Category Archives: Cape Ann Wildlife

NEW SHORT FILM: THE UNCOMMON COMMON TERN

What fun to encounter a small flock of terns teaching its young to fish. Nearly as large as the adults, the tubby terns cheekily squawk and demand food (shrimp I think in this case). Watch as the fledglings try to master fishing skills while the adults tirelessly guide the young on how to feed themselves.

With thanks to Paul St. Germain, president of the Thacher Island Association, for information about the ongoing restoration of shorebirds on Thacher Island.

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FEBRUARY #BLIZZARD2017 STORM SNAPSHOTS

bass-rocks-ocean-inn-2-gloucester-february-2017-snowstorm-copyright-kim-smith-jpgVenturing out today around 1:00pm, I caught the tail end of the storm. The winds were still blizzarding and great gusts of snow made places like Brace Cove impossible to photograph. The tide was super high at Good Harbor Beach, but not as high as some recent storms. The waves were tremendous, although they weren’t the ginormous rollers of many nor’easters either.

raymonds-beach-gloucester-february-2017-snowstorm-copyright-kim-smith

good-harbor-beach-gloucester-february-2017-snowstorm-copyright-kim-smithSeagulls and sanderlings were hunkering down in the coves and others, sailing the surf. 

Blizzard Spindrifts and Homie #scenesofnewengland #blizzard2017 #gloucesterma #seagulls

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BARRED OWL TALONS

If I were a little creature, I wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end of these bad boys.

barred-owl-talons-copyright-kim-smith-copyGot an Itch

Interestingly, owls have a ratcheting mechanism in their foot, which keeps the toes locked around the prey or branch so the muscles don’t have to remain contracted.

Eyes on Owls is a terrific website for identifying owls commonly, and not so commonly, seen in New England. The owls are listed in descending order of how frequent their occurrence, from the most widespread to the rarest migrant. In our region, the Great Horned Owl is the most common, and the Barred Owl is a close second. Mass Audubon also provides a list of owls that breed in Massachusetts here.

RESPONDING TO READER’S QUESTIONS ABOUT TREE SWALLOWS

tree-swallows-gloucester-massachusetts-5-copyright-kim-smithTo answer several reader’s questions regarding Tree Swallows on Cape Ann –

The birds that we see flocking up and forming a murmation over Gloucester’s downtown skyline are typically European Starlings, a species that was introduced to the U.S. from Europe at the turn of the previous century. The birds that are in the film that I posted yesterday, Dance of the Swallows, are Tree Swallows. They prefer more remote areas such as sand dunes, where the swallows find a wealth of insects.tree-swallows-gloucester-massachusetts-4-copyright-kim-smith

Insects comprise the bulk of their diet. Tree Swallows perch on branches, telephone wires, and in our area, commonly on Northern Bayberry (Myrica pensylvanica) and other dune shrubs. Most birds cannot digest the waxy coating on Bayberries, but Tree Swallows are one of the few species that can. Bayberry fruits do not ripen until September and I wonder if when migrating through Cape Ann in August, the Tree Swallows are eating the insects on and around the plants, not the unripened fruits.

NEW SHORT FILM: TREE SWALLOWS MASSING

This short film is dedicated a dear friend who recently lost a beloved family member. Along with the tender melody by Jules Massenet, especially the last bits of footage (before the credits) made me think of angels and of hope.

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Over the course of the summer while filming the Piping Plover Family at Wingaersheek Beach, Tree Swallows began flocking in ever increasing numbers. They became part of the Piping Plover story not only because a Tree Swallow will occasionally dive bomb a Piping Plover, for whatever reason I am not entirely sure, but also because they are beautiful to observe, and occasionally, seemingly playful, too.

Songbirds that they are, Tree Swallows make a cheery chirping chatter. They have long narrow forked tails, all the better for gliding and for their signature aerial acrobatics. The male’s upper parts are a brilliant iridescent blue-green, the female’s somewhat duller, and both female and male have white underparts. The migrating juveniles are almost entirely brown with either white or pale grayish underparts.tree-swallows-gloucester-massachusetts-11-copyright-kim-smith

Tree Swallows breed in the wetlands and fields of Cape Ann. Their name comes from the species habit of nesting in tree cavities. Tree Swallows have benefited tremendously from efforts to help save the Eastern Bluebird because they also nest in the nest boxes built specifically for the Bluebirds.

