Archive for the ‘Mammals’ Category

Good grief! There’s been another coyote attack in Nova Scotia. You’d think these clever beasts would be keeping a low profile, considering the bounty that’s been placed on them. This time, a farmer in Hants county had the back of his jacket torn by one while he was shoveling snow. He managed to fend it off without being injured.

Since October 2009, coyote encounters noted in the media have included one in Cape Breton where a female hiker was mauled and killed; another  where a teenager (who should have heeded park warnings to not sleep outdoors without a tent) awoke to find coyote jaws around her head; and one in a neighborhood in Spryfield, where a Nova Scotia Power meter reader managed to fend off a potential attack when he inadvertently got between an adult and pups.

Many believe that the bounty announced on Earth Day 2010 is the best solution to the problem at least for the short term. However, in a pack, usually only the alpha male and female reproduce. If they’re killed, the entire pack will begin reproducing, therefore increasing the population the following year. It seems like the short term solution could create larger problems in the future.  Regardless of the potential for an increase in the birth of pups this spring, the Department of Natural Resources believes that a bounty can be effective simply by re-enforcing the coyote population’s natural fear of humans.  Could they be right?  We’ll have to wait and see.

In the meantime, Nova Scotia’s Department of Natural Resources is advising people confronted with coyotes to “back away, act large, make noise and fight back.” Hopefully wise coyotes will also re-examine their tactics and back away to more remote spaces, act timid, make do with food in the wild and fight back by writing letters to the editor to complain about loss of habitat.

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Sparkles on this morning’s fresh layer of snow hint at the magic concealed beneath the white covering. Hidden under is a fantastical network of tunnels, best revealed in photos taken prior to this latest snowfall…

Look just below the pheasant tracks in the photo above.  Do you see those lines beneath the snow?  Although they look snake-like, these tunnels were made by voles, little rodents with tiny ears and short tails, also known as field mice.

Meadow voles (Microtus pennsylvanicus) are active year round and make tunnels in tall grass or under the snow as they travel from one part of their territory to another.  These super highways make for speedier trips, even in unclement weather.  They also allow voles to travel undetected by predators such as foxes, coyotes, bobcats and birds of prey.

Because a thin layer of snow has melted since the tunnels were made,  it’s possible to either see through their thin top layer or, where the top layer has melted completely, see straight down through to the tunnel itself.   

Voles are mostly nocturnal herbivores that supplement their grass diet with bark and seeds in the winter months.  Although one female vole may give birth to as many as 25 pups in one year, their life expectancy is quite short .  Most voles live for less than a year due to high predation.  Their population density can range from 14 to 500 per acre.

If you’re a foodie who’s keen on wild edibles and you’ve noticed some of these tunnels in your backyard, you might be inspired to try something new by reading my previous post on Vole Holes and Recipes.

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Dining out solo is often avoided but doesn’t have to be a dreadful experience.  Considering the following advice may enhance your chances of enjoying yourself while eating out at a table for one.  For example, you might feel that everyone is watching you.  Show some confidence.  Perhaps they don’t get to see a natural redhead every day, especially one with such an attractive tail.

Choosing to dine at less busy times might make you less self-conscious.  Those pesky chickadees with all their twittering would certainly contribute to your sense of loneliness.   Bring along a book to read but realize that reading The Nutcracker after the Christmas season is over may attract unwanted stares.  Enjoy a glass of wine  as it might make you feel more relaxed.  Just make sure you can hold your liquor.

Once you’ve done it a few times, you might wonder why you ever dreaded eating alone in the first place.  Spared the need to carry on a conversation, you might find yourself appreciating the tastes and aromas of your dinner even more than usual.  Feel free to dig in.

Of course, if you choose to simply eat on the run, the loss is yours.  There will always be those who are more than eager to partake in the delights of dining solo.

Scott at Views Infinitum has extended an open invitation to take part in his food photography assignment.  Deadline for submissions is Wednesday, January 26th at midnight.  Bon appétit!

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A fresh cover of snow on the ground usually reveals where snowshoe hares have been travelling.  Their numerous tracks often overlap in the woods where ‘bunny trails’ lead to and from favorite resting and feeding areas.  But not this year.  There isn’t a snowshoe hare track to be found. 

