Archive for the ‘raccoons’ category

NYC Wildlife After Hours

March 23, 2014

IMG_0345

Two nights ago, around nine o’clock, I leaned over the retaining wall at Riverside Park to look for raccoons, and found a raccoon looking right back at me. It was perched, as it were, on the broad stone ledge outside its den. We stared at each other, each apparently curious what the other might do. Neither one of us did much of anything.

IMG_0346

Just looking.

This raccoon and its family members have an ideal den spot with a broad ledge outside that makes it easy for them to loll and relax at the mouth of the hole.

IMG_0351

I’m looking at you.

When a man and two off-leash dogs came into view on the path below, the raccoon turned its attention away from me to watch the newcomers.

IMG_0354

The man was talking on his cell phone and kicking a ball for his rambunctious long-legged black mutt to chase, while a slow, imperturbable pug brought up the rear.  Neither man nor dogs noticed the raccoon high above their heads, watching their every move. Nor did they notice this human, even higher above their heads, also watching every move.

As it watched, the raccoon curled partway into its hole.

IMG_0355

We left it there, the dog and I, and continued our walk along the Riverside Drive promenade. On our way back, I again leaned over the wall.

But the raccoon was gone.

It had probably ducked back into its den. In my admittedly limited and unscientific observations, the Riverside raccoons are slow to actually leave the den for their evening forays into the park. They tend to hang out on the ledge for quite some time, singly or in twos, threes or even fours. They look around and sniff the air, occasionally ducking back into the den as if suddenly remembering they’d left the stove on.  Sometimes, when the weather is pleasant, a raccoon will groom itself or a mother will groom a kit, although I haven’t seen any grooming behaviors yet this season.  I can’t even say how many raccoons are living in the den this year. Eventually, though, one or another of the raccoons will leave the ledge and start making its way north along the wall. Only rarely do I see one heading south from the den, probably because the grand stone staircase quickly breaks up the wall, so that the raccoon would have to come down to the ground right at a spot that is well traveled by humans and dogs.

Here is the view from just above the den of Riverside Park, the Hudson River and New Jersey.

IMG_0350

Not bad. You might linger at the mouth of your den, too, if you had this view to look at.

Raccoon Bonanza in Riverside Park (w video)

June 23, 2013

Last night at dusk, the great retaining wall of Riverside Park was crawling with raccoons.

Four raccoons on the retaining wall in NYC's Riverside Park.

A mother raccoon (right) and her babies on the retaining wall in NYC’s Riverside Park.

This is the same den I’ve been watching for years now. In 2009 or 2010, before the raccoon rabies epidemic hit, I once saw six raccoons emerge from this den, like clowns from a clown car. Last night, seven racoons climbed the wall.  Seven! Back in early April, I watched a mother raccoon carry a baby along the wall, clearly looking to move it into a new den. My guess would be that this is the same mother with her litter now old enough to be exploring the world under her supervision.

A small crowd had gathered to watch and photograph the raccoons.

"Excuse me, what kind of animals are those?"

“Excuse me, what kind of animals are those?”

Usually, the raccoons on the wall go unnoticed. But the sheer number of animals moving on the wall attracted attention. As they made their way along the stones, they popped in and out of various hidey-holes. Personality differences among the raccoons seemed evident. One, in particular, seemed reluctant to leave the safety of the den, peeping out and retreating several times even as the others had already moved out along the wall.

IMG_2450

Some observers reported that in addition to the mother and babies, there was a “medium-sized” raccoon. They wondered if they were looking at a mother and father with a litter. This is highly unlikely, as male racoons don’t stay around after mating to help raise the young. In fact, adult males will often harm young raccoons. It’s more likely that the medium-sized raccoon is a juvenile from last year’s litter that is still living with the mother. I’ve watched a mother care for, and wash, her slightly older babies here in August 2011.

Wall walker.

Wall walker.

