Posted tagged ‘nyc raccoons’

Raccoon Carries Baby in Riverside Park

April 7, 2013

Last night I saw something I’d never seen before: a mother raccoon carrying her tiny baby in her mouth.

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The photos, sadly, are blurry. My camera had run out of battery, so I had only my iPhone, which doesn’t do well in low light.

I entered the park just as the sun was setting over the Hudson River.

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I scanned the great retaining wall for raccoons.

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The setting sun illuminated the entrance to a den, but no animals were visible.

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We walked south for a while, then returned to take another look at the wall. A short distance from the primary den, a raccoon was moving on the wall, carrying something in its mouth. My first thought, oddly, perhaps, was that it was carrying some kind of prey. But no, this was a baby raccoon, dangling from the mother’s mouth twenty feet above the ground.

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The mother carried it gingerly along the wall. At last, she ducked into a hole and disappeared.  Loud, deep growling sounds came from the wall. Clearly the hole was occupied. It sounded like pigs grunting. I worried that the baby might be injured by the surly host.

The dog, tied up a short distance away, was fascinated by the rather alarming sounds.

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After some time, the mother emerged, the baby still dangling from her mouth, and continued heading north along the wall. It’s not easy to walk on that wall, even without a baby in your mouth. She went almost all the way to the top.

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 I could see the head of a pedestrian who strolled along the uppermost promenade, unaware of of the raccoons just a few feet below. Then the mother carefully made her way down the great wall until she reached the ground. Skirting the base of the wall, she continued north on all fours, moving much faster than she could on the vertical surface of the wall.

I left the mother and her baby to their night’s journey. I am guessing that, for whatever reason, she was seeking out a new den, or perhaps, a second den. I hope she found what she was looking for. If there were other babies to be moved, I hope she managed to go back and get them all safely settled. No matter how much wildlife behavior we are lucky enough to observe, there is so much more that goes on unobserved. Mystery remains, even deepens, and every observation raises new questions that keep me coming back to the park, and back to the animals.

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I believe this is the mother raccoon, seen here ten days ago.

Good luck, mama.

For much more on New York City’s raccoons, see the raccoon archives.

NYC’s Riverside Park Raccoons Emerge

March 21, 2013

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By the end of winter, I’m missing my regular sightings of Riverside Park’s raccoons.

There are a couple of reasons I don’t see raccoons in winter as often as the rest of the year. The first reason is my schedule. Dusk comes so early I’m rarely in the park at the right time to see these nocturnal creatures emerge from their den in the retaining wall. The second reason is that raccoons tend to be less active in the coldest months and, during the coldest days, may stay curled up in the den rather than venturing out to feed and explore.

By mid-March, days are longer and daylight savings time means that dusk comes well after 7 PM. I’m happy to report I’m seeing raccoons again. (Please forgive some blurry photos – it was pretty dark, and I’ve had to enhance the images to make the raccoon clearly visible.)

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On Sunday night, a solitary raccoon lumbered along the wall. I was struck by the pale, silvery color of its front legs and paws.

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It seemed to be moving rather more slowly and clumsily than usual.

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But it eventually made its way to its destination.

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And disappeared into a hole. Look to the right of the large hole to see the tail.

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Based on sightings from past years, there are certainly other raccoons in the wall. Before Manhattan’s raccoon rabies epidemic of 2009-2010, I once saw five or six raccoons emerge from a single hole in the wall. In recent years, I’ve seen no more than three. And this winter, I’ve seen only one at a time.

But spring is coming, and I’ll be watching.

Urban Raccoons in Winter

February 8, 2012

I hadn’t seen the raccoons that live in the Riverside Park retaining wall for some time.

Nice view.

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.

Two waschbären, or wash bears, as the Germans call raccoons. (from my archives)

And for the past few weeks, I haven’t seen any.

The raccoon den in February 2011 after a snowstorm.

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.

Riverside Park sunset over Hudson River

But in February, night closes in on the city before dinner, let alone before the evening walk.

Sparkling New Jersey

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.

A dog walks in the night park. (Its owner was not far behind.)

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,

Wall walker

while the other seemed to be backing out of the den.

Backing out the front door

It turned around and took in the view. After watching for a while longer, we left.

Who's watching whom?

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.

Mystery glow.

Let’s enhance that photo, and see who’s there.

Aha. Revelation.

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.

Check out the archives for lots more on NYC raccoons!

How Many Raccoons Live in Manhattan, Anyway?

October 3, 2011

So just how many of you guys are out here, anyway?

Back in 2010, I asked several wildlife experts how many raccoons were living in Central Park.  Not one would venture an answer. But the Great Raccoon Rabies Epizootic of 2009-2010 has apparently yielded enough data for an estimate.  Dr. Sally Slavinski of the NYC Department of Health places the population at close to 300 raccoons, according to a 2010 Powerpoint presentation that I unearthed on the web.

The estimate was based on analyzing the raccoons that were trapped and evaluated in the two-round Trap-Vaccinate-Release program managed by the USDA in 2010. Here’s a terrific video of the TVR Program in action in Central Park, narrated by Lee Humberg, Supervising Biologist with the USDA’s Wildlife Services.

