Saturday, November 9, 2013

NaNoBloPoMo (Nov 9): Wild things..Keeping encounters with nature safe while running

I remember a run one wintry day in Halifax a few years ago...We were exiting Point Pleasant Park and I looked up...And there, circling with its wings spread out wide, white head stretching out from a black body, was a bald eagle.

As someone who had spent most of my life in Ontario, to see a bald eagle in flight above an urban area seemed nothing more than mystical, particularly knowing that they had come close to extinction due to pesticides. But colleagues at my work who were familiar with the nature of the city assured me it was quite normal for Halifax. What to them was commonplace seemed to me extraordinary.

But that's about as wild as it got in Halifax over the course of five and a half years, beyond the songbirds who visited our birdfeeder and who I soon learned to identify. Despite news reports of coyotes nearby Spryfield, a panicked deer in downtown Halifax and a moose on the loose in Clayton Park, I never encountered them myself. Even on trips to the interior of Kejimkujik National Park, about the wildest creatures I ever encountered were loons...lots of them.

In contrast, since moving to Alberta, we've already spotted:

- catbird
- heron
- muskrat
- cedar waxwing
- red-tailed hawk
- white-tailed deer
- pronghorn (at Waterton Lakes National Park)
- snake of an unidentified species
- elk (at Waterton Lakes National Park)
- black bear (also at Waterton)
- mallard

...and today...a coyote!

We were driving out of town, passing a lake on our right, and there it was - seemingly at home in the middle of the ice, laying down and scratching itself like a dog. Unaware that my husband and I had stopped our car in the middle of a busy street to get out and stare at it, it got up and walked to a hole in the ice to drink.

It seemed like something more suited to the wilds than the middle of a suburban development. But although we and another family stopped and stared at it in awe, it continued lapping water, completely unabashed.

I stood there in awe - this was the first time I'd ever seen a live coyote. I was fascinated by its thick tail and pointy snout. But in the back of my mind, I also remembered the attacks in Nova Scotia by what have recently been identified as coywolves - a new species, some scientists say, which seems more aggressive and less fearful of humans than traditional coyotes. That species does not seem to have occurred in western Canada, however.

All of a sudden, despite myself, I grew a little more wary of running around town at night on my own, knowing that such a wild creature is living among us.

I suppose it's a reality of living near the foothills of the Rockies now - we're more likely to encounter large, wide-ranging mammals than elsewhere (one of the nature reserves we recently visited, just 20 kilometres from our home, had warnings of cougar sightings). And while I'm not a proponent of sensationalising these encounters, I did come across this article by Runner's World that offers some useful tips for animal encounters on your run.

If nothing more, it's a reminder to all of us to be vigilant on our runs and aware of our surroundings - whether in a downtown metropolitan area or on a trail in the Rockies. After all, encounters with nature are not to be feared, but rather celebrated - so long as we remain safe and aware.

As always, stay safe and warm out there, fellow runners!


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