By Mariana Rivera Freeman, Field Science Specialist
In PEEC’s last blog post on coyotes, I discussed the ways we’re inadvertently attracting these opportunistic omnivores through supplemental feeding. In addition to eliminating calorie sources around your home, the best way to keep coyotes off your property is surely to build a fence. We don’t all have the means to afford new property fencing, however; in which case, more accessible exclusion methods can include erecting garden fencing to keep out rabbits (a common prey), replacing exotic tree and shrub species that attract deer (who leave their scent behind), plugging all secret holes and entries into your house to exclude mice and other small mammals, and installing motion-capture lights to startle nighttime visitors.
By Mariana Rivera Freeman, Field Science Specialist
Coyotes can be controversial. To different people and cultures, the coyote carries diverse significance. But outside of the meaning we give these animals, they have a natural purpose of their own. While they go about that purpose, they occasionally come into contact with us, whether in the wilderness, where coyotes prefer to spend their time, or in human spaces.
We’ve all heard the phrase “survival of the fittest,” which has evolved into something apart from its original meaning. But regardless of its Darwinian definition, I actually want you to forget the phrase entirely.
Instead, I want you to think of life on Earth as “survival of the sharers.” A healthy ecosystem is one in which not a single species dominates, but rather many species coexist and share resources. Humans are one of those species. So, in the spirit of “survival of the sharers,” let’s look at a couple of best practices for sharing our backyards with wildlife.
First, Keep Your Distance
It really is special when a wild animal walks through your yard or lands on your balcony, but wildlife is best admired from a respectful distance. Watch from your window, pull out your binoculars, or use a wildlife camera (especially handy at night), but do not approach wildlife.
Personally, I like the peeking-behind-a-curtain method. I’ve been witness to some surprising, even comical, behaviors while hiding my presence. My favorite was a gangly fawn attempting to spar with an antlered buck, who gently pushed the fawn away four or five patient times until the little guy dared to kick him, which you can imagine was not well-received.
Provide Some Resources
Back in March, we featured an article on certified wildlife habitats. I plan on working on one myself this spring. However, if you aren’t able to certify your space, don’t you worry — you can still provide resources for your wild friends.
If you have trees, cones and acorns, berries, flowers, shade, or water in your yard, you have a resource for wildlife, at no cost or extra effort. The same goes for downed logs, overgrown bushes, and tall grass. Gladly, you needn’t provide for every element of habitat (good news for apartment dwellers!). If you don’t have a yard but you have a bird feeder on a balcony, you’ve got extra sustenance for the birds and they will find habitat somewhere nearby. You can offer other small resources on a balcony like nectar, little fountains, potted plants, and bird or bat houses. You can share your space no matter how large or small.
Set Friendly Boundaries
Of course, all’s well that ends without animals inside the house. Wildlife has a default attitude when it comes to resources: “If no one else is using it, I can use it.” This is the ecology behind survival of the sharers, and how biodiverse life forms can thrive in one ecosystem.
But it also means that if a gopher can reach your tomatoes, those roots are hers. If a mouse can get into your walls, your house is hers (and so are your wires and insulation!). It takes a bit of extra work, but you can avoid conflict with your animal friends by simply setting some restrictions. Install wiring under and around your garden, erect fencing to protect your landscaping, fix little (or big) holes and crevices in your walls, close your garage at night, and so on. Wildlife can cause considerable damage to your property if you allow it to, even inadvertently, and misunderstandings can be hazardous for you and the animal. So keep everybody safe and happy.
With both caution and admiration, coexisting with wildlife can be as easy as it is natural. As Homo sapiens, our species has the advantage over resources on Earth, and we take up a lot of space. It’s our responsibility, then, to share what we can when we can so that the rest of the animal kingdom can satisfy their hunger, slake their thirst, and move where they need to move — even in our own backyards.
The eastern part of the Jemez Volcano slopes down to the Rio Grande. The Pajarito Plateau interrupts this slope with its high finger mesas. The area forms a high island in a northern desert. Its elevation spans a vertical mile, from 5,500 feet at the Rio Grande to 10,600 feet atop Caballo Mountain. This range of elevation gives it habitats from the high mountains to the pinyon-juniper woodland below. Within the area, you can also find diverse microhabitats, missing only lakes and marshes. This varied geography is home to a rich flora and fauna.
The Jemez Mountain Herbarium at the Nature Center houses over 1,000 plant species, which is remarkable because the entire Jemez Mountain area has only about 400 more. From the beautiful multi-colored mariposa lilies and Colorado blue columbines high up, through fairy slipper orchids and scarlet paintbrush at mid elevations, down to yellow-orange stream orchids, deep lavender pine spiderwort, and scarlet Cardinal flower near the Rio Grande, there are breathtaking wildflowers at every turn and in every season. Many represent the northernmost, westernmost, or southernmost parts of their range in the state. White Rock Canyon is especially spectacular, acting as if it were transplanted from south of Albuquerque.
Unfortunately, recent mega-fires have destroyed habitat for some of our most rare and beautiful flowers. Until the fire and subsequent floods of the Las Conchas Fire, a small colony of yellow lady’s slipper (found nowhere else in the Jemez Mountains) graced the trail above Upper Crossing in Frijoles Canyon. Fires also have reduced the spectacular orange wood lily to just a few and wiped out one of the largest, densest colonies of fairy slipper. These species will never rebound here, a sad fact. However, there are surprising exceptions. On the northern-facing slopes of our local canyons the tadpole buttercup grows in profusion, even though it is very rare elsewhere in the state.
Wildlife is equally amazing. There are some four dozen species of mammals including the seldom-seen ring-tailed cat, about ten species of bats, and a few beavers!
The avifauna of the Pajarito Plateau is equally diverse. According to eBird, 298 species have been recorded in Los Alamos County, and, while some were novelties that were just passing through, we are lucky to call many residents or repeat visitors. Up on Pajarito Mountain, with some luck, you might find the American Three-toed Woodpecker or a Dusky Grouse. A variety of colorful warblers, four hummingbirds, and the striking Western Tanager migrate through the Plateau in the spring and summer. Ducks and shorebirds sometimes stop by Ashley Pond or 6th Street Pond, and can be seen along the Rio Grande in White Rock Canyon during parts of the year. When a rarity stops by, birders are the first to know through the Los Alamos Rare Bird Alert, thanks to our dedicated local birding community.
Sitting on a promontory of White Rock Canyon (in any state east of New Mexico this canyon would be a national park!) in good years, one may admire a field of white sego lilies and pink Wooton’s larkspurs while a raucous flock of Pinyon Jays flies overhead, a Bald Eagle soars higher up, Canyon Wrens sing their laughing melodious song, Blue Grosbeaks forage in nearby trees, and, below on the Rio Grande, Common Goldeneyes fly along the water.
It is a joy to go outside and let the wild things on our Pajarito Plateau, canyons, and mountains enrich our lives.