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Important coyote follow up

This is a follow up to our previous blog post about coyotes at the Sheep Dog trials. Since last Friday, we have learned more. Because Vashon Nature Center’s focus is to provide information about local wildlife and ecosystems, we would like to share resources on living with coyotes, new information about recent events, and results from our local research on Vashon coyotes since 2011.

 

While we believe in both the intrinsic and ecological value of coyotes in the landscape, we are committed to remaining open to the question of whether coyotes and humans can be successful living together on Vashon-Maury. Our purpose is to provide the best information about wildlife so that we can work intelligently towards living together.

 

Please ask us if anything in this post is unclear, or if you need more information. We will work hard to connect you with someone who can answer your questions.

 

Resources

For information on living with coyotes:

Project Coyote Hazing Guide and Fact Sheet

Washington Fish and Wildlife Fact Sheet

Shivik 2004.  Non-lethal alternatives for predation management. Sheep and Goat Research Journal. 19:64-71. Download

 

For information on ecological benefits of coyotes:

Ripple et al. 2014. Status and Ecological Effects of the World’s Largest Carnivores. Science 343 (6167).

Predator defense

 

For case studies of other communities that have had success in living with coyotes:

Proceedings of the 22nd Vertebrate Pest Conference: Fox- C.H.2006.Coyotes – Humans – Can We Coexist VPC Proceedings

 

If you want to talk with an actual person:

Both USDA and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife representatives are willing to talk with Vashon-Maury residents. Both of these agencies can employ lethal control but emphasize it as a last resort and agree on the importance of using non-lethal and preventative techniques for success in the long-run. USDA contact: Andy Cleland 253-329-6234. WDFW contact: Mike Smith 425-775-1311.

 

New information and its implications

USDA provided us with the demographics of the two coyotes that were shot: one juvenile male and one yearling female that had never bred. There were adult coyotes present in the remaining group. The fact that adults were not killed is potentially good news as it suggests that the social structure of the pack remains intact. Research shows that maintaining the social structure of coyote packs is very important as it prevents a “Lord of the Flies” situation where young coyotes are left to fend for themselves, which often leads to an increase in bold behavior towards humans and domestic animals. Keeping the leading adults with the pack also prevents population booms because breeding is suppressed in all but the alpha pair. If the alpha pair is eliminated, then all coyotes can disperse and breed (Humane Society, Moehlman et al. 1997).

We now have a window of opportunity to successfully live with coyotes if our community employs the various non-lethal techniques available to encourage the remaining coyotes to be wary of humans and domestic animals. As coyotes learn more desirable (for humans) behaviors, these behaviors are more likely to persist in the long run as they are passed from older to younger animals in the pack.

 

Insights to date from our local island sightings database

Since 2011, Vashon Nature Center has been keeping a coyote sighting database to track coyote ranges, behaviors, and habits (we record sightings, human or domestic animal interactions with coyotes, and howls heard).  Please keep telling us what you experience so we can all work together to better understand our island coyotes and minimize conflicts.  We’d like to share the insights from this database so far.

 

  • Our best estimate of coyote numbers on Vashon-Maury based on reports of sightings and howls and inference from home range sizes is 6-10 total.
  • 74% of the coyote activity reported to us since 2011 occurs before 6 am and after 6 pm. This is good news for dog and cat owners because it means islanders can minimize pet contact with coyotes by keeping pets in at night.
  • There seem to be two major activity areas for coyotes on Vashon—one north and one south, but we do not know if these are two packs or just the one (now four-member) pack with a wide range. We have never had reports from both places at the same time, which would indicate two packs.
  • We have had few reports of howls or sightings on Maury Island, but this may be due to holes in our network rather than a real absence of coyotes. We just received belated reports of coyotes and coyote-livestock interactions on Maury, and are working to verify these and see if they are the same or different coyotes than those on Vashon. If you live on Maury, please report any sightings to us so we can fill this information gap.
  • Coyotes may be taking deer and possibly raccoons. We have preliminary evidence based on reports and examination of carcasses. We are now starting a study of coyote droppings to get a more rigorous idea of what composes a coyote diet here in an effort to understand their role in island ecology. Think you found some coyote scat? Contact us.
  • There seems to be a slight rise in coyote reports in the following three time periods each year: May-June, August, and December-January. This may be an artifact of our reporting network. However, it does roughly correspond to phases in the coyote life cycle conducive to boldness: May-June is when pups are raised, August-September is when juveniles disperse, and December-January is when mating occurs.

