Monday, January 31, 2011

Masked bandit comes for dinner

In order to test our new game camera, (see we aimed it at the cat door from our deck, hoping to get pictures of our cats coming and going from our house.  We put it on a plant shelf and left it there for the night.  The next morning we grabbed the camera, and were we in for a surprise!

Most of the pictures showed just the cat door, with no cats coming or going.  A few showed Ninja and Paloosh--the felines--either entering or leaving the house, or hanging around at the cat door, but one series of three pictures clearly shows a RACCOON, approaching the cat door until his nose is just about touching it!  

Did he go inside?  We think 'yes'.  For the past month or two, it seemed like the cats were eating more than usual.  Some mornings their food bowls were completely empty and we wondered how they could eat that much food in one night. Putting two and two together, we believe that this raccoon has been coming into our house while we sleep, raiding the cat dishes in the kitchen and exiting before being caught!

We have now ordered an electronic cat door, one that stays locked until it senses a magnet on a cat's collar.  (Thanks to Brian for the idea)  When we get it and install it we will let you know if it works. 

Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Game Camera

Ever since we moved into this house, we have noticed a pile of scat (or feces, or poop, or whatever you want to call it) behind our house.  Our house has an overhang there, so that spot keeps dry in the rain. Whatever has left the pile must be a close neighbor because there are fresh droppings there quite frequently.  Although we think it is likely a raccoon making the deposit, as we have seen raccoons up close to the house, even on our deck, I wanted the proof. I wanted to know for sure.

There is such a thing as a motion sensor actuated camera, commonly called a 'game camera' by hunters who use it to find out when or if their prey frequents a location where they plan to hunt.  They are on the pricey side, though, too expensive for doing surveillance to satisfy our curiosity about nighttime visitors. So, I started on a project to make one by hacking into a garage-sale-purchased digital camera and a cheap Ebay motion sensor, and combining the two with an Arduino controller.  I got as far as hacking into the motion sensor, and got it working as an input to the Arduino, but hacking into a digital camera turned out to be a bigger job than I had anticipated, so I set that project aside.

Lately though, deer have been getting into our garden, and my car was broken into, so I began thinking there may be several good reasons to own a motion sensor triggered camera. When I  got a $100 gift certificate for Christmas, it was a no-brainer and I started looking in earnest.

After a couple of days of research, I bought a Moultrie D55IR 'Game Camera'.  This baby takes 5 megapixel pictures, and for night shots, it takes infra-red (IR) pictures with an almost invisible IR flash, which means it will not scare the critters.  And it was reduced to $101 on Here is the info on it:

After it arrived, I needed a way to test it to see if it was worth keeping.  Hmm, the cat door!  I set the camera on our deck just out side the cat door and was going to leave it there until evening, and hopefully catch the cats coming and going.  A few hours later I looked out and my cat had decided to take a nap just inches in front of the camera lens.  I grabbed the camera and looked at the photos.  There were about 30 photos of out-of-focus cat fur.  Well, at least I knew it works!

More on the game camera to come! (see and

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Horned owls are a hoot

Last night, about 10:00 PM, we heard the distinctive 'Hoo-Hoo' of the local horned owls.  We turned out the lights and looked out the window just in time to see one silently swoop down from over our house, make a couple of graceful turns and land at the top of a pine tree behind our house. Just as he (or she?) landed a second owl fluttered up out of the same tree and flew off and out of sight. Their wing spans are wide in proportion to their relatively small bodies.  We watched the 1st owl sit in the tree, silhouetted by the lights of the neighborhoods by the bay, for several minutes before he took wing and silently flew off into the night sky.

It's amazing how silent and graceful these critters are.  The true stealth fliers.

Welcome to Our Backyard Nature Blog

We are very lucky to live in the hills of the San Francisco East Bay area.  Our back deck looks out over open space and the San Francisco bay, and we commonly watch the comings and goings of our non-domesticated neighbors.
We're not experts, we're backyard naturalists like so many people who live and recreate in these parts. Wildlife is a daily part of our world and some of it isn't so wild, and we think a lot about how to live with these neighbors. They were here before we were!

We thought others might enjoy reading about them as well.  So if that is you, please read on!  And please tell us stories of the critters in your backyard as well.