A Glimpse of Nature -- The Rest of the Crew

Besides deer, who else visits the library after dark?  Of course, people and pet dogs use the grounds, but our focus is on wildlife.  Unfortunately, my trail cam has detected only a few wild species in this area.  Based on image captures, the second most common nocturnal mammal is the cottontail rabbit.  This species appears in fourteen video clips representing six visits.  In some of these clips, the image shows little more than a hopping ball with closely spaced eyes.  Here’s one where the rabbit’s identity is unmistakable.


As you can see, the camera caught this image at 4:05 a.m.  It detected visits around 9:30 p.m.,  3:15 a.m., and 5:00 a.m.  Library staff frequently observe cottontails at dawn and dusk, yet it’s clear that they are also active in the dark.  Alfred Godin makes an interesting observation in Wild Mammals of New England that’s reflected in my trail cam videos:  “Eastern cottontails are most active when visibility is limited, such as rainy or foggy nights.”  One particularly long feeding session of nineteen minutes occurred on August 7, an apparently foggy evening.  



Another session took place on the rainy evening of August 26.  Note that in these two images, and all but one of my videos, the cottontail is feeding alongside a white-tailed deer.  They not only graze in the same areas, but they also seem to watch each other for signs of danger.  In one clip, the rabbit freezes and the deer straightens and perks its ears at virtually the same time. 


 On two occasions, the trail camera spotted a wild canid, though these videos are brief and a bit difficult to interpret.  This 3-second clip comes from June 29, my first night of filming at the library.


The size of the animal and some darkness on its legs leads me to conclude “red fox.”  For what it’s worth, another naturalist on iNaturalist agrees, as does the website’s artificial intelligence, and almost all readers who responded on the library’s Facebook page.

Over a month later, on August 8, a canid quickly passed beyond the stage area.  


Although this animal may be the same individual as above, it strikes me as a young coyote.  Sometimes the subjects of night images are obvious, and sometimes not.  It’s worth noting that both creatures were cautious and focused.  They didn’t linger.


Bats certainly feed above the library campus, but it’s unclear whether the trail cam videos reflect this.  Several video clips feature small, flying white objects:  Are they bats or flying squirrels?  Perhaps, the UFOs are moths or other large insects.  The camera’s motion sensor would detect falling leaves and wind-blown litter, as well.  It doesn’t discriminate between exciting animals and inanimate objects.

Here’s one example.  At the eleven-second mark, something flies from the right towards the upper left.  Its speed and direction imply an animal rather than an object.  Its upward climb eliminates flying squirrels, which glide down from a higher perch.

    I want this to be a bat, but this freeze frame elicits uncertainty.  The white streak with its up and down-facing triangles might instead reflect the wingbeats of a moth or other night insect.  

UFO #1

Here are two more mystery sightings and a 4-second clip slowed to 1/10th actual speed.  

UFO #2

UFO #3 Closeup


Despite enlarging the images and reducing the speed, I still cannot identify this animal.  My camera is unable to record such fast movement. Fieldwork can be like this, and I must accept some uncertainty.

Our trail cam might reveal other nocturnal species at the library if I installed it in a different spot or during a different season – or gave it more time!  It is certainly sensitive enough to detect small animals such as squirrels and songbirds.  All the same, this brief experiment has revealed some patterns:  an active deer herd and occasional canids, but an apparent absence of medium-sized mammals like skunks and opossums.  

Next time, we’ll compare the species in my backyard to the library’s wildlife.  If you send me photos or a list of the nocturnal mammals in your yards, I will incorporate that info into the next post.  My work email is lrubinacci@amesfreelibrary.org.  I also urge you to go for a night walk.  So much happens while we’re not looking!

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A Glimpse of Nature