Urban Raccoons in Winter
I hadn’t seen the raccoons that live in the Riverside Park retaining wall for some time.
I believe their numbers were cut down during the great raccoon rabies epidemic of 2010. I once saw as many as six raccoons come out of this hole, like clowns from a clown car. But lately, I’ve seen only two.
And for the past few weeks, I haven’t seen any.
Watching raccoons in winter is a bit trickier than in spring or summer. In wintry weather, raccoons may curl up in their dens for days at a stretch, sleeping away the cold. But in a bizarrely mild winter like the current one, the reason I haven’t seen them is more likely due to the simple fact that I don’t walk regularly in the park after dark.
Raccoons, even in New York City, are primarily nocturnal creatures, emerging as the sun sets to start their day. In summer, when light lingers well after nine pm, they are easy to spot on a leisurely evening dog walk.
But in February, night closes in on the city before dinner, let alone before the evening walk.
And though I love the park at night, caution has been etched into my city soul by growing up and living in Manhattan throughout the 60s, 70s and 80s. I try to be reasonably cautious, limiting my night walks in the park which, in turn, limits my opportunities for raccoon sightings and other strange night visions.
But after not seeing the raccoons for a while, I started to wonder: Are they healthy? Are they even there? So a couple of weeks ago, the dog and I went into the park shortly after dusk on several mild days to seek them. And there they were, looking as healthy as ever. (I’ve enhanced the photos, as most were too dark to see.)
One raccoon was already a little distance north on the wall,
while the other seemed to be backing out of the den.
It turned around and took in the view. After watching for a while longer, we left.
But wait. It was only later when I looked at my photos that I realized, a la David Hemming in Antonioni’s Blow-up, that there was a third pair of eyes, glowing in the darkness of the den.
Let’s enhance that photo, and see who’s there.
So it appears that at least three raccoons are living in the den this winter.
We’ll have to wait and see what spring brings.
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