Thursday, July 31, 2008
The Habitat Authority periodically receives calls from residents encountering coyotes and other wildlife, including neighborhoods that are more than a mile away from the Puente Hills open space. This morning we received a call about a coyote that was walking down a residential street in Whittier more than a mile from the nearest natural area. Coyotes are one of the most adaptable animals, occupying virtually every habitat type in North America, including urban areas. As with many other types of wildlife, coyotes are more commonly out from dusk to dawn, moving through urban areas along railroad tracks, greenways, parks, and drainage facilities. However, encounters do occur during the day.
Occasionally, people will experience a more personal encounter with a coyote, including the loss of pets, and very rarely an attack on humans. However, people should not be fearful of coyotes. Coyotes play an important role in the ecosystem, helping to keep populations of rodents (rats and mice) and other small mammals under control. Naturally coyotes are fearful of humans, however coyotes readily lose their fear of humans when people intentionally (or unintentionally) provide food/water or shelter for them, or otherwise do not try to deter them from visiting. It is not feasible to completely eliminate coyotes, but removing sources that attract coyotes can go a long way to avoiding a conflict.
It is unfortunate when a person loses a pet to a coyote, and this may elicit a very emotionally negative response from the pet owner towards coyotes in general. However, the coyote views the pet as one of many food sources, and this type of encounter is almost always preventable. People that live in areas with coyotes should not leave their pets outside at night. If a pet cannot be brought inside, then the pet should be kept in some type of an enclosure that other wildlife cannot get in to. In areas where the occurrence of coyotes is much higher, pets (especially smaller dogs and cats) should ideally be placed outside only while being supervised, even possibly during the day. For areas where coyotes are attacking pets, there should be a heightened awareness towards this behavior, and if necessary the appropriate wildlife authorities can be notified. Local authorities may investigate these occurrences, but they may not actively trap and remove coyotes simply in response to attacks on pets.
The presence of unwanted wildlife in urban neighborhoods (especially in yards) is often due to one or more factors caused by the residents themselves, in some instances knowingly. As noted above, the presence of small pets left outside is a big attraction for coyotes as a food source. Other things that attract coyotes include pet food that is left outside; unsecured garbage cans; ripened fruit that has fallen off of trees; shelter such as dense shrubbery; and water sources such as pet bowls, fountains, ponds, and swimming pools. It may be difficult to remove all attractants (such as ponds and swimming pools), however at the very least people should not provide food to coyotes or any other type of wildlife. Besides it being a bad idea ecologically, it is against the law to feed or otherwise provide food to specific types of wildlife. This includes ground squirrels, coyotes, raccoons, skunks, and opossums; all of which are common in urban areas.
As noted above, coyote attacks on humans are rare. Of those attacks that have occurred to humans, a significant number of the attacks have been towards small children. Coyotes can view small children as prey animals (particularly when a child is crouched down while playing). Particularly in areas with a higher occurrence of coyotes, children should be supervised by an adult at all times while outside. If you are approached by a coyote, or even if you see one in your yard, every effort should be made to frighten the coyote away and make the coyote fearful of humans. Make yourself as big as possible by raising your arms. Make loud noises to startle the coyote. Spray the coyote with water if a hose is available. If the coyote still will not leave, then throw an object such as a rock as near the coyote as possible but not at its body. If this still does not work, then throw an object at the body, though not at its head.
If a coyote does not retreat after trying all feasible measures, if a coyote bites a human, or if one otherwise truly acts aggressively, then the appropriate wildlife authorities (including Animal Control) should be contacted immediately. If necessary and feasible, then the appropriate authorities may determine that elimination of a coyote is warranted. Simply seeing a coyote in a residential area is not a reason to be alarmed, and does not justify removal, however it should make people aware that coyotes are present, and what can be done to reduce the likelihood of a closer encounter. Also, there is a difference between a coyote that is being bold and one that is acting aggressively. A coyote coming into a yard looking for food is acting boldly, but is not necessarily exhibiting aggressive behavior towards humans. The difference between bold and aggressive may be a fine line at times, but people should be aware that the sheer presence of a coyote is not a cause to call for its removal, especially for people living very near to natural areas. Coyotes that have become bolder have done so by losing their fear of humans. Even though a bold coyote may not be a cause for removal, its reasons for being bold should be addressed. Do not simply ignore a bold coyote.
There are many resources available for information and guidance on coyotes and other wildlife. Please visit our website (http://www.habitatauthority.org/) for more information on coexisting with wildlife. In addition, the websites of the California Department of Fish and Game, and many other agencies and organizations provides valuable information. If you are interested in a DVD on coexisting with wildlife or other literature, please contact the Habitat Authority at (562) 945-9003. A ranger or other staff member would be pleased to personally visit people with questions or concerns, or alternatively we could mail materials to you.
