Posts tagged urban wildlife

eagle-cam

Growing up in Northwest Louisiana, my dad taught me all about hunting, fishing, repairing pick-up trucks, and paddling a pirogue, as well as some survival skills that Girl Scouts may have glossed over. Honestly, I wasn’t much into being a sharpshooter, and I failed as an auto mechanic, but I did pay attention when my dad tried to teach me about plants.

Whenever he took me to his deer camp he’d show me a barren fence where the cold hardy passion vine (Passiflora) was supposed to grow. He collected the Louisiana Iris (Iris virginica ‘Shrevei’) from the swampy waters. I’d religiously relocate them against a fence. The plants eventually spread into the neighbor’s yard to his great displeasure.

Photo by Frank Mayfield (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Photo by Frank Mayfield (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Someone recently told me that you can no longer collect these plants from the wild, even though someone originally collected the plants, and planted them around the cabin to dress it up. I wanted my dad to load up on plants instead of watching my mom prepare yet another mystery dish using the ample supply of venison filling our freezer. Any good hunter builds themselves a nifty deer stand built for one. From there, you sit up as high as you can go in the Loblolly Pines (Pinus taeda) of Louisiana to watch wildlife for many solitary hours.

Around the the time my father turned 50 years old, he realized he found photographing nature more rewarding than hunting. I have a couple of theories behind this late-life epiphany: doctor’s orders, one too many bouts of kidney stones from eating too much venison, or simply the neighbors filled up the giant freezer with enough venison to last a lifetime (I remember whenever anyone opened the freezer door, rock hard frozen meat would tumble forth).

I found lots of high altitude sky photographs within the trays of slides, but I have yet to find those elusive images of wildlife captured using a telephoto camera lens. I would have really liked to have seen a photo of the snake that can swim and fly, or bullfrogs so large they could be walked/hopped around using a leash, or a photograph of the rare Louisiana panther jumping from one bald cypress stump (Cupressus taxodium) to another, feasting upon juicy catfish along the way.

This holiday weekend I somehow found myself acting like my late father, watching wild animal kingdom webcams in the comfort of my own Southern California living room. Our favorite is the Dick Pritchett Real Estate SWFEC bald eagle webcam, a site monitoring a family of bald eagles situated in a 60-foot high nest. This nest is set inside a slash pine (Pinus elliotii), surrounded by what looks like a church, a busy freeway, and a back drop of  Southwest Floridian skyscrapers. The nesting bald eagles seem to be more harried by the plethora of noisy birds and swarms of flies than the continuous drone of the nearby freeway.

This particular nature webcam has attained viral popularity and national news coverage, scoring over 60 million viewers who’ve quietly enjoyed watching the treetop dramas unfold using their cell phone, laptop or internet-connected television in the middle of the night. Stationed only 6 feet away from the nest, the webcam is equipped with infrared night vision to prevent disturbing the family of eagles. The lens follows the action, moving with the family of eagles. Close-ups regularly showcase the cute white and fuzzy fledgling, and viewers take great pleasure watching the mom eagle feed her baby with fresh fish deliveries made by both parents (dad regularly takes over nesting duties while mom hunts).
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Watching a snoring eagle after a hard day of work is really just the cutest. My husband and I have oddly enjoyed prying in on this feathered family as they build and tend their eagle’s nest – LE026-B as defined the Florida State Monitoring Program – situated within the tall pine trees. Dressed with branches and surrounded by a layer of soft pine needles, the pair constantly clean out the nest, keeping tidy their tiny 200 square foot loft and avian nursery. A makeshift refrigerator for the rodents and fish caught by the eagles is conveniently tucked neatly to one side within the soften base of torn pine straw, with spent feathers placed to keep the flies at bay. Watching each of the parents carefully feed the fledgling is really interesting, but I have yet to figure out why the eagle uses her beak to stick her head deep into the nest. Maybe to make a window into the world below?

Of course, nature can be brutal with unexpected violence and tragedy, so if you rather have the PG-rated version for the family to watch, try one of the major news networks for a delayed transmission. In any case, you cannot help but care about the cold, harsh beauty of nature after watching these wild animals endure. It matters!

The large urban parks around Los Angeles provide a chance to step into another world, and my favorite is Debs Park in Montecito Heights. The park’s network of trails wind up hillsides through black walnut groves and under large oak trees, some leading to rewarding views of Downtown Los Angeles and the San Gabriel Mountains. It is a 282-acre pocket of wild in the city, and I’ve encountered coyotes, bobcats, owls, and rabbits on my hikes. Becoming part of their world provides respite from my own.

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Adjusting my focus from the large vistas to the immediate setting, I started noticing patterns in the vegetation that were not of a human scale. Grass tunnels hinted at another creature’s experience of the open space, and the more I looked, the more I saw the park as a network of animal thoroughfares. I began photographing these routes as a way to actively observe and meditate on the sensitive connection between wildlife and our shared landscape.

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02040011As a designer, I know there is much to learn from adjusting my perspective and seeing the landscape from a different point of view. These photos are just a glimpse into another side of LA, and another experience of our environment.

My brother-in-law visited me recently. During his stay he excitedly told me about spotting several bat boxes in my neighborhood. Although my initial reaction was, “Bat what?”, I was quickly intrigued about learning whether the bats I’d noticed flitting about my tiny backyard were an urban anomaly or not.

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Bat Box – photo by Christina Lynch.

While some people shudder at the mention of bats, these flying mammals fill several ecological roles. In addition to dispersing seeds and pollinating fruit trees and flowers, bats play an important role in controlling insect populations. Primarily insectivores, bats have the ability to consume more than 600 mosquitos in an hour!