 

What’s next?

Other communities have found that the key to minimizing conflicts is keeping coyotes acting wild and wary of humans.

  • Research: Vashon Nature Center hopes to continue to build our research program on coyote populations so that we understand them better—both their habits and behaviors, and how they are affecting island ecology as a whole. One way islanders can contribute to this is through adding to our local sightings database: Let us know when you see or hear coyotes.
  • Education: Recent events have shown us our coyotes are beginning to act more boldly.  This is a good time for all island residents to learn about best techniques for living with coyotes. The links above provide a start. Please read them and share them with friends.  We all need to work together to encourage coyotes to stay wary of us.
  • Working together: Momentum is gaining for an authentic and representative working group of island residents that will explore, examine, and test best strategies for living with coyotes on Vashon-Maury, and hear from experts. Vashon Nature Center supports the creation of this working group and will be glad to be a member as it gets off the ground. We recognize the importance of treating our relationship with coyotes here as a learning experience that will evolve over time. A working group will help us learn and adapt as a community to find what works best for the island.

We will continue to do our best to provide updates on anything coyote moving forward. Don’t hesitate to contact us with questions.  AAAAAOOOOooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!

Living with coyotes

There were 6 coyotes spotted at the Sheep Dog trials last weekend. These coyotes preyed on and killed 2 sheep and a lamb that had been released into the meadows for the weekend and two of them were shot when they returned to hunt sheep the next night.  In light of this recent event we’d like to share some information on best known strategies for living with coyotes. To learn more about coyote biology and behavior and best known strategies for living with coyotes in our community we suggest visiting the following links:

Project Coyote, a coalition of wildlife biologists, has put together some tried and true guidelines on best practices for keeping coyotes wary of humans, livestock, and associated animals. These can be found on their resources page.

Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife also has a fact sheet that includes preventative measures. They include detailed descriptions of preventative fencing and information on using guard animals.

We are still keeping a database on sightings, reports of howling locations, and any interactions with domestic animals and humans to track coyote ranges, behaviors, and habits.  Please keep telling us what you are experiencing so we can all work together to better understand our island coyotes and minimize conflicts. Our hearts go out to all who were touched by this event.

Christensen Counts!

Bioblitz 2014 July 12-13 Christensen Creek Watershed

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Bioblitz 2014 basecamp. Photo by: Julie Grunwald

Even on this small island, each of our Bioblitz events has been unique both in terms of species composition and overall feel. At Neill Point in 2012, everything was new, even rather ordinary things hadn’t been officially catalogued, so discoveries and frontier energy abounded. The second Bioblitz at Fern Cove was purely enchanting as we counted away in the light drizzle and fog, with mushrooms visibly growing between our 24-hour weary boots.

During this year’s Bioblitz, setting up basecamp involved descending upon a private group’s annual barbeque at Lisabeula in the blazing sun. As I pulled up with a truck full of microscopes, mammal traps, plastic tubs, and all manner of nets and field guides, I wondered how the naturalists and beach revelers would mix. But, I had nothing to worry about. As we struggled to set up a particularly challenging tent, one of our neighbors came over, kindly suppressed his laughter, and lent us a hand. The tent was up in no time. This auspicious beginning was representative of a weekend that can best be described by the strength of its camaraderie.

A beach-goer helps us pitch our basecamp tent. photo by: Susie Fitzugh

A beach-goer helps pitch our basecamp tent. photo by: Susie Fitzugh

Throughout the weekend, unexpected neighbors, along with planned participants and curious passers-by joined to help us with the count. They looked through the microscopes, got chest deep in ponds, learned how and where to set mammal traps, strained their night vision and hearing for owls, stared at sheets glowing in the purple glare of black lights, strolled the beach, and flipped through field guides all with a sense of curiosity, friendship, and fun.

Participants were greeted by people like Ed Johannes, Rayna Holtz, Tom DeVries, Jeff Adams, Gary Shugart, Jim Evans, Harsi and Ezra Parker, Ellen Kritzman, John Browne, Ann Spiers, Steve Caldwell and others—all of whom open new worlds with their tales of aquatic snails, marine marvels, fern spores, caddisfly larvae, burrowing wasps, bird songs, insectivorous shrews, and neotenic salamanders (more on that later). Scientists and volunteers alike all got to learn from each other as we explored our home.