Snowshoe Hares

It’s been several months since I’ve caught sight of a single hare in the yard or along the Salt Marsh Trail.  Up until this past summer, it seemed like their numbers were growing.  They were visible on lawns and in the woods and parks.  However, snowshoe hare populations are known to rise and fall, usually every ten years or so.  This phenomenon takes place all across Canada.  In northern regions, their cycle coincides with that of the lynx.

Over the past year, bobcats have been sighted in Cow Bay.  Like the lynx,  they too prey on snowshoe hares, as do coyotes, foxes and eagles.  With so many predators in the area, as well as loss of habitat due to deforestation, it’s no wonder that hare numbers are low.  

Another factor that may have affected hare populations is that we didn’t have snow until recently, making any hares sporting winter coats easy targets for predators.  Hare coloring becomes whiter as daylight hours decrease in number.  

Next month, February 3rd will mark the first day of the Chinese New Year.  The 12 year cycle of animal years makes this coming year one of the rabbit.  Unfortunately, I don’t think we’ll be seeing many bunnies this year.   At least not in Cow Bay.

Each thing is of like form from everlasting and comes round again in its cycle.
~  Marcus Aurelius

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Red foxes are sometimes visible early in the morning as they return to their dens after a long night of hunting.  Here in Cow Bay, I’ve seen them at dawn in my backyard, along Dyke and Cow Bay Roads and near Rainbow Haven Beach.

This morning some fox kits could be seen wrestling outside their den.  They were born earlier this spring and appear curious about the big world beyond the fox hole.  They were likely waiting for their mother to return from her hunt and are probably near the age when live food is brought back to the den for them to practice killing prey.  If you’ve ever returned from grocery shopping to a house full of hungry teenagers, you can imagine their anticipation.

Recently I saw and heard  a lone adult fox screaming loudly near the entrance to Rainbow Haven Park.  Though ‘screaming vixens’ are known to announce their availability during mating season, this usually takes place in winter, so there had to be some other reason why it was screaming so loudly.  Was it proclaiming its territory?   Coyotes and bobcats will both compete with foxes for food.  Residential development in the area is likely encroaching on everyone’s territory and food supply.

A quarter of a fox’s diet consists of invertebrates such as grasshoppers and beetles.  They are omnivorous canids that will also eat berries, grass, mice, birds and hares.  I’ve found caches of seagull and hare carcasses near their dens in past years. But a hungry litter of four to eight kits, that are regularly expending energy by wrestling, wouldn’t allow for too many leftovers. 

However, the woods are full of creatures at the bottom of the food chain and these are reproducing as well.  A vole scurried ahead of me as I was walking in the woods yesterday.  This hare also leapt across my path.  Considering how frequently small rodents and snowshoe hares are finding themselves on the menu of not just foxes, but coyotes and bobcats these days, I’m surely the least of their worries.

By August, the fox kits will have left the maternal den and be out on their own.  Which should give their mother a nice long break as she’ll only have to hunt for herself.  Until next spring.

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Many creatures rip up lawns.  In Nova Scotia, moles, voles, birds, skunks and raccoons are often the culprits.  Though you might have some suspicions as to what is doing the ripping, the only way to be sure is to catch the lawn ripper in action.  This morning I was lucky.

Though usually nocturnal, this raccoon was still looking for a meal as the sun was rising.  Raccoons have the manual dexterity to peel back the grass and moss to reveal tasty grubs and worms living beneath the surface.  Their ripping actions can leave large enough areas bare that a lawn is damaged.

Moles and voles, being smaller creatures, do smaller damage.  They also typically make trails or furrows in the grass.

Northern Flickers are birds that will also make holes in the lawn by digging  for ants with their beaks.  Their holes are made by a digging action rather than a peeling back.

This little darling gave me a good look before deciding to head for cover in the woods.  It was probably also tired after a long night of foraging.

A former neighbor told me much of her beautiful lawn was peeled back by raccoons some years ago.  After many attempts to deter them, she ended up live-trapping the critters.  They were then re-located by the Ministry of Natural Resources.

I don’t take the appearance of my lawn too seriously, so the lawn ripper is welcome to the insects in my yard.  I just wish it would have the courtesy to replace the divots.

For more information on dealing with nuisance raccoons in Nova Scotia, visit Nova Scotia’s Department of Natural Resources.