If this is indeed the case, then there may be five babies, which fits the average raccoon litter size of 2-5 kits.

The little kittenish fellow in the picture below is following after its mother, but still uncertain of its footing on the wall.  Apologies for the blurry, grainy photos, but it was quite dark. I’ve enhanced most of these photos to make the images clearer.

IMG_2442

Baby raccoon trails mother back to den.

Below, two babies greet their mother as she returns to the den.

IMG_2446

Here a raccoon peeps out of a hole a little north of the main den. Could this be the same hole where I heard growling that night in April when the mother ducked inside with the baby in her mouth? Or is this another baby? Or another juvenile? Size is difficult to estimate from a distance, so … hard to say. In any event, this individual stayed put while the others were on the move.

IMG_2456Here is a video of the mother waiting with two babies while a third makes its way along the wall to join them.

 For much more on the raccoons of NYC, visit Out Walking the Dog’s Raccoon Archives.

Peeking, Lolling Raccoon

April 14, 2013

Just before sunset yesterday, someone was peeking out of the main raccoon den in the Riverside Park retaining wall.

First a nose.

IMG_1234

Then an ear and an eye.

IMG_1231

and finally most of the masked face.

IMG_1233

As we watched, that someone started lolling about in the entrance.Look at that hand, er, I mean paw.

IMG_1235

Here is the track of a raccoon in the mud of the ravine in Central Park.

IMG_7646

Hmm. Reminds me of the 32,000 year old handprints in the Cave of Chauvet.

chauvet-cave-hand-print

But back to the lolling peeker.

IMG_1240

Interesting to note that there appears to be no tag on the raccoon’s ear, which means it was not vaccinated during the rabies epidemic of 2010. It may not yet have been born.

IMG_1238

We headed down to the river to catch the afterglow of the sunset.

IMG_1242

A father and daughter gazed across the river.

IMG_1248

Some cherry trees are in bloom, while others remain bare.

IMG_1249

We checked back at the den after dark, before leaving the park. Someone was still peeking.

IMG_1250

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.

IMG_7675

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.

IMG_1022

I scanned the great retaining wall for raccoons.

IMG_7678

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

IMG_1023

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.

IMG_7688

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.

IMG_7680

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.

IMG_7686

 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.

IMG_0775

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

IMG_0541

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.)

IMG_0536

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

IMG_0537

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

IMG_0533

But it eventually made its way to its destination.

IMG_0539

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

IMG_0543

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.

Thinking of Wildlife As The Hurricane Nears

October 29, 2012

Let’s sit and talk and talk. It’s so nice, so warm and cozy here. Listen to the wind. There’s something in Turgenev – “On such a night, happy he who has a roof over his head and a warm corner of his own.” I’m a sea gull… No, that’s not what I mean. I’m sorry. What was I saying? Oh, yes, Turgenev. “And may the Lord help homeless wanderers.”

The Sea Gull by Anton Chekhov
(English Version by Jean-Claude Van Itallie)

Nina’s lines from Act Four of The Sea Gull often spring to my mind in the anticipatory hours before a big storm. Scientists say that most storms have relatively little effect on wildlife at the species level, meaning a bad storm, even if it destroys many individual animals, is unlikely to permanently affect populations of species. But thanks to anthropogenic climate change, we’re now seeing an increase in the number of “severe weather events,” from storms to droughts to seasonal changes that, taken together, are already affecting some species. Still my thoughts in a storm are not about the fate of a species, but about the suffering of individuals, animal and human.

Luckily for our local wildlife, Hurricane Sandy is arriving well past nesting season. Most of our young animals are on their own by now, and many birds have already migrated south. NYC’s resident wildlife will probably do pretty well, over all. The raccoons of Riverside Park should be safe in their retaining wall.

Songbirds will hunker down, lock their toes onto a protected branch, hold their feathers tight against their bodies, point themselves in the direction of the wind, and hold on for dear life as the wind blows past and the rain pelts down.

