Archive for March, 2010

The coywolf, groundhog and black squirrel we’ve been following have all done pretty well in the last week.

The coyote captured in SoHo last week (and probably the same one that’s been lurking around Central Park this winter) got released in Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx, where a pack already lives, the city’s pre-eminent wildlife rehabber Bobby Horvath says. This young female may have been part of that pack, but was pushed out in mating season. Three coyotes were spotted up at Columbia University this winter.  One was hit by a car on 130th Street and another may still be out there.

The groundhog that turned up on the street near the Soho Grand is doing fine, awaiting release into Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx. No one is sure how the woodchuck turned up there, but the staff caught him and gave him a dog crate. Bill–as I call him, though he may well be female–turns out to be quite healthy. He enjoys apples, chestnuts and acorns, but shuns the greens he is supposed to like. Bill lunges at the cage bars when I hang around too much–proving that he’s quite healthy and most likely not a misbegotten pet.

Bobby researched where groundhogs live in the city–where I’m required to release him. He only found evidence in Pelham Bay Park, Van Cortlandt and Fort Tryon. I called a parks biologist to find the best place to release him. At first he was unsure whether I’d be allowed to release him in the park at all, then confirmed I could. He suggested a nice field in Van Cortlandt.

Black Squirrel

Mickey, the black squirrel who came to me with bottom teeth grown into her top gums, is getting stronger. She had a top tooth, lost it and now has one back again. She is an odd duck, preferring to throw out the padding I put in her cardboard box; most squirrels can’t stuff enough junk in their makeshift houses. I got her a lovely cedar house that she repeatedly rejected. Until all of a sudden she decided she loved it and didn’t want to leave. Since then she comes out only to eat–though she prefers I just hand-feed her avocado at her house door–and to pee on her roof. I take that as a sign she likes the house.

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To animal tourists, Yellowstone National Park is Mecca, with a Broadway show that also somehow includes the the U.S. Capitol. You have to go once; it’s spectacular, important, historical. But most Americans don’t ever get to go. If you do go, chances are you can’t stay as long as you’d like. So, even though it’s a wildlife wonderland, you may want to hire a guide so you don’t miss out.

Normally animaltourism.com focuses on seeing animals close to where people live in cities and suburbs. Anybody can tell you there are a lot of bears in Alaska or Wyoming. (And too many guide books give that kind of impractical and expensive advice.) But since my husband and I are planning a trip to Yellowstone, I’m checking out all the options there and assembling a guide to the guides.

These guides are expensive. But these are the people that know Yellowstone wildlife intimately, professionally and may be able to save you from an afternoon hoping for a bear jam. If you’re only traveling with a couple people, the science centers seem ideal. The private tours are generally priced for groups of four to six, making them two to three times more expensive for couples.  I’m sure this chart will grow and I’d like to focus on each in depth.

Check out the chart of Yellowstone Guides

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The entertaining part of being a wildlife rehabilitator–aside from aside from all that helping animals whose lives have been thrown off course by humans–is the crazy phone calls. Right in Manhattan I’ve gotten calls about “a bird someone told me is an eagle,” a baby skunk, a few possums, a handful of raccoons and pretty much every baby bird one neighbor ever sees. Today I got call from the SoHo Grand–a hotel more known for celebrities than wildlife–about a groundhog they found out on West Broadway.
In what little experience I have, I have learned that New Yorkers do not know their animals. Every call I get for a baby squirrel, I fear I am going to pick up a rat. But, much to my amazement, tonight I have a Manhattan groundhog sitting in a dog crate in my living room, awaiting release.
The people at the SoHo Grand couldn’t have been nicer–to me or the marmot. They captured her (or him) off the street, despite the animal’s screaming, because they figured leaving her there would be cruel. (They used to call them whistle pigs.) They gave her a nice crate, water, carrots and apples. Their theory was that she climbed into somebody’s trunk, then unwittingly stowed away into Manhattan. There was some speculation that she had somehow escaped a Chinatown kitchen. Groundhogs can move faster than you think, but I doubt one could make its way into Manhattan like the coyote.

