Saturday, 13 February 2016

So You Want To Hunt The Yowie? - Part 6 - Field Notes

One of the most important tools for the field researcher in any discipline is taking adequate notes. It is poor practice to attempt to commit things to memory since it has been shown that time and other influences can drastically alter the quality of those memories when recalled.

There are varied ways of making notes and multiple approaches to the type of thought processes used when deciding exactly what to record in your notes. If you are really that interested in the exhaustive details there are plenty of sites that provide such things ad nauseam - just do a search and have fun reading.

The following link is a somewhat simplistic description of how to take field notes (with examples) without getting too wordy or technical.

How to make Field Notes

In addition to keeping a journal and possibly a species account, you should be drawing plans of sites where physical evidence is encountered, especially if samples are taken. You may also draw sketches of sightings that were unable to be photographically recorded. 

Such plans and sketches can be done within the particular journal entry or you may use another field book for these provided they are linked to the journal entry in some way. Depending on how accurate you are able to be, it may be an aid to use a Field Notes book with a graph or dotted grid on the page for setting a scale and positioning features more accurately in the diagram to that scale.

Example Site Plan using graph grid.

The Journal and Species accounts can be done on plain paper or more often on ruled pages with a margin. Books of this sort should be small for field use and if several are used you can pick up a protective cover to fit them in together. The site below carries a range of products you may find suitable.

Field Notes books available online

Until next time....  

Friday, 12 February 2016

So You Want To Hunt The Yowie? - Part 5 - Photographic & Video Equipment

Photographic & Video Equipment

This is a contentious issue with almost as many opinions as products. While some of the product types typically used are listed below, I can only give you my take on it and suggest you do whatever seems good to you. 

Ultimately it is not just about whipping out a camera as opportunity presents itself, although one should always be ready. Cameras are just tools that should be considered part of an overall strategy that will include habituation, scent masking, camouflage and any number of other situational parameters.

  • GoPro or other equivalent
  • Phone camera
  • Compact Camera
  • SLR or Digital SLR Camera
  • Handheld compact video recorder
  • FLIR or Thermal Viewers/Cameras
  • Trail Cameras (visible, IR, passive or active, etc.)
  • Plotwatcher Pro (Time Lapse)
  • CCD Cameras (various types of visible or IR)

Considerations for Success

Equipment Choice
If we look at the success rate of these devices in Yowie research it’s not good. Many investigators have reported avoidance of the IR Trail Cameras (and no better with black LEDs), inconsistent operation from the PIR, too short a range on the Plotwatchers and when fitted with telescopic lenses, too narrow a field of view. It is safe to say that Yowies are so elusive as to have stretched the capacity of current technology to its limits. 

It is theorised that they can see into the near infra-red (NIR) spectrum and I have seen it suggested that perhaps ultraviolet could be a better range for illumination at night. Unfortunately the ultraviolet camera and video market is not well represented to date. I have also read recently that it is suspected that deer, dogs, cats and possibly some other mammals can see into the UV range. So we may be facing the same problem as with IR, including bleed-through into the visible from UV illuminators. Either way it doesn't seem like a high percentage option.

Image Quality
Another huge factor is image quality. The cheaper cameras may give reasonable image quality for general use but if you wish to enhance and enlarge the recording/image there is not much to work with – hence the blurry images. The way I see it is that capturing more inconclusive blurry images and video isn't going to help the cause and something else needs to be done.

If for example you have a GoPro or hand held video camera that records in 720p or even 1080p that is still only a low number of megapixels (MP) resolution.
  • 720p is 1280 (wide) x 720 (tall) = 0.9 MP
  • 1080p is 1920 (wide) x 1080 (tall) = 2 MP
4k video format is starting to get somewhere with 8 MP (commercial format) and the GoPro Hero 4k is now on sale for around $550. The GoPro Hero 5 is rumoured to be capable of 8K (16MP) but will be expensive and a ways off yet. Currently the best bang for buck where resolution is concerned still seems to be the Digital Single Lens Reflex (DSLR) camera. An entry level Canon EOS 1200D provides 18MP for around $399 and there are older models available in used condition that have from 10 to 18MP that could be picked up cheaper.

