Melissa A. Clark, Mississippi National River and Recreation Area
Imagine a cloudy moonlight night, with the crisp fall wind turning the cottonwood leaves into a rustle, like an anxious audience. Imagine standing on the top of a grassy hill which slopes into darkness, only hinting at an orchestra pit filled with grasses and autumn insects. You raise your arms to the sky and release a few yips that build into a group yip-howl crescendo. After the calls trail off, you lower your arms, hold your breath and wait. If you’re lucky, you’ll hear another group of singers – America’s song dogs, coyotes.
We are about a third of the way through our service as Centennial Volunteer Ambassadors. I’ve learned that volunteers support many different functions within the park, including habitat restoration, administration, education and interpretation, and wildlife monitoring. Last week I finally had an opportunity to join our wildlife monitoring volunteers.
One evening, I drove up to the northern part of our park to meet with one of our biological technicians and wildlife monitoring volunteers. We were collecting data in the northern part of the park as part of Mississippi National River and Recreation Area’s first coyote survey. Volunteers have several roles during the survey including data collection, playing the recorded calls, timing playback and listening, and taking measurements about our location and direction of coyote responses.
We surveyed three sites that evening. We played a recording of the group yip-howl call and it was thrilling to hear a response at one of the sites. Somewhere over the neighboring hill, a group of 3 to 5 coyotes answered our recording with their own group yip-howl. Coyotes group yip-howl when they separate at the end of the evening and again when they reunite after a night of hunting. It may indicate territory, which is why we use this call for our coyote survey. This is just the first step in understanding the coyote populations in our park.
Volunteers make it possible for us to expand our wildlife monitoring capabilities. You never know what knowledge, skills, and abilities volunteers can contribute to your park unless you ask for help and listen to their ideas of how they can contribute.