I talked to Bobby Horvath, the kindest and most experienced wildlife rehabber in New York. He was surprised the groundhog let itself be caught. “Picture a squirrel, times 10,” he said, describing the difficulty of catching one without equipment. Bobby suggested I keep her till the rain stops in a day, just to be sure she’s okay, while he figures out a decent release site. Meanwhile, I put a plate of food in her cage. She sat on it. I looked at her near the bars. She lunged at me. I think she’ll be fine.

Where to See Wild Animals Around New York City

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Kailani finds goodies in an old stump.  Monty Sloan/ Wolfpark.org

The Easter Bunny visits Indiana’s Wolf Park this weekend, but don’t worry about his personal safety.
The park assures visitors “The Easter Bunny will hop into the wolf enclosure (the wolves will be elsewhere) and will hide Easter eggs for the wolves to find (after the Bunny leaves).” Whew!

The non-profit, educational park is really clever in coming up with events that both keep wolves busy and gently persuade the public to enjoy wolves instead of fearing them. They recently had a Twilight event, give the wolves pumpkins at Halloween, have a communal birthday party (all the wolves are born around the same time) and have overnight kids camps.

Volunteer Caity did let us in on an Easter secret: the wolves prefer other treats to the traditional colored hard-boiled eggs (just like people!). Wolves go for peeps and sausages. “The eggs are not necessarily their favorites, but they do look really cute,” Caity says. The wolves catch onto the game right away. “They’re very inquisitive,” she says. “Some are braver than others when it comes to exploring new items, but they all  pretty quickly notice it is food.”

The event, now in its eighth year, also includes Easter egg hunts for kids–no sausage included.

Where to Go To See Wolves
See More Animals in the Midwest

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Photo from 1010 Wins

Cops captured a coyote in lower Manhattan Thursday and are holding the young female at least overnight. She may be released into Van Cortlandt Park as early as Friday night, people who were in on the discussions say. Right now she’s sleeping off tranquilizers at Animal Care and Control.

Dumping the coyote in the Bronx may sound like Manhattan just dumping its unpleasantries in an outer borough, but there’s solid reasoning to it. Most New Yorkers don’t realize that Van Cortlandt and Pelham Bay Park already have coyote populations. 

No one is sure if this is the same coyote that’s been hanging around Central Park the last couple months. My guess is that it is. One thing that surprised most people is that the coyote turned out to be a female. People had figured the Central Park coyote as a young male who got pushed out of his territory by dominant males in mating season.

But it does seem that the Central Park Coyote was out and about yesterday. Bruce Yolton said the Central Park coyote–who has a habit of leaving the Hallett Nature Preserve just after dusk–was seen wandering around the preserve woods at lunch yesterday. On Wednesday 1010 says the canine was spotted down near the Holland Tunnel, but evaded cops. Of all the ways a coyote could get into Manhattan, I don’t think the Holland Tunnel was high on anyone’s list.  Cops finally caught her Thursday in a parking lot on Canal Street near the West Side Highway, The Daily News reports.

Getting caught outside the park may be her lucky break. The Central Park may have been slated for immediate death and rabies testing  for the coyote because of the outbreak of rabies in Central Park’s raccoons. The Health Department may still decide the coyote should stay in quarantine for 10 days to make sure she shows no rabies symptoms.

1010 also quotes a vet saying this is a coydog–half coyote, half dog. That’s not quite right. Genetic tests on similar animals have shown they aren’t “wild dog,” but a mix of western coyote and the eastern wolf that was wiped out. No coywolf has successfully moved to Manhattan, but there are at least two packs in parks in the Bronx. They may move this one out, but another will be sure to try to take over the real estate again.

Where to See Wild Animals Around New York City

Read more about coywolves
Read about the coywolf from its original tracker, Urban Hawks

Check out the Eastern Coyote Research center

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Unbeknownst to Molly, a young barn owl mother, about 2 million people are scrutinizing her egg-sitting, feeding and every move, day and night, asking questions and offering critiques about every 30 seconds. Since January, when Molly moved into a backyard owl box in San Marcos, CA, the box’s landlords started adding progressively more advanced photo equipment, culminating in the live streaming camera at Ustream, which has had about 2 million views.

