Snapshots of Lynch Canyon’s wild, nighttime world
By Samuel J Adams
When night falls on Lynch Canyon Open Space Park, some creatures are just beginning to stir. Woodrats scurry in the leaflitter, tiny owls search the forest floor, and, at special times of the year, a mountain lion slinks across Lynch Creek. It’s an exclusive club and humans aren’t invited. But Tom Muehleisen’s trail cams takes us right there, showing us the nocturnal and hidden worlds of the land you’ve helped conserve.
The images may be grainy and monochromatic, but they are lively—and they show that the open spaces are lively too.
A retired police officer in Hercules, Tom now enjoys a gentler patrol of Lynch’s creeks and hills. He lives in Fairfield, and when he retired, he was determined to make the most of the land where he’d made his home. He bought a camera and began photographing horses at Rush Ranch in 2007, volunteering with Access Adventure partly to increase his time with the animals.
Tom has since honed his technique, bought hefty lenses, and produced photographs of baby Great Horned owls, soaring Golden eagles, and golden-hour vistas that appear in Outdoor Magazine, Bay Nature, and throughout Solano Land Trust’s promotional material.
With the encouragement of former Solano Land Trust employee Sue Wickham, Tom set up two Bushell trail cams at Lynch Canyon in 2017. Operating the cams gives Tom an affordable, rewarding hobby, but it’s not without its challenges. “You can’t put them too high,” Tom says. “The lower, the better. But they’ll pick up blowing leaves. Sometimes I’ll have two or three thousand pictures of blowing leaves.”
When the leaves are not in voguing season, the cows sometimes shift things around. “They like to rub up on everything,” Tom chuckles.
Tom maintains two cameras on Lynch Canyon and two at nearby Hiddenbrooke Open Space. He’s excited about how the cameras can show how animals navigate the corridor—one animal in particular.
A mountain lion’s home range can cover one hundred miles and the cameras Tom installed at Lynch are the best ways to witness its elusive passage.
His cameras have picked up three cougars at Lynch Canyon over the last three years. He shares his pictures with the Felidae Conservation Fund’s Bay Area Puma Project, which tracks big cats through the region. These apex predators are ecologically necessary. “They keep the deer population down, and the deer will eat the new plants,” Tom says.
The cameras routinely photograph bobcats and their cubs frolicking, cleaning themselves, and playing about. Tom himself had an amazing in-person daytime sighting of mother cat while checking his trail cam. Mesmerized by its still posture, Tom took up its camera only to realize he’d put the extended lens on it for capturing birds at a distance. When he put it down, the cat was gone. “Should’ve used my phone,” says Tom.
But Tom can look forward to capturing many more excellent images of the animals of Lynch Canyon—including those his cameras pick up while he’s sleeping.
“My goal was to get a snapshot of the biodiversity here,” Tom says. “I wanted to see if we have a healthy ecosystem. We do.”
Tom checks his cameras monthly. He always finds something special, even if there are leaves to sift through.
“I never give up on Lynch,” Tom says. “I love it.”
Trail cam photos by Tom Muehleisen
Wildlife photography from Tom Muehleisen and his wife Steffni are available for viewing and purchase at https://suisunnaturephotography.zenfolio.com/