Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas From Your Friendly Neighborhood Trailblazer!

Hello Y'all....

Not much new to post.  After the craziness of the end of the semester, finals, etc....we almost immediately left and drove over five hours to visit the in-laws for a few days.  After that, we went to visit my side of the family (but they live close by, so it was just for the day). 

Thus, there's been little time to think about blogging.

However, one good thing happened....we finally got some snow.

This made my daughter (and me) happy.  It was nice to have some of the white stuff around for Christmas. 

My daughter and I took some time to play outside quite a bit recently.

Then, on Christmas Eve, I built a little fire.....lit up the grill....and enjoyed the cool whether with a few dark, malty libations while cooking some grass-fed Porterhouse steaks for the wife and kid.

Very enjoyable.

No real wildlife-related pics or videos from this year....and even looked back through my files from last year and really could find only this little clip of a very nice buck taken on Christmas of 2011. 

Not one of Ol' St. Nick's....but with a rack like that, it looks "Reindeer-ish" at first glance.  :)

Merry Christmas & Happy Holidays to everyone!!

See you on the other end of the trail!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

A Birthday Otter?

Normally, I wouldn't submit two blog posts so close to one another, and I have a bunch of exam-writting I should be doing....but this picture astounded me.  I had to post about it quickly.

I checked the cams for one of my research projects this morning, and when I perused the pictures the one below caused me to do a double-take.

I can't be 100% certain, but I'm pretty confident this is a River Otter (Lontra canadensis). 

The wide long tail....the "slicked" back appearance of the fur....and the heavy creases in the pad of that right hind foot.

See an example of an otter rump here.

An example of some otter hind feet here (scroll down).

Your thoughts on this would be much apprecaited!

Why is this so interesting to me?

First of all....I have a fondness for Mustelids....and have always went the extra-mile for pics of them.

Second of all, I've gotten so few opportunities to get pictures of River Otters (see here, here, and here). Furthermore, I've been cam-trapping this property for almost two years with no otters!

Third: this location is high and dry (on a hill surrounded by pine trees and deciduous hardwoods).  The nearest appreciable water body is a small-medium sized stream about 0.32 miles to the west.  Coming to the spot with the camera from that stream would require crossing a county road, some back yards and a corn field.  There is a stormwater retention pond on an industrial property to the south (about 0.12 miles from the camera) but it doesn't strike me as big enough for otters.  It also would require crossing a fairly busy county road.  Just beyond the retention pond is a ditch (0.16 miles from the camera).  Yet, at the point when this ditch is closest to the camera, it's barely a trickle.  As one follows the ditch further south, it begins to widen (~ 0.32 miles from the camera) and eventually reaches the point that it's fed by a small-medium sized creek (0.55 miles from the camera location).

Now, it's no shock that otters can move considerable distances.  Movements of up to 42 km (26 miles) along a stream/river in one day have been reported (Melquist and Hornocker 1983). 

But the picture above would be of an overland movement.

Furthermore, this critter is heading north.  If he/she kept on this trajectory, he would run into a deciduous hardwood forest that is in an early stage of succession (lots of shrubs, etc.) and then move into a fallow grassland/old field.  Beyond this, in all directions are agricultural fields.  To the north or east of this camera, the otter would have to travel 2-3 miles (through agricultural fields) to reach a decent water body again.  Of course, she/he could cut back to the west and hit the stream that runs north-south again (like I said, it's about 0.32 miles from the camera).

However, some digging in the literature revealed that sizeable overland movements are known for River Otters....including treks over mountain ranges!  Magoun and Valkenburg (1977) report new observations (at that time) of River Otters on the north slope of the Brooks Range in Alaska.  This would have required they travel 150-200 km (~93-124 miles) from the places where they had been previously known on the south edge of the range.

Thus, I suppose the little overland movement I observed isn't so suprising.

Regardless, the picture of this critter occurred on my birthday.

So....happy birthday to me!!!

Literature Cited:

Magoun, A.J. and P. Valkenburg. 1977. The River Otter (Lutra canadensis) on the north slope of the Brooks Range, Alaska.  Canadian Field-Naturalist 91:303-305.

Melquist, W.E. and M.G. Hornocker. 1983. Ecology of River Otters in west central Idaho.  Wildlife Monographs no. 83. pp. 3-60.

Monday, December 10, 2012

The Killer

Whiskers is doing what feral cats do best.....

Finals are coming...the end of the semester is looming and time for blogging is limited!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Death of a Titan

A Titan has fallen.

And...no....this individual hasn't fallen in the way you might imagine.

This Brute wasn't felled by a bullet or an arrow (he was far too smart to be outwitted by the average hunter).

It was the mechanical beast.....that metallic slayer......death on wheels.....which brought this Titan down.

A student forwarded these pictures to me a few days ago.  They were taken in a cornfield along a roadside not far from where we had obtained photos and video clips of large bucks just a few weeks ago.

Photo by B. Chapman
Photo by B. Chapman
Photo by B. Chapman

Comparing pics of the roadkilled specimen above to the individual below, would suggest to me they are one and the same.

A fairly sad state of affairs, if you ask me.

This impressive individual was removed from the breeding population at (what would appear to be) the prime of his life.

Although....it's not all gloom and doom, I suppose.  As far as I can tell, the big fella below is still wandering around out there somewhere (he was also the star of a recent blog post here).  We'll see if he lasts the hunting season.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Happy Walkin' Bird Day!

I know it's cliche and all that jazz....but why not show some pictures of Walkin' Birds to celebrate how delicious they taste?  AND to celebrate Thanksgiving with family and friends, of course!

