Archive for February 2010

NYC Snow Day Brings News of Central Park Raccoons and Coyotes

February 27, 2010

The Parks Department declares Saturday an official Snow Day, and is providing free sleds and hot cocoa at several parks, including Riverside at 103rd.

Snow Day!

Esay trees a squirrel

Esau and I went by to check it out.

We ran into Sunny and Sheriden, our Urban Park Ranger friends, who were supervising the happy sledders from the bottom of the hill.

As always, I was delighted to see them and, of course, pumped them for the latest on Central Park’s rabid raccoons and visiting coyotes.

Raccoon Update

In a little over a week, USDA biologists have already trapped, vaccinated, tagged and released around seventy raccoons in Central Park. Seventy!  Add in the sixty rabid raccoons collected since December 2009, and it’s pretty clear that the total Central Park raccoon population must be well into the hundreds. This extraordinary population density has undoubtedly contributed to the rapidity with which the disease has spread.

One raccoon, already tagged and vaccinated, found its way into a trap for a second time. Since it was injured (not related to the trapping, as far as I know), researchers euthanized it. Tests revealed that it was rabid. This doesn’t mean the inoculation failed, but rather that the raccoon had been infected prior to being vaccinated. Since rabies shows no symptoms until it reaches the brain (at which point the raccoon has only a few days to live), a number of infected but still apparently healthy animals are likely to be trapped, vaccinated and released. The disease will kill them, but meanwhile they may continue to infect healthy, as-yet-unvaccinated raccoons.

Still, I’m impressed with the city’s response and the cooperative effort of state and local agencies. I remain hopeful that the virus will be contained and our raccoon population, dramatically culled by disease, will again be healthy.

Sheriden also said that since the snowstorm, some of Central Park’s raccoons are finding their usual secretive pathways too deep in snow for comfort, and are taking to the main walkways of the park. She’s guessing they’ll be getting more calls than usual over the next couple of days as healthy raccoons that just don’t want to get their feet wet waddle down the same paths as rabies-conscious New Yorkers who are trying to steer clear of the wildlife.

Coyote Update

The Central Park coyote (or coyotes, since no one is quite sure how many there are) continues to run free. It is reported to be quite shy of people. Sunny saw it once down at the south end of the park, playing with the snow. She said no one is trying to catch it, at the moment; they’re concentrating on the raccoons. And both she and Sheriden seemed to be hoping that it might be allowed to stay. I have to assume, though, that officials are considering the unfortunate possibility that the coyote may contract rabies from the raccoons.

Whatever the eventual fate of 2010′s coyotes, evidence is mounting that coyotes are adapting to east coast city life. Ball’s in our court. We city dwellers had better start figuring out how we can adapt to them.

Keep checking back for the upcoming series on coyotes in the east.

Coyote Update: Central Park, Columbia University, Highbridge Park

February 24, 2010

The Central Park coyote is still here.

No further word on the three Columbia University animals. They seem to have melted into their city surroundings. They may have made their way to a park. On February 13th, a coyote was spotted at Highbridge Park up at the northern end of Manhattan. Is it one of the three Columbia coyotes or is it yet another visitor? No one knows. But it’s clear we have at least four coyotes on the island.

Gapstow Bridge over the Pond

The Central Park coyote has been seen most often on the frozen Pond at the south end of the park, near the Hallett Nature Sanctuary.

Hallett is a four-acre wooded area that is closed to the public to protect wildlife.

The coyote has also been seen at numerous locations in the park, including the Great Hill and the Pool up at the northern end.

Northern end of Central Park

I imagine that in the quiet of the night and early pre-dawn hours, our coyote can cover the entire park with ease.

Bruce Yolton of Urban Hawks shot new video of the coyote on the frozen Pond earlier this week. There’s something strange and poignant about seeing it play all alone with a discarded plastic bottle as lights from a passing emergency vehicle reflect on the ice. Bruce maintains that the nearby Nature Sanctuary “would be a perfect place for the Coyote to sleep during the day and was the favorite spot of the 2006 Coyote, Hal.”

