Posts tagged urban wildlife

Photo: Katherine Montgomery

One of the reasons I love Los Angeles is its blurred line between urban and wild life. Hawks are often sighted soaring above the 101 freeway, and P-22, our Griffith Park resident mountain lion, has become a new kind of Hollywood celebrity. It is easy to champion these interspecies citizens from a distance, but we must also support their habitat as part of our community.

Living so close to wildlife is becoming unavoidable as humans encroach more and more upon their territory. I have encountered many coyotes on my early morning runs through Highland Park. A friend of mine just posted a video of a bear in his neighbor’s pool in Altadena. We’ve all seen the video of the mountain lion in a Los Feliz basement. These animals are charming, but they are also doing their best to live in altered and often hostile environments. As landscape architects and planners, it is our job to assess the impact of our proximity, and adjust our designs and methods to support coexistence.

Last weekend during an afternoon walk, my husband and I crossed paths with a coyote suffering from a serious case of mange. He was thin and disoriented, with barely any hair. A neighbor said he had already called the city wildlife hotline. Concerned about the coyote’s fate, I also called and was told he would be caught and euthanized. One more phone call to the California Wildlife Center, and I learned I could email their vet and request a dead, medicated mouse to leave for the coyote. With one to several treatments, he could be cured of the mange. Unfortunately, the city captured him first.

In the last few years, there has been increasing research on the link between wildlife mange and rodenticides. Even P-22 has suffered the negative effects of rodenticide. Many animals along the food chain are natural rodent predators, including mountain lions, coyotes, bobcats, as well as owls and hawks. All of these animals are poisoned second-hand when they eat poisoned rats, mice, or rabbits.

This month AB-2242 – a bill banning all anticoagulant first and second generation rodenticides in California – will be moved forward to the Committee of Water, Parks, and Wildlife for approval. You can submit a public comment by April 23 by following the directions on the Project Coyote website. This bill is also supported by RATS (Raptors Are The Solution) and Poison Free Malibu. Much like the historic ban on DDT that saved the bald eagle, this movement has the potential to save California’s iconic wildlife

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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.