Acrobatic aerialists, they twist and turn mid-flight to capture a wide variety of insects including butterflies, dragonflies, greenheads, bees, beetles, and wasps.tree-swallows-gloucester-massachusetts-copyright-kim-smith

Tree Swallows eating insects on the beach and from the crevasses in the driftwood.

Utilizing both fresh and saltwater to bathe, Tree Swallows have a unique habit of quickly dipping and then shaking off the excess water while flying straight upwards.

Tree Swallows begin migrating southward in July and August. The flocks that we see gathering on Cape Ann migrate along the Atlantic Flyway. They overwinter in the southern states of the U.S., Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America. Unlike migrating species of butterflies, several generations of Tree Swallows migrate together, the older birds showing the younger birds the way.

Music composed by Jules Massenet: “Méditation” from Thaïs

HELP FROM READER REGARDING BARRED OWL IN OAK TREE

Recently a reader wrote the following about her Barred Owl:

-There is one in my yard-Have heard him at dusk and my husband has seen him twice in the stand of oak trees near my front door around 6:30AM-Same place I have heard him-You are welcome to come try and get a picture-Patti

Please contact me Patti. Unfortunately your email address is coming up anonymous in the comment section. I can be reached at kimsmithdesigns@hotmail.com. I would really love to come and record audio of your Barred Owl. So very much appreciate your kind offer. Thank you!barred-owl-sleeping-copyright-kim-smith-copy

 

LAST NIGHT’S COYOTE MEETING RECAP

img_4109Pat Huckery 

The informational meeting was conducted by Pat Huckery, the northeast district manager for the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife and was nearly identical to the meeting given last year at this time.

Pat presented the life history of the coyote as well as a number of methods for lessening human encounters with coyotes, most notably to cut off their food supply. Humans providing food to the coyotes directly and indirectly is the number one reason the coyote population has exploded on Cape Ann, and at the top of the list states Pat is bird feeders. She recommends that if you do have a bird feeder, at the very least, clean up the mess left daily underneath the feeders. Spilled bird food attracts rodents and small mammals, which in turn attracts coyotes.

Unsecured garbage as well as pet food left outdoors are also strong coyote attractants.

From my own observation its easy to see why Cape Ann’s coyote population is mushrooming. Our shoreline, marshes, and wooded habitats provide a wealth of food, both hunted and scavenged. I am curious to know if our readers see dead fish and birds washed ashore any longer. In the past I have seen quite a bit more on daily walks and think today the coyotes are providing a service by eating the carcasses.

At the meeting it was suggested that coyotes eat rats. That information seems surprising as rats are highly intelligent and not easily hunted. Additionally, if coyotes are doing such a terrific job eating small mammals and rodents, then why do we have an exploding population of rabbits, chipmunks, and mice? Regrettably conjecture is often presented as fact and unfortunately there is no hard data available. We learned at the meeting that tagging and tracking coyotes is not allowed in Massachusetts under the same provision that does not allow for poisoning and trapping with snares.

Hunting as an approved option for reducing the coyote population was discussed. Local licensed hunter Sam Holmes was in attendance and he can be reached at 978-491-8746. Communities such as Middleton, Rhode Island, have an expanded hunting season to manage the population of specifically coyotes that have lost their fear of humans.

Pat’s Top Recommendations for Lessening Contact with Coyotes

  1. Put away bird feeders, or clean up daily beneath the feeder.
  2. Supervise pets outdoors at all times.
  3. Secure garbage in tight fitting bins and put out the morning of trash collection
  4. Seal up any areas of your home and outbuilding’s foundation that might provide a coyote with a place to hide.
  5. Secure chickens.
  6. Compost in bins.
  7. Under no circumstances, feed coyotes.

Note to the folks who are feeding the coyotes: By feeding the coyote, you are habituating it to people. You may thing you are helping the coyote but you may potentially hasten its demise. Habituated coyotes are considered a serious threat.

If you do come face to face with a coyote, be be big, bold, and brave. Waving and flailing your arms will make you look bigger and scarier, and yelling will startle them.

Coyotes typically do not want to interact with people. Each of the three times I have come face to face with a coyote it was because I was unwittingly between it and potential food. The big, bold, and brave technique is effective although during my most recent coyote encounter, I thought the coyote had departed. He had however instead stealthily circled around to the dead fish on the beach he so determinedly wanted to eat. Eastern Coyote massachusetts beach Canis latrans Kim Smith

Eastern Coyote

CONSERVATION FILM FESTIVAL AT PARKER RIVER AND IT’S ALL FREE!!

