Dos coyotes

Wednesday night when I took Zeke and Lucy out for their next-to-last walk of the evening, I saw two ghostly shapes down in the front of the yard. Zeke saw, smelled or heard them right after I did, and unleashed an unholy uproar of barking and lunging. Leah said Sam was inside pacing and whining as this was going on.

They were coyotes. I wasn’t too surprised that they were there, but I was surprised that they didn’t immediately run away. Zeke continued to bark and lunge. I was barely able to keep him from breaking loose from my grip or pulling me off my feet. Still the coyotes didn’t run.

Ordinarily I would have dragged Zeke back up to the house but this time I wanted to scare the coyotes away. It didn’t work. They paced back and forth staring, but didn’t retreat, even when Zeke managed to drag me 20 or 30 feet down the driveway towards them.

After about five minutes I gave up and pulled Zeke back up to the house. I got a big flashlight and a sturdy stick about four feet long, just in case, and then I went back outside. The coyotes were still there, watching. I advanced on them, shouting, “Get!” which I doubt they understood. I did expect them to figure out the meaning from my tone of voice.

They did finally retreat into the woods at the side of the yard, staying just out of sight. I banged the stick against a few trees, and I could hear them running around. Despite what you might think, wild animals make a lot of noise thrashing through the dead leaves on the forest floor.

I went back to the middle of the yard and shined the flashlight into the woods. I could see the coyotes’ eyes reflecting back at me. They circled around to the front of the yard where there is a narrow border of trees between the open yard and the road, and there they stayed. I gave up and went back inside.

It was too dark to take photos, and they were too far away for a flash to work. I might have been able to finesse it given time and a lot of cooperation from the coyotes, but that was not going to happen.

In my admittedly limited experience, coyotes do not stay around when humans appear. The first time I saw a coyote around the mountain was when I walked Zeke into the woods at the top of the mountain and let him run free. He disappeared down the side of the mountain for a while, and then came back up running side by side with a coyote. When the coyote saw me, he immediately turned and fled.

Another time I saw a coyote on Fouche Gap Road ahead of me and the dogs as we walked down into Texas Valley. It also quickly disappeared when it saw me. The next most recent time was about a month ago when I saw one running across Lavender Trail near the bottom of our driveway. It glanced at me and kept going.

One reason a coyote might not flee a human is rabies. Early this month a coyote attacked and bit a runner near Atlanta. According to news reports, the coyote tested positive for rabies. How did they catch it? The runner grabbed it and held it down until the police arrived.

I was pretty sure the two I saw in our front yard weren’t rabid. There were two of them, which I assume would be unusual if one or both were rabid, and they didn’t appear aggressive, only somewhat unsettled but hesitant to leave. My suspicion is that they have a den nearby, possibly in our front yard. There is a pile of trees left from when the building site was cleared, and I have seen (from a distance) a dark area that might be a recess or an opening into the pile. The Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNR) says that coyotes den in excavated holes or brush piles. One night a month or so ago I noticed two eyes reflecting back from the woodline at the front of the yard. I couldn’t tell whether it was a fox or a coyote, but now I suspect that it was one of the two I saw Wednesday night.

Coyotes are not native to Georgia. I never saw or heard, or even heard of a coyote when I was growing up, and we roamed the woods a lot. It has been only relatively recently that they began showing up, probably around the same time that armadillos began showing up as roadside kill here. According to the DNR, coyotes are filling an ecological niche left vacant when humans killed off the native red wolf. People, especially natural-world-challenged city people, are typically afraid of coyotes when they see them. They often panic and call the police. That usually leads to having some kind of animal control official trap and kill the coyote.

Since coyotes are not a native species in Georgia, there is no closed hunting season on coyotes. Lately the state has been encouraging hunters to kill as many coyotes as they can by offering a drawing for a lifetime license. The official entry is a coyote carcass. The reason for this is to try to increase the number of deer available for hunting in the state, although it does not seem that the deer population is threatened by coyote predation. In fact, according to the DNR, the deer population in Georgia is about 1.2 million. The DNR also says, “… deer densities in some localized areas have the potential to inflect significant damage to forestry, agricultural or horticultural crops, home gardens, and shrubbery.”