Below are some recent pics of the rafter that's been hanging out behind the house all year.  I'm assuming these are the poults that were hatched on-site this summer (see here).  It's interesting that despite the resident Red Foxes and Coyotes in the area, most of these poults are surviving.

One morning last week, I took the dog outside for one of his daily evacuations and heard the unmistakable sound of turkeys clumsily flying through tree branches.  I looked up and the group of them had been roosting in the pine and oak trees right behind the house the night before. 

I saw the same rafter again this morning as I walked behind the house to check my cameras.

I was able to count 15 of them.

I, personally, can't wait to tuck in to some juicy Walkin' Bird....sweet potato souffle....maple pudding...sunshine corn bread....mashed potatoes....green bean casserole.....rice pudding.....pumpkin pie........and etc.

Happy Walkin' Bird Day (and a Happy Thanksgiving)
to Everyone!!

Friday, November 16, 2012

White-Tail Chemical Ecology

I accummulate hundreds and hundreds of White-Tail Deer pictures and video clips throughout the year.  I realize that countless pictures of deer get a bit boring and repetitive.  This is evidenced by the fact that my blog entries related to deer consistently have the lowest numbers of views compared to my other entries. 

Therefore, I try to limit the number of entries I write that are focused solely on deer.  I obviously can't help showing you all any large bucks I happen to get (at least once or twice a year)....they are just too impressive when in their prime not to be enamoured with them.  Yet, I try and focus deer-related posts to something specific regarding interesting behavior or phenomena....and I think the interactions below fall into that category.

The video clips below provide a bit of insight into how frequently bucks and does return to investigate a scent location....and also for how long they will return to this spot over time.  Granted, this is a sample size of 1....but it's still neat to see.

You'll also note that there is not a single clip that occurs during the daylight.  Even though the behavior below is occuring outside of the rifle hunting season in our area, most of my pics/videos of deer activity throughout the fall and winter (particularly for the large bucks) happens at night.  There's tons of deer out there....but they're just too dang "smart".  I often wonder if pressure from hunting hasn't acted as a force that drives natural selection to "favor" individuals that more often operate at night....and thus don't get shot! 

But, that's a different topic of discussion.

The camera that took these clips is mounted on the trunk of a very young tree.  The trunk is pretty narrow and the branches are low to the ground (in fact, I had to trim some away just to access the tree trunk for camera mounting). 

The camera was deployed to this location on the morning of 9/26/2012.


9:23 pm:  Doe browsing a bit, but also stopping by to investigate some fox urine that I put out.

11:28 pm: One of The Brutes comes by to investigate....

9/27 to 9/28/2012 (evening to early morning)

7:24 pm: A doe (perhaps the same one from the previous night) once again is sniffing around the same spot...

10:07 pm: The Brute comes by to get a nose-full.....
He then moves towards another low-hanging branch.  He appears to browse a bit, but also deposit scent from his forehead glands....

11:32 pm:  A small buck stops by.  I think he's part of  set of twins that belong to the doe that visits this spot.  He does some browsing, but also appears to investigate the scent from the larger male....

 1:42 am:  The young feller comes back to sniff around a bit.

1:46 am: There's a-doings a-transpirin' off to the right of our field of view!  Something is shaking the limbs of the tree the camera is mounted on, and kicking up the grass.  You can also barely see a pair of eyes watching cautiously in the background (far left).

You can probably guess who's responsible for the ruckus (the little buck also skee-daddles in the background).

......wait for it.....

"Holy .....!  What was that all about?!"
9/28/2012 (evening)

8:59 pm: A doe sniffs the branch that appears to be a despository for scent from the forehead glands of the big male...
For the next two days, the doe and the young bucks come back and sniff around some more.

9/30 to 10/1/2012 (evening to early morning)

11:39 pm: The Brute comes back to invesitage his scent branch...

1:03 am:  There's another ruckus off-screen....and then....

...wait for it....
The Crown!


Although the buck meandered by this spot again once or twice, I never saw the back and forth investigation of scent after the first of October.  The camera was moved from this location on November 14, 2012.  So all of that activity was occuring over a period of about 5 days.  An important caveat: almost immediately after I mounted the camera...I was getting clips of this behavior.  Who knows how long it was going on prior to me mounting the camera.

It is worth noting that I started seeing the first actual buck scrapes on the ground in about mid-October at this site.  You may also recall that I first started seeing velvet rubbed off of antlers (at a different site) on September 8, 2012.

It is also fun to go all the way back to the beginning of the year and look at when the antlers first starting showing on these bucks. At the site where the video clips above were taken, antler nubs first became evident on April 17, 2012.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Hedonist Coyote

These are probably some of my favorite Coyote (Canis latrans) video clips that I've been lucky enough to get with a camera trap.

The majority of the pictures and video clips that I have of Coyotes are fleeting....mostly I have quick shots, or blurry shots of an individual before it was spooked and ran off.

Not the case here.  In fact, this Coyote appears to be luxuriating in the fact that he can roll around in a bit of urine.  Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes) urine to be precise.

I'm obviously anthropomorphizing, but he almost appears to dive in with great relish.....and expresses little obvious concern for any potential threats.  This is not at all what I'm used to from Coyotes on my cameras....

He also gets alittle mouthy on one of the stakes that I use to hold scent....

Now.....in the past, I've gotten pictures that appear to indicate Coyotes show some hefty aversion to the red LEDs on the camera traps (see here and here).

This individual shows none of that (particularly in the second clip below, where he must be getting a face-full of red LED).  I've been camera trapping this site for over a year now.  Perhaps that's enough time for them to fully acclimate.  Also...the fact that we are not too ridiculously far out of the mating season (January/February) may have something to do with it.

