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Thursday, October 29, 2009

Winter survival

I discovered from the wildlife camera that coyotes visited on the first night of the storm before the snow had piled up to travel-stopping depths.
In past years, I've observed that many mammals follow our ski tracks because the packed tracks provide an easier walking surface than the rest of the vast forest. When there's a big storm, we are usually the only humans who use the forest so all ski trails start and end at our house. Consequently, in past years, I've seen all sorts of mammal tracks tromping straight into our clearing in our ski tracks. This winter is our first with a wildlife camera ready to take photos. It'll be interesting to see if a wider variety of species show up in our clearing than in the summer.

Yesterday, Khyra's human sent me information about a tragedy. A pair of coyotes killed a promising young folk singer hiking in Cape Breton Highlands National Park. My internet searches indicate that very few people have ever been killed by coyotes in North America. Our western coyotes are dwarfed eastern coyotes, and the tragedy occurred where huge (up to 60 lb) eastern coyotes roam. This post talked a bit about eastern coyotes.

Our local coyotes flee people. However, they've been known to be aggressive toward dogs. Although I've seen and heard coyotes in our forest innumerable times, I felt scared that I might be attacked in only one encounter that happened a few years ago. I've worried much more about our dogs being hurt or killed than about myself around coyotes.
My opinion is that we should make room for wildlife, even animals who scare and threaten us. We need to be smart about taking precautions (like carrying pepper spray, avoiding their favorite haunts, and controlling our dogs) when we go into the forest. But, I'd never stay home because of wildlife fears or kill wildlife just because of a potential threat.

Intriguingly, in coyotes, attempts to reduce their population through poisoning, shooting, and trapping have had the opposite effect. When coyotes become sparse, they deliver larger litters of pups and more pups survive to adulthood. Consequently, the coyote has flourished despite the efforts to eradicate or reduce their numbers throughout the country. Some people believe that, through our efforts to eliminate coyotes, we've accidentally selected for coyotes that are more clever about avoiding our violence. The survival of the adaptable coyote contrasts markedly from the our effects on other predator populations, like wolves and grizzly bears.

Today, the pups and I skiied on our trails, and it was difficult to tell that we'd tracked those same paths yesterday. Yesterday morning, the snow on our deck looked deep.
This morning, it looked bottomless. That's a normal height deck table almost completely swamped by the snow!
K and R tended to stay in the faint furrow that was the last remnant of my trail-breaking work of yesterday. It was difficult to pick out the trail but the dogs' noses did the job!As I trudged along trying not to tweak my spine again, I noticed the dogs' snouts point upward and their bodies go on high alert as we approached a boulder-strewn area within the forest. The blanket of snow hid the boulders well but small patches of red rock peeked through and objects the size of volkswagons obviously hid below the snow.Cloven tracks of mule deer marched up the slope and around the boulder outcroppings. I honestly don't understand why the deer hang out in this area. It's a lion route, and there isn't much deer food. It would seem safer for the deer to avoid areas with such great lion hiding, ambush, and stalking terrain. However, over many years, a small herd of deer has consistently lived in this patch of forest. They must have some wisdom that eludes me. Below, their tracks head uphill around the boulder field.
R started to investigate, and when I called him back, he almost got lost in the snow depths after leaping off a big boulder.
He made it to me but thank goodness he's black, and not white, or I might have lost him in the snow!
I decided to do an 'out and back' ski so that I could enjoy the fruits of my snow packing efforts on the way home. Look at the nearly 2' tall walls of snow on each side of the ski tracks.
Just before we arrived home, the sky magically cleared, giving me a view of a nearby rocky peaks, now adorned with patches of snow.
The storm is winding down but, once again, it reminded me of the power of nature. Last week, I rode my bike in shorts and animals lolled about with ample food all around them. Today, I wore many layers and wondered how plant-eating large mammals survive. I know that elk cooperatively use their hooves to dig down to grass in meadows and even resort to eating aspen trees. As elk move long distances in deep snow, they walk single-file, leaving a deep track like my ski track. I'm guessing that they take turns at the front, trampling the snow to make walking easier for the other herd members.

Our animals amaze me with their tenacity and clever tactics for survival. By comparison, I have it easy - I simply have to figure out how to keep my spine happy despite the lack of mountain biking. I'm hoping to ride my studded mountain bike tires on our roads tomorrow. It'll take a few days before the trails get packed sufficiently for Mr. Fatback to float over them!


  1. I so hope woo are snoofing some fur me!
    My mom shares the same belief about nature!

    Thanks again fur sharing all you do -
    this is such a fantastikh blog!