I have mixed feelings about coyotes raising a litter in our front yard. I actually like having coyotes around, just like foxes, deer, raccoons (not eating cat food), possums (not eating cat food), and other wildlife. It would be neat to see the pups in the front yard. But I don’t want to have to worry excessively about having a coyote take one of our cats, as we suspect happened with Zoe, our late white cat.

Maybe I don’t have to worry about that. Maybe they aren’t denning in our front yard. Maybe they were just thinking about it, and maybe all the commotion convinced them to move. The DNR says coyotes usually mate in late winter or early spring. That’s pretty much right now. That doesn’t give them much time to find a new home.

Who is it

When I took the dogs out for their morning walk, this is what I saw in the garage.

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This was the best shot I could get in the dimly lit (for photographic purposes) garage. It was flying around frantically trying to get out. It finally settled on top of some shelves in the far corner of the garage. The only entry into the garage from outside was under the partially-open garage door, which gave about eight inches of clearance to get in.

I opened both doors fully and, after some encouragement, it flew out and through the trees. I think it was a screech owl. Here are some screech owl calls.

Leah and her family had an owl for some time (before I knew her). It sat outside on their window air conditioner and never flew for the months (Leah thinks) it was there. They fed it raw meat. Leah’s mother was not pleased to have the bird there. One day it was gone, and, according to Leah, no one seemed to know anything about it. Leah has her suspicions.

We have had numerous hummingbirds find their way into our garage, both at our old house and at the new house. I was quite surprised to find an owl there. I certainly hope no others find their way in.

Berry College

On Sunday Leah and I drove out to Berry College for some sightseeing. I also wanted to use my new camera.

Berry College has about 27,000 acres, most of which is a wildlife reserve. It stretches from the Rome city limit on the south to beyond Lavender Mountain on the north. The college campus is almost entirely within the original 30 acres at the southern edge of the current campus. About three miles north there is another set of buildings called the Mountain Campus.

When I was growing up my family lived on Redmond Road., at the southern edge of the school. When summer came, we roamed the neighborhood on our bikes and occasionally followed a path through the woods onto the Berry College campus. Once there we roamed the campus like we owned it. We rode past the faculty and staff houses, through the classroom building areas, around Victory Lake and down what I believe was called the Three-Mile Road to the Mountain Campus. At the Mountain Campus, we biked past the swan pond, sometimes detoured out to see Frost Chapel, sometimes up the steep hill to the dairy buildings, and then out the gravel road to the Old Mill.

Much of this is the same, but much has changed. Campus access is controlled at a gate where you have to show your driver license. Of course the “guard” is a coed who is not very scary.

When we were kids, Victory Lake looked a lot like this.

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This was an image on a sign at the lake. On the far edge of the lake there is a line of cypress trees. I remember Jimmy Carter talking about the northernmost cypress trees, which were considerably further south than these. Maybe he was talking about naturally-occurring cypress trees. I assume these were planted when the lake was formed by the dam that the cypress trees line.

The lake was originally made in the 1930’s. Unfortunately, sink holes formed in about 1986 and drained the lake. The college gave up on refilling the lake after trying for five years, so the lake now looks like this.

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The Ford complex is visible from near the lake. That’s where we attended the school’s jazz concert.

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Out at the Mountain Campus, the old dairy buildings have been taken over by the WinShape Retreats, an organization founded by S. Truett Cathy, the ostentatiously Christian founder of Chick-fil-A.

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There is another set of buildings behind where I stood to take this picture. From this vantage, looking behind me, you can see Mount Alto, which appears in my sunrise photos.

The Old Mill is still like I remember it.

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The overshot waterwheel wasn’t working, of course. It’s fed by a pipe from the Berry reservoir up on the mountain. I have seen it running on rare occasions, but the mill is no longer used for its original purpose of grinding corn for use at the campus.

You might have seen the Old Mill if you were one of the very few people who watched the one-season NBC television series “Constantine”. When the main character went to his secret hideout, he was shown approaching the locked door to the mill. Once he was inside, he descended into a large underground lair. I am pretty sure such a facility does not exist beneath the mill. I only watched the series a few times because I had heard it was filmed in Georgia. Once I saw a few recognizable landmarks, the show itself was not enough to keep me watching.

