Fall In LA County, by Charles Wood


In Los Angeles it had been weeks since I had seen any of the coyote family that makes its home in a field by a concrete river nearby.  Sunday I saw an eighteen month old male who I’m guessing was Mister, though it is hard to be sure given his winter coat.  I haven’t seen his mom in six weeks and it has been eight weeks since I last saw his dad.  From late spring through summer I see my coyote pack on almost any day.  In fall and winter, if not for their droppings, you would think they were not there at all.

Mister's Message

Where do they go and how far away?  Mister left a message for me today that is also a clue as to their whereabouts:  they go where the ripened fruit is and eat a lot of it.  If anyone reading recognizes the seeds, please let me know the name of the plant so I may try and locate some.

Posting written by Charles Wood. Visit Charles Wood’s website for these and more coyote photos: Charles Wood. His work is copyrighted and may only be used with his explicit permission.

“Don’t Hurt Them”

"Don't Hurt Them"

Recently seen coyote sign with graffiti in the middle of Golden Gate Park in the City of San Francisco, one of the 10 largest urban centers in the United States! Most of us feel this way about our urban coyotes.

Please don’t hurt them, and please don’t take away their habitat. Their habitat includes thickets which offer them a protected place to live. Nativists are removing trees and thickets, and replacing them with native grasses which offer no habitat protection to our feathered and furry wildlife which now live in our parks.

Native grasses existed on sand-dunes which made up the landscape in 1776, but the ecology of the area has evolved since that time and it is because of this evolution that the wildlife we now have was attracted to the area and now lives here. This wildlife was not here in 1776 when the only plants were native grasses and four types of sparse growing trees.

PS: You can prevent uncomfortable encounters by keeping your dog on a short leash in known coyote areas.


Coyote Tracks

Unless there is snow, or unless the mud is perfect, it is hard to see a series of coyote tracks on a trail. However, if your coyote has just stepped in wet mud and then walks on a street, voilá!

So here you can see how a coyote, for the most part, when walking, has a gait which actually puts a back foot print right into the footprint of the front foot! Coyotes are known for this, causing them to make less noise as they walk and requiring less effort.  You can see that this is not exact — there is a slight deviation.

Kickin’ High

This coyote is totally absorbed in the job at hand, totally focused. The high-strung tension is palpable as he hesitates and wavers. He holds back, preparing for his big move. He finally lets go like a wound-up coil when he thinks the time is right.  Watch those legs fly!  In spite of the effort, the vole evaded capture.

Tip Toe!

I asked a very good friend if he thought this video might be too long for viewers. This is what he said:

“It is wonderful, & beautiful — particularly the sound, and the length, which both are perfect — nature is slow… those digitalkids & iphonephreaks who believe they live in a soundbyte world, don’t — there are entire worlds out there, surrounding them and containing them and of which they are a tiny miniscule and unimportant part, which move far more slowly — Nature is one of those, Geology moves far more slowly even than that — Astral events, the stars, move both far more slowly and sometimes a whole lot faster, than they do — let the slowness here, decorated so wonderfully by that chirping-birds & airplane soundtrack, remind them of their own relativity in all of that”.

This video is long, at 5:51 minutes. The most interesting parts are the tiptoeing at 1:10, the series of pounces where she caves in the underground tunnels of her prey at 1:44, and then the furious digging and moving of ground cover at 2:17. She exposes her prey by this digging and grabs it at 3:28 and then eats it. A young female shows how adept she is at her hunting routine:

Here is a breakdown of what is occurring:

  • To begin with, patiently, she stands there, super alert, watching and listening, triangulating her ears from side to side, and nodding her head back and forth to exactly and precisely locate her prey by sound.
  • At 1:10 she tiptoes, ever so carefully so that her prey may not hear her — a little bit closer
  • Soon thereafter, at 1:44 she tenses, getting ready to leap, backs up a little bit and then springs up and down into several pounces, landing hard on her forepaws with a series of  “punches” meant to knock in her prey’s intricate tunneling system underground. This prevents the gopher from escaping through that tunnel network. This lasts until 2:05.
  • At 2:17 she begins furiously digging and digging, both deep into the ground to break through into the tunnels, and on the surface to move the ground-cover out of the way, all the while continually keeping a wary eye on her surroundings, including me and folks walking in back of me.
  • At 3:28 she catches her prey, disables it, and tosses it to the ground. Then, by looking around, she assesses how safe it is to eat right it then and there. She decides it’s not so safe, so she runs off with it.
  • At 3:36 until the end of the video, she eats her prey, tearing into several more manageable eating portions and chewing these down to swallowable sizes — it takes a while, and then she calmly walks off. Note that there is no waste — she eats every bit of her prey: entrails, muscles, fur and bones.