Visit Urban Hawks to watch the video and see new photos.

Central Park Coyote, Bruce Yolton/urbanhawks.com

Then check back at “Out walking the dog” to read the start of a series on urban coyotes that will eventually include a little history on the Eastern Coyote, speculation on why they’re moving into these mean streets and what the future holds for city dwellers, both human and wild canid.

Meanwhile, remember: LEAVE THE WILDLIFE ALONE!  Don’t approach or feed our coyotes or raccoons. Most problems – forget the rabies for a minute – stem from humans providing food for wild animals. Animals then lose their natural fear of us, look on us as a food source and become bold and demanding.

But hey, even Esau gets that way when people give him too many treats.

Forever Wild Esau

Final Irresistible Snow Being

February 20, 2010

Seen on the street right in front of a west side building

Beautiful Being with Car Light Lips

For more snow beings, visit Snow Beings Appear in Riverside Park and More NYC Snow Beings Linger After Winter Storm.

NYC Vaccinating Raccoons To Stop Rabies Epidemic

February 18, 2010

I spoke Tuesday with Dr. Sally Slavinski of the NYC Health Department to get the latest on the city’s response to the swiftly spreading rabies situation. I will write a more detailed post as soon as I can find time, but here is the news in a nutshell, with few details, few photos and little discussion.

As of February 10, 39 rabid raccoons have been found in Manhattan in 2010, most of them in or around Central Park. Add in 2009′s rabid raccoons, and the number is a staggering 49. (A number that makes us wonder just how large is the Central Park raccoon population – but that’s for a later post.)

Central Park raccoon by dscape/Flickr.com

One person and one dog have been bitten, and received post-exposure treatment. Another person received treatment after attempting to care for a sick raccoon. (In another post, I’ll fill you in on the latest from conspiracy theorists, who believe the city intentionally introduced rabies to justify eradicating a healthy raccoon population. Or something like that.)

So what is the city doing? On February 16th, in a multi-agency collaboration with the USDA, the Parks Department and the Central Park Conservancy, the Department of Health began a trap-vaccinate-release program to vaccinate raccoons in Central Park against rabies.

For the next four to eight weeks, raccoons will be caught in live traps that are strategically placed in less accessible areas of the park. The animals will be vaccinated on the spot by USDA workers, given ear tags for identification, and released back into their home environment. Raccoons that appear sick will be euthanized and tested for rabies.  The program will expand to include Morningside Park (two reported cases) and Riverside Park (no reported cases).

In summer 2010, a second phase of trap-vaccinate-release will be launched to vaccinate baby raccoons born this spring.

Raccoons that are already infected will die within days of showing symptoms. If we can stop the cycle of transmission through inoculation, we can, theoretically, eradicate the virus. At least, for now. And when the next rabid raccoon follows the Amtrak corridor into Manhattan, our local raccoons will already be immunized.

Snowed-in Raccoon Den in Riverside Park

I checked to be sure the Department of Health had plans to immunize the five raccoons I watch in Riverside, and am happy to report that a location has already been selected for a trap.

Much more to come. But meanwhile, if you come upon a trap in the park, leave it alone. Call 311 if the trap holds a raccoon. Also call 311 if you see a raccoon that appears sick or is behaving strangely. But leave the wildlife alone.

Esau imagines himself as King, Sergeant Preston of the Yukon's lead sled dog

And be sure your dog’s rabies vaccination is up to date.

Scientia Pro Publica, or Science for the People

February 16, 2010

Out walking the dog’s December post, The Drey Report, is included in the latest edition of Scientia Pro Publica 21: Darwin’s 201st Birthday Edition.It’s hosted by GrrlScientist at her blog, Living the Scientific Life (Scientist Interrupted).

Hard to believe the great man was born over 200 years ago.

Scientia Pro Publica is a bi-monthly blog carnival devoted to publishing science, nature and medical writing that communicates to the interested public.  Wide-ranging categories include Neurobiology, Evolution, Science and Society, Medicine, Invertebrates, Mammals, and more. So check it out, all you scientists, science lovers and just plain curious people.