Location & Camouflage
Where you put the camera and how you disguise it is probably just as important as anything else. I am at present unqualified to advise in this area so ask questions in the community for specific advice. 

Suffice to say it is difficult, if not impossible to fool a Yowie and in all likelihood they will know where you put equipment in their area before Elvis has even left the building. The best idea is to try and make it less threatening so they may feel comfortable approaching it. This pretty much counts out IR illumination but I feel there is much to be explored yet in the area of camouflage and dispersement of equipment.

Camera Traps

Wildlife photographers routinely use Compacts and DSLRs in home brew Camera Traps with one or more external flashes that can be remotely triggered. The entire rig can be triggered by tripwire, sound, lightning flash, PIR, IR beam, laser beam or other custom made triggers. There are wireless remote flash triggers to remove cable runs and I guess what you come up with is limited only by your imagination. Below are some options I have been considering but there is much more online if you choose this avenue. Doing a Google Image search for DSLR Camera Traps  or just Camera Traps will show you a range of products and DIY rigs. That does not mean that they will be successful in photographing a Yowie.

Ultimately if you don’t capture the scene at a high enough resolution you can’t enhance and enlarge with any degree of sharpness, the data just isn’t there to begin with.

Tricks & Tips
Just a couple of things I ran across while researching this that I thought worth mentioning. Remember I am no expert.
  • Manual Focus - Camera Traps that rely on an autofocus system are often too slow to wake-up, focus and take a photo in the time the flash is active. Ensure you have either a compact or DSLR that can be manually focused. Put a stick in the ground where you think the subject may approach, focus on that, then fit the camera to the trap and remove stick.
  • Pre-focus before walking around corners, obstacles or over rises. Once again autofocus is slow so good photographers will, as they are walking through the bush, camera in hand, focus on a corner or obstacle up a head and keep the button half pressed so they can just point and shoot should something come around the corner suddenly (or scoot across in front of them). 
  • Remote trigger function - ensure your camera has a remote trigger function (either wireless, cable or both) otherwise it will be useless in a trap apparatus. A lot of cheap compacts do not have either manual focus or remote trigger capabilities. You need to be able to interface a remote trigger device and/or secondary flash unit.
Possible Camera Trap Components (DSLR type)

Some items I have been considering as ideas for my own rig once I am financial enough to build and test it.

Camera Trap Products

MIOPS – Camera Trigger (laser, sound, lightning, etc.)

Using MIOPS Laser Trigger (requires a red laser)

Laser Module (1mW 650nm Red Dot focusable)

Enclosures (pelican, etc.) for Laser Transmitter and two flash units. Laser Transmitter and receiver enclosures should have the emitter and receiver recessed in a tube to avoid red scatter that can be seen at night.

DSLR – at least 10 MP to begin with, if successful may consider 18 to 24MP as budget allows.

DSLR enclosure with covering hide enclosure, i.e. fake rock or fake log with wood veneer and leaves. Additional consideration in mounting for recessing the DSLR lens. This is not normally a problem for wildlife photographers but has been known to trouble primates and may spook a Yowie.

Batteries to suit each unit (LiFePO4 or similar may be better for power/weight ratio).

Until next time....  

So You Want To Hunt The Yowie? - Part 4 - Software & Audio Gear


At some point you will want to analyse some of the samples you have collected. Hair for example can be obtained directly from traps, leaf litter where it has been naturally shed or even from scat. Audio recordings may be noisy and unclear. They would thus benefit from some filtering and post-production amplification or compression through an audio editing program. The following software can assist with both of these undertakings.

Hair Analysis

  •    Hair ID

Hair ID is a software package that has been designed to make the process of hair analysis simpler and more accessible. The software package has two main parts:
A database of information on the hair of 110 Australian mammal species. This database is the first published extension to the original material published in the Brunner and Coman (1974). The information in the database is original material that is not available anywhere else.
A comprehensive reference section that describes the nature of hair, and gives detailed instruction on the techniques of hair analysis. This section is an updated and extended version of the original work in Brunner and Coman (1974) presented in electronic format.

