Thursday, 6 January 2011

What use do wildlife surveys offer bigcat research?

There are many conflicting theories on bigcat behaviour and 1 of the most interesting ones,to me,are the prey that they are living off at different times of the year.The research on this is also tied up with their movements through a home range and their migration from 1 home range to another.In the years past,before trailcams,it was necessary to make in depth,time hungry wildlife studys of certain areas of the Sussex countryside where it was believed that a bigcat might spend a proportion of the year to a greater or lesser degree and this was and still is vitally important to quantify seasonal variation in the diet.In other words what i would do is study a place by on the ground evidence and actually seeing what animals were about at the proposed seasons and determining what prey would be available for a bigcat to hunt,in Sussex this is chiefly roe and fallow deer,rabbits and other small mammals,birds of various kinds to a greater or lesser degree.I would then,when a bigcat has either been sighted in the area or has been found to be there by other evidence,determine by evidence of kills like deer and fox carcases or say birds that are either definitely bigcat kills or are not attributed to other predators.I,ve already covered in this blog about deer but not so much about birds and an example of this is say a pigeon kill the only evidence of which would be a small spread of soft breast feathers on the ground as the carcase was already gone.If,say within yards of the feather spread there were a much smaller drop of courser back feathers and in line of sight of beyond thiswould be a line of trees,it would be reasonable to assume that a sparrowhawk(probably female)had taken it as their method of usual attack is to fly in using any cover available to them,strike then land with a heavier bird such as a pigeon,if the carcase had gone then it would be likely a fox had taken it.Another predator a fox,bites off the flight feathers to leave scissor-like cuts from their sharp teeth,the more jagged the edge the blunter the teeth ergo the older the fox.It would be reasonable in finding a neatly skinned out meatless carcase not attributed to either a fox or a badger and with few feathers scattered that are also mostly breast ones in an area where a bigcat has been active to assume that it might well have caught and consumed the said bird.Once the probables have been eliminated(foxes etc)then the plausibles(bigcats) become highly likely is standard procedure.Where trailcams have come in so useful is that i can do a wildlife survey on a place with little disturbance to the area ,if this would of stopped me before maybe,at predetermined times of the year and quantify the available prey and then when a bigcat shows up i already know what is around for it to eat or not as the case may be.This is connected to why i think that a lot of the autumnal sightings peaking in october before the leaf fall proper are merely cats migrating through as opposed to being truly active in that i would most likely already know from past experience what is around there at that time of year.I have a theory that bigcats snack on relatively easy prey like rabbits on these sort of travels as less time would be invested in catching them whereas it certainly does seem that they have to put far more time and effort(stalking and ambushing) in tackling the big game that are roe and fallow deer.A case in point is the sighting at Southwick tunnel in sept"10the area is open downland with only small scrubby woods with an easily identifyable small population of roe,to the best of my knowledge none were taken and the cat spotted most likely only spent a couple of nights there if that so it would be reasonable to assume it only took the odd rabbit of which there are lot and rapidly moved on.So(if you,ve made it this far!)although i,ll continue to place trailcams with the principle aim of getting a bigcat picture i,ll also continue to do wildlife surveys as i,m principly interested in studying the behaviour of bigcats and the knowledge these surveys give me and in turn you through this blog if your interested in this type of thing.In any case they yield all sorts of interesting facts about other types of animals i like looking into such as rabbits.Now if only i can time,using a trailcam, how long a rabbit is chewing the bark off trees like holly and willow as they are at the moment (they like the oils that are stored in the cambium layer beneath)i might be able to determine whether this is a top food source for them or just a snack because this sort of thing fascinates me as well...(related article;bigcats-prey and other food sources ,1.8.10)...........

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