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Urban Coyote Conflicts

Growing up in the suburbs, my friends and I spent many weekend nights powerwalking through our neighborhoods, deep in conversation. It was an excellent way to process through our angst-laden teenage years while maintaining our physique. Though a few street lamps could be seen scattered about the city’s larger streets, the blackness of night was for the most part unfettered by light. In my youth, I appreciated this obscurity and reveled in the fact that most nights we had the streets to ourselves. One night, as we walked towards an intersection lit only by the red hand of the cross walk sign, we heard the sound of movement in the nearby leaves. Realizing that we were no longer alone, I turned my head in the direction of the noise and saw two yellow eyes peering back at me. My first thought was to run. My second was to scream. Ultimately, fear kept me frozen in place and silent as a mouse. The eyes grew larger and as the body they were attached to came closer, I found myself within feet of a large coyote.  I watched in amazement as the coyote made its way through the crosswalk, keeping within the lines.

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The Urban Coyote

Coyotes (Canis latrans) are smart. In response to shrinking wild spaces, these cunning creatures have migrated from their origins in the American southwest to nearly every corner of Northern and Central America (save for Hawaii). This forced migration has encouraged new survival instincts in coyotes obliged to thrive in pastoral and suburban regions as well as densely populated urban landscapes.  A coyote’s versatility extends to its diet, which changes based on what’s available in its environment. Typically, their diet consists of rabbits, squirrels, mice, rats, insects, reptiles and wild berries. In the wild, coyotes generally keep their distance from humans. Yet, as natural predators and barriers of habitat shrink, the interface between wild and domestic begins to expand. Over the past two decades, America has seen a swelling of inner-city coyote populations. In that time, generations of coyotes who have never known undeveloped spaces have been born into metropolitan areas that lack green landscape. These native city-slickers have become adept at surviving in urban settings- foraging through dumpsters and compost bins, navigating crosswalks, and consuming small domestic pets. Weighing anywhere from 15-50 pounds, their smaller frames allow them an agility that makes hopping an eight foot fence in the suburbs nearly effortless.

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A Canine Confrontation

Every year, local police and wildlife organizations receive thousands of reports of coyotes disrupting the domestic sphere. For the most part, human encounters with a singular coyote or a small pack have not proven consistently dangerous. However, as urban coyote populations rise, reports of attacks on individuals and pets have amplified. In 2009, 19 year-old Taylor Mitchell died of blood loss after coyotes bit her while she was walking on a trail in Eastern Canada. Though not an urban attack, sensational media often draw from the experience with Mitchell to illuminate the perils of human-coyote interaction. Experts indicate that the keys to maintaining safety are to keep coyotes from getting accustomed to humans and to limit interaction. Hazing, the practice of scaring off coyotes with deterrents- shouting, clapping, blowing air horns, or spraying with water- is considered the basis of coyote management plans which seek to discourage coyotes from becoming too relaxed in their urban surroundings.  Pupping season lasts from August until January. During these months, protective mothers are more likely to act in defense of their dens. If you encounter a coyote at this time, the best thing to do is to slowly and calmly walk away without turning your back on the coyote. Stay tall and assertive as you leave the area, even if it means walking backwards.

This Way Forward

The relationship between human and coyote is extremely complex and warrants a deeper look. It is significant to note that human development continues to displace wildlife from their homes.  While property on the foothills is desirable, one should prepare themselves to encounter emigrant wildlife. The Urban Coyote Initiative is a group of photojournalists who aim to shed light on the lives and behaviors of coyotes living in close proximity to humans.  Organizations like these remove the mystery of urban coyote behavior and lay the foundation for a more harmonious inhabiting of shared space. You can see some of their work here.

Chaparral Coyote. Photo Credit: Alex Havasi.

Chaparral Coyote. Photo Credit: Alex Havasi.

Nature Walk: Predator and Prey at Work and at Play

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Western Gray Squirrels are able to thrive in human impacted environments. Photo Credit: Sandor Havasi

From the park bench, I could easily watch the two Eastern gray squirrels fake fighting and playing. These squirrels tend to be more solitary and less playful than ground squirrels but these two squirrels were bouncing around as if they could defy gravity. Eastern gray squirrels are actually quite impressive jumpers, and can easily leap up to fifteen feet horizontally and free-fall twenty feet or more. These squirrels have especially thrived in human environments where they have easy access to food (including many decorative plants) and where people feed them.