Audio Editing

So you may have recorded some audio but there is so much hiss or background noise that you can't really hear the important sounds unless you have headphones on, stand on one leg and hold your tongue to the left. Honestly that's not really going to cut it.

Some of the problem may be due to the equipment used to record the sound sample (more on that later) but there may be some post-processing that can be done to clean up the sound, reduce the white noise and bring up that elusive sound from where it is hiding in the background.

To do that you will need some audio editing software. There are literally hundreds of programs available in various quality and price ranges. Below are just a few of the ones around, beginning with a free product.

  • Audacity – Free Multi-track Audio Editor and Recorder

  • Avisoft Bioacoustics Software – Various levels from Lite to Pro

  • Raven – acquisition, visualization, measurement, and analysis of sounds

  • iZotope Rx5 Audio Editor

  • iZotope Rx Post Production Suite

I have used Audacity a few times for mixing/patching songs and I have seen iZotope RX5 in use but have not checked out the others. A helpful feature of RX5 is its ability to graphically display the frequency of an audio event. This may be used to differentiate between events that may otherwise be indistinguishable due to similar timing between events, such as Yowie stomping and Wallaby hopping. 

( 3:34 to 6:20, [YouTube User] TheRusty222).
Whichever product you choose make sure you run through available tutorials that may be available and perhaps seek out an audio-specific forum where you can get good advice for free.

Audio Recording Equipment

Audio – General Considerations

With the advance in technology, high quality digital recorders are everywhere now. Having said that, there are some points you should consider aside from things like microphone type/pattern that you can read about in the resources linked above.

Many audio recorders are portable but that also comes with some quality and endurance compromises. The audio may be compressed to save space and the battery life may mean a shorter run time on site. Do some homework on the specifications before buying.

Sample Rate and Audio Format/Compression 
This can be confusing so I apologise in advance. When choosing a recorder you want to get one that can give you access to the data in a format that contains the most information. There are two factors to consider.
  • How many bits at a given sampling rate is recorded, and
  • In what format is it recorded?
Sample Rate
Recorders give specifications like 16-bit/44kHz or 24-bit/96kHz, so what is that about? The number of bits refers to an instantaneous sample of information taken from a live audio signal and 24-bits is obviously more information than 16-bits. This parameter is called bit depth and is a limiting factor for dynamic range and signal-to-noise ratio of recordings. The kHz figure is the sample rate or how many times this sample is taken per second and again, 96 kHz is better than 44 kHz and 192 kHz is better again with more information captured. Sample rate can determine the range of frequencies captured. 

The latest crop of handheld recorders offer 24-bit/96kHz specifications. To get any better sample rates the devices are bigger and possibly impractical for field use.

Audio Format
So as you capture your data you need to save it into a file format you can edit and play on a computer. The main types of file formats are:
  • Uncompressed audio files such as WAV
  • Lossless Compression. File types like FLAC and WMA (lossless), and
  • Compressed audio files like MP3, AAC and WMA (lossy).
In the latest generation of handheld recorders you generally get a choice of an uncompressed format like WAV as well as a compressed option like MP3. Both should have selectable bit-rate. If you opt for compression try to select a higher bit-rate like 256kbps so less information is lost in the compression process while still saving space. Again it will be a trade-off between data storage and audio file quality.

Audio Recorder Models

These are numerous so pick one with the right features for your budget. Some examples are linked below that have multiple hand held models at different price points, however, there are many other brands available like Sony, B&H, Olympus, etc.

Audio Recorder - Field Use considerations

So now that we have surveyed the scene a bit, you may want to start thinking about how you are going to use the recorder in the field. When you do, there are some microphone, size and package considerations.

Attended Use
If you are going to use the microphone while you are there with it, then you may be able to get some use out of a directional or parabolic microphone rig that can concentrate sound from the specific direction in which it is pointed. In this case you may not need to worry so much about protecting the recorder and can just take it along with you.