Feathers can effectively seal out water.

As long as the branch survives, the birds probably will, too. Cavity nesters, like owls and woodpeckers, are even better protected, tucked into natural holes in tree trunks. And squirrels, too, will find a hole in a tree or in the retaining wall, or they’ll burrow into their dreys, thick nests of leaves that they build high in the trees.

If their tree withstands the storm, these creatures will emerge when wind and rain abate to fluff their fur and feathers, and search for food.

Migrating birds are more vulnerable. Exhausted by their travels, their energy reserves depleted, they must find food and shelter wherever they may be. Migrating birds may be blown hundreds of miles off course. Songbirds may be blown out into open sea where they can find no shelter or rest, while pelagic birds may be blown inland.

What may be a disaster for birds – being blown far from their native habitat – offers thrills for birders, who rush out into the aftermath of a storm to search for rare vagrants they might otherwise never encounter.

Tonight in New York City, the wind is starting to gust, although the storm is still hours away. I look out at the strangely quiet streets from my cozy apartment, and hope that all creatures find shelter from tomorrow’s storm.

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!

NYC First Snow of 2012

January 22, 2012

Snow poured down on the city early yesterday morning.

Huge white flakes quieted the traffic

and veiled the water towers from view.

In Riverside Park, sledders of all sizes gathered at the 108th Street slope.

Looking north, the retaining wall took on a ghostly appearance.

When we started our walk, snow was still coming down and the park was strangely quiet with no animals to be seen and no birds singing. Where were they all?

The raccoons were probably nestled all snug in their den.

But look! The snow is stopping, and a solitary squirrel comes out to forage, almost disappearing into the snow.

Gray squirrels are made for winter camouflage,

as is this mixed flock of sparrows and junkos. The little birds vanish into snow and bare branches.

Fluttering into a more open space, one bird seems to be looking for something he’s lost, burrowing deep into the snow until only his tail shows.

Soon I’ll write more about urban animals in winter.

But now, it’s time to continue our walk. Esau’s waiting.

Top Five Urban Nature Stories of 2011: From Peacocks to Mastodons

December 31, 2011

Yesterday we began our coverage of Out Walking the Dog’s Top Ten Stories of 2011 with Numbers Ten to Six. The stories explored urban coyotes and whales as well as a secret garden in the middle of New York City and two peculiar NYC plants, one of which is connected to an on-going ancient British festival.

Today the countdown continues with the top five stories. Here we go:

Number Five:
Great White Peacock of Morningside Heights takes a look at the pure-white free-roaming peacock of Saint John the Divine. My readers appear to be in the grip of a communal fascination with peacocks in general and white peacocks in particular. Well, who can blame them? The birds are extraordinary. More peacock posts will follow in 2012.

Number Four:
City Hawk Snatches Chihuahua? recounts an eye-witness report by a fellow dog walker in Riverside Park of a red-tailed hawk flying off with a pink-leashed chihuahua. Believe it or not, similar stories are regularly reported. Urban legend? Fact? You decide. With a made-to-order illustration by Los Angeles writer and blogger Charlotte Hildebrand.

Number Three:
Rabies in Manhattan: What About Squirrels and Rats? is a search engine favorite, as readers from NYC and around the country seem especially concerned about the possibility of rabies in squirrels.  I wrote the post almost two years ago, during the early days of the NYC raccoon rabies epidemic, but it continues to receive a large number of hits.

credit: Marcelo Barrera

Number Two:
NYC Coyote Watch 2011: Coyote in Queens
was published at the end of January 2011, when a coyote had been seen – and photographed – in Calvary Cemetery, Queens. Queens and the Bronx seem to be the coyote’s current boroughs of choice with a breeding population in the Bronx and on-going sightings in several Queens neighborhoods. Long Island has fallen to the adaptable predator. Today, Queens. Tomorrow, the Hamptons.