Also of interest:  there is a similar scent stake on the left of our field of view that is holding Coyote urine.


Once satisfied, Wil E. decides to move along in search of other opportunities.

I've posted on this type of "scent rolling" behavior in the past (involving a Gray Fox, Urocyon cinereoargenteus) from North Carolina.  I also included a brief review of existing literature that I could find on the topic, which I'll re-post at the bottom.

Roughly half an hour later, a trio of rather concerned White-tails cautiously come along to check things out.
If they are the group I've seen most of the summer/fall, it's a doe and her twin boys.....

The reason why canines roll in scented-stuff is not fully understood or agreed upon.  Although a plethora of anecdotal and pseudo-scientific explanations for this behavior can be found on many websites (usually associated with training domestic dogs), I have not found one that backs their claims up with hard data, or references to scientific literature.

Mech and Boitani (Wolves: Behavior, Ecology & Conservation, 2003) summarize research that has been done on wolves to help better understand this phenomenon.  But even the work they cite, although giving good information about what type of scent-stimuli wolves will choose to roll in, does not clearly indicate why they do it! 

The general possibilities proposed to explain this behaior include: (1) "familiarization with novel odors or change in odors", (2) "strong attraction or aversion to particular odors", (3) "concealing one's own scent with something more pungent" (an obvious advantage for a hunting carnivor), and (4) "making oneself more attractive by applying novel odor".  An interesting study on African wild dogs found that females will roll in the urine of the lead male in a pack they are trying to join.  This may increase their chances of acceptance becuase they are coated in a scent familiar to the pack they are hoping to get in with (Frame et al. 1979).  It has also been proposed that individuals roll in specific scents to bring back information to others in their packs.  For example, bringing back information about the age of a carcass found to others in the pack.....

Literature Cited and Further Readings on Scent-Rubbing in Carnivores:

Frame, L.H., J.R. Malcolm, G.W. Frame, and H. van Lawick. 1979. Social organization of African Wild Dogs (Lycaon pictus) on the Serengeti Plains, Tanzania 1967-1978. Zoological Tierpsychology 50:225-249. (note: I could not find the above article, and was not able to read it....so my comments on this study are based on what Mech and Boitani report)

Reiger, I. 1979. Scent rubbing in carnivores. Carnivores 2:17-25.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

That Darn Cat!

The number of feral cats round these parts is staggering.  Last year, I posted a round of mugshots from individuals skulking around the property (see here).  Since that time, our local feral cat population has not appeared to decline much.

This summer we experienced an unusually long period of drought (weeks long, in fact).  We don't normally feed the birds because we have a nice variety already without spending the cash on birdseed.  Yet, after seeing American Robins hopping around our back porch trying to drink water from the saucers below our potted plants....we caved and put up a makeshift bird bath. 

It wasn't long before Sylvester started stalking around the perimeter of the bath, watching the inhabitants.  I made sure that every puddy-tat I saw got chased off...hoping to instill in them some negative association of the Pavlovian variety with our house. 

Didn't seem to work, though.

A manuscript published several years ago estimated that feral cats and pet cats allowed to roam free kill roughly 1 BILLION wild birds annually in the U.S. (and this is a conservative estimate; Dauphine and Cooper 2009). 

Believe it or not, I haven't seen a cat take a bird on our property (although I'm sure it happens).  I have, however, obtained evidence that they get other wild prey (see below).

Several of the original inhabitants, first photographed when we arrived over a year go, are still around......although a few seem to be gone.

There are are also some new faces.

Calico Joe
This one had been a constant figure on the property from last fall through early spring.  But I haven't seen much of old Joe this summer and fall.  He may no longer be around....although the other night as I drove up to the house I saw a kitty that looked very similar dart across the street.  Might have been him.

Mr. Marmalade:
He's definitely been around since last year and was the individual I captured a picture of killing a chipmunk a year ago.  He must be a wily sort.  Others have come and gone since last year, but Mr. Marmalade keeps on showing up.  He's the only one that I've consistently gotten pictures over the last year.  Probably his coat color helps him blend in.....something useful for hunting and hiding.

I first saw this one in early spring 2012, but he has been a permanent figure on my cameras since.  I probably have more pictures of Tiger than any other feral puddy tat on-site.  Although I don't think he's been around as long as Mr. Marmalade, he has staying power.

Mr. Boots
I only have one picture of Bootsie from this spring.  He almost looks like a Siamese, but I haven't gotten a face-shot of him, and he's only been through once.

I don't think I'd seen this one until late September of this year.  Yet, since that time she/he's been photographed consistently.  He/She seems a bit small, so might be a juvenile.

Another new one from late summer 2012.  Also looks on the small side, like it might be a juvenile.  Since late August, he has shown up on my cameras frequently. (Note; this picture also portrays how dry it was this summer.  Compare this picture to the picture taken of Mr. Boots above at the same location in May).

These are just the cats that have passed this one camera location. There are others on-site, and some that appear to have moved on.

For example:
Here Tiger is following a long haired such-n-such that I saw commonly last fall and in the early spring, but has been AWOL since.

There's also El Diablo, whom I've posted about before.  He was everywhere this spring, but has been gone for months.

BUT....don't be fooled by the cutesy names.  These kitties have claws!  And they use them to great effect on native wildlife.

What I find the most un-fathomable is that, of the literally tens of thousands of camera trap pictures and video clips generated from projects I've been involved with....I've only ever gotten pictures that definitively show predation being committed by one species:

Felis catus

No fox predation shots, no coyotes, no nothing.  But I have a numerous pictures of kitties carrying a meal of native wildlife in their mouth.

