Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Ramblin' Coyotes

Fall is here, and many of the animals born in the spring are now juveniles or adults, and are starting to fend for themselves. Coyotes are born generally from March to May, are weaned in about 6 weeks, and are self-sufficient juveniles after 5 to 6 months. Some juvenile coyotes stay with their family as a pack, but others may become solitary, dispersing away to find their own territory. Reasons why an individual will disperse away from a pack are generally due to the availability of food resources or the density of coyotes in the area. Although dispersal can happen at any time of year, approximately half of them occur in the fall. Being young and na├»ve, these juveniles may sometimes wander into inhospitable habitats, such as residential neighborhoods with busy roads and other hazards. Coyotes will often travel along habitat “edges” or pathways, such as roads, powerline easements, railroad tracks, and drainage courses. Some juveniles may have been raised in urban areas, taught by their parents to eat human-related food. Urban areas are tempting for coyotes, as they provide abundant food sources for the omnivorous and adaptable coyote. Although most coyote diets consist of small mammals (such as rodents and rabbits) and vegetation (such as fruit), approximately ¼ of the urban coyote’s diet comes from human-related food. This can include fallen fruit from trees and gardens, trash, pet food, and even sometimes pets themselves; however, recent studies have shown that pets, especially domestic cats, are generally a very small proportion of coyotes’ diets, ranging anywhere from one to six percent. Sometimes people even intentionally feed coyotes. But if food sources are deliberately, or even accidentally, provided by people these young coyote learn to associate human neighborhoods with food and may develop a reliance on these unnatural food sources, increasing their interactions with humans and reducing their natural fear of humans. The best way to avoid human-coyote interactions is to prevent them by keeping coyotes wild – here’s how:

• Fence your backyard. Fences that are 6 feet high and 6 inches underground are an effective means of keeping wildlife out, especially coyotes. More information about a specialized coyote proof fence can be found at http://coyoteroller.com/Products/features.htm
• Secure garbage cans.
• Do not intentionally provide food or water for wildlife.
• If you have fruit trees, pick ripe fruit from the tree on a regular basis, and pick up fallen fruit from the ground.
• Do not leave dog or cat food outside.
• Keep pets indoors, especially at night.
• Keep chickens, turkeys and goats in covered pens.
• Clear away bushes and dense weeds near your home where coyotes find cover and smaller prey to feed on.
• Eliminate water sources that may attract wildlife.
• Install outdoor lights triggered by motion sensors to frighten away wildlife at night.

Please visit the following links for more information on coexisting with wildlife:

• California Department of Fish and Game website for more information on coexisting with wildlife: http://www.dfg.ca.gov/education/living.html
• CA Department of Fish and Game’s Keep Me Wild Campaign: http://keepmewild.org/
• CA Department of Fish and Game's brochure about coyotes: http://www.dfg.ca.gov/keepmewild/docs/coyotebrochure.pdf
• Project Coyote: www.projectcoyote.org

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Show and Tell

Its been almost 8 months since we installed motion-sensored wildlife cameras in the Arroyo Pescadero area of the Preserve, and I thought we should share some highlights so far. These cameras are triggered by movement, including wildlife, people, and vehicles – sometimes even the wind moving the vegetation. Movement triggers an infrared sensor which then triggers the camera to take a digital photo. As you will see, the photo also records the date and time of the photo for reference. At night, an infrared flash will also be triggered, which helps to illuminate the subject enough to identify it, (although the photo is black and white instead of color). The infrared flash is less visible than a standard white flash, which is less disturbing to wildlife, but you will see that some wildlife still notice it.

Some of you have noticed these cameras, despite efforts to camouflage them, as shown in the photo below.
Some of your pets have even noticed them.

Even wildlife, such as this coyote in the Core Habitat (no public access), have noticed the cameras.

We have seen a good diversity of large and small mammals, both day and night, such as deer, skunk, and bobcats.

Although bobcats are thought to mostly be out from dusk until dawn, this one is out at two o’clock in the afternoon!
This spring, we have gotten many photos of ground squirrels, birds, and rabbits. Check out this photo of two rabbits fighting – bet you’ll never see them as quiet and shy creatures again!

We hope to share more highlights in the future, as these cameras will keep going through November, as part of a year-long study of wildlife in the area.

Thursday, April 29, 2010


Last April I posted photos of red-tailed hawk chicks. This year, I’m sharing photos of great horned owl chicks. As you can see, these chicks are already very big – almost as big as their parents – which means they are probably getting ready to leave the nest soon.

Great horned owls are one of the earliest breeding raptors, sometimes laying eggs as early as late December or early January. The eggs hatch after about one month of incubation, and then the chicks generally start to wander from the nest onto nearby branches (which is why they are called “branchlings” at this stage) anywhere from 6 to 7 weeks of age, and start flying around at about 10 to 12 weeks.

Great horned owls generally don’t build their own nest, but rather take over an old nest from another bird species, such as a red-tailed hawk. In fact, this same nest last year was used by ravens which produced several chicks – but it looks like the great horned owls got to it first this year!

Notice that these chicks are wide awake during the day, despite the presumption that all owls are strictly nocturnal. While some owls are only active at night, great horned owls are known to be somewhat active and can even be seen flying around during the daytime, although they are most active and hunting at night. Stay tuned for possible additional photos of the branchlings moving away from the nest soon!