And now, ladies and gentlemen, drum roll, please. The Number One Story on Out Walking the Dog during 2011 is …

Mastodons in Manhattan: How the Honey Locust Tree Got its Spikes. Written in 2010, Mastodons in Manhattan has consistently been my most-read post. Go figure. It tells the story of how the Honey locust tree, which may be seen in abundance in NYC parks, adapted to predation by North American megafauna by developing long, fierce spikes that are tough enough to pierce mastodon tongues (and automobile tires).

And that’s it for 2011, folks. We hope you’ll continue to follow our urban nature explorations in 2012.

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.

NYC Wildlife Before the Storm

August 27, 2011

Saturday morning bird watch on West 108th Street

No animals are visible on today’s late afternoon dog walk in Riverside Park on the eve of Hurricane Irene’s arrival. Well, actually many animals are out, but only two species: humans and canines.  No wildlife. Not a single bird or squirrel.  Even the cicadas are silent, and the animal world seems to be tucked out of sight, quietly waiting, while over on Broadway, the humans scurry about emptying the local hardware stores of batteries and flashlights.

The animals are still there, of course, curled into nests, dens and dreys just yards away from us walkers. They know how to disappear. They do it all the time. On Friday, a raccoon performed a vanishing act.

First, a bit of wall-walking …

Then, a balancing act …

And, ladies and gentlemen: watch closely.  Now you see me …

Now …

… you don’t!

And … hoopla! I’m back!

Here’s hoping all the animals find safe haven and come through the storm safely.

NYC Raccoons and Red-tails in Winter

February 22, 2011

Snow frosted the city yesterday.

Broadway and Riverside split at 107th Street, looking lovely

The water towers wore white skull caps.

A crow surveys 109th Street from atop a water tower

Esau was on the alert for wildlife

Prey?

but the park was quiet

Steps lead toward the river

The retaining wall is always beautiful, and especially so with a dusting of snow.

Raccoons live here.

The entrance to the large raccoon den is once again piled with snow.

I once saw six raccoons emerge from this hole in the wall.

It’s been over a month since I’ve seen a raccoon here, and I’m starting to worry. Raccoons in northern climates pack on the fat in autumn so that they can spend less time foraging in the coldest days of winter and more time curled up in their den. They don’t actually hibernate, but they may sleep away several weeks of bitter weather, living off their fat stores and waiting for milder days. It’s been a cold and snowy winter, so maybe my Riverside Park raccoons are just dozing away the cold and dreaming of spring. But still I worry. (Check back soon for an update on raccoon rabies in NYC.)

Sledders were out

Traipsing up the hill

as were walkers

A man strolls in an only-in-New-York fuchsia faux-fur coat

ice dancers

Olympics pairs, they are not

and a single cross-country skier

Heading south

as well as a passel of happy dogs.

Happy but headless snow dogs

No birds to be seen yesterday.

Branches empty of animals

Unlike Sunday, when a hawk devoured a songbird on the bare ground beneath the retaining wall

Red-tail takes a break from pulling entrails

The snow had finally melted in parts of the park

Back to work

and the hunting was good

Do you mind? I'm eating here.

After a few minutes, the hawk soared over my head, so low that I ducked to avoid contact with the carcass gripped in his talons.  He swooped up to a branch high above the ground in search, perhaps, of privacy from paparazzi like me

Alone at last

And there, finally taking the hint, I left him to his meal.

Out Walking the Dog’s Top Ten Posts of 2010

December 30, 2010

Readers prefer mastodons.

I’ve always avoided top ten lists. In fact, I’ve disparaged the whole concept as basically, well, idiotic. But I recently discovered that the statistics tracker on my blog, which counts each time someone visits, can also tell me how many times each blog post has been viewed over the past year.

A post about feeding wild animals is a favorite.

The very existence of this useless information exerts a mysterious allure, as if it contained some important hidden meaning just waiting to be revealed.  It doesn’t, of course.  But I can’t resist the pull. So, for whatever amusement or revelation may be found, I here present … (drum roll, please) …

Out Walking the Dog’s Top Ten (Most Viewed) Posts of 2010.