Professor Arthur Shapiro Comments on the Environmental Impact Report of the Natural Areas Program in San Francisco

Mission Blue Butterfly from Wikimedia Commons

These comments to the Environmental Impact Report of the Natural Areas Program in San Francisco by Professor Arthur M. Shapiro, are posted with his permission, and re-posted from two other websites: Death of a Million Trees, and Save Mount Sutro Forest. These two websites are loaded with pertinent information on this subject. Shapiro is Distinguished Professor of Evolution and Ecology at UC Davis and a renowned expert on the butterflies of California.  Please be aware of his credentials as you read this.  Hopefully, these comments will inspire you to write your own comment by the deadline, which has been extended to October 31, 2011.  Details about how to submit your comment are available from the Death of a Million Trees website here. I am republishing this because of my concern for existing animal habitat which is being replaced in our so-called “natural areas” with native grasses which have no habitat value at all for the wildlife existing in our parks.


October 6, 2011
Mr. Bill Wycko:
San Francisco Planning Department

Dear Mr. Wycko:

Consistent with the policy of the University of California, I wish to state at the outset that the opinions stated in this letter are my own and should not be construed as being those of the Regents, the University of California, or any administrative entity thereof. My affiliation is presented for purposes of identification only. However, my academic qualifications are relevant to what I am about to say. I am a professional ecologist (B.A. University of Pennsylvania, Ph.D. Cornell University) and have been on the faculty of U.C. Davis since 1971, where I have taught General Ecology, Evolutionary Ecology, Community Ecology, Philosophy of Biology, Biogeography, Tropical Ecology, Paleoecology, Global Change, Chemical Ecology, and Principles of Systematics. I have trained some 15 Ph.D.s, many of whom are now tenured faculty at institutions including the University of Massachusetts, University of Tennessee, University of Nevada-Reno, Texas State University, and Long Beach State University, and some of whom are now in government agencies or in private consulting or industry. I am an or the author of some 350 scientific publications and reviews. The point is that I do have the bona fides to say what I am about to say.

At a time when public funds are exceedingly scarce and strict prioritization is mandatory, I am frankly appalled that San Francisco is considering major expenditures directed toward so-called “restoration ecology.” “Restoration ecology” is a euphemism for a kind of gardening informed by an almost cultish veneration of the “native” and abhorrence of the naturalized, which is commonly characterized as “invasive.” Let me make this clear: neither “restoration” nor conservation can be mandated by science—only informed by it. The decision of what actions to take may be motivated by many things, including politics, esthetics, economics and even religion, but it cannot be science-driven.

In the case of “restoration ecology,” the goal is the creation of a simulacrum of what is believed to have been present at some (essentially arbitrary) point in the past. I say a simulacrum, because almost always there are no studies of what was actually there from a functional standpoint; usually there are no studies at all beyond the merely (and superficially) descriptive. Whatever the reason for desiring to create such a simulacrum, it must be recognized that it is just as much a garden as any home rock garden and will almost never be capable of being self-sustaining without constant maintenance; it is not going to be a “natural,” self-regulating ecosystem. The reason for that is that the ground rules today are not those that obtained when the prototype is thought to have existed. The context has changed; the climate has changed; the pool of potential colonizing species has changed, often drastically. Attempts to “restore” prairie in the upper Midwest in the face of European Blackthorn invasion have proven Sisyphean. And they are the norm, not the exception.

The creation of small, easily managed, and educational simulacra of presumed pre-European vegetation on San Francisco public lands is a thoroughly worthwhile and, to me, desirable project. Wholesale habitat conversion is not.

A significant reaction against the excesses of the “native plant movement” is setting up within the profession of ecology, and there has been a recent spate of articles arguing that hostility to “invasives” has gone too far—that many exotic species are providing valuable ecological services and that, as in cases I have studied and published on, in the altered context of our so-called “Anthropocene Epoch” such services are not merely valuable but essential. This is a letter, not a monograph, but I would be glad to expand on this point if asked to do so.

I am an evolutionary ecologist, housed in a Department of Evolution and Ecology. The two should be joined at the proverbial hip. Existing ecological communities are freeze-frames from a very long movie. They have not existed for eternity, and many have existed only a few thousand years. There is nothing intrinsically sacred about interspecific associations. Ecological change is the norm, not the exception. Species and communities come and go. The ideology (or is it faith?) that informs “restoration ecology” basically seeks to deny evolution and prohibit change. But change will happen in any case, and it is foolish to squander scarce resources in pursuit of what are ideological, not scientific, goals with no practical benefit to anyone and only psychological “benefits” to their adherents.