BioBlitz 2014

Gary Shugart, Ezra Parker, Harsi Parker, and Richard Rogers talk birds, insects, and more. photo by: Susie Fitzugh

Low Tide at Lisabeula Park:

Rayna Holtz (right) helps participants identify shoreline species. photo by: Susie Fitzugh

BioBlitz 2014

Jim Evans looks at fern spores. photo by: Susie Fitzugh

This is part of the magic of the Bioblitz for me. It not only re-opens my awareness to the rich world of life, it also improves my outlook on our human species as I experience how curious, gentle and intelligent people can be. In our modern society, where dominant forces tend to isolate us both from nature and the power of our own species, this is truly a gift of sustenance.

“No, no! The adventures first, explanations take such a dreadful time.” –Alice in Wonderland

Adventures and Results
Totals: Our rough count at the end of the designated 24-hour period was 377 species, which is higher than rough counts for the previous two years. With more identifications completed in the last few weeks, the count has already risen to 462 species, our highest ever. This count includes 46 lichens, liverworts, and mosses; 132 plant species; about 140 arthropods; nine freshwater and terrestrial mollusks; five amphibian species; 58 bird species; seven mammals; and about 65 shoreline species and fish.

The tally board at 12:36 am photo by: Bianca Perla

The tally board at 12:36 am photo by: Bianca Perla

Lichens, Liverworts, and mosses: Phoebe Goit traveled from Kitsap Peninsula all the way to the bottom of Christensen Creek watershed on one of the hottest days of the summer to identify 46 different liverworts, mosses, and lichens. During her visit, she happened to find this mystery (see photo). Was it a fungi? An insect egg? A liverwort? Three days later, and half a continent away, the answer came to us, thanks to a line of connections that was incredible to behold. Kathie Hodge at Cornell University finally provided the ID for this rarely seen fungus: Corticium minnsiae along with this interesting natural history paper on its discovery (aka Aleurodiscus_minnsiae). We are looking into whether the Burke herbarium is interested in this specimen. C. minnsiae grows on tree hosts and has been described on Douglas fir as well as a few different hemlock and pine species.

Corticium minnsiae. The small cuplike structure is the asexual state of this rarely seen and poorly understood fungi. Kathie Hodge notes that the ball is called the sclerotium which disperses the fungus when rain drops into the cup and splashes out. The sexual state of the fungus is crusty in form. photo by: Phoebe Goit

Corticium minnsiae. The small cuplike structure is the asexual state of this rarely seen and poorly understood fungi. Kathie Hodge notes that the ball is called the sclerotium which disperses the fungus when rain drops into the cup and splashes out. The sexual state of the fungus is crusty in form. photo by: Phoebe Goit

Plants: Jim Evans led the plant group from the headwaters of Christensen Creek at Christensen Pond into the deep valleys of the mid-watershed to record 132 plant species.

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Jim Evans and Adria Magrath descend into the treed valleys of Christensen Watershed to survey with the plant team. photo by: Michael Laurie

Ann Spiers and John Browne surveyed the lower beach area and outlet at Lisabeula, to add more species to the list. The plant teams recorded perhaps the only native and large patch of devil’s club on the island, as well as the parasitic Indian pipe. Also called ghost plant or corpse plant, Indian pipe sucks nutrients from fungi associated with tree roots rather than photosynthesizing on its own, so it has no need to be green and can grow in very low light conditions. The complex relationships required to sustain this plant make propagation quite impossible and it is relatively rare.

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Indian Pipe is rare on the island and only known from a few locations (Fern Cove-K True, Fisher Watershed-H Parker, Lost Lake early 70s-A Spiers and J Browne . photo by: Michael Laurie

Jim notes that the Christensen watershed likely contains the largest concentration of old-growth on the island and that the understory, while not particularly diverse, is in very good to excellent condition. Thanks to all the land owners who allowed us access to these areas, and for stewarding them well. While conditions were generally excellent, the plant team found some pockets of invasives. These have low enough population levels that they could be controlled with some muscle power. Anyone want to organize some small work parties over the next year? Let us know.
Creepy crawlies: Short answer—we are still working on Bioblitz number one for these guys! Yes, it does take forever. Did anyone see the tome Jeff Adams brought identifying larval stages of black flies of North America? One thousand pages. And that’s just the black flies. And that’s just North America.

