Wild Things of Hollywoodland
November 12, 2013 § 4 Comments
Since I moved to upper Beachwood Canyon in 2005, the deer have grown rarer while every other animal seems to have grown more common. Yesterday alone brought a fat squirrel in search of acorns to my door and a large red tail hawk to my deck–it was trying to get my lovebird, who was outside in a cage. On my way home last night at 7:30, I passed a coyote standing nonchalantly on the sidewalk a block north of the commercial district.
But the best recent animal sighting took place on the 3000 block of North Beachwood Drive, when the bobcat pictured above stopped to enjoy someone’s garden.
Humans and Wildlife in Beachwood Canyon: An Update
January 30, 2013 § 6 Comments
In the years I’ve been writing this blog, I’ve been accused of being anti-wildlife–by a neighbor whose illegal feeding of birds (to say nothing of raccoons and coyotes) brought a dawn patrol of crows to my roof each morning–and now anti-dog. Someone who calls herself Doggie mama takes issue with a post I wrote about a coyote jumping my fence and clearing the property of tree rats. https://underthehollywoodsign.wordpress.com/2012/08/30/wild-kingdom-an-unexpected-symbiosis-in-beachwood-canyon/ She is further enraged by my quoting someone who called small pets lost to coyotes “nature’s nachos.”
Nature’s nachos? You guys realize that your convenient rat hunting solution up the hill means dog hunting season down the hill as soon as the rat population decreases? They come down every winter, but this year is worse than ever… a pack is hunting at 8pm tonight, and we’ve seen them around 11pm for the past two months… not safe for walking two 10-lb puppies at 8p and 11p… But thanks for calling my beloved pups a snack for these creatures that seem to be saving you a few bucks in exterminator expenses.
Despite the implications, my “convenient rat-hunting solution” was not instigated by me, nor did I start or condone the hunting of dogs by coyotes. And even if the coyotes of Beachwood Canyon somehow have learned to read, I can’t imagine their regarding this blog as an inducement to go after little dogs. Beyond these problems of logic are two larger questions: why do people who object to the presence of predatory wildlife–not only coyotes but hawks, owls and other raptors–choose to live in their habitat? And why do they walk their small dogs at night, usually on expandable leashes that allow the dogs to move ahead of them, seemingly untethered?
There’s no reason not to have a dog in Beachwood: I moved here with a beloved 95-pounder that throughout her life ruled over the neighborhood coyotes, all of which were tiny by comparison, and terrified of her. Even so, I rarely walked my dog after dusk in order to minimize the chance of meeting a coyote. In contrast, Doggie mama asserts her right to walk her ten-pound dogs at night. In a canyon where coyotes live, this is nothing short of a provocation, and provocations have their consequences.
Speaking of coyotes, I keep seeing the one photographed above. It resembles a mangy little sheep and looks nothing like any other coyote I’ve ever seen. Theories?
Wild Kingdom: An Unexpected Symbiosis in Beachwood Canyon
August 30, 2012 § 7 Comments
It didn’t take me long to realize the coyotes do Canyon residents an invaluable service by hunting tree rats (R. rattus, also known as roof rats or black rats) that make their habitat in trees, ivy and scrub. The rodents are unstoppable climbers, leapers, burrowers and swimmers, and are able to squeeze through any half-inch gap. In Beachwood, their numbers used to be kept down by foxes, but those disappeared long ago, leaving only coyotes to do the necessary culling. Without coyotes, we would certainly be overrun by pests–not only tree rats but squirrels (both ground and tree varieties) and moles.
Sadly, having a fence means unwittingly providing sanctuary for tree rats, which come in to escape the coyotes outside. Over the years, I’ve had to use bait boxes and traps to keep them from infesting the property–including, at various times, the crawl spaces of my house–but even so I’ve never been able to grow vegetables (other than arugula, which they apparently can’t stand).
