Camera Trapping

After a year of working with Aleks and Bledi, the wonderful biologists of PPNEA, my computer is bursting with disorganized files of animal photos and camera trapping information.  They, and their partner sponsors EuroNatur and KORA, are graciously letting us share the story of this project with you, so I’ll begin organizing our data here!

Of course, if this is ever so exciting that you want to get involved, please feel free to ask to come along on your visit here and help us change cameras.  If you think you may appear ON a camera (at least from the neck down) feel free to write and tell us the date and location, and I’ll happily send you a copy of  your picture.  And if you want to help more remotely, contributions can be made directly to EuroNatur and KORA on their websites.  The guys at PPNEA are much too busy to fix their website (you know how THAT is) so you can send contributions for them care of us HERE.  We’d really love it if people contributed enough to buy them a new GPS, because last winter theirs fell into the river in Rrogam and promptly disappeared and I’ve felt bad about it ever since.

Current Camera Trap Locations:

 

Latest Pictures and Activity:

12 November 2012 –  Shebenik – Jabllanica National Park 

In the interests of Full Disclosure, I have to report that Eastern Albania continues to kick Valbona’s butt (in terms of Lynx).

Dear all,I would like you to say good evening with the second photo of lynx from Shebenik – Jabllanica NP. Today we were in the north part of Shebenik- Jabllanica (Gjinovec), where we got the second one. This photo was taken yesterday at 6:28 pm. Tomorrow we have plan to go in the field work to check the others cameras in another place, so let hopes to have the third photo.   

Cheers,
Bledi 

The thing about this location is that there IS a breeding population in neighboring Macedonia.  As discussed on 22 September (below), each Lynx requires an enormous territory, so it may well be that Lynx in S-J are isolated individuals, being sort of pushed out of Macedonia where they’re born.  If they’re not breeding in Albania, then it isn’t really a healthy population – not that I suppose Lynx give a fig (or the feline equivalent) for national boundaries.  If we could only get pictures here, especially of CUBS (!!!) that would prove a significantly larger (and healthier) distribution.

24-26 October 2012VL 105 & VL 112 – Shtegu per Qafa e Zhaborre

Back in August, with the help of Matt & Olivia (who followed me up a mountain, all unsuspecting-like), we put this camera (VL 105) in a beautiful spot, where anything going up or down the mountain would absolutely HAVE to pass in front of the camera.  Wall of rock on one side, sheer drop on the other.  Only about 2 meters wide.  Of course, the fact that it’s a 3 or 4 hour hike straight up the side of the mountain to 1700 m means that it’s going to be really impossible to maintain over the winter, and most frustratingly, during the crucial months of Jan-April, when Lynx are most active.  However we had high hopes from this camera, since it’s placed bang in the middle of one of the only two sensible ways of getting to the valley of Curraj i Eperm, where we have heard reports of Lynx.  Or so we thought. Having checked it once, there’s disappointingly not much movement.  However, there was a bunch of gibberish files on the data card, so hard to say if the camera was functioning correctly.  It’s also interesting negative information if we’re learning that wildlife don’t so often use these breakneck paths – have to test some other ones, but it reminds me of Quku i Llabudave, which is a direct but steep route, and never had a single animal moving on it!  AND interestingly enough it does show things (Sheep, Bear) going one way, but not coming back the other.  I’m pretty sure the sheep weren’t going to Curraj, and I have to look into how big Bear territories are, but I don’t think they’re that big?  Which suggests to ME, at any rate, that there’s some other way up to and off the mountain.  More to look into in Spring.In the meantime, on the way DOWN I realized that the forest trail nearer the bottom is actually also a great spot for a camera – dense overgrown brush lining what feels like a tunnel right through the forest.  You could get up the mountain by following other Otergs, but I can’t see why you’d bother.  And this camera we ought to be able to check during winter (I think?).

18 October 2012 – VL101 & VL102 – Pylli i Picimalit

After THREE aborted attempts to get back to these cameras and replace the Cheap Batteries, I finally made it.  Unfortunately, not before the batteries ran out around September 15.  The Goat pictures from VL101 are a wonderful and exhaustive portrait of the life of Chamois – including this super cute little baby.  Interesting that as usual the goats are mostly all going one direction – but since there’s a camera on the other side of the cave, we know they’re not coming from there – must be jumping down from above (which Avdyl Dudi said they were, after studying the ground in front of the cave).
Although it seems a little self-indulgent to have two precious cameras so close to each other (one on either side of the cave), it is really interesting to see how differently the two paths are used.  This side (VL102) goes deeper into the forest, and is used by a range of animals, while only the goats seem to use the steeper, more rocky side closer to the river.  The guess is that this forest side is how a Lynx would approach, to sneak up on the goats . . . .Incidentally – this is the funniest looking baby Bear I’ve seen yet.  Is is just me, or does he look like he’s talking to himself?