All film screenings will take place at the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge visitor center, located at 6 Plum Island Turnpike in Newburyport, MA. All screenings are FREE. There is NO preregistration for this event. Spaces in the 85 seat auditorium will be filled on a first come, first served basis. The refuge phone number is (978) 465-5753.

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FOR THE COMPLETE SCHEDULE OF EVENTS CLICK HERE

REMINDER: COYOTE FORUM TONIGHT AT CITY HALL

Tonight at 7pm the coyote forum will be held at Kyrouz Auditorium. The program sounds similar to the one presented last year at this time. If you plan to go, leave early because last year the auditorium was packed.

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Eastern Coyote, Loblolly Cove
Coyote scat ©Kim Smith 2016Coyote scat, Eastern Point
Coyote lair ©Kim Smith 2016Coyote lair, Brace Cove

COYOTE raiding garbage can left outside house. Rocky Mountains. (Canis latrans).

COYOTE raiding garbage can left outside house.
Rocky Mountains. (Canis latrans).

Coyote eating trash courtesy Google image search

PARKER RIVER NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE PART ONE

Parker River National Wildlife Refuge Part One

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Juvenile Red-tailed Hawk listening for prey

I am in the midst of doing research for the Piping Plover film project and have found the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge to be a great resource. Recently I met a terrific warden there, Jean, and she gave me a copy of the historic brochure written in 1947 by Rachel Carson about the refuge. The brochure was reprinted and if you inquire, they may still have some copies in the back office. You can also download it at this link: Rachel Carson Parker River Wildlife Refuge brochure

The brochure provides an early history of the refuge and is a fascinating view of mid-century conservation. And, too, it is a tremendous example of Carson’s thoughtful and thought-provoking style of writing.

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Barred Owl hunting – The refuge provides over 300 species of migratory and resident birds with vital habitat.

Some interesting facts about the refuge —

Located along the northeastern coast of Massachusetts, the Parker River National Refuge includes lands that lie within the three towns of Rowley, Ipswich, and Newbury. We think of Plum Island as the heart of the refuge. The wildlife refuge also consists of a range of diverse habitats and geographic features; over 3,000 acres of salt marsh, freshwater marsh, shrub lands, a drumlin, cranberry bog, salt pannes, beach and sand dunes, and maritime forest. The land is not conserved to revert back to a wild state, but is intensely managed in order to preserve and maintain the diversity of wildlife habitats.parker-river-national-wildlife-refuge-wardens-headquarters-copyright-kim-smith

The original warden’s headquarters

Unlike our national parks, which preserves parklands and historic buildings, and are designed for people, a national wildlife refuge is established first and foremost for wildlife and their habitats, not for people. The preservation of wildlife is the number one priority of all our national wildlife refuges.plum-island-sunrise-copyright-kim-smith

sandy-point-parker-river-national-wildlife-refuge-copyright-kim-smithPlum Island is a barrier island and especially noteworthy for providing critical habitat for Piping Plovers.

The Parker River National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1942 to help species of waterfowl that migrate along the Atlantic Flyway. There were three sharp declines in waterfowl populations in the early half of the 20th century, notably the American Black Duck, and national wildlife refuges all along the Atlantic coast were created in response to the precipitously low numbers.

parker-river-wildlife-refuge-impoundment-copyright-kim-smithSalt Island Impoundment

As we can see with our local Niles Pond, Henry’s Pond, and Langsford Pond shorebirds, waterfowl, and myriad species of wildlife thrive where they have easy access to both fresh water and salt water. The three bodies of fresh water that you see in the refuge look like ponds but they are actually manmade impoundments, created by dams and are highly controlled by a series of dykes and pumps.parker-river-wildlife-refuge-impoundment-pump-copyright-kim-smith

Salt Island Impoundment Pump

Parker River provides pristine habitats for a wide variety of mammals, insects, fish, reptiles, and amphibians. Hunting birds such as owls, hawks, osprey, eagles, herons, and egrets find an abundance of food at the wildlife refuge. Whenever at Parker River I never not see a raptor!

Red-tailed Hawk Preening

red-tailed-hawk-copyright-kim-smithWhen the Hunter is Hunted

Transfixing Owl Eyes

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Because owls mostly hunt at night their eyes are very efficient at collecting and processing light. To protect their extraordinary eyes, owls are equipped with three eye lids; an upper and a lower lid, and a third lid that diagonally closes across the eye. This action cleans and protects the eye.