The first of these incidences involved an Eastern Chipmunk (Tamias striatus), which was in my post from a year ago.

There have been more acts of predation captured since that time....

Here is a picture of Calico Joe from last fall, as he saunters by with a bit of din-din.

After zooming in a bit, you can see he's carrying something in its mouth, which is the right size for a rodent (Peromyscus is common on site).

Below is Tiger trotting home with his meal of hapless Eastern Chipmunk.

The new crop of kitties don't want to be left out either.  Below is a shot of Whiskers with a mouse in tow (another Peromyscus sp.).  Note the set of eyes watching him in the background.  I have no idea what they are from.

Of course, we already know that Mr. Marmalade is very effective at catching wildlife.  But here's another shot of him in the act again (appears to be another Peromyscus).

Whenever I'm depressed about the impacts of feral cats on native wildlife, I like to watch this clip from the Muppet Show.  Rowlf sings The Cat Came Back in a way that makes me smile every time...


Literature Cited

Dauphine and Cooper. 2009. Impacts of free-ranging domestic cats (Felis catus) on birds in the United States: a review of recent research with conservation and management recommendations. Proceedings of the Fourth International Partners in Flight Conference: Tundra to Tropics, p 205-219.

Further Reading .

Crooks and Soule, 1999. Mesopredator release and avifauna extinctions in a fragmented system. Nature 400:563-566.

Guttilla, G.A. and P. Stapp. 2010. Effects of sterilization on movements of feral cats at a wildlife-urban interface. Journal of Mammalogy 91:482-489.

Foley, et al. 2005. Analysis of the impact of trap-neuter-return programs on populations of feral cats. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 227:1775-1781.

Hawkins, C.C., et al. 2004. Effects of house cats, being fed in parks, on California birds and rodents. Pgs. 164-170. In Shaw et al. (Eds.) Proceedings of the 4th International Urban Wildlife Symposium.

Lepczyk, C.A. et al. 2003. Landowners and cat predation across rural-to-urban landscapes. Biological Conservation 115:191-201.

Levy, J.K., et al. 2003. Evaluation of the effect of a long-term trap-neuter-return and adoption program on a free-roaming cat population. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. 222:42-46.

Nogales, M. et al. 2004. A review of feral cat eradication on islands. Conservation Biology 18:310-317.

Risbey, D.A. et al. 2005. The impact of cats and foxes on the small vertebrate fauna of Heirisson Prong, Western Australia. II. A field experiment. Wildlife Research 27:223-235.

The Wildlife Society. 2011. In Focus: the impacts of free-roaming cats (multiple entries by several authors).  The Wildlife Professional 5: 50-68.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Lucky Bucky

We live in the Badger State, afterall.

Bucky Badger has been elusive, though....and I certainly didn't expect to see him at this site.  He (or she) comes through rather quickly in the video clip below.  Clearly moving with a purpose....and I have not seen a Badger (Taxidea taxus) at this site since. 

Then, several weeks later, the badger (or A badger) showed up at one of my cameras mounted on a property across a country road from the site where the video clip came from.

A fleeting shot.  But given the lightning fast trigger speed of the Reconyx, this one must have been burning through the woods for me only to catch a single blurry image of it.

Now, prior to these images, I had never seen a burrow on either of these sites that screamed "badger" to me.  And in 6 months to a year of camera trapping these properties, I never before got a photo of a badger.  So, I'm not certain if he's a resident or a transient. 

Badger Movement- I had always thought badgers didn't move around alot and stayed near their borrows.  Yet, when I started doing alittle digging....I found this wasn't true!  For example, Sargeant and Warner (1972) followed an individual with radio telemetry and determined that, in the summer, she patrolled an area of 752 ha (2.9 mi-sq.) that contained 50 den locations.  Her home range size (or area she patrolled in a given time period) changed seasonally, however, and in fall she roamed an area of 52 ha (0.2 mi-sq.), while in the winter kept it to a 2 ha (0.007 mi-sq.) area.  Another study reported a home range size of 1700 ha (6.5 mi-sq.) in the summer (Lampe 1976)!!!  This individual's home range also decreased as the seasons progressed.  Males are the ones that apparently do most of the moving, and this has to do with the breeding season.  Long (2008) summarizes past research and reports that mating is usually in late summer/early fall and that females can remain in "heat" through the end of August.  This timing would correspond with when I got this picture and video clip.....so I'm going to assume this is a male on the hunt for ladies. 

I wish we had gotten a better picture!  Recently, I've found some promising burrows on-site and I've had my students shift a camera over one.  When we last checked the burrow entrance (yesterday), it did not look as if there at been any fresh activity.  Unfortunately, we are heading out of the season for Badgers here.  Harlow (1981), who monitored Badgers in outdoor enclosures, observed a 93% decrease in activity above ground from November to February (and reported stretches of time where Badgers remained below-ground for up to 70 days!).

But...I'm keeping my fingers crossed!

Literature Cited

Harlow, H.J. 1981. Torpor and other physiological adaptations of the Badger (Taxidea taxus) to cold environments. Physiological Zoology 54:267-275.

Lampe, R. 1976. Aspects of the predatory strategy of the North American Badger, Taxidea taxus. Ph.D. dissertation. University of Minnesota ant Minneapolis St. Paul. 103 pp. (NOTE: I did not obtain a copy of this dissertation, but included information summarized in other sources).

Long, C.A. 2008. Wild Mammals of Wisconsin. Publication No. 65 of the Museum of Natural History, University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. Pensoft Publishers, Bulgaria.

Sargeant, A.B., and D.W. Warner 1972.  Movements and denning habits of a badger. Journal of Mammalogy 53:207-210

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Back to the Backyard Denizens: Carnivores in Suburbia

I really like the picture of the Gray Fox above. 