17 October 2012VL99, VL100 & VL111 – Shpella e Dragobisë Trail & Tela e Sylës

VL99 – Collected pictures going back to August 20th, when Teresa Cunningham and Christian Hillmann (visiting from Norway) went above and beyond the call of duty. Christian works with the Lynx monitoring program in Norway, and he and Teresa took time out change batteries and reset the cameras! However, as reported previously, there is still not a SINGLE animal picture on this camera in 2012 (except the 2 chamois in April).  Compare that with the four different individual brown bears that were captured on film here in 2011.  Add to THAT that Fation Ismalaj ran into a bear at the cross roads 200 meters away in May, and that in the same place  fresh bear claw marks were observed in spring and autumn and it seems clear that there ARE bears (and other animals?) around – they’re just not walking in front of this camera any more.  Therefore I decided to shift this camera further down the trail.
  VL100 – This camera was set for the Summer of 2012, at the highest point of the Shpella e Dragobise hiking trail.  The idea was that it would capture all the animals taking advantage of the attractive proliferation of caves and nooks and crannies, but in fact, it’s never recorded a single wild animal – only human ones.  Maybe it would have been better to leave it for the autumn, but it really wasn’t a very good location anyhow.
VL111 – So based on the above, I removed the upper camera (VL100) and shifted VL99 further down the path to become VL111.  Walking from the VL99 location to VL111, I noticed that the old bear territory tree was not marked this year, while a pine tree nearer to VL111 was freshly scratched, and had lots of bear fur sticking to it.  Let’s see what we see in December!

4 October 2012VL103 & VL104 – Qafa e Gjes

VL103: 5 July 2012 – 4 Oct 2012The choice of this location reflects spring 2012’s determination to find and photograph Chamois.  In 2011 we did not get a single picture of Chamois, and since we know we have a lot of them, this seemed to reflect a flaw in the study.  To be fair, it doesn’t seem likely that there would be Lynx wandering around up here (too steep and exposed), but then again, this is all the beginning, while we’re testing and narrowing . . . . so what the heck.  Interestingly, I noticed there’s some sort of quite extensive burrow just uphill from this camera (in front of the Chamois in the picture).  When I replace the batteries, I shifted the camera half a meter to a different tree, so future pictures will have a slightly different view.
VL104: 5 July 2012 – 12 August 2012Set further downhill from VL103, in Beech scrub.  While  we were pretty sure we would catch Chamois further up, it seemed more likely that Lynx would be lurking in the underbrush here.  However, over time it seemed sillier and sillier to have two cameras so close, in a place where I didn’t really think we’d see anything, so I pulled this one when I went to replace the batteries on VL103. (See map under 2 October for old camera locations).

2 October 2012 – VL110 – Posht prej Helli i Kuq

Knowing that there are a LOT of goats, and maybe some Roe Deer on Kollata, and assuming that this would therefore offer good hunting to Lynx, we’re attempting to “circle the peak” – to cover paths that either let goats come down, or Lynx go up.  For all the reasons discussed on 4 October, I pulled VL104, and moved it over to the VL110 location shown in the map.  This is the doorstep to one of the goats’ favored routes, according to local hunters.

23 September 2012VL97 & VL109 – Western Ismalaj

The Motina valley is the gateway to Valbona’s easternmost pass to the wild and mostly uninhabited Curraj i Eperm & Lekbibaj to the South. Further up the valley, near Qafa e Ndroqes, there are many signs of bears etc, and this slope also serves as an access to the heights of Pecmarres.
Last year this path seemed to only be used by Wild Cats.  This time it’s almost all foxes, included these two that seem to be chasing one another?
   And here’s one of the bears to Prove it.
Since this camera has been operating for almost a year, and since the path carries on through more forest, up to a small spring, and further away from people, we removed “VL97” and moved the camera up to location “VL109.”  This also centers it more in the gap between two ridges leading up to the area called Tangelleve.  I’m told there are meadows up there, so maybe it’s good hunting . . . . .

22 September 2012 – VL107 & 108 – Zhari i Bjezhz

Assuming I’m not mangling what they told me, Christine & Urs Breitenmoser of the KORA recently explained to me that each European Lynx has a territory of 100 to 200 square km.   They use this territory to switch hunting grounds, criss-crossing their whole territory to hit prey herds which have been lulled into carelessness by the Lynx’s absence, quickly moving on again.  This useful information changes the camera placement strategy a bit – the trick is to catch the Lynx in places where they can cross easily from one side of the territory to the other (assuming, of course that they’re HERE).

That being the case, these two cameras are were placed in the forest just below the easiest way of passing up to the highlands where the Chamois (aka: dinner) are.  I still don’t really understand (come to think of it), whether the Lynx wait for the goats to wander into the forest where they’re easy to ambush, or whether the Lynx try creeping around in the highlands.  They hunt (like all cats I think?) by ambush . . . . More to find out.

21 September 2012 – VL106 – Shpati i Mijushës

Placed this camera for a number of reasons.  Local wisdom says that the Roe Deer are all either up around Cerem or in Curraj i Eperm (if I understand correctly, Roe deer are Lynxes favorite food).  This camera also covers the back side of Kollata.  The only problem is that it will be bloody difficult to get back up there after December . . . . .