 

More about Parker River National Wildlife Refuge to come.

SHORT VIDEO CLIP: THE PIPING PLOVERS OF GOOD HARBOR BEACH

Work has begun in earnest sorting through all the Piping Plover footage and editing the documentary. In the mean time, I thought readers would enjoy this rare moment where we catch a glimpse of the new born chicks, with both mom and dad together.

Impossibly tiny—no larger than a marshmallow—moments after hatching a Piping Plover chick is on the move, running, tumbling, somersaulting, face-planting, and curious about every little thing in their brand new great big world. PuffPuff, FluffFluff, and TootsiePop are less than twenty-four hours old in this clip. Our East Gloucester neighborhood kids named the Plover family after spending an afternoon getting to know them, watching safely from outside the roped off area.

Dad Joe finds an impression in the sand and the chicks come running to warm under his protective wings. Piping Plover chicks can feed themselves at birth but can’t yet perfectly regulate their body temperature. They need Mom and Dad for protection and for the warmth they provide. After a few moments rest, Joe pops up and Joy zooms in to take his place. Watch how PuffPuff does a somersault and FluffFluff gives her a little bump out of their cozy nest. Mom runs off camera to create a new resting spot and the chicks are chided by piping calls to come join her.

In shades of bone and driftwood, note how beautifully the Plovers are camouflaged in the colors of the sand and dry beach grass. There isn’t a living thing that doesn’t pose a threat to these most vulnerable of creatures. For protection against predators they will soon learn how to stand perfectly still when Joe and Joy pipe commands, but for now, it’s willy-nilly around the beach, much to the parents great consternation.

Thanks to Esme, Lotus, Meadow, Frieda, and Ruby for naming the Piping Plover family!

piping-plover-chicks-babies-nestlings-male-female-copyright-kim-smithThe male Piping Plover is on the left, the female, on the right. The male’s little black forehead band makes it easier to distinguish between the two.

$463,141: City Council okays 14 CPA grants for 2016. Info meeting for 2017 application February 8th

Congratulations to the 2016 (round 7) awardees!  Their final presentations were at City Council on Tuesday.

 

Since Gloucester voted to approve the Community Preservation Act (CPA) in 2008, the city has administered 7 rounds of funded projects throughout our community. Have a look at who you helped fund in 2016

  1. North Shore CDC and Action, Harbor Village *missing this photo but great presentation!
  2. Cape Ann Amateur Radio Association, Wheeler School House & GFD Riverdale Hose, No 2
  3. Mt. Pleasant Cemetery, Civil War Monument
  4. Generous Gardeners, Stacy Boulevard Gardens
  5. Stage Fort Park Advisory Committee, Welcome Center Renovations
  6. Community Development Dept., Stage Fort Park Beautification Project
  7. City Clerk’s Office, Archives Initial Storage Project, Phase I
  8. Oak Grove Cemetery, Oak Grove Cemetery continued restoration
  9. Gloucester Committee for the Arts, “Out of the Shadows: Gloucester’s historic Depression Era Mural” preserve & restore murals with refined project scope,discovery and schedule of work
  10. Historic New England, Beauport Museum, outer building roof replacement
  11. Sargent Museum, Preservation of porch, granite steps & retaining wall
  12. Gloucester Writers Center, Preservation of Maud/Olsen Library & GWC Archives
  13. Maritime Gloucester, Rehab & Restoration of the railway
  14. Friends of Burnham’s Field, Continued rehab of Phase I of Burnham’s Field Restoration

Safe bet you might know someone assisting one of these projects. Who else helps?  The volunteers on the Community Preservation Committee are fantastic: Catherine Bill Dugan, Catherine Schlichte, Henry McCarl, David Rhinelander, John Feener, Barbara Silberman, Heide Wakeman, Ellen Preston, and Scott Smith. There’s no break for this committee. From start to finish the process from an applicant’s perspective takes nearly a year. Depending upon the project, it will involve assistance from the Community Preservation Committee, City staff and various departments, City Council, City Council sub committees, and the administration.  Just as one round winds down, the next year’s process and round of applicants gears up. Visit the Community Preservation Committee page on the City website to learn more about the CPA and to see prior projects.