Friday, March 12, 2010

What are those white circles?

If you are a regular visitor to either the Arroyo Pescadero loop trail or the Arroyo San Miguel trail, you’ve probably seen numerous white circles along these trails from time to time. Accompanying these circles are orange signs reading “Please Stay Away From White Circle, Scientific Study In Progress”. But what are these circles, and why stay away from them?

These white circles are track stations which are part of a Habitat Authority wildlife study, established to attract resident wildlife to determine the frequency and diversity of animals in the area. The white powder consists of calcium carbonate (a natural substance that is the main component of limestone), and is the same substance used to create the white lines on baseball and other sports fields. The rock in the center of each circle has a small amount of a scent lure designed to attract animals, particularly carnivores. So, when an animal walks near the track station and smells the scent lure, it walks over the white powder to get a closer whiff of the rock, leaving its footprints in the powder. This is a method used commonly by wildlife biologists, and has been used in the past to study wildlife throughout the Puente-Chino Hills.

Wildlife tracks we have seen over the past five months of the study include coyote, bobcat (in photo at right), striped and spotted skunk, mule deer, ground squirrel, raccoon, cottontail rabbit, and various birds and small rodents. We have also seen many domestic dog tracks, and a few human footprints, indicating that some people either do not read the signs or do not have their dogs on leash. Dog and human tracks may obscure tracks that were left previously by other wildlife, affecting the data and study results.

So, if you see the white circles along the trail, feel free to look and see what kinds of wildlife may have left their tracks, but please try not to leave tracks of your own (or your dog’s). Thank you!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

A Native Albino

For those of you that have been out on the trails over the last month or so (when it wasn’t raining, that is!), you have likely noticed one of our early blooming native plants – fuchsia-flowered gooseberry (Ribes speciosum). It is a woody shrub with spiny stems, glossy and rounded leaves, and chock-full of gorgeous raspberry-colored flowers that dangle down like inverted tear drops with legs. Chances are that if you are near a fuchsia-flowered gooseberry that is in full bloom, you may get “buzzed” by an angry hummingbird that has claimed the bush for its nectar supply. At the base of the flower, a small spherical fruit will develop that will be covered in spines as well. These berries were eaten by Native Americans and are related to cultivated gooseberries as well as currants, which are similar but the fruits are not spiny.
But last month, a local hiker and native plant enthusiast, Cynthia Guthrie, alerted me to the presence of an albino fuchsia-flowered gooseberry on the Preserve in Turnbull Canyon. This plant has all of the same physical characteristics of other fuchsia-flowered gooseberries, but its flowers are greenish-white instead of a reddish-raspberry color. I inquired with other botanists to see if they had seen this elsewhere and none had, so I sent off a sample to an expert at Humboldt State University, Michael Mesler, who is writing the key for the gooseberry family in the revised Jepson Manual (one of the primary sources for California plant identification). Although he had not seen albino forms of this species before, he had seen it in other related species. Apparently the albino condition is due to a mutation in this individual shrub, which has somehow removed an enzyme involved in the production of the normal pigment color. It will be interesting to see if this mutation carries over to the next generation of plants in the area – keep your eyes peeled for any more white or light pink colored fuchsia-flowered gooseberries next spring!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

A Tale of Two Tunnels

It’s official. After years of monitoring at the Harbor Boulevard Wildlife Underpass, the results are in…and the news is good!

The underpass was built in 2006 to maintain a viable means for wildlife to move between habitats on both sides of Harbor Blvd., helping to sustain the Puente-Chino Hills Wildlife Corridor. Now, the underpass is a big success, with many different species of wildlife using it on a regular basis to cross under Harbor Blvd. By doing so, these animals avoid the risk of becoming roadkill while crossing Harbor Blvd. at the road surface.

The most interesting findings from the long-term monitoring study were that (1) mule deer used the new underpass almost immediately, which is unusual compared to other underpasses studied, and (2) that coyote roadkill had decreased by approximately two-thirds compared to before the underpass was built. In addition to mule deer and coyote, which were frequent users of the underpass, other species observed included striped skunk, raccoon, and desert cottontail rabbit, and even bobcats which were rarely detected until the last part of the study. Researchers at CSU Fullerton, who conducted the study, believe that some of the wildlife, especially coyotes, may have taken a few years to “learn” to use the underpass, and now that they have done so are not becoming roadkill as much as they were in the past.

Further west, along Colima Road, there is another underpass; however, this one has existed for a long time as it was built for oil production transport before the area became a Preserve. A previous study conducted in 2001 and 2002 found that many different wildlife species also used this underpass, similar to those in the Harbor Blvd. Underpass, with bobcat, coyote and mule deer being the most frequent. This study also found that wildlife use of the Colima Underpass did not change substantially after the area was opened to public use and the underpass was part of the public trail system.

The Colima Underpass is being studied again this year by the Habitat Authority in an effort to see how wildlife activity and usage has changed over the last decade of public use and habitat restoration efforts, and to provide more baseline data for other projects that may occur in the area. But preliminary results indicate that wildlife usage remains high, with coyotes and bobcats seen as frequent visitors to the underpass, as well as skunks and rabbits. The maintenance of this underpass may be critical to maintaining habitat connectivity on both sides of Colima Road, and allowing for wildlife movement with fewer roadkill.