I've been wanting to post this picture for a while, but didn't have a good reason to, until now. 

I think it nicely captures the idea of "Urban Wildlife", and a good way to get back into the blog mini-series I started on urban wildlife back in early 2011 (see The Gray Ghost posted on February 20, 2011; Backyard Denizens and Cronon's "The Trouble With Wildnerness" posted on March 15, 2011, and Return of the Backyard Denizens posted on June 10, 2011; and Aerial Backyard Denizens posted on January 10, 2012). 

I'm going to follow up on this theme with information gathered over a year ago.....while we lived in suburban North Carolina.

I often put a camera out in the backyard when we lived there.  This began as an intermittent, when I remembered it, sort of thing. 

After a while it became interesting to the point where every night, with few exceptions, I'd set a camera out and pull it in the morning.  

Why did it become interesting, you ask?  

Thanks to the little critter with the big scientific name: Urocyon cinereoargenteus.

But....let me back up a bit.  As I mention in the Gray Ghost post referenced above, I first started seeing Gray Fox first-hand in our neighborhood back in Spring of 2010.  Their sightings became frequent enough that I was prompted to actually put a camera back there some time in early 2011 and started getting serious about recording my camera trapping records and visual sightings. 

My first pictures of Gray Fox in the back yard occurred in January of 2011 (see the Gray Ghost post referenced above).  Around this time, our family also saw a Gray Fox trotting along the back lot line at dusk as we played outside.  This led to a brief string of photographs, which ultimately dried up some time in February.  This short dry spell snapped a few weeks later, and March yielded two pictures: one on March 9...the other on March 21 (see above picture). 

Then the observations ground to a halt until about mid-May.

On 5/11/2011, I took the dog out with me while programming the camera for the evening's deployment.  We walked slowly, and my attention was focused on the little plastic box in my hand.  Suddenly there was a tug on the leash, and I turned around to see the dog squatting in the middle of the yard.

Dang it, Sampson!, I said....knowing I'd have to go inside and get a bag to remove the pile o' shite, lest our daughter find it interesting the next day.

But...then the wheels started turning.  How could I both (a) avoid having to go all the way inside for a bag and (b) use this steaming pile to my advantage? 

The answer was clear!  I placed the camera on one of my daughter's kiddie chairs directly overlooking the dog's evacuation.  If anything was moving about that night, perhaps they'd come to investigate.  I'd used Sampson's "leavings" in this manner at my study sites with good results.  I'd even had success placing my cameras over an area where he had emptied his bladder in the yard (see pic at the top of this post).

However, the first night (post-fecal evacuation) was eventless! 

Bummer, I thought.  

But..still...why go all the way inside and get a bag to clean up this fine pile of animal attractant? 

I'll just keep an eye on my daughter when in the yard and make sure she doesn't step on it (-I know...I know...your minds are racing wildly...coming up with a million terrible father things to put in a comment on this post).  If I'm going to be lazy...then I better also be right about being lazy.  As such...failure was not an option!

On the afternoon of 5/13/2011, I even upped the ante.  We cooked burgers on the grill.  HUGE patties of succelent grass-fed beef acquired from a local farmer.  They were...to put it mildly...an absolute delight.  As an aside, let me just say: for those of you squandering your taste buds on hamburger from a giant corporate beef producer that you've picked up from your big box grocery store....you are missing out!  Seriously.  There is NOTHING like hamburger from a grass-fed cow that you buy at your farmer's market.

Anyways...that beautiful aroma wafted out for hundreds of yards from my grill, I'm sure.  Spreading the news that something good to eat might be here.

That night, a storm blew through the area.......one of many storms that plagued us that spring.  Seemed like we'd had one a week from the beginning of April to the end of May!  I put the camera out because I forgot we were supposed to get storms and I was excited about the new olfactory cues I had introduced into the backyard.  I didn't usually leave the backyard camera out during a lightning storm.  But when the thunder and lightning started, I shrugged and figured the camera wouldn't catch any critters. 

Perhaps it was the unintentional lures...perhaps it was the storm...who knows.  But...low and behold....I had a surprise on the camera the next morning.

Above:  The offending pile can be seen at the right in the field of view.  In the background is an Eastern Cottontail that triggered the camera before the storm hit.  Note: I don't, and never will, seriously attempt to draw carnivores into the yard with food or scent lures....but scent remains from Sampson's crap were all over out there anyways, so I figured I'd make it work to my advantage.

Above: My first backyard Coyote (Canis latrans) sniffing at my dog's home-brewed scent lure.  I'm not shocked by the fact that Coyotes were in this suburban neighborhood.  I'm more shocked that I hadn't gotten pictures of them before.  Too bad the camera lense was covered with moisture from the recent rain!

Above: The Gray Ghost (Urocyon cinereoargenteus) investigates things.  I've obviously seen these in the yard before.  What's strange is that it came by not long AFTER the coyote did.  I figured any evidence of the Coyote might scare them off.

Above: either a different, or the same, Gray Fox noses around near the camera again alittle later.


A few nights after this, Sampson and I went through our usual routine for deploying the backyard camera.  This time, the cam quickly captured activity after our departure.

Above: Sampson and I leaving....

Above:  Note the difference in time-stamps.  This little fella slinks through less than 10 minutes after my dog and I passed the camera


Unfortunately, about three days before the pictures above were taken (on May 15th) a rabid Gray Fox bit two people not less than a mile from where we live.  In one case, the fox first tangled with the person's dog while they were out on an evening walk.  When the owner tried to intervene with his foot, the fox moved on to him.  The second rabid fox incident did not involve a domestic dog.  This one occurred in the morning (8:30 am) rather than at night. 