Save the date:The Community Preservation Committee will be hosting an information meeting for prospective 2017 applicants at Sawyer Free on  February 8, 2017 at 6pm. Applications are due April 17, 2017.

Debbie Laurie, a Senior Project Manager in the Community Development Department who manages Grants and CPA for the City writes about the info meeting: “We want to help guide applicants through the process and answer any questions you may have before filling out an application.  We can also determine if your project is actually eligible or not.  Please pass the word around if you know of anyone that may be interested. “

CALM AFTER THE STORM

mr-swan-sleeping-2-copyright-kim-smithMr. Swan was safely nestled in along the shore at Niles Pond yesterday morning during the nor’easter. I found him this morning sleeping amongst the reeds, none the worse for the storm.

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Niles Pond Causeway

The newly restored causeway weathered the storm beautifully. By day’s end the waves had settled but this morning at high tide they were still packing some fury. In the next photo, I am standing on the far side of the pond, looking towards Brace Cove. As you can see, the waves were crashing into the causeway.

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AMERICAN EXPERIENCE “RACHEL CARSON” PREMIERES TONIGHT ON PBS (AND DEBORAH CRAMER IS IN IT!)

I’ve been very much looking forward to the debut of Rachel Carson and posted it on facebook yesterday as it is premiering tonight. Cape Ann environmental author Deborah Cramer then shared that she is in the documentary!!!

From an American Experience, “Rachel Carson is an intimate portrait of the woman whose groundbreaking books revolutionized our relationship to the natural world. When Silent Spring was published in September 1962 it became an instant bestseller and would go on to spark dramatic changes in the way the government regulated pesticides.

Rachel Carson premieres January 24 at 8/7c on PBS.”

Visit Deborah’s website for more about her beautiful book The Narrow Edge: A Tiny Bird, An Ancient Crab, and An Epic Journey, which was named Best Book by the National Academy of Sciences, and is the winner of both the Rachel Carson Book Award and the Reed Award in Environmental Writing.

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COYOTE FORUM SCHEDULED FOR FEBRUARY 2nd FROM 7 TO 9PM

eastern-coyote-canis-latrans-massachusetts-kim-smithFROM THE MAYOR:

COYOTE FORUM SCHEDULED FOR FEBRUARY 2nd FROM 7 TO 9PM

Our city continues to discuss coyote conflicts with state partners, including Mass Environmental Police, Mass Division of Fisheries & Wildlife, and the Governor’s office, with direct conversations with the Lieutenant Governor. In addition to the on-going research by ad-hoc groups, our newly formed Animal Advisory Board will provide new insights (we need new members on this board, so please consider applying). Lastly, we are setting up a meeting tentative for Thursday, Feb 2nd from 7PM to 9PM at City Hall to host another informal coyote forum with information from state environmental partners, animal control, and time for questions and answers, too. We will continue to press our state leaders for safe and swift solutions and additional police and animal patrols remain on alert across Gloucester. Please see the link from Mass.gov on helpful tips and resolving conflicts (which includes law stating, “Coyotes taking pets are not considered an immediate threat to human safety, therefore ACO’s and municipal police departments are not authorized to remove these wild animals.”) We will provide more updates as they develop. Thank you.

 

 

YES, EASTERN COYOTES ARE HYBRIDS, BUT THE ‘COYWOLF’ IS NOT A THING

Talk of “coywolves” – a blend of coyote and wolf – is everywhere. There is a PBS special called “Meet the Coywolf,” a recent article in the Economist, and it is now trending on Facebook. The media really love this new animal name.

There is no doubt that there is a hybrid canid living in the eastern US, and that it is the result of an amazing evolution story unfolding right underneath our noses.

However, this is not a new species – at least not yet – and I don’t think we should start calling it a “coywolf.”

Genetic swapping

What creature are we talking about? In the last century, a predator – I prefer the name “eastern coyote” – has colonized the forests of eastern North America, from Florida to Labrador.

New genetic tests show that all eastern coyotes are actually a mix of three species: coyote, wolf and dog. The percentages vary, dependent upon exactly which test is applied and the geographic location of the canine.

Coyotes in the Northeast are mostly (60%-84%) coyote, with lesser amounts of wolf (8%-25%) and dog (8%-11%). Start moving south or east and this mixture slowly changes. Virginia animals average more dog than wolf (85%:2%:13% coyote:wolf:dog) while coyotes from the Deep South had just a dash of wolf and dog genes mixed in (91%:4%:5% coyote:wolf:dog). Tests show that there are no animals that are just coyote and wolf (that is, a coywolf), and some eastern coyotes that have almost no wolf at all.

