I’ve been out to Palo Duro Canyon twice in the early morning, well before daylight, to see which creatures were active using my new thermal camera made by FLIR. The first time was April 18 and the second was today (April 25). The first trip I was by my self and today I was joined by my graduate student Lena. I love being in the outdoors at night, without using a light. The FLIR is even better! Animals have a very difficult time detecting me but they are fairly easy to find in all but the most dense cover. It is not often that humans have the upper hand in the wild but the FLIR sure evens the odds and provides very interesting video. On the 18th I observed white-tailed and mule deer as would be expected. I also was able to spot at a distance, two animals that were deer-sized. I was able to maneuver into position ahead of them and they came to the edge of a bluff right above me. Even in the FLIR it was obvious that they were aoudad. They discovered me fairly quickly and let out a deer-like snort, only quieter. This was the first time I had heard of aoudad snorting.
I made my way to the viewing blind and found a raccoon helping its self to some bird feed. It ran off and a larger, very unstealthy animal came crashing through the brush. It was a feral pig and it took its turn eating dropped seed. I filmed it for a few minutes from behind the blind then I tried to sneak around the blind to get closer. As usual, feral pigs run away at the first sign of danger and I wasn’t able to get closer than about 10 feet before I was discovered and the pig exited as it entered, by crashing through the brush. Minutes later I heard something climbing up a hackberry tree to my left. It was a porcupine. They are the second largest rodent in North America and are very arboreal, feeding heavily on the outer bark and leaves of trees. I could see the porcupine reach up to pull branches down to gnaw on. The whole time, small rodents of the size of white-footed mice were darting around gathering seeds too. Even the presence of the pig did little to deter them from feeding. I belly crawled close to the rodents but found myself closer than the minimum focusing distance of the FLIR. What a morning I had! However, I had to teach later that day and paid a price for getting up at 2:30 am. (NOTE: I am contracted through Texas Parks and Wildlife to survey mammals in the park, I have a scientific collection permit, and permission to enter the park during off hours. Please don’t break park rules, I’ll bring the park to you as best I can).
Today the wildlife wasn’t quite as diverse. We saw raccoons, white-tailed and mule deer. However, I did see my first Mississippi kite this spring and it was soaring over Southeast Park in Canyon. A group of my students saw an indigo bunting at the bird blind at PDCSP and we also picked up orange-crowned and Wilson’s warblers. The birds are very active in the canyon now too!