Normally, I am unfazed by animal scat (droppings, poo, you get it). I have spent enough time outside to know the difference between deer and rabbit droppings, fox and raccoon, and so on. But when I found big round chunks of scat on a deer trail behind our cabin in the mountains, I really was puzzled.
Could it be bear? I had heard that there had been a bear in the area years ago. This was the Southern Sierra Mountains in California, after all. But no, there was no evidence of a predator (fur, bones) or even a berry-eating omnivore like a bear. The same would apply to a mountain lion, unlikely anyway since they tend to stay away from people.
Looking closer (like a good naturalist), I could see the scat was grass-based, like a horse might leave, but it would have been a small horse, and there were no horses, small or otherwise, in the area. Maybe some deer was constipated! Do deer even get constipated? So it stayed a puzzle. I did have a book on scat and tracks (a very useful manual for naturalist photographers), but it was at home. I was convinced the scat’s owner would remain a mystery.
That night, our son’s fiancé was sitting by a window that overlooked a bird feeder and happened to look out. “Omigod, there’s a pig … no … could it be a bear … no, it’s a pig!” My wife, my son and I rushed to the window, but it was gone. We grabbed flashlights and went outside, but no pig was to be seen. We knew it was no domestic pig, but a wild pig (aka, hog or boar).
Let me clarify. My son and I grabbed flashlights and looked, but my wife and my son’s fiancé stayed close to the house. My wife was worried about our little dogs – should I even walk them that night? I reminded her that pigs didn’t eat dogs, small or otherwise. Though I have to admit that if the pig had suddenly showed up in my headlamp while I was walking the dogs, the dogs and I would probably have had a record speed walk back to the cabin!
Okay, now the big scat made sense. The size was right, the content right. It had come from the wild pig. Pigs are not native to California. When the original settlers came here, they had pigs, some got loose and became wild or “feral.” Then in the 1920s, somebody decided to introduce the European wild boar to Monterey County for hunting. The two interbred and now the wild pigs are hybrids with little of each and in much of California. They are very productive and have spread into many areas in the state. Once established, they can be hard to get rid of, plus they can be very destructive to natural areas.
Would it be possible to photograph this night beast? This is where trail cameras (trailcams) with infrared light can work. (More on trailcams for nature photographers in a later post.) I had modified mine because I didn’t like its built-in light, so it could use an “off-camera” infrared light. I couldn’t easily set it up when it was night, plus it was already set up for some night nature video at a small pond I had created in the front of the house. So I forgot about the pig for the night.
The next morning, I gathered up my trailcam and brought it inside. I looked through the video captures to see what had visited. And there was the pig in one of the clips! I could only display it small on the trailcam screen (which is really small), because I had forgotten my SD card reader for my iPad, but it still was obviously a wild pig. Notice how he plays the statue in the middle.
Now I had visual proof of our piggy visitor! And I was sure of that scat. Subject-triggered photography/video comes through! It is almost impossible to visually capture night visitors in any other way.