October 04, 2004

Road Kill

Lots of posts to write (the parkfield earthquake, the early evolution of tenure, science in the national parks, self censurship), but tonight I think I will take on a realtive short one - Road Kill.

In driving around Westchester County these days, my completely unscientific monitoring indicates that road kill is up by a bunch. I am pretty sure I saw a coyote (not wylie enough) by the Taconic on Saturday as well as a hawk (rather ruffled) further up the road. Mostly though it has been an increase in the number of racoons (big ones) and squirrels. (I hit a possum a week or so ago, my first known kill.) Haven't seen many dead skunks in the middle of the road or elsewhere for that matter.

So the question is - Why the increase? Is it seasonal? (I think yes). My guess (yes it is a guess, not an estimate) is that it has to do with increased foraging activity in preparation for the coming winter. It would be easy to explain my not having observed this before because I didn't have a girlfriend that lived in the country before this year. (well that depends on how you count - I was working on having one last year at this time, but we hadn't gotten to the point where I could make observatons about road kill).

A few other observations on the megafauna upstate. There are a lot of deer! They are bold, but 9-14 year old girls don't like me to throw rocks at them to send them out of the yard; however, they will volunteer to chase them. There are reports of black bears - they have definitely returned to Black Rock Forest. I expect it was wolves that kept the deer in check and they are definitely not prowling the backyards of Westchester County. I have heard coyotes in the dusk.

I don't really know what to think about what would amount to the predator / prey relations of an ecosystem such as Westchester, especially the lands surrounding the reservior system. It certainly looks to me like automobiles are a postive factor with respect to controlling the vermin population. I doubt that they are enough of a factor to replace whatever other predators might have done, but I really don't know. With respect to the deer, a top predator is definitely needed. Humans could be that too, but the 9-14yo girl factor is a real problem.

Zora is completely saturated with my scientific lessons (although she was intrigued when I suggested I could show her how to make up data; but then lost interest when I started adding error to our invented points) - so I am having to really bite my tonge with respect to her assigned evaporation experiment. I haven't discussed road kill with her.