In other words, there is no single new genetic entity that should be considered a unique species. Instead, we are finding a large intermixing population of coyotes across the continent, with a smattering of noncoyote DNA mixed in to varying degrees along the eastern edge. The coywolf is not a thing.

All eastern coyotes show some evidence of past hybridization, but there is no sign that they are still actively mating with dogs or wolves. The coyote, wolf and dog are three separate species that would very much prefer not to breed with each other. However, biologically speaking, they are similar enough that interbreeding is possible.

This genetic swapping has happened more than once in their history; one study showed that the gene for black coat color found in North American wolves and coyotes today (but not in Old World wolves) originated in dogs brought to the continent by the earliest Native Americans. Some prehistoric hybridization event transferred the dog gene into wild wolves and coyotes.

The eastern coyote is born

We can estimate the date of the most recent hybridization events that created eastern coyotes by analyzing their genetic structure. Their DNA show that about 100 years ago, coyotes mated with wolves, and about 50 years ago with dogs. A century ago, wolf populations in the Great Lakes were at their nadir, living at such low density that some reproductive animals probably couldn’t find another wolf mate, and had to settle with a coyote.

The more recent date for the dog hybridization likely results from a cross-species breeding event at the very leading edge of the wave of colonizing coyotes in the east, possibly after a few females first spanned the St Lawrence seaway into upstate New York, where they would have encountered abundant feral dogs, but no other coyotes.

Nowadays, eastern coyotes have no problem finding a coyote mate. Their populations continue to grow throughout their new forested range, and they seem more likely to kill a dog than breed with it. Wolf populations in the Great Lakes have also recovered, and the wolf is once again the worst enemy of the coyote, rather than its last-chance prom date.

Coyotes have also expanded north into Alaska, although there is no sign of hybridization in that range extension. In Central America, they have expanded out of Mexico’s deserts, working their way south past the Panama Canal in the last decade, apparently bound for South America.

No genetic studies have looked at Central American coyotes, but photographs of doglike animals suggest that coyotes might be mixing it up across species lines along the leading edge of this southward expansion as well.

Coywolfdog evolution

Hybridization across species is a natural evolutionary phenomenon. The old notion that an inability to breed should define what a species is has been abandoned by zoologists (with a resounding “I told you so” from botanists). Even modern humans are hybrids, with traces of Neanderthal and Denisovan genes mixed into our genome.

The first requirement for evolution is variation, and mixing genes from two species creates all sorts of new variations for evolution to act on. Most of these probably die, being a compromise between two longstanding species that were already well-adapted to their own niches.

However, in today’s rapidly changing world, new variations might actually do better than the old types. Some of these genetic mixes will survive better than others – this is natural selection.

The coyote with a bit of wolf genes to make it slightly larger was probably better able to handle deer, which are overabundant in eastern forests, but still wily enough to live in a landscape full of people. These animals thrived, dispersed east and thrived again, becoming the eastern coyote.

Exactly which dog and wolf genes are surviving natural selection in today’s eastern coyote is an area of active research.

Coyotes with odd coat colors or hair types are probably the most conspicuous sign of dog genes in action, while their slightly larger size might come from wolf genes. Some of these genes will help an animal survive and breed; others will make them less fit. Natural selection is still sorting this out, and we are witnessing the evolution of a new type of coyote right under our noses, one that is very good at living there.

Western coyotes adapt locally to their environments, with limited gene flow between populations (called “ecotypes”) living in different habitats, presumably reflecting local specialization.

Will eastern coyotes specialize locally as well? How will dog and wolf genes sort out across cities and wildernesses of the east?

Expect some really cool science in the next few years as researchers use modern genetic tools to sniff out the details of this story.

Evolution still in progress

There are many examples of bad animal names that cause a lot of confusion.

The fisher is a large type of weasel that does not eat fish (it prefers porcupines). The mountain beaver of the Pacific Northwest is not a beaver and does not live in the mountains. And then there’s the sperm whale…

We don’t get many opportunities to name new animals in the 21st century. We shouldn’t let the media mess up this one by declaring it a new species called the coywolf. Yes, there are wolf genes in some populations, but there are also eastern coyotes with almost no wolf genes, and others that have as much dog mixed in as they do wolf. “Coywolf” is an inaccurate name that causes confusion.