In light of my travails, I’m grateful to coyotes for being nature’s exterminators. Almost nightly, I hear them hunting above my house, starting about 1am and continuing intermittently through the night. That’s what I thought was happening early Sunday morning, when I was awakened before dawn by yapping, snarling, and something that sounded like a kazoo. This strange cacophony of coyote noises sounded closer than usual, but I was too tired to investigate. It wasn’t until I finally got up and looked outside that I realized what had happened. A small, mangy coyote lay on the cushioned bench below my bedroom window, basking in the sun. He had done what I thought was impossible: scaled a six-foot chain link fence that runs along one side of my property and come inside to hunt. As surprised as I was, I immediately realized he done me the favor of clearing the garden of pests, just ahead of my calling the exterminator.
When I shouted, he took off, apparently leaving the way he came. This was a relief; I didn’t relish the idea going out there to let him out the gate like a dog. But aside from the time it took to scrub the bench and the deck (where he’d left a souvenir pile of scat), his visit cost me nothing. His hunting, on the other hand, has saved me $35 a month in exterminator fees. Now that the garden free of pests, I’ll be planting a few vegetables–and wondering when the coyote will return.
The Nighttime Magnetism of the Hollywood Sign
November 6, 2010 § 1 Comment
Even unlit, the Hollywood Sign can be seen at night from Hollywoodland, the neighborhood that is its home. The Sign’s whiteness reflects light, whether natural (from the moon) or electric (from the ranger station and communications tower above it). At times it glows, an alabaster sculpture against the dark chaparral. For those who live near it, the Sign is visible day and night, except on those rare rainy days when it’s shrouded in fog.
When I moved to Beachwood five years ago, the Sign was being repainted, and its renewed whiteness struck me as an omen for my new life. On one of my first nights in my house, I was amused to hear a child yelling, “Hello, Hollywood Sign!” outside.
As I soon learned, the Sign affects adults in much the same way: they want to know it, and knowledge demands proximity. Hollywoodlanders who live high in the Canyon report a steady stream of nighttime visitors, particularly in summer. The Sign’s inaccessiblity–it is fenced from the back and heavily alarmed–dissuades few from getting as close as possible, even if it means going on foot, either legally, up the steep fire road, or illegally, to its front.
I like to hike up the fire road with my dog in the late afternoon. It takes us about an hour to make the round trip, and in winter we sometimes have to hurry against nightfall. The road cuts through parkland and gets dark very quickly after sunset; there are coyotes, bobcats and mountain lions in the area. Yet I’ve never not passed someone going up as I was making my way down.
Early in 2007, Tjardus Greidanus, the DP on my documentary, “Under the Hollywood Sign,” was shooting b-roll before dawn when he saw a man heading up toward the Sign, a bottle of wine in hand. There was no doubt of the man’s intent: a libational greeting of the new day, at the epicenter of new beginnings.
Beachwood Wildlife, Part II: People vs. Scavengers
October 3, 2010 § 1 Comment
When I posted “On (Not) Keeping Wildlife Wild in Beachwood Canyon,” (September 7th), I didn’t envison it as the first in a series. After all, how much can one say about the folly of making wild animals dependent on handouts? I also thought my examples–burgeoning crow and squirrel populations and meandering coyotes–would address the subject once and for all.
Ha. Lately Beachwood’s crows have attained heroic proportions: when they fly overhead, you can hear their wings beating–not only audibly but loudly. From the ground, it’s like being an insect in a Miyazaki film.
Ten days ago, I had a surprise morning encounter with “Wolfie,” the mange-ridden coyote discussed in the first post. I was walking my dog on Woodhaven when I saw Wolfie standing in the middle of the street, scratching himself. Although she desperately wanted to be let off the leash to chase him, as in the pre-mange days, we kept our distance while the coyote–now completely hairless except for his upper back–scratched his bald hindquarters. After 5 minutes of this, during which I found myself idiotically shouting, “Wolfie!–go away!” we turned around and took another route.