Like many species, bats worldwide aren’t fairing well in response to rapidly expanding urban environments. Habitat loss, degradation, fragmentation, diminishing prey, limited access to water, light pollution, and echolocation disruption are some examples of how urban areas can disrupt bats’ ability to forage and roost. Because bats are widely distributed throughout the world and are sensitive to ecological changes, scientists consider them bio-indicators in the study of the effects of/and adaptation to urbanization in a species.

The Big Brown Bat. Creative Commons photo by Angela C. Barry.

The Big Brown Bat. Creative Commons photo by Angela C. Barry.

Even as many bat populations are declining in urban areas, scientists are also finding species whose morphology and ecological ‘plasticity’ provide advantages in cities over less adaptive bats. Bats with long, narrow wings, which provide greater lift, are well adapted to the open but unprotected spaces of many towns, feeding efficiently upon insects drawn toward light pollution. Some species are showing adaptions to drinking from artificial water sources such as pools, a favorable behavior in drought-stricken environments such as California. And with the disturbance/loss of roosting habitats – caves, mines, or trees – bat boxes provide opportunities for the tight roosting quarters bats prefer, which minimize the energy required to keep their body temperature stabile while at rest.

Mexican free-tailed bats exiting Bracken Bat Cave. Creative Commons photos by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Mexican free-tailed bats exiting Bracken Bat Cave. Creative Commons photos by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Of the 27 bat species found throughout California, bats found locally in Southern California include the Western Mastiff, the big brown bat, the Mexican free-tailed bat, and the Canyon Bat. You can learn more about local bats and listen to their calls at KPCC’s “Everything you didn’t know about bats in Los Angeles“.

“Why can’t we have an ecology for the rest of us, the ones who don’t want to jump into a pair of shorts and hike up a mountain yodeling?”

This quote from an interview with Timothy Morton, a contemporary philosopher and dark ecologist, has really stuck with me. Looking for ecology in the city can help us redefine our perceptions about nature and what it means to be ecologically aware. Sometimes finding ecology is about scale and looking more closely to see what is already there.

Vacant Lot, Koreatown, Los Angeles, CA_1

While looking out at the city of Los Angeles from a friend’s rooftop in Koreatown, the scale of ecology was vast and somewhat impersonal. Nature seemed far away:  mountains in the distance with clouds slowly drifting overhead, networks of cars in motion, a stationary parade of billboards with palm trees poking out above the buildings in between, and a vacant lot below.

Vacant Lot, Koreatown, Los Angeles, CA_3

Vacant Lot, Koreatown, Los Angeles, CA_2

But zoomed in for a closer look and the gap between nature and me diminishes. A lot that appeared vacant from a distance became full of life, with bees moving from one flower to the next. I guess the distance between nature and me can be as near or far as I am willing to perceive.

For local residents and visitors alike, Los Angeles can feel like a maze – a vast sprawl of neighborhoods intersected by a confusing tangle of freeways and overpasses. Now imagine how our local wildlife must feel trying to navigate these human constructed urban barriers while in search of safe habitat, food, and the increasing precious resource of water!

Lately, there has been a lot of news coverage about wildlife suffering because of inaccessibility across human infrastructure, whether it be declining populations of migrating monarch butterflies to the famously stranded local celebrity, P-22, the Griffith Park mountain lion. Various organizations have studied creating wildlife “corridors” and their positive effects on reconnecting wildlife populations to their natural habitat.

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Last year I went to Banff National Park in Canada and got to see a wildlife crossing in person, one spanning across and underneath a freeway. In theory wildlife corridor connect vital habitats and allow safe passage across dangerous busy roads. I was curious whether they make an impact. Based on Parks Canada’s monitoring research, and in collaboration with other institutions, researchers discovered there was an initial learning curve animals had to overcome to begin using these crossings. It took up to 5 years before large animals like grizzly bears, elk, and deer felt secure enough to use the newly built crossings.

Researchers also discovered particular animals exhibited specific preferences for wildlife corridors: grizzly bears, elk, moose, and deer prefer high and wide crossings of shorter distances, while black bears and cougars prefer long, low, and narrow crossings. In time, these crossings have reduced wildlife-vehicle collisions by more than 80% inside Banff National Park.

Can similar wildlife crossings be implemented in Los Angeles to provide safe movement for animals, especially in a city where rapid urbanization has taken a toll on Los Angeles wildlife?

The National Wildlife Federation and Santa Monica Mountains Fund have started a campaign to create a safe wildlife crossing across the 101 freeway in Agoura Hills. This crossing proposes to connect the Santa Monica Mountains of the south with the Simi Hills and Santa Susana Mountains.

Additionally, the UC Davis Road Ecology Center created a volunteer-based wildlife observation project inviting residents to submit roadkill observations. The data allows researchers to better understand the migration pattern of animals, and in turn, identify areas where a safe passage may be needed. Researchers believe with the current drought in California there may be an increase in the number of roadkill, as animals are putting themselves in greater risk in search for ever scarcer food and water sources.

So how can design help save wildlife?

Image: ARC Design Competition by HNTB+MVVA

Image: ARC Design Competition by HNTB+MVVA

Organizations like ARC (Animal Road Crossing) – an interdisciplinary partnership working to facilitate new thinking, methods, materials, and design solutions for wildlife crossing structures – is an example of design coming to the aid of wildlife. ARC began with the International Wildlife Crossing Infrastructure Design Competition in 2010 to engage innovative design teams of landscape architects, engineers, transportation, and ecological professionals to develop solutions for a next generation of wildlife crossing that would be cost efficient, ecologically responsive, safe, and flexible.

It will be interesting to see how Southern California reacts to effects of longterm drought on the local populations of wildlife which increasingly find themselves with nowhere to go.