The Coyote Comeback

Coyotes are on the move and coming to your backyard.

When I was growing up, my first encounter with a coyote happened while I watched TV. Like most kids during the fifties, I enjoyed Looney Tunes cartoons. One of my favorite shows starred Wile E. Coyote and Roadrunner.

This cartoon was set in the Southwest American desert. In each episode Wile E. Coyote tried to catch Roadrunner, but was never successful. Wile E. built complex contraptions to try to catch his prey. His contraptions always failed, and Wile E. was the one who is injured. There was no dialogue between the two characters. The Coyote only communicated by holding up a written sign. The Roadrunner always raced by and said, “Beep Beep.” My siblings and I laughed at the slapstick humor.

My parents told me television could influence a person’s thinking. Because of this cartoon, I imagined coyotes only lived in the desert, and weren’t very smart. Both assumptions are false. Today I’ve discovered coyotes are very intelligent. In fact they are one of the most skilled survivors in the animal kingdom. (After all, no matter how many times Wile E. Coyote’s master plans failed, he always lived and returned for another episode.)

In a similar way, coyotes have made a huge comeback in America due to their adaptable behavior. Despite human efforts to eradicate them, coyotes have learned to live in a variety of habitats, from snowy mountain ranges, to big cities. In fact they are now found in all of Florida’s 67 counties.

Recently many coyotes have been sighted in Orlando. Early one morning in April, Herb spotted one walking down the street. He kept a tight hold on Buddy’s leash while the large animal ran to a nearby retention pond. Buddy froze and stared, but did not make a sound. Perhaps he considered Mr. Coyote a distant cousin since they are both members of the dog family.

This spring several coyotes have also been sighted in the park area around Lake Baldwin. My neighbor saw one a few days ago and shot this picture.

Over the past month, there seem to be fewer and fewer rabbits running through the marshy areas around the lake. Coyotes love rabbits but will eat anything, including pets. You can imagine the raised eyebrows when somebody’s cat didn’t come home one night.

It seems like there is nothing we can do to get rid of these unwelcome visitors. The local wildlife commission has no plan to remove them and only advises pet owners to keep their pets inside or on a short leash. Attempts to trap and remove them to other locations have failed to keep the rising population under control.

A dog park is located on the opposite shore of Lake Baldwin. People let their dogs run free on the property because it is fenced. Be on the alert dog owners. Coyotes can swim. There is nothing to stop one from entering the dog park.

All is not lost, friends and neighbors. At least coyotes are very clean animals. They actually bury their excrement. So if you discover a pile of poop on the sidewalk, it was probably Fido’s and left behind by a human.

I have to say I am somewhat alarmed that a pet eating mammal roams through our neighborhood. I’m also concerned that we are expected to accept the idea that “coyotes are here to stay.” Wile E. Coyote has triumphed at last. He may not have outsmarted Roadrunner, but he has outwitted man.

The Love Bug Picnic

Last week my brother Terry and his wife, Mary Ann, camped with Herb and I at Colt Creek State Park. It was a special trip since they live in Arizona, and drove their RV to Florida for a visit. We invited other members of our family to meet us at the campground for a picnic lunch.

The day of the gathering, Mary Ann covered the table with a colorful cloth. I helped her set out the traditional picnic fare. In addition to potato salad, coleslaw, and chips, we included a variety of toppings for hot dogs.

All of a sudden scores of love bugs descended on the table. Mary Ann was quick to cover the open deli containers with clear plastic shower caps. How ingenious, I thought, certainly that will keep the pesky insects out of our delicacies. I was glad she had a lot of shower caps, because the moment I opened a jar of pickle relish, a pair of love bugs landed on the inside of the metal lid. Yikes! In the blink of an eye, another pair dropped inside the jar.

Our picnic table with unwanted love bugs.

While I busied myself scooping the bugs out of the relish, Mary Ann noticed a pair had attached themselves to a hot dog on the grill. Needless to say, these pests succumbed to a fiery death.