Unattended Use
If you wish to capture audio (especially nocturnal vocalisations) over an extended period, then you will want to try and protect the recorder from weather and possible tampering damage. Of course this will mean that using direction microphones is out of the question so you will need to rely on the cardioid microphones built into the recorder. You may want to buy a recorder that has stereo microphones to increase the capture angle.

So you will want to put the recorder in some type of container that remains open where the microphones are situated. Do an internet search and there will be all sorts of rigs in use but a simple and easy one would be a bit of PVC pipe open at one end and painted or wrapped in camouflage net. Mount on a tree or at ground level in a suitably protected location.


Last but not least we will need to pick up some equipment for the making bigger of very tiny things.

When analysing hair samples and the components of scat it is beneficial to have a microscope with variable magnification of at least up to x400 or x500 magnification. It also pays to have one with a USB camera option to be able to import sample photographs into software for comparison with known samples.

Below are a couple of likely rigs. Shop around as there are a lot of options available.

Until next time....  

Thursday, 11 February 2016

So You Want To Hunt The Yowie? - Part 3 - Research Resources

Now that you are acquainted with the basics of the Yowie Phenomena, it may be time to gain some skills that will help in the search and subsequent contact with the elusive creatures.


Since there is some conjecture about the human/primate categorisation of the Yowie it would be advisable to do some reading on Primates. Luckily there has been much study done in this area and there are some good texts available that provide information on Primates, their behaviours, interacting with them and the study of them. The first reference below was recommended to me as an integrated approach to interacting with primates in the wild. The second reference might also be helpful, for example if you are considering such ethical issues as where to draw the line between non-invasive study and producing a body for dissection or as a voucher specimen. It is my personal opinion that the do no harm principle seems to be overlooked somewhat where discovery of new species is concerned and more stringently enforced for well recognised and/or endangered species.

Field and Laboratory Methods in Primatology: A Practical Guide
Edited by Deborah J. Curtis, Joanna M. Setchell
Cambridge University Press, Published 03/02/2011

A couple of free-download chapters are linked below as a sampler.
Chapter 2 – Habituating Primates

Chapter 16 – Recording Primate Vocalisations

Code of Best Practice for Field Primatology 2014
American Society of Primatologists

Field Work

When we do head into the field, how do we read the signs correctly? Well first we can become acquainted with what is known to be there so we can begin to...
 “prove what these signs are NOT before we can begin to consider what else they might be”.
Some will undoubtedly say I am unqualified to comment but I'm just going to go ahead and say it anyway. The main problem I see in Cryptological Research is lack of data collection. No doubt you are familiar with all the new technological gadgets, advanced medical procedures and ever more realistic amusements that we now have. It may have escaped your notice that along the way, science and industry has also become extremely data centric. They can't get enough data. In fact if you don't load them up with enough data to bury them, professionals won't look twice at you let alone take you seriously.

If that's too much trouble then your choices are limited to just two that I am aware of:

  1. Go hunting and get lucky by shooting one and lobbing the body on information desk at the Queensland Museum, or
  2. Stomp around the bush like everyone else and completely waste your time.

I don't like those odds and I think we can all do a little better than that, so lets look at some resources that just might help us do a better job of data collection in the field.

Identifying Tracks, Scat and other Signs of Animal Behaviour

Since what we are dealing with is by all accounts a mammal that eats, leaves tracks and droppings around the place, we need to know how to differentiate the from those of other animals in the Australian bush. We also need to know how to collect samples, preserve them and make casts of perishable evidence like tracks. The resources below may help.

Tracks Scats & Other Traces A Field Guide to Australian Mammals Revised Ed
By Barbara Triggs
Oxford University Press, Published 01/09/2004

Casting of Tracks?

Plaster Track Casting Procedure, by Kim A. Cabrera
Making Plaster Casts of Animal Tracks
Casting Foot Impressions
Collection and Analysis of Scat

Scat can be examined to determine the diet of the animal and this may also include DNA testing. Since the characteristics of the scat can help identify a known animal or indicate an unknown one, preservation of scat should be considered. Below are some example protocols for scat collection.