On May 25th, someone in a neighboring county (about 25 minutes away) was attacked by a rabid Gray Fox while walking his dog.  He actually grabbed the fox by the neck after it bit him and threw it as far as he could.  The fox, however, did not give up so easily.  It apparently ran all the way back up the hill and attacked him again.  The man grabbed it once more, but this time was was able to secure it in a garbage can for animal control officers. 

Rabies was relatively common in that part of North Carolina.  For example, from January 1 to June 1, 2011 there had been four confirmed cases in our county alone.  Incidence of rabies may increase when potential carriers reach high densities, as the fox currently are in this general area.  HOWEVER, as Gehrt and Riley (2010) point out, there is not much information known on how living in urban areas alters wildlife disease dynamics for canids.

Don't take the wrong message from this post.  The risk of rabies from wild animals is low (see other posts regarding Wildlife Disease, including rabies here).  You're more likely to contract it from an unvaccinated domestic dog bite, according to many sources. 

Yet, given the number of fox we'd been seing around, I figured I'd start carrying a bit of personal protection when I took the dog out at night. 

Not that a bat would really help....especially considering I'm also dumb enough to wear shorts and sandals.  Even a small nip from a rabid animal can expose one to the virus and result in having to get the very unpleasant treatment.  Thus, to really protect yourself, you'd have to kill the rabid critter in one quick swing of the bat, before it's actually on you.  Even if we assume I'm deft enough to swing a bat so perfectly that it kills the rabid critter (a huge assumption), I almost certainly couldn't do it in one quick shot and without a scratch.  

But it at least made me feel a tad better. 

Also, as an aside, my dog wouldn't have been much help to me.  Despite his intimidating size and bark, he's not much of a brawler....but at least he's vaccinated.

Thankfully, the Gray Fox in our neighborhood didn't exhibit any signs of strange behavior.

They kept right on coming through the yard.

Above: our last Gray Fox picture on the camera trap for the month of May.

In fact, the sightings continued even without the aid of a camera trap! 

At 5 pm on May 26th, my wife called me at work and told me she had witnessed a Gray Fox crossing the road into neighbor's yard with something hanging out of its mouth (a prey item, although she couldn't tell what).  The area that our two yards made up was large...and wide open (no trees).  So the Fox was very exposed when he crossed here.  My wife asked if she should be concerned, given the recent rabies cases not far away.  I said that if the fox was out during the day and appeared to be wandering aimlessly, acting unafraid of people, or acting aggressive, then there should be concern.  If it was moving with a purpose, and away from human activity.....that was probably normal fox behavior.  Especially considering there were likely pups in the picture this time of year.  Perhaps this was the male bringing some food to the female while she nursed.  My wife then saw ANOTHER fox at about 8:30 pm that evening heading the same direction.

At 11 am on May 29th we saw the Gray running across the street and adjacent yards again.  We were all outside (including my dog), which didn't deter the little fox.  He moved with a purpose and was gone before the dog even got wind of him.  That night at about 10 pm, I took Sampson out and saw the fox's outline in the glow from a lone street lamp about 50 yds away.  He actually crossed through the area illuminated by the street lamp twice as I watched.  I say "he", because I'm still assuming it was a male who had a gal nursing pups nearby.  As such, he was on the move constantly to forage for himself and her.

Interestingly, despite the camera being in the yard every night....I didn't catch any more fox activity until the early morning of June 6th at about 2:14 am

Back then, I rarely used the video function on my cameras.  Mostly becuase it took up too much memory card space.  But, for a while, I felt like trying it with the backyard camera for a while...and got a nice clip of the gray.

The clip below was taken just off of the cement slab of my backporch (the camera is sitting on my daughter's little play picnic table).  So, this one came all the way up to the house, rather than skirting the back lot line. 

He takes sniff, wanders off in one direction and then cuts back across the yard a few seconds later.

In the early morning of June 14, 2011, the camera grabbed another video clip of a Gray Fox in our yard.  However, it wasn't a very good clip (about 1 second of fox, and 19 seconds of nothing) so I didn't post it.

June 16, 2011 (in the early morning), the camera took two pictures.  I had set the camera on a chair on the edge of the concrete slab of our back porch, facing out into the yard.

This is the second Coyote (that we know of) that passed through our yard.  He was on a mission, apparently, and the camera only recorded one blurry photo of him.

A few hours later, the little Gray Fox carefully sniffs his way through....following the same path as the 'yote.

On June 24 at about 12:51 am, a Gray Fox also meanders through the yard....but the picture isn't particularly good.

On June 27 at 10:00 am, I was out at my study sites when my phone rang.  It was my wife, and she was calling to report seeing fox pups for the first time!  She first saw an adult run across the road with four pups in-tow, as she pushed my daughter in the swing not 50 yds away.

On July 7, again at 10:00 am, I stopped home after field work to get some things together before heading out.  My daughter (not even three years old at the time) was standing by the window as I milled about next to her in the kitchen.  

Suddenly, I heard her say:

"Look Daddy!  A Fox!"  

Now, my daughter said stuff like this often (she had quite an imagination for a nearly 3 yr old).  I often heard things like "Look Daddy!  Creatures!"  or "Woody and Buzz want to talk to you!" and so on.  Because of that, I almost ignored her comment about the fox.  But couldn't help but take a look (I was impressed she remembered the word Fox at all, so I had to at least look).  

To my amazement, there was an adult Gray Fox running across the adjacent road and lawn!  On the opposite side of the road from the adult, I also saw one of the pups.  It ran part-way across the road, but turned abruptly and retreated back into the brush.  The adult sat completely exposed for a good thirty seconds looking back at the juvenile.  Eventually, a car came along and the adult casually trotted off in the opposite direction.