The coyote has not evolved into a new species over the last century. Hybridization and expansion have created a host of new coyote variations in the east, and evolution is still sorting these out. Gene flow continues in all directions, keeping things mixed up, and leading to continual variation over their range, with no discrete boundaries.

Could evolution eventually lead to a coyote so specialized for eastern forests that they would be considered a unique species? Yes, but for this to happen, they would have to cut off gene flow with nonhybrid animals, leading to distinct types of coyotes that (almost) never interbreed. I think we are a long way from this possibility.

For now, we have the eastern coyote, an exciting new type of coyote in the midst of an amazing evolutionary transition. Call it a distinct “subspecies,” call it an “ecomorph,” or call it by its scientific name Canis latrans var. But don’t call it a new species, and please, don’t call it the coywolf.

Disclosure statement:

Roland Kays does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond the academic appointment above.

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Following images and video courtesy google image search

Garbage, bird seed, and fallen fruit attract coyotes to your backyard.

COYOTE raiding garbage can left outside house. Rocky Mountains. (Canis latrans).

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Coyotes: My Take 1/17/17

Here’s the thing. Back when I photographed my first interaction with local coyotes in the early days of the blog my stance was that coyotes are horrible and we might want to think about eradicating them (as if that’s even a possibility). Now 9 years later and living in East Gloucester where we routinely see them and hear them howling nightly. I’ve crossed paths with many coyotes since that time. They want nothing to do with us. You yell, they run. You wave your arms in the air, they really run. “Seven coyote bites recorded ever. This compares to the 4.7 million dog bites annually.” Source thelocalne.ws My stance officially changed when thinking about how much we would hear about coyote bites or deaths in the news because my line of thinking was that it would get seven day a week above the fold coverage if a person was killed by a coyote, and it just hasn’t happened. So my stance has completely changed in the past four years after realizing that while living in the heart of coyote territory in between the golf course and the seine fields that these creatures really want nothing to do with us humans unless we leave food out for them in the form of small pets. I’m sorry for the poor family that lost its pet.

The time when I nearly shit my pants coming face to face with a coyote on the Good harbor Foot Bridge-

Coyote at Good Harbor Beach 4:55AM 7/5/08

I was fumbling with my camera as I figured the coyote would take off and there would be very little time to take the picture. He did take off, and circled back to the footbridge where I snapped a lousy shot with the terrible light and the coyote moving around. Heart racing a bit making it difficult to hold the camera steady for the long exposure shot. I did my best though and this is what I came up with-

Face To Face With The Coyote On The Footbridge At Good Harbor

I nearly shit when I turned the corner on the footbridge and came face to face with the coyote.  Forgive my blurry, out of focus picture but my heart was beating a mile a minute and I wasn’t going to stick around to see what it was going to do next.  You can click the picture and select “all sizes” to see a bigger version of the shot.

Face To Face With The Coyote On The Footbridge At Good Harbor, originally uploaded by captjoe06.

Gloucester At Dawn Poor Dead Coyote On Moorland Road 4:50AM 5/22/10

This poor coyote must have gotten hit by a vehicle within the past few hours as the blood was still vibrant red.

RIP Mr Coyote.  Hope your life on the island was a good one.

There must have been quite an impact to make his eye bug out like that on one side of his head.

(EDITED) GLOUCESTER POODLE MAULED AND KILLED BY COYOTE WHILE WOMEN FORCED TO TAKE REFUGE IN CAR

Editor’s note: Please keep comments civil. Thank you.

eastern-coyote-canis-latrans-massachusetts-kim-smithimg_4034Councilman Scott Memhard shares photo of the porch where the poddle was killed

AS reported in thelocalnews.ws

Sumac Lane, Rocky Neck

GLOUCESTER — The mayor and police chief are advising residents to keep a careful watch on all pets after a resident’s dog was killed by a coyote last night.

Two women who tried to save the dog were forced to hide in a car after the coyote turned on them.

Mayor Sefatia Romeo Theken and Interim Chief John McCarthy issued the advice after the dog was attacked last night (January 15).

At around 9:30 p.m., “Gloucester Animal Control responded to Sumac Lane for reports of a resident whose dog had been attacked and killed by a coyote,” a police statement said.

“The dog was on a fixed leash in the yard while its owner was inside the home. Animal control officers searched the surrounding area but did not find the coyote,” it added.