On another front, I am hoping soon to have hard facts about the trap-vaccinate-release program planned (or maybe already underway in Central Park) for Manhattan’s raccoons.

Last Friday, I called the NYC Department of Health in search of someone who could answer my many questions. I did not get beyond the publicity department. But I learned that a press release is being issued this week, and I am on the list for interviews.

It’s wild in the streets, people. Keep your eyes peeled for rabid raccoons and hungry coyotes.

Seed Pods and Eyeballs: Festival of the Trees #45

February 13, 2010

3/1/2010: The following post is part of Festival of the Trees #45, a blog carnival hosted this week by The Voltage Gate. Visit and enjoy!

I really don’t know trees. Luckily, a friend gave me a New York City tree book for Christmas, and I am starting to use it.

Now I can answer a reader’s recent question about the eyeballs of this fashion-forward snow being.

Sweetgum with identification tag

No, dear reader, the lovely creature’s eyes are not bottle caps, although bottle caps would make starry eyes.

These eyes are hard, spiky seed pods from a Sweetgum tree.

Sometimes called alligator trees for the scaly, reptilian-skin look of their bark, sweetgums (according to my trusty field guide) ooze a “sweet-smelling, balsamic liquid” that has been used for a variety of medicinal purposes and for chewing gum.

Sweetgum seed pods have been falling from the trees since fall. They’re all over the ground beneath the snow, and are still coming down.

It’s true they make fine-looking eyeballs, noses and buttons.

But their purpose, as far as the Sweetgum goes, is not to decorate snow people, but to release tiny seeds to the wind to grow into more Sweetgum trees. Each seed ball, while green and hanging on the tree, holds 40-60 seed capsules, and each capsule holds one or two seeds. When ripe, the seeds disperse, leaving behind holes in the seed pod, which you can make out in the blurry photo below.

Sweetgum pods have a lot of nicknames: gumballs, ankle biters, monkey balls, space bugs, ankle turners, and–my personal favorite–porcupine eggs.

They remind me of mysterious southern nuts and seedpods encountered while out walking the dog in Texas. In a stiff wind, heavy pods showered down around us like hail, while others scuttled after us along the sidewalk like misshapen bugs.

Update on Wildlife After the Storm and Friday Ark Blog Carnival

February 12, 2010

Raccoons seem to be sleeping through the Big Snow. As of this morning, several inches of snow piled on the ledge outside their retaining wall den appeared undisturbed by any entrances or exits.

A few squirrels, on the other hand, are out and about as are sparrows, many junkos, the omnipresent Riverside Downy woodpecker, a cardinal, two mourning doves and rock doves.

Friday news: Out walking the dog is participating in the Friday Ark, a weekly blog carnival about animals of all kinds, including mammals, birds, reptiles, invertebrates and anything else you can think of.  Stop by the Ark on Fridays to visit the animals. Our submission is a post from last week in which Esau encounters an elephant.

More NYC Snow Beings Linger After Winter Storm

February 11, 2010

Happy American Gothic

Yesterday afternoon:

NY Giants fan strolls toward Riverside Churchtower

Last night at 108th Street

Neighborhood Snow Day

And more snow beings…

Bosomy Snow Being

Spliff Being

Monsieur Gauloise and Chien

Esau Explores Igloo

Snow Beings Appear in Riverside Park

February 10, 2010

It’s snowing! And snowing and snowing and …

A community of Snow Beings is born

Check back later for more from the Big Snow.

Coyotes: Columbia University and Central Park

February 8, 2010

Three coyotes were spotted on Columbia University’s Morningside Heights campus on Sunday morning. You read that right. Three! As far as I know, this is the first time a pack of coyotes has made its way into Manhattan. I’m impressed.

Police officers responded, but only spotted one, walking behind the Schapiro Center for Engineering and Physical Science Research.

I hope Saint John the Divine keeps their lovely, free-ranging peacocks indoors for a while.