A half hour later, Dave had come by.  We were all going somewhere as a group (Dave, me, my daughter and wife).  Just before we left, my daughter saw the fox again with the juvenile.  She turned to Dave and said "Look a Fox, Dave!  The big fox is looking for the little one!"

Now, I can't help but brag a little about my daughter.  

Prior to that day, she'd only gotten one fleeting glimpse of a fox in the backyard...and maybe a few black and white IR pictures from my cameras.  Not only did she see the fox (which was more than 50 yds away), but she remembered it was a fox AND told me and Dave!  This on top of the fact that she was not even three years old at the time.  

What more could a father ask for?  :)


Interestingly, the pictures of them at my more "natural" study sites had ceased as of March.  They must have been tending to young some where on-site that didn't happen to be close to the cameras.

There were also no more accounts of rabies in the area to my knowledge during that spring/summer..... 

I miss those little canines.  They are much more rare up here in the midwest and I don't get the pleasure of seeing them anymore.

Further Notes on Urban Gray Fox and Coyotes:

Coyotes (I cite a variety of sources below, but have taken liberally from the outstanding review by Gehrt and Riley, 2010):

According to Bekoff and Gese (2003) Coyotes are one of the most-studied canids in North America.  Despite this, as Gehrt and Riley (2010) point out, relatively little of this work has focused on Coyotes in urban or suburban settings.  The most detailed work on this subject probably comes from Stanley Gehrt and his colleagues, who have focused on Coyotes in very urban areas in or around Chicago, Illinois.  Furthermore, Seth Riley has worked on urban Coyotes in southern California, and Jonathan Way has done considerable research in Cape Code, Massachussets.

Population Density and Survival-. Densities of Coyotes in urban/suburban landscapes have generally been found to be higher than in rural settings.  As Gehrt and Riley (2010) review, urban density estimates in a site from southern California (a site considered "urban-adjacent") were 2.4-3.0 per square kilometer.  Increased food sources (i,e, trash and domestic fruit) may be contributing factors, as "anthropogenic food items" were 14-24% of the diet of these coyotes.  In the greater Chicago area, density estimates of 2 to 6 coyotes per square kilometer were calculated.  On the other hand, Bekoff and Gese (2003) review density estimates in a variety of more natural settings and report numbers of 0.1-0.9 coyotes per square kilometer and one fall estimate of 1.5-2.3 / square kilometer.  Survivorship is generally high in urban areas...with survival estimates being comparable to un-hunted or un-trapped populations in natural settings.  Yet despite high survivorship, threats to survival of urban coyotes still exist.  For example, vehicle collisions represented 62% of all Coyote mortality in the greater Chicago area.  In southern California, over a nine year period, 27% of coyote mortalities were the result of anticoagulant rodenticide poisoning (perhaps picked up by eating dead or dying rodents that have consumed the rodenticide).  In the same study, vehicles were found to be the cause of 51% of the coyote mortalities (Riley et al. 2003).

Activity and Habitat-.  Several studies have confirmed that Coyotes in urban areas shift their activity to be mostly nocturnal (rather than crepuscular or diurnal).  This is largely believed to be because it allows urban Coyotes the opportunity to avoid humans during the day, while also making it possible to move around when the volume of traffic is lower.  This would explain the fact that the pictures I have collected of them both in my yard and at my study sites are all in the evening or very early morning.  Furthermore, studies that have occurred in a variety of geographic locations have found that the habitats selected by urban coyotes usually involve a small natural island or natural buffer, which is used as the core of the home range (Riley et al. 2003, Gehrt et al. 2009).  Their territories then include forays into the adjacent fragmented urban landscape from this central natural location.

Urban Diet and Threats to Pets or People-. Urban Coyotes have slightly different diets than their counterparts living in more rural landscapes.  In the Chicago area, for example, an important dietary stable were the eggs and hatchlings of Canada Geese (Branta canadensis).  These have become very abundant around a variety of water sources, including man-made stormwater retention ponds, making them an easy food source.  Coyotes are also an important predator of urban white-tailed deer fawns.  As Gehrt and Riley point out, this may be a useful means by which urban deer are managed, given the fact that hunting may not be allowed within city limits.  Domestic cats that allowed to roam freely and feral cats also fall victim to Coyotes, a phenomenon that increases in frequency in residential areas.  This has been correlated with higher songbird densities by Crooks and Soule (1999).  Urban coyotes may also attack domestic dogs.  According to Gehrt and Riley, most attacks are on smaller breeds (e.g., Jack Russel Terriers, Shih Tzus), but a group of coyotes may attack larger domestic dogs, as well (Gehrt and Riley 2010).  Attacks appear to peak during the mating season (December-February) and in April when pups are born. 

Attacks on humans are known to occur.  White and Gehrt (2009) reviewed 142 coyote attacks on humans and place them in the following categories.
  • Predatory (37%), primarily involving children
  • investigative (22%), including a a minor bite, or nip, usually directed towards adults
  • pet-related (6%)
  • defensive (4%), usually directed towards adults
  • due to rabies (7%), usually directed towards adults
Attacks on people possibily involve some level of habituation, but this is poorly understood in urban coyotes (Gehrt and Riley 2010).  Coyotes are known to actively avoid humans most of the time, and the context surrounding habituation of urban coyoes has not been rigorously investigated.  Yet, habituation (much like attacks on humans) are not common.  For example, of 150 coyotes followed with radio telemetry in the Chicago area, only five adopted problematic behaviors (Gehrt and Riley, 2010). This included taking frequent advantage of food sources in residential yards, such as birds at bird feeders.  Yet, as Gehrt and Riley point out, seeing Coyotes near residential homes eating trash, fruit, pets, or being active during the day should not be automatically considered a sequeway to attacking humans.  Instead this is equally indicative of the behavior exhibited by a "flexible" generalist predator.  Instead, concern should be raised when certain types of aggression are shown, such as failing to run from humans, or growling and barking in the presence of humans.

