Sunday, February 10, 2013

Susan Fleming And Coyotes

I enjoy my yearly telephone chats with Susan Fleming the talented Toronto filmmaker who specializes in animal documentaries for CBC-TV's The Nature Of Things.
Let's see there was A Murder Of Crows (2010) followed by Raccoon Nation (2012).
And now along comes her special take on Coyotes.  Titled Meet The Coywolf it premieres on the nature of Things Thursday February 14 at 8 p.m.
"This one was the hardest yet," says Fleming. "Because coyotes are just about the smartest animal out there. We spent over 200 nights hiding in blinders to photograph them and yet they almost always seemed to know we were there."
But first things first. Do not call them coyotes, OK?
"They are technically speaking coywolves, a distinct species. And it's wonderful to see them evolving right before our eyes.
"The coywolves and were first noticed in Algonquin Park in 1919 --it's when wolves and coyotes mated. Today's coywolf could be up to 85 per cent wolf --they have all the smart traits of coyotes. They can survive living near humans and wolves cannot. They are certainly smaller than wolves but much more muscular than coyotes."
I live in the Toronto area called Riverdale and a TTC streetcar driver told me she spots coywolves coming up from the Don Valley every Wednesday night --which is garbage night in my district.
But the only coyote I ever saw truly up close was one in movie star Janet Leigh's L.A. backyard in 1977 and it was a small fella.
Leigh told me L.A. coyotes feed on the cats and small dogs of celebrities and then slip back into the canyons.
"A true western coyote," Fleming says. "The coywolf is much larger."
And the coywolf seems to be everywhere. Fleming filmed in Toronto, Ottawa,  Algonquin Park and Chicago where scientists estimate 2,000 coywolves roam freely.
In one shot taken in Toronto's Beach district Fleming is talking away to a resident and in the backyard we can see a coywolf sauntering by.
A great shot. But so is the one of the coywolf snatching an egg off the nest of a Canada goose --and then carrying it down a long suburban street. It spies squirrel roadkill, carefully plops the egg down and carries the carcass off.
"We waited for a long time," Fleming says. "And it finally came back from the egg and carried it off probably to bury it near its den where it can be eaten even weeks later."
Fleming says spraying the blind with deer urine and carefully picking clothes packed in cedar chests that do not carry a human scent are two tricks of photographing coywolves at night.
In the Chicago it all seems easier since some of the coywolves have been fitted with tracking collars.
Fleming shows how they infiltrate cities: Toronto's ravines are perfect hiding places but in some places a coywolf den will be located very close to  train tracks. And they use the train corridors to get in and out of the city.
There have been a few reports of coywolves attacking humans. Fleming says this might result when humans leave food out for them.
"They have a natural fear of humans and do not want to interact. Just stay away from them  and do not feed them --the best advice."
Like raccoons these eastern coyotes are omnivorous and will feast on garbage as well as chomp on berries or kill and eat smaller animals.
Fleming writes out a scenario first for The Nature Of Things. Then she has to get out there to acquire the "Actuality".
"We never know what we'll get. there are many nights when nothing turns up we can use. It is very frustrating to know the coywolf may be nearby and probably looking back at us."
Fleming will deliver a slightly different version for PBS to be shown later on Nature.
"That's it, I'm through with dealing with smart animals!:" she jokes.
Her next subject has already been decided.
"Moose," is her one word reply.
MY RATING: ****.

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