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The province of Nova Scotia’s NDP government is set to announce a bounty on coyotes today.  It doesn’t seem like Natural Resources Minister John MacDonnell has been informed about the questionable effect of coyote bounties.  Surprisingly, his own department’s website offers the following in its FAQ section on coyotes:

Why don’t we put a bounty on them, or cull them to reduce the population?
Bounties do not work. Bounties have been tried across North America without success. It is almost impossible to remove all animals or even to keep a population in check. A bounty instituted in Nova Scotia in 1982 was removed in 1986 when it was apparent that there was no impact on coyote populations.

Ref:  http://www.gov.ns.ca/natr/wildlife/nuisance/coyotes-faq.asp#8

Last year, members of the Trappers Association of Nova Scotia caught 1900 coyotes (approx. 25% of the total population) without a bounty.  You’d think they were lurking behind every tree.  Nevertheless, some people have complained of coyotes hanging around playgrounds in neighborhoods bordering woodlands.  But could live traps not be used in such places?

Will traps set for coyotes in the woods mean that pet owners will have to worry about their dogs and cats possibly getting nabbed in them?  Will hunters in the woods keen on acquiring as many bounties as possible prove a hazard to hikers?

Last fall, a woman was killed by coyotes while hiking in Cape Breton.  More recently, a woman fended off a coyote that grabbed her by the leg while hiking in Lunenburg.

For more information, see

Coyote Problems in Nova Scotia

Coyotes and Hiking Sticks

Coyote Bounty Coming  and N.S. Reveals Coyote Cull (The Chronicle-Herald)

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There are some who can live without wild things and some who cannot.
~ Aldo Leopold

Hiking along trails into the Nova Scotia wilderness has become a popular pastime in recent years.  For many, it offers an opportunity to see wild things in their natural surroundings.

Last year, when a young female hiker was killed by a coyote in Cape Breton, many Nova Scotians called for a bounty on coyotes.  The call was reiterated last week, when a young woman was again attacked by a coyote near Lunenburg. 

The Department of Natural Resources in the province does not believe that bounties on coyotes work.  One was unsuccessfully employed here in the 1980s.

As a precaution while hiking in the wilderness, the Department of Natural Resources recommends:

  • making noise
  • not walking alone
  • carrying a hiking stick

Following their recommendations seems more reasonable than putting forth the idea of getting rid of all coyotes in the province for the sake of a couple of bad ones.

A couple of homemade hiking sticks

Last fall, many family members laughed at me when I created a couple of hiking sticks for use along the Salt Marsh Trail where I’d seen a coyote last year.  They doubted if a stick would be useful in an attack and probably thought such sticks were best carried by the likes of wizards such as Gandalf and other old men.

On my first walk along the trail with my stick, another hiker asked me in passing if that was my coyote stick.  Maybe my idea wasn’t so far fetched after all. 

Though I used the stick several times, it was a nuisance to remember to bring it along.  I eventually began leaving it at home, especially on days when I was hoping to take photographs.  You need to find a place to rest your stick if you hold your camera with two hands as I frequently do. 

However, in light of this more recent attack, I’m wondering once again if carrying a big stick would be a good idea.

Recently, while reading ‘The Places in Between’ about Rory Stewart’s journey on foot across Afghanistan, I was surprised to come across the idea of walking sticks being used to fend off wildlife…

I had carried the ideal walking stick through Pakistan. It was five feet long and made of polished bamboo with an iron top and bottom; I had walked with it for nine months but had not brought it into Afghanistan. It was called a dang, and Jats, a farming caste from the Punjab, used to carry them, partly for self-protection, until the middle of the twentieth century.  Many people in both the Pakistani and Indian Punjab still had their grandfathers’ sticks in their houses… One man told me that his great-grandfather had killed the last lion in the Punjab with his dang; striking the ground on every fourth step gave a rhythm to my movement…

As I walked out an old man with a bushy white beard looked at the stick.

“You’re carrying it for the wolves, I presume,” he said.

“And the humans.”

~ Rory Stewart, The Places in Between

Perhaps we westerners could stand to learn a thing or two from folks in the East about the advantages of walking with a big stick. 

FAQs about Eastern Coyotes in Nova Scotia

Coyote Problems in Nova Scotia

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Hearing loud splashes in the deeper waters of the marsh is not unusual.  Fish are frequently active at the water’s surface and birds such as cormorants and ospreys will often dive under in search of food.  But this morning’s splash was much louder than usual and the surrounding ripples revealed that the diver was indeed quite large.

For several minutes, my eyes darted across the grey water, looking to see what would surface.  Once the creature emerged, I was not disappointed.  It was a harbor seal.