Gray Foxes:

Surprisingly little research has been conducted on urban/suburban Gray Fox.  According to Riley and White (2010), the most detailed studies come from California (Riley 2001, Riley 2006 and Riley et al. 2004), and New Mexico (Harrison 1997, but also see Kapfer and Kirk 2012).  Farias et al. (2005) also radio tracked Gray Fox near Los Angeles, but the tracked animals did not use urban or suburban areas.  Riley and White (2010) indicate that Gray Fox cannot stand landscapes inhabited by humans as well as other carnivores.  In fact, Harrison (1997) suggested that they would only withstand a housing density of 1 house/3.1 acres (or 50-125 residence per km-squared).  Geographical Information System (GIS) analysis of our neighborhood in NC revealed a much greater density of buildings (237-347 buildings/km squared) then Harrison suggested Gray Fox would tolerate (Kapfer & Kirk 2012).  However, we also have some pretty sizeable woodland buffers in our area, which may explain why our Gray Fox withstand heavier development than in Harrison's (1997) study (Kapfer & Kirk 2012).

Use of Urban Areas and Periods of Activity -.  The work in California found that most of the radio-tracked Gray fox (which were associated with a national park north of San Francisco) used urban areas only sparingly.  This use included forays into developed areas during the evening.  Harrison's work in New Mexico found that, although Gray Fox avoided urban areas during the day, they actually selected for them at night.  This seems similar to what I've seen this species doing in NC, with the exception of the time period when the males were bringing food for nursing females.   In California, vehicles are a known source of mortality for urban Gray Fox...and I'd seen at least three dead on the roads near our home from 2010 to 2011. 

Diet and Threats-. Interestingly, food associated with people was not a major portion of fox diets in the previously mentioned studies.  We don't leave dog food outside, and there's really no other food for them to get into around our house, aside from maybe the trash....but I'd never noticed any problems there.  I had found a dried up roadkilled squirrel husk in the backyard the morning after witnessing two Gray Fox run along the lot line one evening.  The most commonly consumed food in the diet of urban Gray Fox are small rodents (Riley and White 2010).  Attacks on pets and people are apparently rare.  Probably the biggest threat in this regard is possible attacks by rabid individuals.


I'm glad that I finally came back to this topic of urban wildlife (even though it was after we had moved from our suburban home).  A few of my "ongoing" post topics have been in need of revisitation for some time.  I have other Backyard Denizens from NC that I will report on in the future.

Literature Cited:

Bekoff, M. and E.M. Gese. 2003. Coyote (Canis latrans). In G.A. Feldhammer, B.C. Thompson, and J.A. Chapman. (eds.). Wild Mammals of North America: biology, managment and conservation.  2nd Edition. Johns Hopkins University Press.

Farias, V, T.K. Fuller, R.K. Wayne, and R.M. Sauvajot. 2005. Survival and cause-specific mortality of grey foxes (Urocyon cinereoargenteus) in Southern California. Journal of Zoology 266:249-254.

Gehrt, S.D., C. Anchor, and L.A. White. 2009. Home range and landscape use of coyotes in a major metropolitan landscape: coexistence or conflict?  Journal of Mammalogy 90:1045-1057.

Gehrt, S.D, and S.P.D Riley. 2010.  Coyotes (Canis latrans). In S.D. Gehrt, S.P.D. Riley and B.L. Cypher (eds.). Urban Carnivores: ecology, conflict and conservation.   Johns Hopkins Press.

Harrison, R.L. 1997. A comparison of gray fox ecology between residential and undeveloped rural landscapes. Journal of Wildlife Management 61:112-122.

Kapfer, J.M., and R.W. Kirk. 2012. Observations of gray foxes (Urocyon cinereoargenteus) in a suburban landscape in the Piedmont of North Carolina. Southeastern Naturalist 11:507-516.

Riley, S.P.D. 2001. Spatial and resource overlap of bobcats and gray foxes in urban and rural zones of a national park.  In A. Woolf, and C.K. Nielsen (eds.).  Proceedings of a Symposium on the Ecology and Management of Bobcats. Illinois Department of Natural Resources, Champaign.  (NOTE: I could not find a copy of this report and cited the interpretation of it given by Riley and White, 2010).

Riley, S.P.D. 2006. Spatial ecology of bobcats and gray foxes in urban and rural zones of a national park. Journal of Wildlife Management 70:1425-1435.

Riley, S.P.D., R.M. Sauvajot, T.K. Fuller, E.C. York, D.A. Kamradt, C. Bromley, and R.K. Wayne. 2003. Effects of urbanization and habitat fragmentation on bobcats and coyotes in Southern California. Conservation Biology 17:566-576.

Riley, S.P.D., J. Foley, and B. Chomel. 2004. Exposure to feline and canine pathogens in bobcats and gray foxes in urban and rural zones of a national park in California. Journal of Wildlife Diseases 40:11-22.

Riley, S.P.D., and P.A. White. 2010.  Gray Fox (Urocyon cinereoargenteus) in Urban Areas.  In S.D. Gehrt, S.P.D. Riley and B.L. Cypher (eds.). Urban Carnivores: ecology, conflict and conservation.   Johns Hopkins Press.