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The Bioblitz field library. Jeff Adam’s tome on black fly larvae identification is the blue book in the bottom right. photo by: Julie Grunwald

This year, the rough estimate for terrestrial insect taxa was 140, not including a few dozen freshwater aquatic invertebrates.

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Golden jewel beetle–Buprestis aurulenta, our first and last species of the count. photo by: Harsi Parker

Harsi Parker aptly named the above jewel beetle the “bookend beetle” because it has the distinction of being the first and last species recorded at the Bioblitz. Minutes after we yelled go this beetle flew right onto the arm of one of the participating girlscouts, “count me!” And just minutes before the closing bell Sherry Lee Bottoms found the second beetle. Perhaps it was gracing us with its presence for a job well done?

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Pristinicola sp. springsnails are the spiraling white shells on the left. photo by: Bianca Perla

 

Ed Johannes identified nine freshwater snails, terrestrial snails, and slugs including some interesting freshwater spring snails of the genus Pristinicola. So far, we have only found these snails in Christensen Creek watershed, though Ed has investigated many other areas on the island. Ed postulates that these snails migrated here when Vashon was surrounded by freshwater. Think about that for a minute and what that might mean, whoa (more on this in a blog post coming soon)!

 

 

 

Herpetofauna: Gary Shugart led a team of fearless wading volunteers chest deep (and unfortunately sometimes a wee bit deeper) into Christensen Pond.

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Marcy Summers and Gary Shugart test the capacity of their chest waders as they survey Christensen Pond for amphibians. photo by: Kelly Keenan

When Gary last surveyed Christensen Pond in 2006, bullfrogs were present alongside many native amphibians. We wondered, over the last eight years would the bullfrogs have gobbled up all the native amphibians? The answer was a resounding, NO! Red-legged frogs, rough-skinned newts, and northwestern salamanders were all still present in the pond along with bullfrogs. What the amphibian team found might give us clues as to why. This huge Northwestern salamander larvae was 22 cm in total length, the maximum for adults of this species according to taxonomic descriptions.

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The number and large size of northwestern salamanders in Christensen Pond is a mystery. Photo by: Kelly Keenan

The large size of many of these northwestern salamanders leads us to believe that they are neotenic. Neotenic salamanders are adults that retain their gills and other aquatic characteristics. Gary has observed that although neotenic northwestern salamanders exist in lowland Puget Sound ponds, they are more common at higher elevations. He wonders if there is something special about Christensen Pond that would favor neotenic salamanders. Is it cold? Does it have unique water chemistry? And does any of this relate to our finding that bullfrogs are being kept at bay and natives are still thriving here? Perhaps NW salamanders are poisonous enough to deter bullfrogs. Perhaps the larger salamanders are actually eating bullfrog tadploes and keeping them in check. Anyone want to help us with an amphibian diet experiment?

In the ponds at the mouth of Christensen Creek we found numerous rough-skinned newts.

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We averaged 11 rough-skinned newts per amphibian trap in the lower Christensen ponds. photo by: Bianca Perla

We also found rainbow trout (likely stocked), and three-spined sticklebacks. These native sticklebacks likely migrated up from Christensen cove, as they prefer areas of still water with a salt water connection (something hard to find on Vashon and Maury). This species is an Island Bioblitz first.

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This is the first time we have recorded 3-spined sticklebacks in a Bioblitz on Vashon. photo by: Orion Knowler

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The only reptile found in the count–Horribilus plasticus. We believe it eats Devil’s club and small children. photo by: Michael Laurie

Birds: Bird teams lead by Ezra Parker and Steve Caldwell found 58 species. This is an impressive count for the time of year. Owlers witnessed two barn owls foraging in Misty Isle fields under the rising super moon.

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Owlers were treated both to owls and a glowing super moon. photo by: Bianca Perla

Barred owls were also heard—both juveniles and adults. A mysterious being swooped slowly over the heads of owling participants making a chica chica chica sound in the forested areas of the upper watershed. Conferring birders ruled out all possible bird species. Mammal teams postulate that it may have been a flying squirrel as the description of the vocalizations seemed to match. There is not enough evidence to include it in the count, but enough to get us interested in finding out if they still dwell in this watershed.
Mammals: Ellen Kritzman and I had fun with mammal traps and wildlife cams in the woods. Thanks to our sponsors, the wildlife cameras were a new addition to the Blitz.