Friday, July 18, 2008
Dragonflies and damselflies are strongly tied to aquatic environments. Their larval stage (referred to as naiads) develop in the water. The naiads themselves are aquatic predators, capturing things that include insects, tadpoles, worms, and small fish. Worldwide there are 5,000 known species of dragonflies and damselflies, with approximately 450 occurring in North America.
Wednesday, July 2, 2008
Here is a bit of background on plant taxonomy.....two closely related species of plants occur in the same genus (genera). For example, white sage, black sage, and purple sage are all in the genus Salvia. Similarly related genera are placed in the same plant family. Plants of the genus Salvia, along with other “mints”, are placed in the plant family “Lamiaceae”. Getting back to poison oak....this plant is placed in the family “Anacardiaceae”. Other representatives of this family that occur in the Puente Hills include native plants such as lemonadeberry, laurel sumac, and skunkbrush, and non-native plants such as the Peruvian pepper tree. Many species in this plant family contain a type of oil called “urushiol”, which is particularly abundant in poison oak (genus Toxicodendron). This is the oil, which for people that are sensitized to, will cause the characteristic delayed allergic reaction. Up to 30% of people have no allergic reaction when in contact with the oils from poison oak; however most will become sensitized to it with repeated exposure.
What many people find interesting is to know what common food items occur in the same plant family, and are therefore more closely related to poison oak. These include the pistachio, cashew, and mango. The urushiol oil is found in the nut shell of the cashew fruit (though not in the cashew fruit itself), and in the mango plant sap as well as the skin of the mango fruit. With the respect to the mango plant, breaking the vine of a green mango fruit will produce a fine aerosol of sap that causes severe reactions in previously sensitized individuals. The mango fruit skin has a lesser concentration of urushiol, though still with some potential for the delayed skin rash with more sensitive people. However, the edible part of the mango fruit itself does not cause these reactions, and is one of the most popularly used fruits worldwide; used for food, juice, flavoring, fragrance, and color. The mango is an excellent overall nutrient source, including dietary fiber, carbohydrates, and antioxidant vitamins.
Here is a great game to play. The next time you are eating a meal, think about each plant product that you are eating, where it comes from, and what it might be related to. Is it a fruit? If not, what part of the plant does it come from? Is it a root? A stem? A leaf? Dinner will never be the same again!
Thursday, June 26, 2008
For anyone that hikes, bikes, and rides horses in the hills, please report any acts of vandalism that you witness in progress. Do not make any effort to approach individuals or try to stop them. However, you can call our emergency number at (562) 698-1446 anytime to report people in the act of vandalizing, or any other illegal activity on Habitat Authority lands. Please help us to keep the hills beautiful. Thank you!
Friday, June 20, 2008
Approximately 190 acres of Habitat Authority lands have been or are currently being restored in some manner, including 130 acres initiated by the Habitat Authority, and another 60 acres of mitigation conducted on Habitat Authority lands to mitigate for local development projects. Restoration projects include coastal sage scrub and sycamore riparian habitats at the Hacienda Trailhead; riparian restoration in Sycamore Canyon; coastal sage scrub restoration on the former Unocal property (east of Colima Road); coastal sage scrub restoration near the Hellman Trailhead; the restoration of coastal sage scrub at the Arroyo Pescadero Trailhead; and the restoration of oak and walnut woodland, coastal sage scrub, native grassland, and riparian habitats in Powder Canyon.
Though it makes us feel good to be a part of successful restoration projects, that feeling is a byproduct of the broader goal….to improve the overall the health of the ecosystem. Through the restoration of degraded habitats, the Habitat Authority and other participants have created (and continue to create) native habitats offering shelter and food for wildlife that otherwise would not exist in the degraded habitat. For example, the federally listed coastal California gnatcatcher is nesting in coastal sage scrub vegetation at the former Unocal property where the patch of habitat did not exist just two to three years ago. Gnatcatchers have occupied that property in the past, but we have expanded the habitat to allow for the establishment of new territories and the growth of the gnatcatcher population. Besides rare species, we are providing habitat for all sorts of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and invertebrates.
Earlier this week I visited our former Diaz property on the far eastern edge of the preserve near Harbor Boulevard. Five years ago this property contained a house and other structures, an avocado orchard, and countless more non-native vegetation. Since then we have restored nearly 25 acres to coastal sage scrub and oak/walnut woodland. During my visit the other day, I came across a family of mule deer that are regular residents of the property. As I walked through the site, I was treated with the appearance of two fawns that calmly walked out from the shelter of a grove of walnuts (see photo above). It is rewarding to know that the habitat was restored for them.
