Posts Tagged ‘Carnivore’

A Universe unto Itself

Mark Fraser is the host and executive producer of "Nature Walks with Mark Fraser"

Living our daily lives we hardly notice the goings on in the natural world. I suppose in all fairness they probably do the same. A close observation of a flower will reveal to you that it is not only a place for an insect or hummingbird to find nectar, but it is also a home for a wide variety of insects looking like representatives from an alien world. The range in color in body shapes is as varied as their roles. There is everything from miniature predators like spiders waiting to ambush other species looking for nectar to herbivores taking advantage of the plant itself. In some cases there is even species looking to simply catch a ride on other species like some sort of a biological bus station.

Each zone in the natural world is like its own world with its own set of rules just like each continent on Earth has its own unique accent of plant life and fauna. These same rules apply both above and below the waterline where each habitat range provides a bounty of sustainability to its own fauna and plant life. During a recent dive into Lake Champlain I found that depth and lighting created a universe unto itself allowing specific species and survival techniques to flourish.  Just imagine that this particular lake is 120 miles long. However it varies in depth from very shallow to an amazing 400 ft depth.

The amount of sunlight varies greatly as well so the deeper you go the less sunlight makes it to the bottom. This means the greatest amounts of algae are in the areas that allow near constant bathing in sunlight.

Life in the Shallows” seems to be driven by the very sunlight it self. The abundance of light allows for blooms of algae that in turn is food for species including filter feeders like invasive Zebra Mussels whose razor sharp shells seem to cover the bottom until you go deep enough that they are starved for algae due to the eventual decrease in sunlight. Amazingly some species of birds and fish do actually feed on Zebra Mussels so although they are invasive, they are now another food source and also abundant.

In the coming years biologists will need to perform long term studies to understand the impact on the overall health of species like Yellow Perch that now include the Zebra Mussels on their dinner menu. The shallow zones of Lake Champlain are now synonymous with these prolific mussels but the well lit areas also have many other species carving out a niche in this shallow aquatic universe. It is hear that large predatory fish are taking advantage of those beams of light that makes their prey stand out in the brightly lit water. While exploring by scuba on water approx 8 to 15 ft I found they seemed to be patrolling parallel to the beach along the longer part of the lake and looked like some sort of aquatic bird of prey soaring like a Hawk waiting to flush out its prey as its eyes gazed with  deep intent at the world below.

With colors reminiscent of camouflaged soldiers trying to remain hidden the Log perch Darter fish blends perfectly against the grasses along the bottom. Their colors look like a beautiful design blending of jaguar and tiger patterns with a yellowish hue background against the black stripes. Like their namesake they seemed to “Dart” about within the small rounded rocks on the bottom quickly looking for food before once again finding a hiding place as the ominous shadows of the predator fish species like Smallmouth bass move with and eerie glide nearby.

With the lake having over 80 types of fish they come in may sizes. Some species in large freshwater lakes such as Lake Champlain can be enormous like Channel Catfish weighing well over 30 pounds to Sturgeon that can be 7 feet long and over 300 pounds! I did not see any during the recent series of diving expeditions however; I did come across a very large and exciting species to swim with which included the somewhat skittish Fresh Water Drum. I saw several of these very large fish in the shallows in water that was about 12 ft deep. They were very large and at least at a glance appeared to be well over 10 pounds. They added to the excitement of the exploration and gave an amazing sense of wonder to the shallows.

Like all things in nature, the most amazing things come when we actually pay attention to the fine details.

Seeing species taking advantage of “Life in the Shallows” introduced me to a beautiful world of amazement just beyond the beach and the glitter of the sun dancing on the waters surface. Understanding that each unique zone within such a massive watershed forms a universe unto itself means we can have a greater understanding their secret world.

Admiring the myriad of life in the shallow water zone is undoubtedly key to our own species appreciation of the health of the watershed and also the raw beauty that resides just beyond our site. I suppose that is what it’s really all about, taking the time to understanding our wild neighbors then gaining a better appreciation of them.

