Their main activity during this period is standing out in the open, easy pickings for hunters, bellowing “Come and have a go if you think you’re hard enough” at the top of their lungs, for several weeks.

Old hunting skills for new technology

Old hunting skills for new technology

It is man’s nature to kill, for he is the enemy of all animal life.

AR Harding

Recently, I’ve been reading up on wolf trapping techniques. I have no plan whatsoever to trap wolves but the skills required are virtually the same for using a trail camera. While I’ve already managed to ‘capture’ most of the medium and large mammalian species in my area with my Redleaf RD1000 game camera, there are three species which still elude me – the bear, the raccoon dog and the wolf.

The bear is an occasional visitor and, as they have immense ranges, is almost impossible to catch on a game camera that has a 5 metre range, unless it’s right up next to its den. With the raccoon dog, I ask local hunters, foresters and wildlife photographers for its location but it appears that they’re not using the den they used last year (after 2, perhaps the breeding pair, were shot in the same evening).

I’ve no idea how large the wolf pack in my village is this year, after they were decimated a couple of years back. Last year, in summer, I saw three running up the hill at the back of the house but haven’t seen any since. There is evidence that they’re around again, though. We’ve seen two carcasses of young deer (completely stripped to the bone) in the back fields and, for the last few weeks, the deer and boar have been avoiding the area at the back of us, where normally they graze in large numbers – signs that there are predators around. It’s possible that the large lynx killed the fawns, or even boars, but the herbivore herds have moved and that suggests wolves.

Wolves are extremely intelligent and wary animals, and any sign of human scent will send them running in a different direction. I’ve tried different baits for the camera and, thus far, it never works as intended. Therefore, I decided to read up on the old techniques for trapping these large canids.

Firstly, it is really important to understand that wild animal welfare is a very, very new concept in the history of humanity. It’s like that change in our thinking when the jungle became the rain forest. If you go back to any period in history before the late 1960s then prepare yourself for an extremely different way of viewing nature and its inhabitants. I despise animal cruelty in any form but our forefathers didn’t see their actions as being such. Their concept of political correctness regarding the animal kingdom didn’t stretch farther than:

26 And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.

27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.

28 And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.

Genesis 1-26:28, KJV

The actual skills described in books such as Wolf and Coyote Trapping (1909), by AR Harding, are extremely useful and eye opening, and it is amazing to what lengths the old trappers went to disguise their scent or set bait, but their overall view and manner of interacting with the canids they hunted is stomach churning. In one paragraph, Harding quotes a trapper describing the joy and beauty of watching a group of pups playing in the long grass on a hill side and, in the next, his own joy and thrill at climbing into their den and ‘raking’ each pup out with a nailed stick.

Bizarrely, professional trappers still believe themselves to be the guardians of the natural environment and that what they do keeps the ecology in balance – even though most do their job to protect invasive human-introduced sheep and cattle ranches. A good modern example of this philosophy is in the life of Norman Winter, featured in the film ‘The Last Trapper’. It’s a beautiful semi-documentary film but as it never actually shows him trapping or killing, it makes his life seem in perfect harmony of nature. He lives how many, including myself, would like to live, but I wonder if we’d feel the same if the film showed the reality of trapping an animal’s leg for several days until it starves or freezes to death?

I’ll continue my studies as I really want to catalogue the local beasties and I need to upgrade my skills to do so, but this delving into historic and traditional lore is really not easy going. No wonder we are on the verge of the next great extinction.