It was a pleasant little scene and I looked down to check my phone. When I looked up, the scene had changed. The bouncing squirrels had disappeared. Where did they go? I saw one motionless in the dirt and one had scurried even further away from the tree. What had changed? Had it been a territory battle? Continue Reading →

Sticking to the Mountains: Nature’s Tiny Actors

Hiking back, a bit breathless and winded from the crisp mountain air and altitude, my eyes were drawn to a light tan stick on our window. We had just hiked through mountain trials and there was plenty of sticks and leaf litter everywhere but there was something about this particular twig . . .

This little guy was on our window

This little guy was on our window

For one thing it was vertical on the window screen and the oddness of it made me stop to take a closer look. Quickly looking around for a source plant, I noticed that there weren’t any trees nearby that would match that type of thin light tan stick. The closest trees where more evergreen and oak-like than this reedy looking tan twig. As I drew closer, I grinned. I had fallen for the illusion–it was not a dead twig as I had originally thought. It was not even from a plant. It was a living moving and incredibly fragile stick insect!

This wild “stick bug” was almost as long as my hand and was just hanging out on our screen. We had walked through forests and trees for hours earlier and had only heard some bird calls from a distance. I had been a bit disappointed that we hadn’t seen much of anything interesting or unusual on our hike. But now here I was right back at our cabin and here was an animal I had never seen in the wild. And it had never even crossed my mind to think that stick insects were native to Running Springs, California. Did you know that stick insects can live in most of the world? They are found (in different shapes, sizes, and colors) from North America to Southeast Asia, the tropics to the subtropical regions of our world.

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Along Came a Spider

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A large spider clung tightly to her web

The morning was bright and cheerful and very few people were out when I went for a nature walk this morning. The green grass and the blue sky were inviting and the shimmering shaking of the golden aspen leaves were delightful. Everything was peaceful. It couldn’t be better. Nothing could go wrong in this kind of beauty.

And that was when I saw it. Out of the corner of my eye a slight flash of light. A warning. It instantly triggered hundreds of similar warning messages and memories. . . SPIDER. It was the white of the early October sunlight reflecting on a thin strand of web. But it was too late!

I already had broken the thread and shuddering I stepped back. Hesitating, I looked up wondering where the rest of the web was. Above my head and to the left wobbled a loosely hanging web, it wobbled and swayed as a bulbous red brown body clung for dear life in the center. Only a few moments had passed but the damage was done. The beautiful web had been destroyed by my carelessness and a large orb weaver’s world was rocked. Continue Reading →

Concert for the Cats with Marilyn Fordney

California State Senator Fran Pavley chatting with Jeff Sikich with his arms folded.

California State Senator Fran Pavley chatting with Jeff Sikich with his arms folded.

On Saturday, September 24, 2016, the director and assistant director of this nonprofit participated in a fund raising event. Julie and Michael Newsome, a lovely couple, opened their Westlake Village home giving everyone a warm welcome. This event was held to benefit both local mountain lion research and wildlife crossing project. The plan is a huge undertaking in that it is a wildlife bridge that will act as a corridor erected over the 101 Freeway at Liberty Canyon. It is desperately needed because every year many animals (rabbits, coyotes, mountain lions) die trying to cross the freeway. Such corridors constructed in other parts of the world have proven to be successful. This diminishes inbreeding that can develop into many other problems that humans eventually have to solve. It may take an estimated $17 to $50 million dollars and will be the largest wildlife corridor in the world when completed. When the north and south wilderness areas are connected animal breeding can improve and plants can receive pollination and grow undisturbed.

