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A news item Friday caught my attention – a coyote had been caught wandering around downtown Boston. I wasn’t particularly surprised. Their numbers have been increasing drastically, and in the areas outside of town, sightings are commonplace.

What did pique my interest is that all the news reports dutifully referred to the animal as a coyote.

To be sure, there is such a thing as the Eastern Coyote that has inhabited New England since the 1930s. Over time, they have become bigger, more powerful predators than their scrawnier Western Coyote cousins. Researchers say that the abundance of food, and bigger game such as deer, accounts for some of the difference

Recent genetic research has added a new twist.

Most of the animals we’re calling coyotes are in fact a hybrid resulting from the mating of the eastern wolf and the eastern coyote. The resulting animal is bigger, more powerful, and more aggressive than either the wolf or the coyote.

The name “coydog,” which still persists in some places, apparently comes from the mistaken notion that this hybrid is a result of mating between domestic dogs and coyotes. While such mating is possible and has been accomplished in captivity, it is unlikely in the wild, according to researchers, because of differing fertility cycles.

Maybe it’s time for a name change, to help recognize the animal for what it is. There is a website dedicated to this, full of interesting information about the coywolf:

As for the Mass. Dept. of Fisheries and Wildlife, they have not addressed the name issue, calling these animals coyotes, with no mention of coywolf in their literature.

And as for the hapless Boston coyote/coywolf, it was captured, tagged, and released into the woods of Westboro.


Caterpillar or the Winter Moth

For those of you who remember the Gypsy Moth infestation of the early 1980s, we may be facing a similar onslaught this spring, this time from the Winter Moth. Parts of New England, especially along the coast, already experienced extensive defoliation last year, and indications are that they will spread.

The culprit is the larva (caterpillar) of the Operophtera brumata, known as the Winter Moth. Native to Europe, it has gradually been working its way down from Nova Scotia where it seems to have first appeared around here.

The eggs hatch just about now, when daily temperatures average in the 50s. Younger larvae will tunnel into leaf and flower buds and feed on those. As they get older, they begin to feed on the foliage. They can cause extensive damage to oak, maple, ash, apple, crabapple, blueberry, cherry, and ash trees.

Rhode Island officials are experimenting with the introduction of a parasitic mosquito as a form of control.
There are some sprays available to apply when clusters of eggs appear to prevent them from hatching. Once they have hatched and the young larvae are feeding, then application of the bacterium Bacillus thurigiensis has proven to be effective.

I had heard about them long before I found them.

Somewhere there was a set of bells in the woods of Groton. An artist had put them up. I would make a mental note to try to find out more. Not such an easy matter.

I found references to the bells, but never any directions, no matter where I looked.

Then, a colleague at work told me they could be found in the woods off an old, abandoned road.

“There’s no sign or anything. You just go down the road for a ways and they’re in the woods off to the right.”

So, on a bright, sunny morning during the recent school vacation I set off, armed with a compass and a vague idea of what I was looking for. I found the road, and there were woods on the right.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that the other side of the road was one of Massachusetts Audubon’s newest acquisitions, the Rocky Hill Sanctuary. There are no maps or trail markers yet, so it’s not officially open to the public, but it definitely looks like an area worth exploring.

There were plenty of woods, but no paths. Every so often I’d bushwhack in a ways and look around, but didn’t see anything that might house or hold up bells or chimes or whatever I was looking for.

Then, not too far along, a path came in from the right, so I followed that. A trail wound up a ridge overlooking a pond
or a swamp – hard to tell, it was frozen over. The trees were primarily hemlock, cutting off much of the light, though there were also a few oak and birch mixed in.

The first thing that caught my eye was a crude lean-to someone had set up from fallen branches, and then a shift in the wind and a glint of light reflecting off something. The something was a long metal tube, maybe six feet long, hanging down from one of the trees. I looked around and found another, and another – five in all. Each one a different length. A rope leading up to a clapper hung down through the tube.

I stood and thought for a long time before I decided to pull it. I don’t know why I felt so inhibited, it was put there and meant to be pulled, so pull it I did, and a deep, soft tone rang out through the woods. When that note died away, I rang another and another until I had rung each in succession. A different length, a different tone, but each one equally soft and resonant, in perfect harmony with the woods around them.

As I was writing this post, I began to realize that it’s no accident that there aren’t any signs or easy-to-find directions. Finding them depends on an informal understanding that the directions only be given by word-of-mouth. Maybe that, too, is part of this sound sculpture.

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RSS The Ecocryptic

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RSS Martin Laine – Digital Journal

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