Tuesday, May 22, 2018

CSI: South Dakota

In December, the Legion Lake Fire in the Black Hills scorched 54,000 acres including the sites where I had three trailcams deployed. As previously reported, in February I found the Reconyx and Browning cameras in Wind Cave National Park, damaged but still functional, but was unable to find the Moultrie camera 9 miles away in Custer State Park.

Due to the need to wait for the snow to melt and various family situations, I was unable to get back to the Moultrie location until today. I was certain I had pinpointed the right tree but digging through the snow in February revealed nothing. Today with the snow gone I still didn't see anything. I expanded the search area but kept coming back to the same tree. I finally decided to look specifically for the buckle on the strap that held the camera to the tree, and finally had some success. When I found the buckle, I also noticed an electronic-looking black lump next to it. It was the Moultrie.

The Reconyx was locked to its tree with a cable so it never fell into the fire. But the Browning and the Moultrie were just held with straps, so those cameras fell to the ground when the straps burned through. The Browning must have landed on a relatively cool spot, and the Moultrie must have landed on a hot cinder.

Back in the hotel room, I started forensics on the Moultrie to see if I could recover the memory card. After peeling away several layers of char, I found what I believe to be the remains of the memory card. It's the little rectangle in the lower right. What are the chances any images survived? Seems unlikely but I'll do more investigating.

The tourist season in the Black Hills is getting underway and the folks who run Custer State Park no doubt have had a challenging time getting the park ready. The fire did not kill a lot of big trees, but it did kill the little ones. They are still standing with brown needles, more of a fire hazard now than they were before the fire. It's apparent crews have been working to clear the fuel in some areas, but 54,000 acres is a huge area. The park will have scars from this fire for a long time. I took this image of a bison herd today during a downpour. The water at the bottom is actually a flash flood. But you can also see the brown trees, generally the smaller ones, intermixed with the larger green trees.

Since recovering my cameras in February, I have not had any deployed in the Black Hills. I was hoping to find some burrowing owls in the Badlands area today and allocate the Browning for long-term surveillance, but I didn't find any owls today. Part of the problem was I was unable to get to one of my preferred location due to a muddy "road" which is really just a two-track across a field. Although I have a 4WD F150 now, I'm still cautious about getting stuck in the mud 50 miles from the nearest town. So now I'm planning to put both the Reconyx and the Browning in the national forest somewhere west of Custer tomorrow, but I need to find good locations.

May 30 Update: Last week, the old Reconyx and the damaged Browning were deployed on the edge of the Jasper Burn (2000) just west of Jewel Cave National Monument. I ordered a Reconyx HyperFire 2 Professional Covert IR today. This is a new model for 2018 and features a lower price point for Reconyx and claims incredible battery life of 2 years. I've routinely gotten 1.5 years on the old Reconyx so I can believe it. I have a trip planned to Red Lodge, MT for the 4th of July and this is the plan that is forming in my head: Retrieve the two Jasper Burn cameras and the other Browning currently near my brother's cabin in Montana. That would give me four cameras in hand, two Reconyx and two Brownings. The Brownings probably get 6-8 months of battery life, so I'm guessing the one at the cabin only lasted until mid-winter. I might place the new long-life Reconyx near the cabin, and depending on what sort of images I got from that area, put the a Browning there also. Then return to the Black Hills and place the old Reconyx and the other Browning either back in the Jasper Burn or in a new area if necessary. I've still got this idea of putting one of the Brownings in a prairie dog down near the Badlands, but that won't happen this trip.