Friday, March 7, 2014

Bad Bad Bushnell Brown

Arrggh, that sinking feeling when I open up my Bushnell HD Trophy trail camera and the date says January 1, 2013. It's not January and it isn't even 2013. Rats, the camera reset itself! I know this means the Bushnell has probably missed some shots and quite possibly has a completely blank memory card.

I check the battery level, the memory card, and every one of the 20 steps in the complicated menu. And I check them again. Everything seems to be working fine, at least right now. One of the batteries is sticking out a little. I tap it. Was it loose or not? I don't know but the rangers are waiting for my advice and I've got a dreadful feeling.

(click Read More to continue but be forewarned there are gory photos of a deer carcass coming up and predator photos)

An eviscerated yearling black-tail deer. The initial incision into the belly, the removal of some of the organs, and the cracked-off ribs indicate that this may be the work of a mountain lion.   
In my head, I roll back to when I set up the camera on the fresh deer carcass five days ago. I see myself putting in freshly charged batteries, formatting the card in the camera and checking the date setting. The ranger stakes down the carcass to give us a chance to capture photos of what comes to feed on it - the feasting animals may be scavengers or they may be the original predator that killed the deer, but at least it will give us some information. I watch the camera do its count-down flash as we hurriedly leave the site so I am confident it is working.

Puncture marks in the neck also indicate a mountain lion kill although they could be from a dog.   
Now I need information about what happened at this carcass over the last 5 days and I'm worried the camera didn't take any photos. I know animals have been here because the carcass is now gone, and there are drag marks and smeared tracks in the trampled mud.

In the hour it took me to go find a trail camera and return to the site, more feeding had occurred on the carcass. Knowing the predator(s) were probably still around, we approached the carcass carefully and this was probably the fastest I ever set up a camera.   
What's wrong?  Why can't I get this camera to work?

This panicky feeling reminds me of being a new mom. Your baby is crying and crying and you don't know why. You check the diaper to see if it needs changing and it doesn't but you change it anyhow. You pat and rub and hold the baby upright or tilted or horizontal to see if that relieves some gas. You guiltily try to remember what you ate today - was there something you passed on through your breast milk that upset the baby's little stomach? You wrap the little guy tightly in a blanket and rock him, and when the simulated womb doesn't comfort him you loosen all his clothing so he can kick free and wave his frustrated little fists and then he whops himself on his red-red cheeks. You sing to the baby, play music, and then try being silent and desperately yell at the other kids and dogs to shut up. While everyone else goes to bed, you walk back and forth in the hall holding the baby and trying to make soothing sounds on and on for hours. You can't put him down because then he goes for full bore screaming and the rest of the apartment complex is trying to sleep.

Nothing works and you don't know why.

The next day your apartment building neighbors say, "Oh, your colicky baby seems happy this morning." You are so exhausted you can't remember what colic means or your neighbors' names.

What am I doing wrong? Talk to me baby.

Here the Bushnell Trophy camera catches a night-time photo of a dusky-footed woodrat. I know this camera can work.    
And here the same Bushnell captured a passing mountain lion at a nearby location about two months earlier.  The mountain lions are out there and sometimes these cameras catch them making their nightly rounds.   
When I go back to the office and slip the Bushnell's memory card into a computer, we confirm that the card is completely blank. I've got nothing. No shots showing what predator returned to the carcass. No confirmation of whether those two puncture holes in the neck were from a mountain lion. No idea if the feeding that commenced on the carcass on that first day in the hour it took me to retrieve a trail camera and set it up was from coyotes, or if the juvenile mountain lion we've been getting photos of in the general area finally killed a deer on its own. No information to decide whether to move the carcass farther away from trails and people. Nada.

Some of the tracks at the carcass site were clearly coyote tracks with two front and two side toes and claw marks. Others, although smeared by rain and subsequent bootprints like this photo were possibly feline tracks with rounded toes curved around the front and no claw marks, maybe bobcat by their size.   
I rein in my pride and contact colleagues who primarily use this Bushnell model. Several of us suspect that the batteries on our Bushnell Trophy cameras sometimes loosen. The springs which hold the batteries in the slots twist at odd angles if you don't push the battery in straight.  Because I sometimes have a hard time getting the batteries out with my little lady fingers, I've taken to carrying popsicle sticks around with me to pry them loose. To eliminate just one of the possible reasons why the camera is resetting itself, I've just modified the sticks to wedge into the case over the batteries and hold them firmly in place. Now I just need to come up with a design that encapsulates desiccant into the popsicle sticks.

The Bushnell camera retrofitted with two popsicle sticks wedged across the battery compartment. The tips of the sticks are trimmed to fit into the square corners and around the electrical wire. The round ends are still available for carefully popping out the batteries when new ones are required.   
So one night at 2 am,  I decided to take that colicky baby for a car ride to get him to stop crying. During the day, he usually fell asleep in the car within a few minutes of pulling out of the driveway. I drove down the dark quiet streets of Menlo Park with baby wails pouring out of my Subaru. I tried an urban expressway to see if the tire drone soothed him but he just changed pitch at 35 mph. Finally, I drove up to Highway 280, one of the most beautiful highways in the world with the fog-draped coastal mountains and loch-like Crystal Springs Reservoir to the west and rolling spring-green hills of Edgewood County Park to the east. The highway was empty and the baby cried on. Then a highway patrol car passed me. Then the highway patrol car switched lanes, slowed down and I passed it. Then the highway patrol car turned on its blue flashing lights and I pulled over.

