Posted tagged ‘riverside park raccoons’

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.

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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.

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Baby raccoon trails mother back to den.

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

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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.

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Then an ear and an eye.

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and finally most of the masked face.

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

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

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

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But back to the lolling peeker.

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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.

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

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A father and daughter gazed across the river.

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

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

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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.

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.

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.

Riverside Park Spring Walk: Raccoons, Retaining Walls and the USDA

March 25, 2010

USDA truck holds answers to many questions.

Find out why yesterday’s sighting of a USDA truck is cause for rejoicing.

But first, strange markings appeared last week on the retaining wall and nearby path.

Target close-up

What does it mean?

With my wildlife-obsessed outlook, I speculate that the circled numbers and targets have something to do with the raccoon vaccination program. But what? Do the markings indicate that trapping and vaccinating has begun in Riverside Park? Do they show where raccoons are likely to be found?

The park is cool, bright and windy.

Here and there the pervasive brown of winter yields to color.

Storm-created ponds remain.

Hay bales enisled in spring pond

Sparrows huddle in forsythia bushes, puffed up like little balloons against the wind.

Magnolia buds prepare to pop.

Suddenly, up ahead on a pathway, we see … a USDA truck.

Be still, my heart.

You have to understand. USDA is handling the Trap-Vaccinate-Release program for the city. If anyone can answer my many questions, USDA can. Earth-shattering questions, like: How is the program going? Any estimates on the Central Park raccoon population? How long will it take to know if the program is succeeding? Any new theories on why the disease took such vehement hold this year?

Esau and I run after the truck. But it gets away.

Saddened, we trudge toward home. Then, half a mile north, it suddenly reappears. We run. We wave our arms. The truck stops. The window rolls down. Success! We speak briefly with the driver through the window.

A USDA biologist, he confirms that the Riverside Park phase of the raccoon vaccination program began on Tuesday.  The markings on the wall have nothing to do with the raccoons. He seems to need to get back to work and offers his card for a follow-up conversation.

We sing as we head north, happy to have even a little more information.

At 108th Street, we discover the Man Behind the Marks. 

He’s keeping park-goers safe by surveying the retaining wall for structural weaknesses in hopes of preventing problems, like the collapse of the retaining wall that closed the West Side Highway for three days in 2005. The marks and targets help him line up his equipment for accurate readings. The targets are always there, he says.  He recently freshened up the paint, which is why we suddenly noticed them.

“So how’s it look?” I ask. “The wall.”

“It’s an old wall,” he says. “But it looks pretty good.”

I couldn’t agree more.

Snow-covered retaining wall from just a few weeks ago. Beautiful.

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.

New York City Raccoons Go About Their Business in Riverside Park

January 24, 2010

Raccoons on Retaining Wall

I’ve been so interested in Manhattan’s raccoon rabies epidemic that I’ve been neglecting to write about the raccoons themselves.

I continue to watch my local raccoons almost every evening, and get powerful pleasure from seeing them go about their business.

Five of them live in one den, a rectangular hole in the stone retaining wall. A mother and two babies are the trio I see most often, making their way along the wall, usually heading north. Sometimes they stop and just sit in one spot for five minutes or more. Other times they seem almost to defy gravity as they move across the vertical stones, fifteen feet in the air.

Riverside raccoon in big home den

The two babies are darker in color, and their markings, particularly the rings on the tails, are less distinct. The little ones often duck into tiny holes on the wall, holes that seem way too small to admit them. But they pour themselves in, haul their tails in, and then whip around so their little pointy faces are peeping out. I’m guessing a lot of their seeming bulk is actually fur that compresses to allow them to squeeze into small spaces.

The remaining two raccoons are more mysterious. They seem to let the family trio leave first, then one spends a long time peeping out of the den before deciding to head out.  I think both are adults, but am not sure. I’ve rarely seen all five out at once – only twice in the many times I’ve watched.  And I’ve learned that it is surprisingly difficult to get a good read on size, unless the animals are in close proximity to each other.

I occasionally hear the raccoons chuckling and chattering at each other. Once there was a veritable “cat fight” going on inside the den. All we could see was the big rear end of one raccoon filling up the entry way. But it certainly sounded as if someone was reading the riot act inside.

Most of the time, though, they are silent, and their coloring blends right into the rock at night.  People, and even dogs, stroll by, and never know the strange ring-tailed creatures are there, moving quietly along the wall fifteen feet above their heads.

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.

Raccoon Babies at Play in the Dark

November 11, 2009

Esau has never understood why I won’t go into the park at night.  But though I’ve been sorely tempted, I’ve been ruled by an ancient taboo forbidding parks after dark, along with cannibalism and incest. But no more.

Last night, lured by the possibility that raccoon babies might be dancing in the night park, we descended the 116th Street steps. The rustling leaves gave me a little frisson, but I had just read the beginning of Marie Winn’s wonderful book, Central Park in the Dark. I mean, she walks in the Ramble at night – the Ramble, for crying out loud. I can handle Riverside Park.

Around 109th Street, we saw low shadowy figures just ahead: the raccoon family. The mother darted up the slope towards the wall, but the two babies bolted down the slope towards the lower promenade. Each ran partway up a tree, froze and waited. After a minute, the babies peeped cautiously around the tree trunks. They must have felt safe, because they climbed back down, and proceeded to chase each other up and down the slope in an exuberance of wheeling and turning. The babies were dancing.

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A young raccoon enjoys life. Photo courtesy of Michael Scheltgen, creativecommons.org

The taboo is shattered. We’ll be back tomorrow night.


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