But back to school. When we left the Old Mill I noticed some bottlebrush-stage longleaf pines.

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There was a thicket of young longleaf pines just beyond that. I think they are part of the Berry longleaf pine project.

Here is the Frost Chapel.

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It would have been prettier in spring or early summer with green grass.

This is a small pond near the swan pond. There was one swan and a good number of Canada geese, who, according to some students I spoke to, are permanent residents.

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We drove back to the main campus where I was confused about what was where. There are so many new buildings since I last saw it that I had some trouble orienting myself. Of course I had not seen some parts of the campus in more than 50 years.

Berry opens large parts of the campus to the public. There are about 80 miles of public-access trails for walking, biking or horseback riding. Maybe Leah and I will take our bikes out there someday.

The Berry College Wikipiedia page gives a reasonably-complete account of the school. There is also a class project called the Marthapedia, named for the school’s founder, Martha Berry. There is also the Berry College Website, of course.

How dry I am

The weather here on the mountain has been very pleasant for the last couple of weeks. It has been sunny, warm during the day, cool at night, and dry. Mostly dry. This part of northwest Georgia is in “exceptional drought” according to the US drought monitor. Here’s the map, followed by the scale.

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Floyd County is roughly in the middle of the region; it’s the county that looks like of like a fist giving a thumbs up. Based on the official airport record, we have had exceptionally little rain on the mountain from July through October 26. This July was the seventh driest on record at 1.45 inches, far below the average of 4.71 inches. September was the driest on record; the airport recorded 0.24 official inches in September, although I don’t believe we had that up here. October at 0.01 inches so far is third behind 1963 and 1938, which had no rain in October; not much real difference there. I’ll come back to August.

Based on the precipitation record, we are on track to have the fourth driest four-month period since 1900. The only reason it’s not the driest period on record is that the airport recorded a huge amount of rain in August (6.42 inches) which we did not have up here on the mountain.

All the houses on the mountain rely on wells for water. So far we have not had any obvious problems with ours. However, when I took the dogs out to the street for a restroom break, some neighbors from up the street stopped on their way down to visit a friend and fill a large water tank on their trailer. They said that they had had a 400-gallon water tank installed in their basement for backup. In fairness, I think some other neighbors told us that  those neighbors had been having well problems earlier, so their current problem may not be entirely due to the drought.

On Tuesday there was a 160-acre wildfire on the other side of town from us. Other fires in the vicinity have been even larger. That might not sound like a large wildfire compared to those in the western US, but they are large for this area.

We have given up on the idea of planting anything in the yard until next spring; we simply cannot risk using well water to keep plants alive and maybe not having enough water for household use.

There is essentially no rain in the near-term forecast. The next few months are expected to be warmer and drier than normal. In addition to exceptionally little rain this summer, we have also had exceptionally hot weather. I expect to see a larger-than-normal number of trees dying in the next year or two as a result of the drought stress from this summer.

Not rolling downhill

I came across this on my Friday morning dog walk down the mountain.

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It’s a dung beetle, deltochilum gibbosum, the humpback dung beetle, if my identification is correct. I might have noticed the beetle by itself, but what caught my attention from a distance was a moving ball of what appears to be dog poop. It’s possible, in fact probable, that I know the source. The ball was probably slightly more than an inch in diameter.

The beetle had made it about a quarter of the way across Fouche Gap Road. I usually help living things cross the road (turtles, crawfish, snakes), but in this case I felt I just had to let the beetle take its chances. I didn’t see any sign of it when we came back up the mountain, so maybe it was lucky.

I had never seen a dung beetle at work before this, although Walter Reeves, a gardening expert in Georgia, says they are probably in back yards here in Georgia. This link leads to a question that someone submitted to Reeves about using dung beetles to clean up dog droppings in his yard.

I handle that problem by trying to make sure the dogs leave their droppings in the weeds in unpopulated areas along the road. That way they join the rest of the droppings left by the mammal population around here. I think it’s reasonably acceptable in the ecological sense, although I suggest that you watch your step if you walk in the weeds along Fouche Gap Road.

Zeke and Sam are good about not messing up their own territory. Lucy, on the other hand, doesn’t give a …