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Warnings are posted along the Salt Marsh Trail to remind people to stay away from the poison ivy.  This plant causes extreme itching on contact with the skin of both humans and animals.  Swellings, bumps and blisters may follow.

Poison ivy plants are characterized by green leaves arranged in groups of three.  They look fairly harmless and are either found by themselves in a large mass or hidden among other plants.   Along the Salt Marsh Trail, they are right at the edge of the path in some places, making it very easy for an unsuspecting child or dog to brush up against.

This year’s especially wonderful growing season has enabled most plants to grow earlier in the season and larger than usual.  Poison ivy is no exception.  Please exercise caution along the trail and in the woods as you enjoy the outdoors this summer. 

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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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coyoteCoyotes that have lost their fear of humans have become a concern in some parts of Nova Scotia where they are getting too close for comfort.  Problems often occur in  neighborhoods that border wild areas where there is an overlap of territories occupied by people and wildlife.

Last week, a young female hiker was killed by two coyotes in Cape Breton Highlands National Park, heightening awareness of the problem.  Both coyotes were shot. One is still on the loose, but an autopsy on the other revealed that it was neither hungry nor diseased when it attacked.

Some blame the problem on people feeding the coyotes, either willingly or by keeping backyard compost piles. I once heard of a woman somewhere in the province who was regularly feeding a couple of  skinny, homeless dogs, until her husband noticed her actions and pointed out that she was unassumingly feeding wild coyotes!

Small pets often fall prey to coyotes looking for an easy meal. I’ve always kept my cat indoors after being warned of coyotes in the area years ago.  Toddlers playing by themselves outdoors might also be easy prey.

It’s been suggested that the coyotes that attacked the hiker may have been coydogs, the offspring of coyotes and dogs.  These hybrids may have less of a natural fear of humans written in their DNA.

wile coyoteAs a solution, many folks would like a bounty placed on all coyotes in the province. It’s already legal to kill coyotes that are a nuisance on your property and there is a hunting season for coyotes as well. 

One comment at the local newspaper’s website boasted that eight coyotes had been trapped in the woods near Bissett Road a couple of years ago.

The first coyote I ever encountered, a strikingly beautiful animal, was seen while I was driving along that road years ago. I saw one near there this past spring along the salt marsh trail. It wanted nothing to do with me and quickly ran off.  More recently, a Cole Harbour man complained that a coyote had approached him on the trail and seemed to have no fear at all.  The Natural Resources Department told him the animal was probably just curious.

coyote in marsh

Coyote along Salt Marsh Trail

Like other animal lovers, I don’t want all coyotes to be hunted for the sake of a few bad ones.  However, I also don’t like the idea of having to look over my shoulder while I’m out in the woods.  A balanced response to the problem is needed.

Coyotes are not native to Nova Scotia.  These clever opportunists infiltrated the province just last century, coming up from the US.   As wolves were made extinct in the province well over a century ago due to over trapping, coyotes have no natural enemies to keep their population in check.  I’d like to see parks introduce wolves as part of the solution to the problem.  This would put the balance back into the ecosystem that was removed by man in the first place.

If you do venture out in the woods, it’s recommended that you don’t walk alone and keep children close.  The best advice seems to be to walk loudly and carry a big stick.

See also:  Nova Scotia Celebrates Earth Day with a Bounty on Coyotes

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bridge before dawn

Canada Goose Bridge

Even on a flat trail, there are many disadvantages to walking in a salt marsh in the dark:  you don’t always see the puddles or the uneven wood planks on the bridge; you can’t enjoy fall’s beautiful colours; and, you never know what’s lurking in the woods, or ahead of you on the trail.  However, the hour before dawn is ideal for seeing shooting stars and listening to herons, ducks and seagulls as they awaken.  During migration season, it’s also wonderful to listen to the flocks of hundreds, if not thousands of geese that rest overnight in the salt marsh.

geese in the dark

Geese in the Dark

Although they could be heard talking to one another in the darkness yesterday morning, by the time I arrived near their resting area today, the geese were just taking  flight.  The sound was amazingly loud as they flew above the trees.  I wondered what had startled them so early.

A flashing light soon became apparent on the trail ahead.  Hunters!  In a conservation area!  They had walked into the park using the trail and were dressed in waders.  Carrying guns, they explained that they were waiting for a boat to pick them up and take them to a spot that was beyond the park limits.  Hmmmm…

conservation area

 A light from a very quiet boat could be seen approaching the shore.  It had set out across the water from a launch area situated next to nearby Rainbow Haven Provincial Park.

Canada Goose by John James Audubon

Canada Goose by John James Audubon

The first time I walked along the salt marsh trail in the Peter McNab Kuhn Conservation Area, hunters shot down a duck that was retrieved by their dog right next to the trail.  It was Thanksgiving Monday and not quite what I was expecting from a walk in the park.  From the trail, I could see hunters in camouflage gear lying low behind their blinds on a nearby island.  The area had probably been used for years by hunters who entered the area by boat and weren’t aware of the area’s new park status.

These days however, all hunters should be aware of park limits.  Regardless of how delectable a goose might be for Christmas dinner, somehow it just doesn’t seem right to be using a park trail to bring hunting gear into an area in order to stalk geese before first light.  Knowing the goose was hunted in that manner would certainly leave a bad taste in my mouth.

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