White peacock at St. John's by jskrybe/Flickr.com

Well, a trio of coyotes in the hood certainly puts a whole new spin on the Central Park coyote. Did a pack cross into Manhattan together? Is the Central Park coyote a member of the three-dog Columbia coyote pack? Just how many coyotes are there wandering about in upper Manhattan?

As far as we know this Monday morning, however many there are, they’re all still free and livin’ la vida loca in the heart of the city.

Last Friday, Esau and I went coyote-hunting in Central Park’s North Woods. No coyotes, but plenty of flyers with a cute drawing of a raccoon surrounded by the ominous words: Rabies Advisory:

Leave wildlife alone

All the official-looking people we talked to affirmed that the coyote was still out there…somewhere.  A Central Park Conservancy guy, tooling around in a golf cart, responded to our questions by asking if we knew Paul. No, we replied. Should we?

Apparently, Paul and his dog were walking on the Great Hill Thursday morning when they noticed a peculiar-looking dog, watching them from the other side of the mesh fencing. The coyote. When they resumed walking, the animal shadowed them, matching their pace and direction from its side of the fence.

At the ravine, we are amazed by the size of this root ball from a tree downed in last August’s freak storm.That mountain behind Esau is all root ball. Yowza.

Giant root ball

We wandered to the pool, where Bruce Yolton took last week’s photos of coyote on ice. We didn’t see the predator, but we did see some nice-looking prey:

Mallards in open water

When they’re not swimming, the mallards loaf around on the edge of the ice, like neighborhood corner guys, waiting for something interesting to happen.

Unfortunately, I’m not sure these quackers would recognize interesting unless it jumped up and bit them. Literally. They certainly seem blase about Esau’s presence. I’m guessing they’d make easy pickings for a hungry coyote.

But then, NYC is full of easy pickings, whether in the parks or on the streets. Especially on trash night when the big black bags are piled high. If Esau has caught rats on 108th Street, while leashed, a wild coyote would surely have a field day, and do us all a favor, in the process.

Coyote in Central Park

February 5, 2010

A coyote is on the run in Central Park.

As of yesterday, unsubstantiated reports claimed that park workers were trying to capture him. Sadly, given the raccoon rabies epidemic in the park, officials will surely have to be concerned about the coyote being infected. In the past, he might have been released in a more coyote-friendly location. Is that still an option?  We hope so, perhaps after a period of quarantine to ensure health.  Testing for rabies requires brain tissue and  is always performed postmortem.

Poor fellow, I hope he has a good run.

Coyotes are frequent visitors to the Bronx, but how fantastic to have a large wild mammal running free in the heart of Manhattan.

For more about urban coyotes, here is a brief article with links to some interesting research projects: Urban Wildlife–Coyotes Adapt to Big City Living.  The amazing Bruce Yolton has posted photos on Urban Hawks of Central Park’s coyote who cuts a slim, scruffy yet somewhat elegant figure.

Check back for more info.

UPDATE: Three coyotes have been spotted on the Columbia University campus in Morningside Heights. Read more about Manhattan’s coyotes.

Lost World Resurfaces in Riverside Park: Friday Ark #282

February 4, 2010

A recent walk led to an astonishing discovery, further evidence of the Lost World of Riverside Park.

Esau's Discovery

The beast was completely hidden at the base of a tree, high on a slope below the retaining wall near 112th Street.

Two Gray Beasts

So now we wonder … do elephants nest in the retaining wall?

Elephant's coloring may have evolved as adaptation to Riverside Park habitat

Added 2/12/2010: This post is part of the Friday Ark #282, a blog carnival of animals of all kinds, from mammals to reptiles to invertebrates and more. Do stop by the Ark every Friday and visit the animals!

Festival of the Trees #44

February 1, 2010

Out walking the dog is delighted to be part of Festival of the Trees #44 with a post from last fall:  Meet the Trees of Riverside Park.

Festival of the Trees is a wonderful phenomenon known as a blog carnival. Posts from different bloggers on a specified theme (uh, trees in this case) are collected by a host who organizes and posts them. There’s a new Festival of the Trees every month, each time hosted by a different blogger. It’s a little hard to explain, but trust me, it’s very cool.


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