The event was well attended. This indicates that residents and politicians alike care about wildlife and wilderness conservation. Some political attendees were California State Senator, Fran Pavley, who is a pioneer of this project and Al Adam who is on the Thousand Oaks City Council. They are always ready to protect, preserve, improve, and make a better life for the people of the Conejo Valley. Continue Reading →

Nature’s Collectors and Hoarders

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Blue Jay storing his food

Happy Fall everyone! The leaves are turning colors, the weather is “starting” to get cooler, and animals are beginning to prepare for winter. Last week we got to see some jays storing their seeds and nuts. Jays are not the only animal to display this “collecting” or “hoarding” behavior, many other birds and even rodents will store food. Scientists also call this type of behavior “caching” because these animals will store a cache of food. Sometimes they will do this in times of surplus for a time in the future when food will be less plentiful–other times animals will store food because it needs to ripen.

Rodents (squirrels, hamsters, and mice) will hoard their food using different strategies. Hamsters will use a single location or a “larder” to store their food. Usually, their larder is in their nest where they live and have easy access to their stores of food. The downside of this technique is that other animals can easily raid or steal from the single food source. Usually, this means that the animals which use the larder hoarding must be very defensive of their territory and hoard. Continue Reading →

Wilderness Journal: Visiting Bald Eagles at Lake Casitas

Our Eagle Sighting Group, ready to go!

It is June and some members of the Resource Conservation District of the Santa Monica Mountains, their families, and friends accompanied us to Lake Casitas to visit and see the bald eagle parents and their offspring. Luckily we had a caravan of three cars on a gorgeous bright sunny day with minimal clouds and light traffic. We started out from Agoura Hills, California at 7:30 AM to be sure to arrive early to see the wildlife and hopefully see the baby eagles (eaglets) getting fed.

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A bald eagle’s messy nest, high up in the trees.

Upon arrival, we could see the giant eagle’s nest high in the Eucalyptus tree and one of the parents on a branch adjacent to the nest. When entering Lake Casitas, the road to the left follows around so one can park quite near to view the nest and with binoculars can view the two little baby eagles. The mother eagle could be seen high in the sky carrying towards the nest a “duck roast.” We were just in time to see the baby’s breakfast banquet. Continue Reading →

Wilderness Journal: Springtime in the Wetlands

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The rabbits bound away.

After the misty morning fog and clouds had worn off, all was perfectly still. The bright blue sky was the perfect invitation for a walk through the Bolsa Chica Wetlands. And with the sun out, I was not the only one in the wetlands. Springtime means baby animals and several baby bunnies bounded by with their white cotton tails bobbing behind them. Sneaking through a hole under the fence they vanished into the undergrowth.

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Birding: Lake Casitas through a Lens

During a recent trip to Lake Casitas Alex, Winkie and Panda discovered an amazing amount of birds and other wildlife. Pictured below are some of the unique and wonderful local species and several visitors for the season!

Wilderness Observation: Drought in California Chaparral

When I visited my grandparents for Thanksgiving a couple weeks ago, we took a family hike up in the chaparral region near Ojai and Lake Casitas. Growing up we visited that area incredibly frequently, but I had not been there in over 3 years! My grandparents had lived there for many years and I was very familiar with the trees and the wildlife that live there. If you have never visited, I highly recommend it. It is an incredibly beautiful example of our native California wildlife and of the incredible native plant species. While we were hiking we saw quails, migrating birds, pomegranate trees, mistletoe, California live oaks, western sycamore trees, coyote bush, and many other plants and animals.

 LAKE CASITAS BOAT RAMP FAR-FAR OUT OF THE PRESENT WATER LEVEL.

Lake Casitas boat ramp far from the water level

But as we walked, it became increasingly apparent that the California drought we have been experiencing has taken a toll on the native plants. While the open grasslands were beautiful and amber colored, the dry grasses only scratched the surface of the lack of water. The drought is evident in the withered plants, in the stressed leaves, and in the dry grasses. Then there were the trees that broke up the dry grasses. The tall oak and western sycamore trees and others broke up the dry yellowed stalks of grasses. But their green leaves were curled up or clustered in small bunches. Many trees had lost a good majority of their leaves prematurely—not due to fall. Those that were still with leaves upon closer inspection had marks of struggle, the leaves were browned or broken or insect eaten/diseased. These trees are fighting so hard to survive in an extended four year (at least) extreme drought period! Continue Reading →