Mark Fraser

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Living with Carnivores: The Coy Wolf

Mark Fraser is the host and executive producer of "Nature Walks with Mark Fraser"

Wildlife comes in all shapes and sizes and I truly love them all, but let’s face it some species have a bad rap.  Carnivores for example seem to suffer from a skewed public image.  Let’s talk about that for a moment. Cats are carnivores, and very serious ones at that. When domestic cats are left outside suddenly cuddly little fee-fee is pouncing on Chipmunks and songbirds and in fact “millions” of birds and many other species are taken each year from our domestic pets.  Despite this fact, Cats are considered “cute” so regardless of the science about what really happens, they are left outside and continue to harm local wildlife because they are lucky or even smart enough, to make friends with humans. That’s an important survival skill for a carnivore these days since we are still learning how to coexist with wildlife.

Image courtesy of http://www.easterncoyoteresearch.com/

Let’s look at another species, the “Coy-Wolf” also sometimes called the Eastern Coyote. This is a large predator with some animals reaching huge sizes of 50 to 60 pounds double their western cousins and is actually due to the genetics of being a hybrid between the Western Coyote and the Eastern “red” Wolf.  Like the Cat, this animal is a true carnivore and in the case of the Coy-Wolf is also a very intelligent opportunistic and social hunter.  Unlike that Cat, the Coy-Wolf suffers from a very serious public image problem. They pay a terrible price for that fact and are hunted relentlessly in many areas of their habitat and despite their wild beauty, haven’t yet been able to win over us humans.  Coy-Wolves are a “stunning” looking animal reminiscent of wild times long ago and one would think that people would warm up to them.  They look like, and are very closely related to dogs who are our best friends so what exactly is going on? Well first of all we can’t tame them and many people are bothered by that.  They are really wild, not like the domestic cat who just acts like that when you’re not looking.  The other problem is a real one – they sometimes will eat unprotected cats that are left outside. Our pets are our family and people who have lost a small dog or cat to a coyote or Coy-Wolf certainly have good reason to be upset.  There is however more to the story, and rushing to judgment isn’t always the best approach.  Living with carnivores requires some disciplines to ensure the safety of your household pet as well as the safety of the wildlife. Think of it this way, living next to a road (like most of us do) is far more dangerous. We learn common sense rules at a very young age. “Look both ways before crossing”, “stay in your lane when driving” and the list goes on and on. Following these rules is the best way to ensure your safety. Would you let your small dog or cat cross a busy highway?  Of course not, that’s because you know the rules and the consequences.  Living with carnivores also comes with rules and is by far, much safer then the highway. If you leave food outside for your pet you most likely will attract wildlife including carnivores.  So leaving a doggy dish with food in it can attract Coy-wolves.   Leaving your pet outside unattended is taking a chance that could put your pet in harm’s way so try and keep a leash on your pet or at a minimum stay with your pet. Most importantly, do not let your pets out at night. There is no need since you can easily set a schedule with your pet so they go out when it’s safe to do so. If you must let them out at night for some reason remember the earlier leash rule.

Image courtesy of http://www.easterncoyoteresearch.com/

Like the highway, following all the rules doesn’t mean that something unexpected can never happen however, it will greatly reduce the risk of an incident that can hurt your pet, and the wildlife.  People often ask if humans are at risk from Coyotes and Coy-Wolves. The answer is certainly “no” you are completely safe I have been in the presence of these animals many times. Here is another way to make the point. Every year, there are more fatalities from “domestic dogs” then there are from coyotes or coy-wolves in “all of recorded history”. Please read the previous sentence twice, it’s important.

The environment flourishes when there are carnivores its nature’s way and trust that she knows exactly what she is doing-she has had alot of practice.

Image courtesy of http://www.easterncoyoteresearch.com/

The world is far better with Coy-Wolves.  Mother Nature chose them to fill a niche in the natural world fixing an apex predator void that we humans created. Learn about this beautiful species online from scientists studying the species like Dr Way http://www.easterncoyoteresearch.com and cherish their incredible songs. Recently I had the honor of spending time with Dr Way tracking radio collared Coy-Wolves during the night and studying them.  His critical research is helping to better understand this amazing and yet poorly understood species. You’ll see more about the Coy-Wolf and observe some actual film taken during the research trip in the coming weeks on the Nature Walks Youtube channel http://www.youtube.com/user/nwwmark

They are as beautiful as any species you will meet and I hope in time we all can learn to both appreciate, and live “with” this beautiful singing wild k9 called the Coy Wolf.

Mark Fraser

http://www.naturewalkswithmark.org

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