This is the first time I’ve seen a seal in the salt marsh.  Apparently it’s not uncommon for harbor seals to follow fish inland during high tide.  They’ll also feed on clams and crabs which are plentiful in the marsh.

The winter before last I managed to see a seal on the iced inlet behind Rainbow Haven Beach.  It was the first time I’d seen a live seal.  

Harbor seal behind Rainbow Haven - January 2009

Whether in the water or on the shore, harbor seals blend in very well with their surroundings.  I almost tripped on a dead one at Martinique Beach a couple of summers ago.  It was perfectly camouflaged among the rocks.  I wonder how many live ones have watched me over the years as I’ve walked along the shore, absorbed in thought.  Wildlife is all around us, whether or not we have the eyes to see.

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Spring’s longer days bring about a change in the color of hare fur. A hare gradually loses its winter white guard hairs as daylight hours increase.  While a white hare may be well camouflaged in a snow covered landscape, if it still has that white fur after all the snow has melted, it becomes an easy target for predators.

This year, an earlier spring has been enjoyed across Canada.  The ground is completely bare of snow earlier than usual in the season.

Recently, I’ve noticed two hares in the yard that seem to be at different stages of shedding their winter coats.  One is much whiter than the other.  The whiter hare is barely camouflaged while sitting on light colored grass.  The browner hare seems to blend in well either on the grass or in the woods among browned leaves.

Snowshoe hares play a vital role in the ecosystem of the Northern Boreal forest by providing food for such carnivores as  coyotes, foxes, bobcats, lynx, weasels, fishers and eagles.  There’s concern in the scientific community that fewer days of snow cover due to global warming may pose a negative impact on the hare population.

Both hares have been grazing regularly in my yard together for the past couple of weeks.  I’ve often found nests of baby hares in the wild rosebushes in past years.   Having survived the winter, hopefully these hares will also survive long enough to reproduce a litter of kittens later this spring.

For more information on the effects of climate change on snowshoe hares, see:
White Snowshoe Hares Can’t Hide on Brown Earth at Science Daily

For more information on Nova Scotia’s hares, see:
The Hare Whisperer and The Advantages of Being Harebrained

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Earlier this week, I spotted this large weasel-like creature at dawn along the rocky shore of the salt marsh.  Its brown fur blended in well with its surroundings.  It stood very still when it first noticed me, then moved slowly among the rocks.  Once it was on the grass it ran quickly away. 

A sign in the marsh reveals that otters have been spotted here. Otters feed primarily on fish which would explain its proximity to the shore.  Could this be an otter

I managed to get closer to this animal than these photographs reveal, but unfortunately, none of those images turned out well.  What I did observe at close range was its large fluffy tail.  It was covered with black hairs, while its body was medium brown.  I don’t recall its tail being as tapered as that of otters.  Also, its eyes were more closely set than those wide set ones typical of otters. 

So I’m wondering… could it be a fisher?  They’re usually crepuscular (active at dawn and dusk).  Their diet consists of snowshoe hares and porcupines (both plentiful in this marsh).  The fisher population in Nova Scotia is scattered and low. 

What do you think this animal might be?  [Below I've attempted to sharpen a blurred close-up image of the animal.]

In Nova Scotia, the mustelid or weasel family consists of fishers, martens, short-tailed weasels (ermine), mink, river otters and striped skunks.

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The raccoon that absconded with the suet ball last week is back.  His paired muddy prints on the snow tell the tale.  Raccoon tracks reveal five fingers that give them their marvelous dexterity.  Their tracks are usually plantigrade or flat-footed.

He’s been crawling under the deck looking for ‘who-knows-what’ and travelling to the side of the house where he’s proceeded to rip up the lawn, most likely in search of grubs.  Apparently, raccoons can hear the grubs crunching on the roots of grass. 

He’s also been digging in the hollyhock bed next to the foundation.  I don’t know if he was able to find what he was looking for, but he sure did leave a mess.  Years ago, one of my neighbors had to use a live trap to catch and relocate raccoons that were tearing up her lawn. 

Raccoons eat a great variety of foods:  insects, amphibians, fish, small mammals, birds and eggs.  They’ll also eat roadkill, seeds and suet balls, plus whatever food humans will put out in their garbage. 

Most of the neighbors make use of garbage cans or boxes to avoid the inevitable mess that plastic bags would invite.  The city of Halifax also provides residents with large green compost containers that are picked up every second week.

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