The number of raccoons trapped was staggering.  A total of 460 raccoons were trapped in Round One (February 16th – April 9th, 2010).  Of those, a number were recaptured animals, meaning raccoons that had already been trapped, vaccinated, ear-tagged, and released – some more than once.  Over 50 were sick or injured animals that were euthanized and then submitted for rabies testing.  By October, 2010, more than 130 rabid raccoons had died of rabies.  When the USDA conducted a second round of TVR in early fall, they didn’t find a single sick raccoon, indicating the immunization program was preventing further spread of the disease.  The epidemic was over.

So how many raccoons were there, before the die-off?  My personal, unofficial guesstimate is upwards of 400 in Central Park and Riverside Park combined.  (How many raccoons make their home in the northern Manhattan parks of Inwood and Highbridge, I have no idea.)  When I returned to NYC in 2008, after almost 20 years away, the raccoon population was overflowing the natural boundaries of the parks. They were regularly seen running along the top of the Riverside Park retaining wall, eating trash out of dumpsters near the basketball courts, and hanging out in sidewalk trees on West 108th Street, a full block and a half from Riverside Park.  That means they were crossing busy Broadway.  Why would they do this?  Best guess: food.

John Marshall Mantel for The New York Times (click photo to go to article)

According to the New York Times in September 2008, raccoons were also turning up on 110th Street across from Central Park, to eat out of garbage cans and trash bags.  The sightings prompted a range of responses from superintendents (“I don’t know what to do; they’re big, like dogs,”) and residents (“They’re lonely and they don’t talk back”).  I speculate that the population had grown so large that some animals were venturing out of the protection of their park habitat in search of new food sources.  In New York City, you don’t have to go far to find some easy pickings.  Garbage is available 24 hours a day in the city that never sleeps, and is especially easy to come by on trash nights when plastic garbage bags line the sidewalks like miniature mountain ranges.

As a child living in New York in the 60s and 70, I don’t remember ever seeing a raccoon in the city or hearing anyone talk about seeing one.  I’m not saying raccoons weren’t here.  But if they were, their population must have been small enough to go unnoticed.  (If you ever encountered a raccoon in Manhattan in the decades before the 2000s, please let me know by leaving a comment below.)  As recently as 1995, Parks Commissioner Henry J. Stern estimated the total Central Park raccoon population at a mere twenty. Twenty!

Why the tremendous increase? I have some ideas, but need to do more research. (As ever, your speculation is welcome.)  Meanwhile, I’ve been delighted to see fewer raccoons on my walks in Riverside Park.  With no natural predators, there’s little to keep a wildlife population in check, and too many animals means they’re bound to start showing up where they’re not welcome – and that’s when people start seeing them as pests.  And as we have seen, when a population becomes too dense, disease easily sweeps through it. In the case of rabies, this places both wildlife and humans at risk.

Before the epidemic, I used to see five or six raccoons emerge from their den at dusk.  For a long time now, I’ve seen only one or two.  A week ago, one was chilling out at the usual spot.

Queen of all she surveys (or King, I don't really know)

And then a little further north, I spied a second, looking remarkably like a little man in a bear suit.

Ledge walker

This surprised me, because they usually hang out together.  And then, wait a minute, what’s this?  Two more raccoons.

Is there room for me?

Okay, let’s be sure the first raccoon is still in place at the regular den.

Yup, still there.

Still there.  So, hmmm.

Hey, careful with the face.

So who are you guys and where did you come from?

I’m guessing these are young raccoons just venturing out on their own, or two juveniles with their mother. But who knows?  Size is hard to estimate, particularly when they’re climbing around high on a wall. Well, I’m sure USDA will be launching follow-up vaccination campaigns.  Here’s hoping the new recruits stay healthy.

NYC Raccoon Sunset

September 2, 2011

One evening earlier this week, Esau and I strolled over to Riverside Park. The sun was already going down, and I thought with longing of those 15 hour days of June when daylight stretches into our nights. We’re down to 13-hour days now on our annual march to the puny gray 9-hour slivers that pass for winter days. I know, I know. The end of August is a little premature for the onset of my yearly Terror of the Shrinking Days. I’ll stave it off as long as I can. There will be plenty of time for obsessing over darkness come December.

The late summer sunset over the Hudson was a subtle beauty.

And the two raccoons that live high in the great retaining wall came out to enjoy it.

For a while, their fur was lit by the sun

as was the retaining wall itself

Raccoons begin their day as the sun goes down. Evening is morning for these two, who greeted the night with a little personal grooming

followed by some rather extensive inter-personal grooming

The Washer vigorously attacked the eyes, ears and neck of the Washed

which led to squirming on the part of the Washed and grabbing on the part of the Washer.

The Washer eventually interrupted the bath to perform some pretty serious self-scratching (most wild animals and birds host mites, fleas and other itch-inducing parasites), while the Washed looked on

The noise of a boisterous softball team traipsing up the otherwise quiet path set the raccoons on alert

and when a teenager, suddenly noticing the raccoons, made half-playful aggressive moves in their direction, they ducked swiftly inside their hole.