If that were the only argument, perhaps it could be rebutted effectively. But the proposed wholesale habitat conversion advocated here does serious harm, both locally (in terms of community enjoyment of public resources) and globally (in terms of carbon balance-urban forests sequester lots of carbon; artificial grasslands do not). At both levels, wholesale tree removal, except for reasons of public safety, is sheer folly. Aging, decrepit, unstable Monterey Pines and Monterey Cypresses are unquestionably a potential hazard. Removing them for that reason is a very different matter from removing them to actualize someone’s dream of a pristine San Francisco (that probably never existed).

Sociologists and social psychologists talk about the “idealization of the underclass,” the “noble savage” concept, and other terms referring to the guilt-driven self-hatred that infects many members of society. Feeling the moral onus of consumption and luxury, people idolize that which they conceive as pure and untainted. That may be a helpful personal catharsis. It is not a basis for public policy.

Many years ago I co-hosted John Harper, a distinguished British plant ecologist, on his visit to Davis. We took him on a field trip up I-80. On the way up several students began apologizing for the extent to which the Valley and foothill landscapes were dominated by naturalized exotic weeds, mainly Mediterranean annual grasses. Finally Harper couldn’t take it any more. “Why do you insist on treating this as a calamity, rather than a vast evolutionary opportunity?” he asked. Those of us who know the detailed history of vegetation for the past few million years—particularly since the end of Pleistocene glaciation—understand this. “Restoration ecology” is plowing the sea.

Get real.

Arthur M. Shapiro
Distinguished Professor of Evolution and Ecology

Some Fun and Mischief?


I had been casually following two coyotes on a path. One was a bit ahead of the other and was out of sight when it suddenly raced back in my direction. It was running away from something. It looked back at where it had just come from in a semi-fearful way , and it communicated this clearly to the other coyote — simply by example. They both hurried off to a rock ledge where they could examine whatever was coming. Coyotes learn by example and they communicate by example — by “showing”. I have seen younger coyotes often look at their mother’s face and body stance to see how they should react — whether they should be fearful or not. I, too, waited on edge, putting myself in the same frame of mind as were those coyotes. Hmmmm. What appeared around the bend was a runner and three very active and very little dogs. One of the little dogs — a brave fellow — saw the coyotes and ran after them, furiously barking. The coyotes ran away simply to avoid the little dog — or maybe they ran off to humor the dog?

This same kind of situation has happened before between these dogs and these coyotes: it is this “known” situation which caused the first coyote to run off the way it did — they could anticipate what was about to happen and prepared themselves for it. The dogs and the coyotes know each other from simply being in the same park over time — they’ve seen each other and read each other’s intentions. The dog that went after the coyotes did so rather self-assuredly in spite of his small size. But then the coyotes turned around — it was their turn to chase back, and the little dog fled in a flash! There was teasing and testing, and judging from the dog’s and the coyote’s facial expressions, it seemed very much of a game from everyone’s point of view. The dog and coyotes came within touching distance of each other. But you don’t take chances with small dogs, so I helped grab the dogs and the owner leashed them before going on.

That was not the end of it. There is “oneupmanship” which seems to be at play with coyotes sometimes and these coyotes may have wanted “the last word.” From what I have seen, this “oneupmanship” has a definite message, even though it might be delivered in a teasing-testing-playful sort of way.  One coyote continued the encounter begun by the little dog by following the runner and now leashed dogs. When the runner stopped and turned around to face the coyote, the coyote stopped, but remained on the trail about 40 feet away. Only when the owner leaned down to pick up a pebble did the coyote run off. When the owner continued running, the coyote continued to follow, but at a greater distance than initially. Fortunately, the owner was not particularly bothered by this game, and eventually, when runner and dogs arrived at a more populated trail, the coyote headed off. The second coyote tagged along for only a short distance and then got distracted by the possibility of a gopher meal.

This mischievous fun, testing and teasing on the part of coyotes may startle some dog owners who expect all wildlife to keep hidden in the bushes. But, although wildlife may for the most part follow that model, they do not always. My impression was that the coyotes were prepared for a little fun and adventure — when the opportunity stepped right in front of them with an invitation to chase back, they did so. However, it should be known that if a coyote had actually reached the dog, it could very well have nipped it — the message is always the same, even if it is mixed with a little fun and games: “this territory is mine, don’t mess with me.”

one coyote follows

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