Check the backyard to see wildlife; coyotes are getting brave

Published 5:18am Saturday, October 19, 2013

Column: Woods and water, by Dick Herfindahl

I’ve often wondered how much influence man has had on the growing population of the wildlife in our area. With the reduction of habitat and hunting land available to hunters, it seems like some critters adapted well to co-existing with man. Before I went into the service in the mid-60s, I drove a milk truck for Conger Creamery and spent most of my time driving country roads, loading and unloading milk cans and talking to farmers. The talk back then was about the packs of wild dogs that were running amuck in the countryside. Today, there is a growing population of coyotes, and as more land is owned by fewer folks, the availability of hunting land has lessened. It seems like coyotes have become brave enough to be seen in folk’s yards and even on the edges of small towns.

Last week, we were at my wife Jean’s home place in Twin Lakes, and she promised to take our granddaughter, Emma, to the park, which is across the creek from the house. They were at the park with sunset approaching, when she heard the howling of coyotes nearby, she grabbed Emma and headed for the house. You can usually hear those critters howling on a regular basis around or shortly after sunset. I don’t believe they would be a threat to humans, but when critters start to get comfortable being around man, they can be pretty brave, and after all they are still wild animals. I guess I’d hate to hear the dingo ate my baby phrase modified to fit the coyote.

My son, Brian, lives east of Lunder Church, and on many nights he can hear the coyotes howling not far from his house. On one occasion, the dogs were in their kennels barking loudly, which caused the boys to look out the window. They observed the silhouette of some coyotes on the crest of the hill in their yard not far from the kennel. This could be one reason for the decline in the pheasant population, and it could also explain why Brian’s cats have all disappeared. Come to think of it, I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen a jackrabbit in this area.

In the Bricelyn area, a man came out of his house early in the morning to go to work and spotted a cougar sitting in a tree in his yard. He took a picture of it, which a person would probably need to substantiate a story like that. This is not the first sighting of cougars in that area, and it probably won’t be the last. The cat that some of us grew up calling a mountain lion seems to get more and more comfortable in our environment.

I’ve mentioned from time to time the amount of wildlife I have in my backyard. There are the various small birds, the noisy and sometimes annoying crows and of course squirrels, rabbits and an occasional woodchuck have been seen wandering through my yard. I kind of enjoy watching the squirrels — when they are not seen going in or out of my garage and shed or hanging out on the roof of my house.

On my early morning walks, I usually end up walking next to the access on the channel at Frank Hall Park. Over the years, I’ve spotted a variety of wildlife on my morning walk. This year alone, I’ve seen the usual pelicans, ducks and geese, but there is also an eagle stopping by, and I’ve also seen swans and cranes. It doesn’t seem like the turkey vultures have been following me as much as of late, so that is a comforting thought in itself. On one of my walks, there was a woodchuck with a couple of its young, and that critter just didn’t seem to be all that friendly, so I made sure to give it plenty of space. I have quite a few pounds on the critter, but the thought of a crabby rodent gnawing on my ankle didn’t seem appealing. Last fall, as I was walking along Newton Street a short distance from the old Ramsey School, I spotted something out of the corner of my eye walking in the road parallel to me. At first I thought it was a dog, but I soon realized it was a red fox, and it was prancing along as if it was on a mission. It soon crossed the road ahead of me and disappeared into heavy brush behind the Front Street apartments. I believe that ranks right up there with the time two deer ran in front of me down the hill from the Community Child Care Center.

For a lover of nature like myself, I find the stories of wildlife inside the city limits and the surrounding area fascinating and almost comforting in a way.

Until next time, with pheasant and duck hunting now open, be sure to hunt safely and enjoy the time spent in our great Minnesota outdoors.

Please remember to keep our troops in your thoughts and prayers, because they are the reason we are able to enjoy all the freedoms that we have today.

Dick Herfindahl’s column appears in the Tribune each Sunday.