Pika Scat Collection Protocol
Hair – Collecting Samples for Species Identification

Collection of hair is not as definitive as fingerprinting in that it cannot identify a specific individual. It can, however, be used to identify one species relative to another. This is a well established field and below are some written resources for information. In a later post I will take a look at equipment and software resources.

Non-invasive Survey Methods for Carnivores, Chapter 6 – Hair Collection
(discusses use of hair traps)
Fundamentals of Microanalytical Entomology : A Practical Guide to Detecting and Identifying Filth in Foods. (Chapter 12 – Hair and Feathers)
Alan R. Olsen
Taylor & Francis Inc, 17/10/1995

Microscopy of Hairs, A Practical Guide and Manual, Issue 2 January 1977
John W Hicks (Special Agent)
Federal Bureau of Investigation

Audio Recording of Wildlife Calls and Vocalisations

Since the Yowie and his international cousins seem to be predominantly nocturnal, listening to the calls they make seems like a good way to keep track of them. It is therefore very important to know what calls all the other animals make as well so we do not get excited for no reason or make a false identification through ignorance.

The available resources in this area are significant so rather than try to pick through them all I have listed  a single free-download introductory reference and some websites that already provide lots of information. You should consider becoming familiar with the various calls of birds, frogs, reptiles and mammals because at night when you can't see that noise is often not what you think it is.

An Introduction to Wildlife Sound Recording Rev1 May2001 
Wildlife Sound Recording Society

 Wildlife Sound Recording Society (UK) – Resources page.

The Australian Wildlife Sound Recording Group – Resources Page

Until next time....  

So You Want To Hunt The Yowie? - Part 2 - Introducing the Yowie!

Yeti, Bigfoot, Yowie, Almas, and many other names. Where to begin, what is real and what is fiction? What are their habits, where are they seen and are they dangerous? Without a doubt some preliminary research is a must, so it's time to hit the books.

Introduction to the Yowie Phenomenon

The Hairy Wild Man phenomena has generated so much material worldwide it is staggering. I couldn't possibly get up to speed on it in a short time while sorting the ridiculous and fraudulent from the factual. What I needed was a comprehensive introduction to the topic that was not full of unfounded speculation.

Tony Healey & Paul Cropper

So I acquired and read the book recommended on so many Yowie-related sites. This was a very well-reasoned and comprehensive treatment of the phenomena and the various theories, even those the authors did not agree with.

The Yowie: In Search of Australia’s Bigfoot, by Tony Healey and Paul Cropper.

You can borrow it from the local library if they have it or purchase it at the links below.

EBook, $10.42 from Amazon. (You can also download the Kindle app and read it on your PC if you want a bigger screen or don’t have a Kindle eBook reader)

Gary Opit  

Gary Opit is another Cryptological researcher that has touched on the Yowie Phenomenon.

AUSTRALIAN CRYPTOZOOLOGY: The Australian Yowie, New Guinea Mermaid, Big Cats and other WildLife Wonders.

Graham C. Joyner

I also wanted to take a look at some material from Graham Joyner, who’s efforts managed to show that the Yowie phenomena was real and deserved to be studied. He wrote two books that are ridiculously hard to come by and the library may be the only place to get them. He did write papers in journals as well and you may be able to track down some of those as well.

The hairy man of south eastern Australia, by Graham C. Joyner 1977

Monster, Myth or Lost Marsupial? The Search for the Australian Gorilla in the Jungles of History, Science and Language, by Graham C. Joyner 2014

Others have given more complete lists of his works but the following paper has been reproduced as a free download at the link and may be worth a read.

Joyner, Graham C. Scientific reaction to evidence for the yahoo or 'Australian ape', 1882-1912  [online]. Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society, Vol. 89, No. 2, Dec 2003: 162-178. 

Online Material

I would also recommend reading through the material and watching the videos on the following websites that I found very helpful. It took a lot of time but was worth it.