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Wildlife cameras captured interesting wildlife we wouldn’t have recorded otherwise. photo by: Renee Rutkowski

We found seven mammal species, including this fleeing river otter family, and plenty of evidence of coyotes in Christensen Valley proper. We are starting to investigate coyote populations, ranges, and habits on Vashon, and the Blitz contributed valuable information to our work.

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River otter family running into the Puget Sound for a 1 am swim. photo by: Moultrie Wildcam

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John Rupp and Orion Knowler retrieve a wildlife camera and investigate the contents of coyote scat (plenty of hair and mouse bones). photo by: Bianca Perla

Marine: Around 65 species were counted. Compared to the high diversity of life we found at Fern Cove and Neill Point, Lisabeula area was not too remarkable. However, Tom Devries remarked on the apparent absence of purple varnish clams, an important finding as these exotic invaders are ubiquitous throughout Puget Sound. Perhaps Colvos Passage is a hold-out where they have not yet invaded full scale? A California sea cucumber was also seen, which is not commonly seen here and we were treated to the amazing sight of a tusk worm (Pectinariidae) that makes its tusk like shell out of sand grains.

Low Tide at Lisabeula Park:

Helping with the beach surveys at Lisabeula. photo by: Susie Fitzugh

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Jeff Adams holds a tusk worm found on the shore. photo by: Bianca Perla

Humans: Some of my favorite moments include being approached by more than one person who said we should add humans to the count; everything about the girl scout troupe that joined the count this year;

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The crazy daisies spent the whole 24 hours at the Bioblitz and found the first species of the count as well as a terrestrial snail that no one else found. They had spunk, can you tell? photo by: Sue Day

a young girl who lost her tooth in the last hours of the Bioblitz;

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First lost tooth we’ve ever experienced at a Bioblitz event. Teeth look really cool under a microscope we found out.  photo by: Bianca Perla

watching Avery, a young boy, running top speed after a dragonfly with his camera at arms-length and hand on the trigger (no photo, Avery was too fast to catch on film); and this photo makes me fall in love with the human species all over again….Alan Warneke and Michelle Ramsden utterly transfixed as they watch burrowing sand wasps.

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Alan Warneke and Michelle Ramsden, identified dragonflies, stayed up until the wee hours running the blacklight for night insects and then relaxed by watching the sand wasps burrow Sunday afternoon. photo by: Bianca Perla

To Kathryn True, our Outreach and Program manager, and the tireless core group of volunteers that makes this possible every year—BIG gratitude to you all.

BioBlitz 2014

Jane Neubauer graces us with a poem to open the Bioblitz on July 12th. Thank you to Jane and the whole basecamp crew for keeping everything running so well. photo by: Susie Fitzugh

BioBlitz 2014

Land Trust intern Melaney Dunne and others helped the plant, lichen, and snail crews in the field. Land Trust staff put in the extra mile with help in organizing and basecamp support. photo by: Susie Fitzugh

Sponsors: This was the first year we had outside support for running the Bioblitz. Thank you to Vashon Maury Island Land Trust, the Mountaineers Foundation and King County for help with funding, equipment, and help with organization. We are glad to have you all as partners-thank you!

During a Bioblitz, simply by participating in the enjoyable act of focused observation, we revitalize and re-define the ancient roots of natural history observation. Each one of us is participating in this revitalization—through the interest that brought us to the Bioblitz—and through our actual observations. This carries much more weight than is initially apparent (Natural History Initiative). Just like certain people in communities hold the knowledge of music, story, history, and art, you are helping to hold the stories of nature on these islands. So, thank you to all who participated!

See you all next year!

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Sun sets on the Bioblitz crews at Lisabeula. photo by: Sue Day

Do you still have the volunteer itch? Help us in the field! Our next project is sampling streams for invertebrates which will take place mid-August. Email: bianca.vnc@gmail.com to sign up.

Detail species lists are coming soon: check for them on our Research page

Vashon Nature Center will be giving a Bioblitz talk on the second Thursday in October for the Audubon evening program at the Land Trust Building. Check our calendar and come out to hear more about the Bioblitz efforts.