  2. Oh, look at that snow!!! Can you please send some of it one state to your east? Great post.

    woos, the OP Pack

  3. I like your blog very much too. However, you know, don't you, that the brave in your body starts leaking out in about your 60s and by the time you get to be my age, its almost completely gone. So my days of mountain climbing and bravely stomping through rocks and snow are waaaay gone. Thats why it is fun to do a little vicarious thing with you, KB! Although Stella says she could do it easy!


    Jo and Stella

  4. Hi KB, I thought of you today as Bob and I skied through our back forest. It was so beautiful, though we had to be careful when the wind blew "cow plops" of snow off the higher branches. I agree with your assessment of living close to wilderness and wildlife. I'm alert and respectful, but I would never avoid the wild because of fear. I feel awed when I see an animal moving through its natural habitat.
    I so enjoy watching your dogs cavort in the snow!
    PS I don't think you'll be having coffee on your deck anytime soon. You definitely got more snow - we have maybe a foot here in Breckenridge.

  5. I can't believe the snow depth! Wow! I hope we get that kind of snow this winter.

    I'm shocked by the coyote attack. I've never heard of them attacking people. The ones around here run away. In Arizona, my sister was running in the desert and had one follow behind her but she never worried about it and the coyote eventually turned to follow a jogger going the other way. Maybe my sister was just too skinny.

  6. We totally agree with your philosophy of making room for our wilder animals. The East is so much more crowded than the West, but we still have wonderful stretches of undeveloped areas that are just beautiful. I love to see the majesty of the bigger animals out in them.

  7. That is SOME snow! It doesn't take long jumping through that deep stuff to give the dogs plenty of exercise. I loved the photographs.

    I agree with you about the problems of "managing" wildlife. We simply have to respect them and their lifestyle as we go about our time outdoors.

  8. Hey there KB

    I am almost speechless today with your blogpost and awesome tale and pictures! (But my response is a book in itself!)
    I grabbed my cuppa and relaxed into my chair just to take in all you have to offer. Thank you so much for all your effort in sharing it all with us!!! You enrich my understanding in ways you wouldn't know. We have never seen such a snowy spectacle!!! WOW!

    The powers of nature around us are incredible and it boggles my mind to think that human powers think they can control it all.

    Here in South Africa, on an ecological level, we also have to cope with geographical hurdles - fire, floods, hail and drought (to mention but a few). On an 'fauna' level, it's the MOSQUITO which is one of Africa's big killers. (Not the big five! - Lion, leopard, Elephant, Buffalo, Hippo)

    Despite all this, I am always marvelled at the design of our world. For example, without the devastating fires in our Cape Vynbos area, certain plant species would die out. Without the infestation of insects, certain birds, snakes, reptiles and arachnids wouldn't be around. All these things bring frustration to humans, but serve for the greater good of our incredible planet.

    In summary, your and my worlds are extreme opposites, but what a wonder to be able to share some of it!

    Thank you.
    Max's mom in SA

  9. sad story about the young women that was killed by the coyotes.....i share your philosophy on our wildlife.
    glad that you are aware and safe!
    can't believe how deep the snow is!! just beautiful! it has been raining here forever...if it was snow we would have several feet! :)
    have a great weekend...

  10. Woo got lots and lots of snow! K and R look like dey is havin' a Ball!
    Maw shares your view on wildlife also. We should not be encroaching upon der territory. We has deer and Maw is furry respectful of dem. She will leave food such as fruit and some veggies fur dem.

    Maw says da only way she would shoot an animal is wid her camera.

    Husky kisses,

  11. That is so sad about the singer being killed. I wonder if they were rabid. I just wrote a piece on rabies, so it makes me wonder.

    I'm not afraid of our local coyotes either. A risk to dogs or other pets? Sure. A risk to people? I've never felt threatened, and I've had two coyotes come blasting out of the forest right toward me on a hike near the house. They were playing, and I guess didn't realize Lilly and I were there at first. They walked along parallel to us for a while, then went away when I hollered at them.

    You are SO much better about getting out in the snow with the pups. I left most of that to Tom this week. I'm not quite ready for all this deep snow.

  12. Zoiks, that's a lot of snow!

    The first time I saw a coyote out here, I was shocked at how big it was - I was used to the scrubby little coyotes where my grandparents lived out West, but this one looked to be about a big as Z! But I've got the impression that the coyotes around here are much shyer than they are out west. I asked at the forest service office if there had been any reports of coyotes going after dogs around here, and they had never heard of a single incident.

  13. Kia ora KB,
    Lovely post as usual - love the snow and romping photos, but moreso your respect for the wild animals whom live there. It adds to the interaction with wild places in my view. Our geopraphic isolation here in NZ means we never had predatory large animals here, not even snakes. Even deer, thar, and chamois are introduced. So at times I miss the thought of large creatures possibly roaming close by. Though the rugged terrain here quickly makes up for things tthat can easily kill you! I am off in the morning for a few days in the mountains. Thanks for the inspiration.


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