The bugs weren’t the only living things having difficulty with the heat. This is the hottest May I can remember, with temperatures rising to nearly ninety degrees every day.

Back to the food, Mary Ann and I stood guard over the table to defend our lunch from the invading bugs. I gently lifted the shower cap from the potato salad just far enough to spoon out a serving before any more bugs could crawl inside. Mary Ann scraped the dead bugs from each hot dog before placing it on a plate. Believe it or not, no one got sick.

Once served, each picnicker hurried back to their chair which we had positioned under huge beach umbrellas. Everyone kept their eyes on their lunch as they ate. Although we were kind of miserable, we laughed because we had never experienced a picnic like this before. It was like no other. No matter what, we were all happy to be together.

One day later I found a screened-in picnic shelter by the lake. Although we took advantage of this new location for our second picnic lunch, the rest of our family had already gone home.

Facts about Love Bugs

This is an unusually bad year for love bugs in Florida due to increased rain. Although they are harmless and don’t bite or sting, the bugs stick to vehicles during highway driving. Unless they are washed off, they can eat the paint of a car.

Love bugs are usually found in pairs and can fly and crawl while mating.

An adult love bug lives only three or four days and those days are filled with mating. Love bug mating season occurs twice a year during the months of May and September. They feed on nectar from flowers and like other pollinators actually benefit the environment. Contrary to local legend, love bugs were not created by the University of Florida as part of an experiment to control mosquitoes. The insects migrated to U.S. from Central America in the 1920’s.

Love bugs are active between the hours of 10:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. This is something I want to remember when scheduling our next family picnic.

Combatting the Crisis in Literacy

Leslie Williams helps children love reading.

If you can read this, you are probably not among the 32 million adult Americans who can’t. Adults who read at less than an eighth grade level, have difficulty understanding essential information to function successfully in society. Low reading skills result in lower incomes, lower quality jobs, and low self esteem. But literacy is a journey that starts when adults are young. If children fall behind in elementary school, they never catch up.

Leslie Williams volunteers with first graders as part of the Read2Succeed Program in Orlando, Florida. The program is sponsored by the Foundation for Orange County Public Schools. Volunteers work to improve reading comprehension by building vocabulary.

Leslie introduces three new vocabulary words to her first grader each week. She reads a picture book aloud and her student follows along and highlights the words in the text. Together they craft a sentence using one of the new words. Then the child illustrates the word in his journal. At the end of the session, the picture book goes home with the student. This process is repeated for twenty-four weeks. By the end of the school year the first grader receives a total of thirteen picture books.

“I believe Read2Succeed is a huge benefit. The program gives them one on one attention, and they feel special. This is my fourth year as a volunteer and I love working with the kids.” Leslie commented.

A retired teacher who comes from a family of teachers, Leslie has fond childhood memories about reading. “My siblings and I always got a book from Santa every Christmas. My mom read books to us every night before bed. Charlotte’s Web was her favorite book and became one of ours as well.” Today, Leslie considers herself a reading advocate. She belongs to a book club and reads at least one book a week.

I asked Leslie if she felt if ebooks would make printed books obsolete someday. “Gosh, I hope not,” she responded. “Nothing can replace the look and feel of a new book.”

Leslie agrees the internet and social media have shortened our attention spans for reading. “My daughter teaches first grade and complains that it’s hard for books to compete with video games. However, when she reads aloud to her class the children are engaged because she includes sound effects.”

May is “National Get Caught Reading” month. Many classrooms display posters of celebrities reading a book to encourage students to read for pleasure. This post acknowledges all those who make a contribution to further the goal of literacy. I am thankful for teachers who impacted my life and the many volunteers who work with children.

People Who Can Read, Should

Take time this month to enjoy a good book. Reading is a great way to unplug and relax. Leave a comment and share some of your favorite books.