1. Mastodons in Manhattan: How the Honey Locust Tree Got Its Spikes

2. Feeding Wild Animals: Squirrel Man Calls to his Friends

3. NYC Wildlife: The Pigeons Outside My Window

4. NYC Coyote Existential: Where do they come from and where are they going?

5. Rabies in Manhattan: What About Squirrels (and Rats)?

6. Seed Pods and Eyeballs

7. Saint John the Divine: A Secret Garden in Morningside Heights

8. Victor Casiano’s Rooftop Pigeons

9. Sex and the City Bird

10. Falada in New York: 59th Street Carriage Horses

So there you have it.  The frightening outbreak of rabies in Manhattan and the almost equally frightening event of duck sex make it into the top ten. So do last winter’s coyote visitations and a meeting with the last of our neighborhood’s rooftop pigeon flyers.  Other urban animals that are featured include squirrels, horses, raccoons, peacocks, rats, and mastodons.

Yeah, mastodons. The most popular post, by far, is a light-hearted discussion of the co-evolution of honey locust trees and mastodons. Why?  I’d like to think it’s because the study of evolution is booming, but maybe people just like mastodons or the idea of giant mammals roaming Manhattan.

The world is a mysterious place. Why should the internet be any different?

Esau, scourge of street rats, contemplates the mysteries of reader preferences.

Raccoons, Marshmallows and the U.S. Government

November 5, 2010

Last weekend, Esau and I discovered a gray box snuggled up against the retaining wall in Riverside Park.

Mystery box

A round hole at either end led to a small chute and a dark interior.

Flowers at the front door

High in the wall, just south of the box, is a raccoon den. I know it’s a raccoon den because, for the past year, I’ve been regularly watching raccoons as they emerge from this hole to watch the world go by before venturing out on evening raids into the park.  I have on occasion seen as many as five or six raccoons pour out of the hole like bulky little clowns out of a clown car.

Are you looking at me?

“Aha!” I thought gleefully, and my heart danced. “I am at long last seeing, with my own eyes, the traps used by the USDA to catch raccoons.”  Need I remind you of my fascination with NYC’s dramatic outbreak of raccoon rabies as well as the USDA’s patient and effective program to vaccinate virtually every raccoon residing in Manhattan?

The vaccination program began last spring in Central Park, the epidemic’s epicenter, and branched out into Morningside Park and Riverside Park. (Click to read about the program and about Lee Humberg, the biologist in charge.)  By April, over 230 raccoons had already been vaccinated and tagged for future identification.

The current round of trapping allows the USDA to vaccinate any raccoons that may have been missed as well as juveniles that were too young or vagrants that have wandered into the area. If a trapped animal appears unwell, it will be euthanized and tested for rabies. This humane and labor-intensive approach has led to a steep drop-off in the number of raccoon rabies cases with only three confirmed reports in the past three months. Compare that to March 2010 with a monthly high of 38 confirmed cases.

But this trap was targeting my raccoons, and I wanted to know more about it.

I longed for a closer look at the gray box, but was deterred by fencing put up by the Riverside Park Fund to protect their lovely plantings.

So Esau and I walked south on the path near the wall, keeping our four eyeballs peeled.

Sure enough, about four blocks south we found a second gray box,  identical to the first, but on an unfenced slope. We drew near and read this intimidating warning

on the hinged and securely padlocked lid

In other words: Mind your own beeswax.

Undeterred but cautious, we peered inside and saw that each round hole led to a separate (empty) wire mesh “Have-a-Heart” trap, baited with … marshmallows

Start the fire and find a stick.

The traps were gone within a couple of days. Whether any raccoons were caught – or were spotted roasting marshmallows and making s’mores – remains just another small NYC mystery.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,226 other followers

%d bloggers like this: