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Newport Beach

Volume 6, Issue 84  | October 19, 2021


Take Five: Meet Dick Newell, biologist and founder of OC Trackers

By AMY SENK

When you live in Orange County, it’s easy to remember to valet your car at the mall and forget that you share the beautiful coastal area with wildlife – until a coyote shows up in your yard or a bobcat baby shows up outside your back window. Dick Newell, biologist, wildlife expert and creator of OC Trackers, helps residents identity and cope with our animal neighbors while running the OC Trackers website. I caught up with Dick to ask him more about the wild side of Newport Beach life.

Take Five Dick Sewell

Click on photo for a larger image

Courtesy of OC Trackers

Dick Newell, biologist and OC Trackers founder, during a tracking class at Fremont Canyon

Q: What is the mission of OC Trackers?

A: We started Orange County Trackers 20 years ago to provide a resource where the public could learn more about the behavior of the local wildlife they might encounter in their communities and along the hiking trails. We also provide the various control and enforcement agencies throughout the region with more formal training on animal track identification.

Q: Over the past several years, residents have become increasingly concerned about coyotes. Are they a growing problem and is there anything that can be done to control coyotes that local leaders should consider?

A: Coyote sightings will continue to become more common in urban areas until residents understand that it is they who are unwittingly inviting them into their neighborhoods. Just as our pets require food every day to survive, so, too, do the coyotes and all wild animals, but because the natural source of their food has been eliminated from their habitats by extensive development, the coyotes must find new resources. Pet food left outside is a calling card to the coyotes. Small, unprotected cats, dogs, rabbits, ducks, etc., in the backyard are invitations to come dine. Coyotes are opportunistic omnivores and will eat fruit fallen from your trees, or garbage from unsecured dumpsters. Urban neighborhoods are the new habitats until the source of food is eliminated and they are forced to move along to find a new source.

Q: I know you track bobcats and give them names. What is the local bobcat population in Newport Beach, and which ones are your favorites?

A: Biologists assign numbers to their captures, but some of us also give them a name as it is easier for us to remember. That name is often related to the area of the capture, so Babe the bobcat was captured in the Back Bay, and Buck came from Buck Gully. The last real survey of the bobcat population in our area was done by USGS and completed around 2007. By reading the tracks and other signs the animals leave behind every day, we are able to make some estimates as to their current populations.

Q: What is the most common reason that people reach out to you? What is the most common misperception about OC wildlife?

A: We get inquiries regarding a multitude of wildlife interactions, but the most common misperception is that coyotes are dangerous animals and should be eliminated. City folks fail to understand that coyotes are valuable predators who help keep rodent, rabbit, feral cat and many non-native species under control. Neighborhoods which have chosen to eliminate all coyotes are finding a drastic increase in rabbits, squirrels and other rodents. While coyote sightings may be more common, they need not be scary. Just remember, don’t feed the wildlife.

Q: What is your favorite local wildlife story?

A: Any time a native animal is able to exist and reproduce in our county with its ever-increasing population and vehicle traffic, it is sort of a miracle, but we have had many live out an almost normal life span and that is encouraging. A lot of credit for this success has to go to our local animal control officers, our county park rangers and those from Fish & Wildlife. Without the few remaining and protected open spaces of the county, it would be a different story.

To read more about some of the bobcat survivors, visit www.octrackers.com/bobcatfriend.htm.

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