Placing the Trail Cameras, 10-12-18

Today, we had Nate and Bam Bam, and two of my naturalist class graduates, Roxanne Moger and Lori Thomas (who is Sergeant Margie’s vet) and went off to Lake County to place the trail cameras.  (CLICK HERE to read more.) Nate had rented an SUV and Bam Bam drove his 4-wheel drive truck, so there was plenty of room for everyone. We made a brief pit stop at one of the turnouts for the Cache Creek Regional Park. It was brisk and breezy outside, and we got to see and hear Nutthall’s Woodpeckers, Acorn Woodpeckers, Scrub Jays and Northern Flickers.

The drive to the ranch was mostly uneventful except that in one spot along Highway 16, construction was taking place, so there was a queue to get through the one land that was open. It’s weird to see “so much” traffic on that highway (like, 12 trucks. Hah!)

When we got to the site and unpacked, Nate showed us all of the detailed tracking sheets and maps he’d made up for the project. He had overhead maps of the ranch with yellow “push pins” marking each of the spots where we would place cameras (and some white push pins for other prospective spots). Each push pin was marked with a name for easy reference: Staging Area, Gray Pine, Side of Cliff, Cattail Pond, Crossroads, Top of Ridge, Intersection, River and Gate. Then on other sheets, he had data-collection spreadsheets set up that not only included the general name for the camera spots but also included space to write down the camera serial number placed at each spot, the GPS coordinates, in which direction the camera was facing, and the key number for the camera cable’s lock.

CLICK HERE for the album of photos.

At the Staging Area, we found that the lash for the camera didn’t fit around the fat tree, so Nate climbed up into the branches to place it up a little higher where the trunk was thinner. We all tested our compasses to get the direction in which the camera was facing, and none of the them were the same. Hah! The on-phone apps couldn’t access the internet (no signal) to coordinate place and direction data… so they’re pretty much useless. Guess I’ll have to buy some real compasses for this project.

The other placements went easier. While we were walking to the Gray Pine, I was at the back of the group (because I walk more slowly than the others) and was surprised to see two large trucks with ATV’s driving across the property. I approached them to see who they were and what they were doing there. Turns out they were personnel from the US Geological Survey who had come to check on the landslide area again. They’re worried that with all of the plant life burned off of it by the fires that it will slide when the rains start…

I wasn’t able to climb the steep hills for the placement of the Top of Ridge and Intersection spots, so while the rest of the crew did those, I took some more landscape photos and watched for wildlife: saw a California Sister butterfly, several Variegated Meadowhawk dragonflies, a few Yellow Jackets, Crows, Northern Flickers, quail, three deer, and a Cooper’s Hawk… and heard Nutthall’s Woodpeckers. And that’s with the place in a burnt-out condition; I can’t wait to see what’s out there when it’s green and the creek has water in it.

I told Nate that going out once a month light be okay in the fall and winter, but we’ll need to get out there more often in the spring. Because it’s a “seasonal” creek and pond there, life will come in and leave in that small window of time when there’s abundant water and food for the critters… Once the creek and pond dry up again, there won’t be much to see. He was all for going out more often. (As we were driving away from the site in the afternoon, he kept saying, “I wonder if the cameras have seen anything yet.” Hah!)

We also used today’s outing to place the six signs I’d had made for us around the area that read: “Wildlife Research Area. Do Not Enter. This area is under video surveillance 24/7.” We’re hoping they’ll help to keep the trespassing OHV users and hunters off of the property. (Although it wouldn’t surprise me if next time we go up there, the signs will be shot up or destroyed. Some humans are assholes.)

I found a couple of baby Blue Oak trees that were fighting their way back already after the fire. I need to get some tomato-plant cages to take up to the site later to help enclose and protect them while they grow. Blue Oaks don’t reproduce very often, so the babies are important…

When Nate decided he wanted to drive up to the River spot, I stayed behind at the staging area while he, Bam Bam, Lori and Roxanne went up in Bam Bam’s truck. I can’t get into the truck (the step up is too high for my old legs) and it would be too claustrophobic for me with all the people in it… and besides, it was a little after noon by that time and I was tired and hungry. It took them about 90 minutes to make the drive up, place the camera and come back to the staging area. Nate said the “road” up was really rough and treacherous, and he wasn’t really pleased about where the camera was placed, so we just pull that one later.

By the time Nate and the others got back from the River spot, it was after 1:30 pm; time for us to head back to Woodland. Bam Bam decided to remain behind with Roxanne, though, so they could place the last remote-site camera we had left.

The others were “starving” by then; they hadn’t taken breaks or eaten lunch yet, so they all ate during the drive. We got back to the office by about 3:30 – 3:45 pm.

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Mary K. Hanson is an author, nature photographer and Certified California Naturalist living with terminal cancer.