You Tube as a Resource

At this point I would like to urge caution with respect to everyone's favourite resource, You Tube. While it may be a fantastic resource, it is also a favourite publishing media for hoax material and diverse, often misleading opinions. Among such gems we have the bigfoot hoaxes of Rick Dyer and a plethora of cheap US cable docu-dramas like Mountain Monsters and Bigfoot Nation. Please exercise caution with selection of material and look for critical reviews.

If possible choose those authors who display a neutral opinion based on evidence and show a tendency to critically examine material before expounding its virtues. It is also very worthwhile to seek out the material of sceptics and critics, even if only to acquaint yourself with their arguments and be able to demonstrate that they can be answered.

The serious researchers are putting material out there, you just need to find them.

In Part 3 I will have a look at some more specific resources that may help gain knowledge useful in the field.

Until next time....  

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

So You Want To Hunt The Yowie? - Part 1 - How?

The Yowie by Allen Douglas Studios
So You Want To Hunt The Yowie?

I’ve always been interested in a good mystery and when I first saw the Patterson/Gimlin film as a youngster I was hooked on the idea of Bigfoot. I was even, happier when I found out that this was a worldwide mystery with the Yowie being Australia’s own particular brand of beastie. Having grown up in North Qld country areas and having heard of family members and acquaintances who have had their own sightings, I was keen to see if I couldn’t help join the many people already gathering data and maybe do some searching myself.

But how to go about it and how serious was I?

Let’s be honest and say right up front that this topic is relegated to the realm of pseudo-science at best and sheer fabrication at worst. Not unlike other subjects such as UFOs, Alien Abduction Phenomena, The Bermuda Triangle and the Paranormal, Cryptozoology is not well regarded by mainstream science. Like some of the other topics just mentioned, it is also subject to amateur (non-scientific) investigation methods, wild speculation with little or no evidence, flights of fancy and outright fraud for personal gain. To do serious research in such an environment is like walking through a minefield blindfolded.

From my previous hobbies and investigations in other fields I knew very well that science can be a demanding task master. Professionals in many scientific fields are also human with careers to protect and families to feed just like the rest of us. The best way to kill any chance of professionals taking this search seriously would be for me to charge off into the bush with a GoPro and an iPhone, take some more blurry shots, point to some indisputable anecdotal evidence like tree breaks, foot prints, stone cairns and stick tepee’s, then get a gig on TV claiming that I have discovered something akin to the Holy Grail and expect the scientists to jump on board.

All I would accomplish is to ensure that no professional in any related field would want to touch anything I was involved in. I’ve seen it before in archaeology and this is no different. I’m not saying that the things mentioned above are not worth recording and investigating, but those things alone can be also attributed to any number of other causes. To put it simply, we must first prove what these signs are NOT before we can begin to consider what else they might be. Jumping to unproven conclusions will just doom the entire enterprise.

If that sounds like a lot of boring (and expensive) data collection, analysis, and hypothesising then you are right. I realise that to do anything like this is hard work and if I'm not prepared to study, learn/develop skills and commit then maybe it is best if I don’t even start. Another “Man vs Wild” wannabe could only do more harm than good.
If, however, I was willing to have a go then what would be involved? What skills would I need short of becoming a biologist or zoologist myself, something I have no immediate desire to do?

I’ve spent the last couple of months buried in this topic and have discovered that for the amateur cryptozoologist it is certainly as Ray Doherty said in his blog, “we must, through our own initiative and expense embrace and become, at some level,  a Primatologist, Anthropologist, Biologist, Geneticist, Photographer, Outdoorsman, Trackers[sic], Botanist” (Doherty, R. (26 April 2015). Survivor Man: Bigfoot. [Blog] The Australian Yowie Project). A “jack of all trades” capable of bridging the gap between the pseudo and the scientific by learning enough of the knowledge, field craft and laboratory methods used by professionals to be able to talk with them at their level. This may go a long way towards breaking down the barriers that have been erected against the existence of the Yowie.

In the next few posts I will be listing some resources for study, equipment choices, and skill development for those who might be interested. I understand that the many who have gone before me, know all this and more. This is merely my perspective as a beginner. 

Until next time....