Friday, June 13, 2008
There are many different kinds of ticks in California, with two of the more common ticks being the black-legged tick and Pacific Coast tick. In California, the black-legged tick is the only one known to transmit Lyme disease, although ticks in general can carry other diseases such as Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Found elsewhere in the United States, the other carrier of Lyme disease is the deer tick. Most sources report that on average, 1 to 2 percent of adult black-legged ticks are infected with Lyme disease, as opposed to 2 to 15% of nymph ticks, though the percentage can be much greater in higher risk areas such as northwestern California and the northeastern United States. In addition, with infected ticks the risk of transmission increases the longer that the tick is attached. Therefore, it is important to regularly check yourself for ticks while outdoors in areas where ticks can be found, and also give yourself a very thorough check when you return home.
Don’t let the potential for ticks keep you from getting outdoors. There are many things that you can do to reduce your risk of getting bitten by a tick.
- Dress appropriately. Wear light-colored clothing so that you can spot ticks easily. Wear full-length long pants, long-sleeved shirts, and hats to keep ticks off of your skin and out of your hair.
- When hiking a trail keep to the middle of the trail and avoid brushing against vegetation (although this is often difficult depending on the trail).
- Periodically check yourself on the trail for ticks, or better yet have a buddy help you. Ticks may be hiding in the seams of clothing. When are finished with your outdoor activities, give yourself a very thorough tick check, and then once again when you get home. Be sure to check your pets for ticks if you take them outdoors with you.
- As an added precaution, repellents are available that can be sprayed on your clothing.
If you find a tick attached to you, remove the tick immediately with a pair of tweezers. Research suggests that it takes from hours to one or two days for ticks to begin transmitting disease-causing bacteria. Do not use chemicals, heat or anything else that might irritate the tick and cause it to regurgitate disease-causing agents into your skin. Grasp the tick’s head/mouthparts with a pair of tweezers as close to your skin as possible. Be careful not to squash the tick, as this may force fluids from the tick into your skin. Using the tweezers, slowly and steadily pull the tick straight out. It is important not to leave any mouthparts in your skin, as this could cause a secondary infection. If you are unsure which species of tick that bit you, keep the tick in a plastic bag or vial of alcohol for later identification.
After removing the tick, consult with a physician. Your doctor may prescribe a brief treatment of antibiotics out of precaution. Regardless, if you develop any flu-like symptoms within a few days to weeks of being bit, consult with your doctor. One of the common symptoms of Lyme disease is a characteristic “bulls-eye” rash that develops at the site of the bite, and then later can spread elsewhere. The technical term for this rash is erythema migrans. Other symptoms include headache, fever, fatigue, etc.
In 15 years of being a field biologist, I have literally picked hundreds of ticks off of me, and have probably had 6 or so that have attached, though I have caught them quickly. So, like anything else, the key is to be aware, educated, and responsible. Just add ticks as one more thing to your list of things to watch out for. Make a tick check a part of your regular outdoor routine!
Here is a link to a document from the California Department of Public Health website for more detailed information on ticks and Lyme disease:
Thursday, June 12, 2008
Just as with humans, the behavior of other animals is used to attract mates, threaten or warn potential adversaries, or just to be social. Individual bird species possess a range of calls for these purposes, from a warbling melodious song, to a harsh rasp. Lizards, on the other hand, use their bodies.
So, the next time you want to tell a friend or family member to get out of your favorite chair, try it with body language!
Thursday, June 5, 2008
Snakes are often unjustly viewed as scary and dangerous, but in fact they are one of nature’s greatest allies in maintaining a healthy ecosystem. Snakes serve as a great means of natural pest control through their consumption of rodents and insects that are otherwise often treated by people with poisons that are harmful to other wildlife. Biologically, snakes serve as important regulators in their complex food web by controlling the populations of rodents, insects, and other reptiles.
The Puente Hills is home to approximately 10 to 12 snake species, though only two of those species (both rattlesnakes) are venomous. Of the rattlesnakes, the most common is the western rattlesnake, though the red-diamond rattlesnake is also present. Several weeks ago I happened upon my first rattlesnake of the season (a western rattlesnake) coiled up in the hollow stump of an old avocado tree. For residents of the hills (particularly those immediately adjacent to open space) it is fairly common for people to get snakes of all kinds in their yards, on their driveways, and perhaps even in their garages.
For those on the trails, a rattlesnake encounter is always a possibility, but the likelihood of actually getting bitten by a venomous snake is very low, particularly if you hike safely and responsibly.