Rocky Neck resident Mark Olsen told WBZ TV the dog, a poodle, belonged to his 75-year-old mother.

The dog was out for about five minutes when the coyote attacked, he told reporters.

Olsen said his mother and sister “tried to save the dog, but they had to hide in their car when the coyote came after them,” WBZ said.

As a result, animal control officers and Gloucester Environmental Police are monitoring the entire Rocky Neck area today.

City officials said the coyote population has been increasing on Cape Ann recently. Olsen agreed, saying he had seen three or four recently. He also said they are becoming “more brazen.”

The Boston Globe reported last year that 250 residents attended a meeting last year to voice concern about the increasing coyote population.

In October 2015, a woman drinking coffee on her front porch was attacked by a coyote, according to Good Morning Gloucester.

To prevent coyote attacks, Gloucester Police advise residents to follow safety tips from the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife:

  1. Do not approach, feed, pet, or try to interact with wildlife, including coyotes, foxes, or other wild animals.
  2. It is always a good idea to leash pets at all times if outdoors. Small cats and dogs are seen as prey and larger dogs competition.
  3. Don’t hesitate to scare or threaten coyotes with loud noises, bright lights, or water sprayed from a hose.
  4. Cut back bushy edges, as these areas provide cover for coyotes and their prey.
  5. Secure your garbage. Coyotes raid open trash materials and compost piles. Secure your garbage in tough plastic containers with tight-fitting lids and keep them in secure buildings when possible.
  6. Take out trash when the morning pick-up is scheduled, not the previous night.
  7. Keep compost in secure, vented containers, and keep barbecue grills clean to reduce attractive odors.
  8. Keep bird feeder areas clean. Use feeders designed to keep seed off the ground, as the seed attracts many small mammals coyotes prey upon.
  9. Remove feeders if coyotes are regularly seen around your yard.

More information regarding the city’s increasing coyote population will be released on the City of Gloucester website this week.

Anyone who sees a coyote in Gloucester should immediately contact Gloucester Animal Control at 978-281-9746.eastern-coyote-massachusetts-kim-smith

 

CROWS OF THE SEA

double-crested-cormorant-rockport-harbor-massachusetts-closeup-eye-copyright-kim-smith

These aquamarine-eyed beauties were very nearly made extinct from the use of the pesticide DDT and from hunting. DDT wreaked havoc on avian creatures nationwide and since its ban, the Double-crested Cormorant has made an extraordinary recovery, so much so, that some communities spend a great deal of time and expense planning how to kill, or cull, these remarkable birds. Read here for a very thoughtful article on the topic, “To Kill a Cormorant.”double-crested-cormorant-rockport-harbor-massachusetts-3-copyright-kim-smithdouble-crested-cormorant-rockport-harbor-massachusetts-2-copyright-kim-smithdouble-crested-cormorant-rockport-harbor-massachusetts-copyright-kim-smith

doublec-crested-cormorants-rockport-harborPair of Juvenile Double-crested Cormorants at Rockport Harbor

double-crested-cormorants-massing-essex-river-1-copyright-kim-smithDouble-crested Cormorants massing at the mouth of the Essex River in late summer

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double_crested_cormorant_map_big

800px-double-crested_cormorant_during_breeding_seasonThe Double-crested Cormorant get its common name from the double tufts of feathers seen on both male and females, showing only during breeding season. The crests can be white, black, or a combination of both. Photo courtesy wiki.

 

EARLY MORNING SCENES FROM BEAUTIFUL ROCKPORT HARBOR, GRANITE PIER, MR. SWAN AND DUCK ENTOURAGE, PAIR OF JUVENILE DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANTS, FV WINDY, AND OF COURSE, MOTIF NO.1

Photos from an early morning walk all around Rockport Harbor (sub0zero walk I should add). My technique for photographing when it’s 10 degrees out is to snap away until my fingers can’t stand it any more, run back to the car, which has been left running, warm up, and then try again. Repeat in ten to fifteen minute intervals. I have the utmost respect for the fishermen; I don’t understand how they can work on the water when the air temperature is so cold.

rockport-congregational-church-sun-rays-copyright-kim-smithRockport Congregational Church and Shalin Liu Sunrays

Double-crested cormorant-juvenile-sleeping-rockport-harbor-copyright-kim-smithOne of a sleeping pair of juvenile Double-crested Cormorants

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