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I hope you will join in my adventures here in Humboldt County and elsewhere as I explore nature & people.



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Monday, November 7, 2011

The Quest for the Red Tree Vole

My old college friend Chris Wemmer recently visited the Pacific Northwest here in Humboldt County and was our guest for a couple nights. Chris was here to check some camera traps that he set 3 weeks earlier in Green Diamond property with the help of Lowell Diller.

I jumped at the opportunity to go out in the field with Chris who is an expert on camera trapping and mammal behavior. We set out in Lowell Diller's official company vehicle to locate the traps. Unfortuately one of the traps which had been set 30 feet up in a tree was destroyed by a vegetation cutter used to clear the sides of the road.
Vegetation cut by the "Masticator"

The parts were found with a metal detector by Green Diamond staff earlier shown here.


The traps were checked and none of the sought after targets were captured other than a Bobcat, mice, chipmunk, rabbit and a Thrush.


Lowell Diller and Chris Wemmer checking camera trap results
Chris was disappointed but undeterred in his quest as we drove to another site where Chris and Lowell had located a Red Tree Vole nest on their last outing.  The nest was in a Douglas Fir on a 60 degree slope between the road and the Mad River below. Lowell was the first to climb down to the trees base and test the ladder.

Chris went through the boxes of equipment to gather the tools needed for the job at hand. Watching him prepare for the task ahead of him was like watching a young enthusiastic biologist about to discover something new to science. Although he has done this many times before with other species this tiny specialized mouse was one mammal he wanted badly. Chris first tied a rope climbing harness from his crotch and around his waist to secure him safely to the tree.

I watched him with admiration as he climbed upwards from limb to limb with the ease and grace of an Orangutan making his way 30 feet above to the nest. 
I must addmit that I felt some trepidation hoping that It would not be necessary to pull him out of the cold waters of the Mad River 80+ feet below. 

"Yoga exercise is beneficial" C.Wemmer
It was my job to climb the ladder and attach the bag with equipment to the rope which was pulled up by Chris.

Camera trap pointing at a active Red Tree Mouse nest

He attached the camera to the limb 2 feet from the nest with hopes of getting a Red Tree Vole peering into the lens or peeking out of it's nest when he returns in a month to check his cameras.   Patience is definitely a virtue when it comes to camera trapping and maybe a little luck.  The most import ingredient for success is knowledge of the biology and behavior of the animal that you seek to photograph.
Chris setting trap in hollowed out redwood stump
Chris holding the predator bait
While driving along the road Chris spotted a large stump hidden in the underbrush and he asked me to stop the car so we could check it.  The stump turned out to be a very large hollowed out old growth redwood with a 8 foot deep opening and 15 feet wide at its base.  Chris thought this would be a good site to catch a predator such as a Fisher.  He used a partially frozen roadkill squirrel that he had picked up for this purpose and attached it securely to the tree. 

By now it was raining and there were still other traps to check. We spent the whole day out in this beautiful country and I look forward to seeing the results the next time the Camera Trap Codger returns.