- Be sure to stay on the open trails. The chance of encountering a snake greatly increases if you wander off the trail into the brush or rocks. Avoid areas where you cannot see the ground around you.
- When hiking, wear long pants and appropriate shoes. Do not wear sandals or other open or thin-material shoes that make it easier for a snake to bite you.
- When on the trails be sure to watch where you are stepping. Always watch the ground for several paces in front of you, since rattlesnakes will sometimes be stretched out or coiled up on the trail.
- If you do hear the distinct sound of a rattlesnake, be sure to avoid its location. Hike away from the sound of the snake. A rattlesnake is very unlikely to strike unless it is provoked, and if you leave the snake alone it will leave you alone. If you have a close encounter with a rattlesnake, freeze or back away slowly to allow the snake to get away.
- Do not turn over rocks or otherwise put your hands where you cannot see what is hidden.
- And of course, do not try to touch or pick up a snake. Do not throw objects at snakes, or otherwise do anything else that might provoke them.
Here are some steps to minimize the chance of snake encounters around your home if you live adjacent to or near open space:
- Clear planters, hoses and other objects from around the house.
- Don't leave your garage door open or leaky faucets running. Snakes often are seeking water or a shady place to rest.
- Never let your children or pets play in the yard without first checking to make sure there are no snakes around.
- Don't go outside barefoot.
- Be especially careful when stepping out of the light into a shady area.
- When walking at night or dusk always use a flashlight. Snakes and other reptiles will lay on warm roads, sidewalks and driveways after dark to absorb heat left over from the daytime.
If you are bitten by a rattlesnake, the most important thing is not to panic. Do not run or otherwise get excited, as that will speed up the circulation of the venom through your system. Calmly seek immediate emergency assistance, including calling 911 if you are unable to get yourself to a hospital. If possible, wash the bite area with soap and warm water. Keep the bitten portion of your body below the level of your heart, and remove any constrictive jewelry or clothing around the bite area.
If you have any other questions or concerns about snakes, feel free to contact us at the Puente Hills Habitat Authority.
Friday, May 30, 2008
Another parasitic plant that is common in southern California (though not in the Puente Hills) is mistletoe. Almost all species of mistletoe are hemi-parasitic (or partially parasitic). The plant is green, and so produces it own food via photosynthesis. However mistletoe grows high up on the branches of its host trees (such as sycamore) and so it is not rooted in the soil to get water. As such, the mistletoe must take water directly from the stems of the host tree that it grows on.
Friday, May 23, 2008
I am the new ecologist for the Puente Hills Landfill Native Habitat Preservation Authority, taking over for Dan Cooper (who created this blog).
Please check back soon, and hopefully regularly, for new posts. Also feel free to contact me at the Habitat Authority.
Thursday, February 14, 2008
Yesterday, while out doing a site visit to the restoration sites at the former Unocal parcel (between Colima Rd. and Hacienda Blvd.), a flock of about 10 Violet-green Swallows blasted overhead, heading west along the spine of the hills. These are early-returning birds which winter in Mexico and nest in the local mountains (and throughout the West).
Also present along Arroyo San Miguel was a small group of Purple Finches, probably feeding in the recently-sprouted willows. I don't remember seeing one all winter in the hills, so these may have just moved in (or maybe I've just missed them).
Tuesday, January 15, 2008
While walking in Powder Canyon today with fellow Habitat Authority staffer Suzanne Avila, I mentioned that last week's heavy rains probably pushed some salamanders up to the surface. Flipping over my first piece of fallen oak bark revealed a tiny black-bellied slender-salamander curled up in its typical pretzel shape.
These worm-like amphibians (genus = Batrachoseps) are among the smallest vertebrates out there, and California boasts nearly all of the known species, from the garden slender-salamander you might find in your backyard if your property was never graded, to isolated races and even full species still being discovered in out-of-the-way spots in the southern Sierra Nevada.
Here in the Puente Hills, it's just the black-bellied (Batrachoseps nigriventris), which makes a living on shady, moist slopes under thick layers of leaf litter (mainly oak and toyon), though they do range into chaparral and even coastal sage scrub. During the summer and fall, it seems almost unbelievable that they're around, as the same dusty leaves crackle underfoot. But after a few good soaking rains, they emerge from inactivity to feed on slugs, spiders, and other tiny critters beneath slabs of bark or light rocks.
Of course, this is ecology, and everything's connected, so what eats them? Turns out it's a little snake, the ring-necked snake, a dark, slender (and totally harmless) serpent with a bright pink belly and a fondness for shady oak woodland.