They peeped out again as soon as the team passed. But by then, the light was fading and patient Esau still awaited his walk. We ambled on, he and I, leaving the raccoons to their mysterious night business as the dusk slowly fell around us all.

Spring Fling in Morningside Park: Be Still, My Heart

April 24, 2010

I love Riverside Park. If you’ve been here before, you probably already know that.  I even wrote an ode to Riverside Park.

I love its Great Retaining Wall, full of raccoons and squirrels.

Riverside's retaining wall holds raccoons, squirrels and the occasional human.

I depend for my peace of mind on its sweeping views of the Hudson,

I love its – but this post is not about Riverside Park.

This post is about, well, there’s just no easy way to say this:

I’ve found a new love, and its name … is Morningside.

Maybe it’s just a springtime infatuation, fueled by the sight of nesting birds and soaring hawks, and the need to conduct a brief field study for my Ornithology class. Only time will tell if my love will endure.

But the fact is, I’ve tumbled hard for Morningside Park

I love the little pond where geese and ducks pal around with turtles and bullfrogs.

Goose and turtle

Big Daddy is easily eight inches long and very calm.

On one visit, I counted 40 basking turtles.

Heading for a drink

Grazing

Pigeons stroll along the path or forage on the grass with the geese.

Red-winged blackbirds perch on tall reeds in front of the little island, flashing their epaulets and calling like electrical wiring gone bad.

Egrets roost in the treetops

and hunt at the water’s edge

Morningside even has a magnificent Olmstead retaining walland mysterious old structures

It has beauty

It has danger

and it has mystery

O woe! Our feet have run away and left us.

Oh, I still love Riverside and in the evenings, I still watch the raccoons

(Yes, they’re fine, thank you for asking, and sporting silvery ear tags like pirate earrings that prove they’ve received their rabies vaccinations)

Riverside Baby Raccoon by Jae Bin Anh

But as long as the geese and blackbirds are nesting, these fresh April mornings belong …

to Morningside.

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.

Galumphing Dogs and Wary Raccoons

January 28, 2010

Esau and I went raccoon spotting the night before last, around 7:30 PM. The evening before, we had seen the usual trio. The mother and one baby were up on the wall near their den entrance, and the other baby was down on the ground, messing around with some unidentified object. It was too dark for me to see what he was up to, but after a short time, he suddenly became aware of our presence and ran up a nearby tree.

photo: Velo Steve/Flickr.com

Last night, we saw no raccoons at first, probably because several big, goofy dogs were galumphing about, off leash, near the wall. The raccoons’ good judgment in staying hidden I take, in these viral days, as an indicator of continued rabies-free health.

After the goofy galumphers and their oblivious cell-phone yakking owners went on their way, one raccoon (the mother?) emerged to hang out at the entrance and sniff the air, nose held high.

Lime Leaf Restaurant, highly recommended. Photo courtesy of Mary Sargent

We didn’t wait to see if the others would follow Big Mama, as our take-out food was getting cold over at Lime Leaf, the lovely Thai restaurant at 108th and Broadway.

Wishing the raccoons a quiet evening, we left, heading east to Broadway.

(The photo above is by Mary Sargent who has made it her mission to photograph every street in Manhattan. Check out her delightful photo blog: Manhattan Street Project. When we were looking long-distance for an apartment, I browsed her blog to get a feel for different neighborhoods.)

Rabid Raccoons in Central Park

December 16, 2009

After years of being pretty much rabies-free, Manhattan has four confirmed rabies cases in 2009, all in raccoons.  One rabid raccoon was found last summer in Inwood Park; the other three were all found dead in Central Park’s North Woods, two in the week of December 7th.

Oh, my lovely Riverside raccoons, what will happen to you?

photo by mola jen/flickr.com

So how is rabies being transmitted around the island? An infected raccoon must have crossed into Manhattan, probably from the Bronx where rabies is quite common. Maybe it took the bridge or swam across at Spuyten Duyvil. Hey, it’s an island, you gotta cross the water somehow.

Henry Hudson & Spuyten Duyvil Bridges by mysticchildz

Maybe it hitched a ride in the back of a truck hauling garbage. Somehow it made its way to Inwood Park at the northern end of the island.

View west from Inwood Hill Park by Baslow/Flickr.com

Then it, or another infected raccoon, travelled south, maybe passing though Riverside Park (oh, my raccoons!), then through city streets

108th & Manhattan Ave.

until it reached the North Woods. Somewhere between 50 and 100 raccoons live pretty densely packed in Central Park, which means we can expect more rabies in the coming months.

Raccoons do venture into Manhattan streets. About a year ago, we saw them for a few weeks on 108th Street between Amsterdam and Broadway. And last summer,  the New York Times described regular forays by North Woods raccoons across 110th Street to raid the garbage cans.

Raccoon in trash can by jeremy

Raccoons, listen up.  It’s a jungle out there. Don’t share saliva with strange raccoons. Don’t bite or get bitten. Don’t scratch or get scratched. Be safe.

Meet you at the wall tonight.


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