Viewers won’t be disappointed. Molly fusses over her eggs–and now two chicks–like a Park Slope parent. She incessantly gets up to rearrange herself, providing a glimpse of the chicks. Her mate arrives just after sunset with dinner–once a whole rabbit. 

A retired couple, Carlos and Donna Royal, have been waiting for just such a visitor for years. “We have a very eco-friendly backyard; we live on an acre lot with lots of trees and plants for wildlife,” they say in their Ustream profile. “We have had kestrels, bluebirds, hummingbirds, phoebes, wild ducks, killdeer and mockingbirds all nest and raise their young in our habitat. We do not have any cats or dogs to disturb the wildlife.”

Carlos, a former real estate broker,  told the San Diego Union-Tribune that they put up the house two years ago, but got no tenants. Then in January a neighbor asked if they heard the owls screeching in a storm. With the help of their teenage grandson, they added a camera on the outside of the box, then an infrared camera and hooked it up to the internet. (Since Ustream is free, the whole arrangement probably only costs a less than $300.)

The Royals, who had a casual backyard blog Birds R Us before Molly, are clearly having a good time with their owl family. Back when Molly was a just a smalltime internet spectacle with 33,000 fans, they declared her “the most famous barn owl in the world.” They sell Molly Merchandise. They’ve changed their blog profile to suit Molly. The author’s occupation is listed as laying eggs, her favorite movie: The Birds.

Live TV : Ustream

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When you hear a report of a unexpected animal or bird showing up someplace, is it because they really moving into new places? Or did we just become better spotters? Or maybe it was the biological authorities who became less dismissive of citizen scientists? That was the gist of what ornithologist Shibail Mitra mulled over at a lecture at the Linnean Society of New York last night.

Mitra, who a biology professor at the College of Staten Island, came down for the citizen scientists, showing through several bird species examples how official guides willfully overlooked several species–counting them as an unremarkable subspecies, invasive escaped pets or just rare lost souls. Then when a committee somewhere declared it was a legitimate species, people started reporting more of them.

Barnacle Goose  Branta leucopsis

Courtesy of Ucumari

This bird breeds in Greenland, so its appearances early in the 20th Century were written off as escaped pets. Serious birders would put parentheses around them on their lists because they didn’t really count. Now they’re showing up more than once a year and records counters are accepting them.

Cackling Goose Branta hutchinsii

The Cackling Goose was dismissed as a a subspecies of the Canada Goose. So nobody counted it and it was “grossly overlooked,” Mitra says. Then in 2004 the American Ornithology Union decided that this much smaller bird that breeds in the arctic and winters in the west from Oregon to Mexico really is a separate species. That manmade distinction always makes the birds more interesting to people,  Mitra says.

Arctic Tern Sterna paradisaea

Courtesy of Reders

Arctic terns were seldom recorded before the seventies by the birding authorities. They were at best a celebrity vagrant–a bird that quickly becomes the object of desire and gossip among birders. (The Central Park coywolf is certainly New York City’s celebrity vagrant of the moment.) Then sub-adult Arctic terns started showing up where and when nobody expected them: on Long Island beaches in mid-summer. Not old enough to breed, these adolescents don’t have to keep up with the rigorous arctic to Antarctica schedule of adults, so they visit the Moriches Inlet.

“When people did not have the predisposition to think they would find arctic terns,” Mitra says, “they did not find arctic terns.”

There was much grumbling in the crowd toward the arrogance and whimsy of the ornithological authorities that seem to have birders under their thumb. Assuming that we know more than we really do about the species in an area can lead to lousy identification and conservation. If you assume you know exactly what birds, plants and animals need protecting, you may only protect their specialized habitat and overlook more prosaic landscapes that will save an animal you haven’t thought of 100 years from now. Of course, this kind of thinking is what leads to boring wildlife preserves, but better mundane preserves than none at all.

Where to See Wild Animals Around New York City

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