Coyote Chorale

Photo courtesy of Craig Rochester, Seward Park, July 2020 (with permission)
Recording courtesy of Michelle McElhaney

The Forest’s coyote pack has become more vocal over the past weeks, a good sign that their breeding season has begun. Bonded coyote pairs announce their breeding territory with a multitude of vocalizations. Other pack members will often chime in. The result is a chorus of warbling yips, howls, barks, and more.

Brian Mitchell, a coyote researcher at the University of Vermont, explains:

“Group yip-howls are produced by a mated and territorial pair of “alpha” coyotes, with the male howling while the female intersperses her yips, barks, and short howls. “Beta” coyotes (the children of the alpha pair from previous years) and current year pups may join in if they are nearby, or respond with howls of their own.

…the group yip-howl is thought to have the dual purpose of promoting bonding within the family group while also serving as a territorial display. In other words, the coyotes are saying “we’re a happy family, and we own this turf so you better keep out.” In a sense, the group howls create an auditory fence around a territory, supplementing the physical scent marks left by the group.”

It could be that the Forest pack is letting the word out to adventuring coyotes who might be looking for a home in the Forest, or they’re just letting the humans who walk in the Forest know of their presence. However, Seward Park is an urban park and the Forest’s coyotes also respond to urban sounds. Stop for a moment over the next couple of months and listen for their replies if you happen to hear sirens from fire trucks on the Blvd or the rumble of a seaplane flying low overhead.

Coyotes are an important part of the Forest ecosystem. They’ve been here for years and are doing a great job of controlling the rats and feral rabbits that live in the Forest. Coyotes are usually shy around humans, but it is important to discourage them from getting too familiar with us. Get big and loud if you come close to one. They’ll leave. And please keep your dogs on leash, for their safety.

Osoberry in full bloom

The osoberry is among the earliest forest plants to leaf out, to blossom, and – starting in midsummer – the first to lose leaf chlorophyll, turn yellow and fall. Early start, early finish.

Quoting from the venerable Pojar, Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast:

General: Shrub or small tree 1.5-5m tall (4-15 feet), one of the first plants to flower in the spring; bark bitter, purplish brown.

Leaves: Alternate, deciduous, pale-green, broadly lance-shaped, 5-12 cm long, not toothed, strong cucumber-like smell when crushed.

Flowers: Greenish-white, about 1 cm across, male and female flowers on separate plants (“dioecious”) , 5 petals, 15 stamens in 3 distinct series somewhat bell-shaped, appearing very early in the year (usually before the leaves), unusual fragrance (something between watermelon rind and cat urine (!); in 5-10 cm long clusters hanging from leaf axis.

Fruits: peach-colored, ripening to bluish-black with a whitish bloom, like small plums, about 1 cm long, edible but bitter, with a large pit.

Ecology: Dry to moist, open woods, streambanks, open areas (especially roadsides); low elevations.

Notes: Alternate common (settler colonialist) name is Indian Plum, Linnaean name is Oemieria cerasiformis. May be fertilized by hummingbirds. O. cerasiformis is the only member of the genus. “cerarisiformis” means “cherry shaped” in Latin.

Eagle & Otters

February 5th, 2022: A bald eagle did its best to catch a pair of river otters swimming in the lake off the southeast corner of the peninsula. As described to us, the otters submerged as the eagle dove for them, in several attempts, and each time escaped unharmed. The eagle eventually abandoned the chase, was joined by a second eagle, harassed by a pair of crows, and then moved on to other pursuits.