Then there’s the huge rat I discovered a week ago Saturday. I had just pulled into my garage when I saw six inches of tail snaking down the back wall, behind some open shelving. A moment later I saw the rest of the rat, impressively scaling the wall behind my paint cans. From nose to tail, it appeared to be over a foot long, easily the largest rat I’ve seen at close range.
I sat in my car, horrified. It wasn’t just its size that appalled me but the fact that, in an area where rats are a seasonal problem, my detached garage had always been a rodent-free zone. I’d often wondered why–since at various times rats have invaded my garden, deck and crawl space. Now I was discovering the truth: there’s no such thing as a rodent-free zone in the Hollywood Hills–or, judging from the number of bait boxes I’ve noticed in public places lately, anywhere else in Los Angeles.
The rat’s size made confrontation impossible. I hastily exited the car, shut the garage door and didn’t come back until the next day, when I found the place quiet. In a fit of optimism, I assumed the rat had let himself out the way he got in, through a tiny gap in the side of the door, and called my exterminator.
When the exterminator showed up on Wednesday, the rat revealed himself briefly before disappearing again. There are now six baited traps in the garage, none of which have snapped. Obviously, I have the Rat King on the premises. The mystery is why I can’t seem to find an exterminator willing to take him on.
Where’s a coyote when you need one?
On (Not) Keeping Wildlife Wild in Beachwood Canyon
September 7, 2010 § 1 Comment
A couple of years ago, a friend from the dog park told me a story about a man she met at Tailwaggers, our neighborhood pet store. He enthusiastically petted her retriever, saying he loved dogs but had never had one of his own. Noticing he was buying several sacks of dog food, she asked, “Then who’s that for?” “Oh,” the man replied, “I feed coyotes.”
He’s not the only one. Other Canyon residents feed coyotes in less overt ways, by throwing them chicken bones and other scraps and leaving low-hanging avocados on their trees. One notorious coyote feeder even claims to have struck a bargain with them–in exchange for food, the coyotes apparently have agreed not to eat his cats. Water bowls are common, placed outside in the belief that providing them with liquids is a humane gesture. The fact that feeding wildlife is illegal is not a concern, as enforcement is nil.
God help Beachwooders who point out that coyotes and other scavengers are not only capable of finding food and water but are not helped by these measures. The feeder-waterers will accuse them of heartlessness and will go on doing it, while the objectors will try to ignore it. As a result, areas of the Canyon resemble an outdoor cafeteria for wildlife. The sight of a coyote trotting along the sidewalk of Beachwood Drive at 9am is not uncommon.
From April through July of this year, my roof was requisitioned by flocks of enormous crows who each dawn would screech and fight above my head before flying up en masse to eat breakfast on my neighbor’s deck. When I finally said something to her, I received a diatribe about my selfishly wanting to sleep and not liking nature.
But this isn’t natural. The crow-feeding has upset the balance of birds in the neighborhood: even well-fed crows will eat the eggs of doves, sparrows and other smaller species. The finches that used to cluster around my flowering plants have been absent this season, as have the doves. (There are plenty of hummingbirds, however, probably because they lay eggs that are too small to bother with.)
On walks in the neighborhood, I see bread left out for birds and squirrels, along with copious droppings. A neighbor reports that as a result the squirrels have become so numerous that they are undermining the foundation of her house.
The coyote pictured above, nicknamed Wolfie by the neighbor on whose property he was born, has been a fixture by my house for the past three years. He and my dog were frenemies, barking at each other through the window and occasionally encountering each other on walks. But over the past year, a severe case of mange has taken all of Wolfie’s fur. It will kill him–yet somehow he survives, completely hairless and terrifying-looking. Thus when I heard from someone whose dog had recently attacked Wolfie, I assumed the worst. However, the following week I happened to meet a woman who knew the coyote well. She reports Wolfie is alive and that his mange is being treated by a friend of hers. When I asked how, she said he feeds the coyote balls of raw meat spiked with medicine.
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