Dear Bushnell camera: here is a gray fox caught by the Reconyx camera.  Surely you can work long enough to get such evidence of our nighttime predators.   
"Ma'm," the officer said, "have you been drinking?"

I rested my weary head on the steering wheel.

"No sir. I'm just trying to get my baby to stop crying," I said and pointed to the dark backseat.

Suddenly, I realized the baby was making sweet little cooing noises. The officer and I looked back and the baby was kicking his feet in the carseat and waving his arms at the flashing blue lights bouncing off the windshield.

And Bushnell, here's a photo of another feline, the bobcat, taken by a camera that is nearly three years older than you, the Moultrie 100. That's old technology in the camera trap field.   
The embarrassed officer explained that he pulled me over because I didn't turn down my high beams when he changed lanes in front of me and that type of behavior from a lone driver on the highway late at night often indicated a drunk driver. He didn't make me take the sobriety test but told me to take my happy baby home.

And another predator photo taken by the second oldest working camera in my stock, the Moultrie 100. Bushnell, you can do this.   
The Navigator grew out of his colicky stage. Last week, he was advising me to replace the odd brand memory cards that originally came with the trail cameras because his industry tests show that there are a lot of poor quality cards being manufactured right now. "No-one wants to lose data," he scolded me, "It's too valuable."

This is pretty much what we are going for Bushnell when I put you out in the field. This may even be the very same lion you missed but taken by the Moultrie 880 here. Let's get it together.   
I can't count on the Bushnell camera to grow out its colicky stage, I'm just gonna have to steel myself through that frustrating stage of not knowing what's wrong, and try different things step by step. Ironically, the popsicle sticks I am using to retrofit its battery case are left over from a long ago project when the Navigator was in grade school. I have a pile of them in the junk drawer. If this works and you are local, I'd be happy to share my popsicle sticks to fix your Bushnell. I am not going to share any of the leftover cloth diapers, however, because they are much too valuable.

Okay, I am ready for the next carcass. Bring it on.

Testing the newly retrofitted Bushnell camera on the house variety of cats.   


  1. That's a shame such an opportunity for some great action slipped away from you. I don't know anything about those field cameras but by what you say, they sound frustrating and confusing to set. I'm going down that road right now trying to teach myself time lapse photography. Maybe it was just that one loose battery. Those Popsicle sticks, they won't touch those set buttons when you close the door will they? I use Kingston SD cards. Good luck next time. Keep working at it.

    1. I cannot blame the baby or the camera for not doing what I want them to do, but I can observe and adjust. I am trying to share both the wonder and the frustrations of studying nature. I actually admire the wiliness of these large predators to be slipping around unseen. The menu buttons on the camera are recessed and don't seem to be affected by the extra layer of sticks. I will keep working at it for sure.

  2. Oh, bummer, Cindy. Have you asked Ken?

    1. I'm not sure Ken would have any good advice about crying babies, hahaha. His cameras are much more sophisticated than mine so I talked to others.

  3. Cindy, I don't know whether to laugh or cry, perhaps craughing is the better option. Your Bushnell is a very similar model to the one I occasionally use. Yes, the design of the battery compartment lends itself to the problem that you experienced and whilst I have been fortunate to escape that fate, I check and recheck the batteries to the point of OCD. But using the analogy of being a new parent and being unable to soothe an upset baby was inspired! As was alternating the action! Pure genius. Brought back lots of memories of noisier times :o)

  4. Ah, the camera trapper's blues. I can hear the twang of that low slow note now.

    Pretty sure you nailed the problem. Bushies are notorious for battery pop out, and the newest models now have a snap-in plastic bar that goes across the batteries to make sure they stay in.

  5. Oh... now I get the bite marks. DT

  6. Cindy, I maintain Mango is the dominant cat. Look at Cole here on his back, the most submissive position a cat can get. I believe Cole probably vies for your attention more, because Mango probably gives doesn't give a rat's ass about being petted.

    1. My work ethic bias judges that Cole is the dominant cat because he catches all the mice. Cats do have a different frame of mind about getting what they want, so perhaps you are right.

  7. I've had cougars in camp, and many times been skirted along the trail by coyotes while hiking with 3 large dogs. I see the coyotes (sometimes), but the dogs are oblivious. I'm stunned by how stealthy most wildlife can be.

    I'm camped in an RV right now (nowhere near any campgrounds). I leave the door open at night. Some stealth-creature's been climbing onto the counter and taking dog kibble. I hear him licking dishes and moving things around on the counter. He cleans out the cookie jar, but never leaves a mess or disturbs the dogs. He sounds cat-sized by the sound of his licking, but he deftly removes the lid from the little cookie jar, and never knocks anything over or leaves urine or scat. I shine the flashlight into the kitchen and he freezes, but by the time I'm out of bed, he's slipped away only to return again before dawn to finish off the kibble. He leaves any meat.

    It's been going on for several weeks, not 15 feet from where I lay in bed listening to him. He's taken pounds of dog food, yet I haven't even caught a glimpse of him, and the dogs don't seem to know he's there (they're used to cats in the kitchen). Stealthy. I admire the beast, and wish I had a trail cam. Hate to leave here this fall without knowing what my nocturnal stealth creature is. Opossum? Woodrat? Racoon? Skunk? Tonight I'll see if he likes peanuts butter, and if he'll leave his prints in some flour. I might even lay some tape to catch a few hairs for ID.

    1. Anon: my guess is raccoon if it is opening jars. Any chance it is a ring-tail cat? I'm wouldn't be comfortable having a wild animal come into an enclosed space with me.


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