19 August 2012 – VL101 & VL102 – Pylli i Picimalit

And now for something completely different . . . . .The two cameras in the Picimalit forest, placed there in late June, suffered from Cheap Batteries.  One camera, in the forest, only operated for a little more than a week (usually they run 2 months), and photographed a badger, a fox, and the back end of one Marten.  Meanwhile, the camera which Avdyl Dudi promised me would pick up Goats DID, but only for a month.  Sigh, I should have known better, and bought the more expensive batteries!  On the other hand, it’s interesting to see their summer coats, and reflect on how strange life is – one year, no goats.  Next year, nuthin’ but goats, goats and more goats.  Maybe next summer we’ll be yawning at Lynx pictures!

14 August 2012 – News and New Cameras

Dear Catherine,Nice to hear from you. First of all I’d like to let you know that we got another lynx picture!!! This time in Shebenik-Jabllanica National Park in the east – an area where with more intensive sessions in 2009 and 2011 (with 40+ cameras in the field) we had no picture at all… and we got one with just 5 cameras set this time, see picture attached. A different individual in a totally different area, which give more hope for the future. Now the greatest achievement remaining is to picture one in the Alps and our lives will be complete… for a few days till we proceed with actions for their protection ;)Aleks
So with that challenge in mind, I went with a lovely couple from the UK yesterday, and set an 8th camera high up, just below Qafa e Zhaborre.  This is one of the two (with Gruka e Motina, where the 4 Chamois pictures came from) Gateways south to the village of Curraj e Eperm in Lekbibaj, where there are actually reports of Lynx from locals – and the roe deer they eat – and of roe deer being found eaten from the bottom (euphemism!) up, which is classic lynx.  So fingers crossed and tune in in October to see what we see!

5 August 2012 – VL97 “Ismalaj West Slope – Cat Cam”

Here’s a blast from the Wintery Past.  In late December (2011) I’d changed the batteries on this camera, expecting to be able to change them again at the beginning of February – thus capturing the Jan-March mating period of the Balkan Lynx.  Of course on February 3rd it started to snow (and snow and snow and snow and SNOW) – the biggest snow in 50 years – which meant that in the end I couldn’t have gotten back to the camera before April.  Feeling fed up with it, and since I had lots of other cameras to move around, and since the only animals we ever got on this one was the Wild Cat pictures last October, I left this camera to collect after all the other ones.  That’s why all these pictures are so old!
Once I’d trudged up to the camera, I starting thinking that the wild cats were awfully cute, and that this was after all the only camera currently in the Motina valley — which after all is the gateway to Curraj i Eperm and which is where, if anywhere, (after all) the lynx should probably be found, AND that after all that after-alling, this is the location where, last October, Bledi and I almost walked straight into a Brown Bear – who took one look at us and fled, appalled . . . . So once I was there I thought – well, actually, this isn’t such a bad place, and just put new batteries and left the camera.
I also decided to see where this path actually goes — there clearly wouldn’t be any very wild animals going up the path from the Ismalaj village end where I came from, so I wanted to see from where they might be coming down.  Therefore I bumbled along, sometimes following a clear path, sometimes crashing through overgrowth, following old traces of branches having been cut by someone – some of which looked VERY old – but at least they showed that it WAS a path at one time.  I was ‘after-alling’ myself the whole way.  On the one hand, the path where it WAS clear looked very nice, meaning animals WOULD use it; And on the other hand the overgrown bits meant that there didn’t seem to be many people using it now, so all the better for animals.  On the other, other hand, the path just carried on uphill across the slope through the woods as far as a small stream, and then meandered back down hill and across the slope to re-join the Motina river further along.  It never connected to anything going up to higher places where you might expect to find wild goats (and the Lynxes that love (aka: eat!) them).
 All of which is WHY it was so exciting to get back to the computer and look at the photographs from the winter: December, Janaury, February!  Grand Total:  3 Biologists, 2 Foxes, 1 Marten, and FOUR Chamois!  You can see all the pictures on our flickr page.Wild Goats (Chamois) and Roe Deer are the favorite prey of Lynxes, so the more we know that the cameras are in a place that THEY frequent, the more likely we are to catch Lynxes.  Now I’m glad I left that camera, and am thinking of going back to set another one, higher up and deeper in the forest – also of course further away from people!

17 July 2012 – VL 99 “Thepi i Begit” & VL 100 “Shpella e Dragobise”

Disappointment and Dismay are growing with this location, as it we see that there isn’t a single picture of one animal since the end of April.  This is disappointing, as there were so many pictures last year.  Of course, last year (2011) was the first year that the Shpella e Dragobise path was really open, so perhaps increased human activity and presence has chased the animals to a different part of the forest.

 

8 May 2012 – VL99 “Thepi i Begit”

After a year of wondering why we NEVER got a picture of a single Dhia e Ëger (Chamois, Rupicapra rupicapra) – which we know are here, because we see them often when we get to climbing around above 2000 meters – HERE they are!  Turns out them come down in the spring, when there’s still snow up high, but (tender and delicious) leaves have started growing down lower.

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