Tuesday, March 17, 2009

17 March 2009

Yesterday was a beautiful morning, as was today. Today was warm--no coat necessary. Fenris was taking in all the new smells--but I wonder how long this will last for him. His head perks up at the song of a Field sparrow. He's never heard this before. Fen is just interested in everything, and I wish I knew what he was smelling on the trail: a whole world invisible to us. It would certainly make our job easier if we could track by scent.
All the traps are empty, so we continue on down the trail. It only takes an hour to wear out this pup, so our daily walk has become ritual for him. I'm waiting for the day when he sees a rabbit or a deer or something else he'll want to chase. I'm interested to see his reaction.
With coyote mating season over, any Alpha-females should be with pups by now. I imagine they are busy digging multiple dens--up to twelve. They move the pups from site to site for a couple of reasons: if the den is disturbed by a predator (such as humans) or maybe due to heavy parasite infestation (such as fleas, ticks, etc.). We've always wondered where the den is on Presque Isle. I can speculate. But it's only because of my time spent in the field, and knowing their habits that I have any kind of idea. I just never wanted to disturb the den for no reason.
Coyotes will augment another animal's hole such as a woodchucks. They also compete with Red fox for den sites; one of the reasons why Red fox aren't seen on the park any more. Coyotes are simply the larger of the two, and will run out or kill Red fox. They also compete for the same foods, too. Many people are upset by this--that there are no more Red fox on the peninsula. But in all reality, it is the Red fox who doesn't belong. Coyotes are endemic to North America, and Red fox were brought here by English settlers for the thrill of the hunt.
Were coyotes brought here by the PA Game Commission? No. Absolutely not. This is a story I hear again and again, and it's always someone's sister-in-law's nephew, or the like, who has shot the animal and found a tag in it's ear that says "Minnesota" or some other mid-western or western state. Funny, the hunter is always a distant relative, and the originating state always starts with an 'M.' This guy must be related to everyone!
Seriously, though. I think I do know where these stories come from. Hunting groups did bring in 5 or 6 animals to the Bradford area a long time ago. This was for the same reason that fox were brought in: for something to hunt. And coyotes are one of the toughest things out there to hunt. But if you know something about basic biology and genetics, then you know that such small populations do not, and can not populate a huge area. It's called the founder effect. There simply isn't enough genetic diversity in those 5 or 6 animals to sustain population growth. And I'm certain that the hunters who released them shot at least a few.
All you have to understand to know where the coyotes came from is their potential for dispersing from their natal den. When coyotes reach a certain age, they leave their mother and father's territory. These are just the animals we radio collared almost ten years ago at Presque Isle. We collared them in October and November, and by February both animals were off the park...long gone. The male went to a suburb of Cleveland--some 82 miles from Presque Isle before getting hit by a car. The female went to Hartstown--which is right near Pymatuning State Park--also very far from Presque Isle. She was shot by a trapper.
Knowing this, and by looking in the scientific literature you'll find that coyotes can go on average 100-150 miles from their natal den to find their own territory. Some have gone almost twice this distance, with males averaging further distances than females. So, coming East of the Mississippi over the past 100 years really isn't all that fantastical of a story. Coyotes, they really are amazing, adaptable creatures.

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