Wednesday, August 25, 2010

SMILE - You're on the Critter Cam!

Last year, Gil bought an outdoor camera with a motion sensor to set up in the orchard after his favorite Haas avocado tree and my veggie garden were being ravaged by some unknown critter or critters. Maybe the camera was not correctly positioned, but we never did manage to get a shot of the offending ravager back then (camera appeared to be shooting blanks, literally). So, we put that camera away in the garage for awhile and almost forgot about it, until about a month ago. I had some zucchini, eggplants, tomatillos, and assorted peppers growing nicely in a raised bed since spring when, over the course of less than a week around mid-July, all the leaves, flowers,  and budding fruits of EVERY SINGLE plant was consumed. This, despite the fact that I had chicken wire surrounding all of my raised beds. There was no way the rabbits could be jumping over, so what the hell could it be? I was soooooooo mad!! Anyways, we decided to set up the critter cam again and this time around, we got him! Heh, heh...the camera never lies:

As you can see, this very, very bad squirrel was digging away under the planter box (since he couldn't get through the mesh wire fencing) and would tunnel up through the other side to reach the goodies. 

Back again, later in the afternoon for round two.

A squirrel's work is never done. Not to be outwitted, Gil eventually ended up pouring mortar around the base of the planter to fortify it against this industrious little digger. It ain't pretty, but it's worked so far. 

With the squirrel now unmasked and temporarily deterred, we moved the camera over to our next unsolved mystery: the partially gnawed fruits on our Scarlet Robe peach tree. I was inclined to think it was the work of more squirrels. But, after about 3 days and a couple hundred shots from the critter cam, we had an interesting revelation about what goes on after dark around the grounds. First and foremost, we discovered that there's a non-stop bunnypalooza in the orchard that carries on from dusk till dawn. Looking at the time stamps on all the pictures, it is quite clear that rabbits don't sleep at night, AT ALL! 

These shots indicate that the bunnies are out in force, every hour on the hour, from 8:00pm to 8:00am:

After an all-nighter, still bright-eyed and bushy tailed at 8:02am.

Well, clearly, the rabbits were grazing on the fruits that had fallen on the ground and on some of the lower leaves of the peach tree. They certainly weren't climbing like monkeys or jumping like Kangaroos to gnaw on the fruits in the upper branches. On closer scrutiny of some of the photos, however, we believe we found the culprit.

If you look closely, you can see what looks like a rat on the irrigation tubing near the base of the peach tree. 

There's the rat-like critter scuttling past the base of the peach tree again.

And there he goes, up into the peach tree (see tell-tale naked tail).

Case solved! The rat did it. We ended up picking all the damaged fruit and just leaving them on the ground for the rodents, rabbits, and whatnot to eat at will. This worked to distract these guys from rest of the fruits on the tree until we were able to harvest the remaining crop.

In the mix were some incidental/accidental shots of some other critters:


Another coyote, upper right.

Ok, this guy (to left of peach tree) does not look like a rat rat. That tail makes me think of a Kangaroo rat, and the hind legs look kinda longish. But then again, the picture is not clear enough to confirm the ID.

So hard to see, but there's the backside of that Kangaroo rat-like rodent (look to the left of the head of the bunny in the forefront). That tail just looks like it has that crest of longer hairs at the end, which could be indicative.

In the meantime, we've reset the camera to a trail near a chaparral stand at the front of the property to see what passes by. Last Monday, there was a notice taped to our mailbox  warning that a female mountain lion and two cubs were spotted several times in the vicinity of our property. Just gotta use common sense and take the normal precautions. Would be so awesome if they sauntered past our critter cam for a cameo!


  1. Very cool! Isn't it interesting how a little bit of detective work can uncover so many different ravenous beasts. Love the pictures. Hope the rats are happy with the fallen fruit; otherwise, netting might work.

  2. Oh my, I shouldn't laugh, but bunnypalooza indeed! Sheesh, I only ever see one rabbit at a time here, but now I wonder what does on around here when the sun goes down! I was always taught that bunnies were crepuscular, but apparently yours don't mind pulling all-nighters! I've contemplated a critter cam, especially when our deer fences were being repeatedly breeched. Would also be interesting though to see who is skulking around the chicken and turkey coop at night though. We certainly hear the coyotes on a regular basis.

    As for the squirrel tunneling under, that was why we put hardware cloth under all of our raised beds. So far it seems to be working, but I curious to see who is testing the boundaries! :P

  3. I've seen those cameras offered for sale but wondered how well they'd work--pretty well, it looks like. Yes, it would be really cool to get some mountain lion shots. With all those little mammal morsels in your garden maybe you'll stand a chance of seeing mama and the kids.

  4. Town Mouse, the rats seemed to be happy with the fruits on the ground as we had almost no further fruit damage up in the tree. Nothing beats easy pickings!

    Clare, we were pretty surprised by some of the critters and their antics that we caught on the cam. Wouldn't it be cool to see the nocturnal happenings around your poultry coop? Btw, using the hardware cloth under raised beds is just such a great idea! I never would have thought of that - we're going to retrofit our existing beds over the fall with hardware cloth so we'll be all good to go next spring.

    James, the critter cam has worked out pretty well for us, although it is not without glitches. One night, the camera took about 50 photos that came out pitch black because for some reason the flash wasn't going off. So, they're not perfect, but I think still worth the investment (a decent one will cost you about $70). No shots of mama mountain lion and/or babies yet, but we're still hoping!

  5. I would love to see what does be in our garden during the night. I think those are big bunnies in your yard. Its just aswell that you have wire around the bark of those trees as those rabbits I'm sure would be striping the bark aswell.

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