Triangulation, A Dive, And “Darn that Log!”

To note, especially, is the way the coyote cocks its entire head back and forth, triangulating, in order to precisely locate through sound where its prey is. The dive ends with a powerful “punch” delivered by the forepaws aimed right at the prey. Also note the coyote’s extreme patience and concentration. The video originally was about six minutes long. I’ve spliced out four minutes so that you won’t need a coyote’s patience to watch it!

Mom Rushes In, by Charles Wood

Monday my Los Angeles area coyotes were less congenial than on Sunday.  Mister showed up first and started barking.  Then Mom and Dad arrived.  I didn’t see any others.  Perhaps they acted differently for the three having time on their hands while waiting for the others

In the video, Mister first solicits play from Mom.  She refuses and Mister turns to Dad who also refuses.  Mister comes toward my dog Holtz and me.  Note that Holtz, sixty pounds, stood to my immediate left wearing his harness attached to a fully retracted and locked leash.  Mom joins Mister who steels himself with a stretch and a yawn and then comes closer while Mom and Dad watch from behind.

Holtz had been sitting quietly, paying more attention to his itches than to the coyotes.  A little late seeing that Mister was now close by, Holtz rises to bark.  Mister flinches.  On Holtz’s first bark, Mom set her left rear foot.  Mom might have ignored one bark.  To one bark, Mister might have replied with dirt scrapes and yips.  As it was, Holtz barked more.  Mom’s exaggerated run towards us was intended to give Holtz pause until she arrived in position.  Holtz’s excessive ruckus decided Mom’s course.

Mister’s course was decided after his parents refused him play.  Holtz didn’t notice.  Mister had reinforcements, yet Holtz’s position was superior to the three because Holtz had me.  Holtz didn’t notice.  Holtz was reactive.  In contrast, the coyotes were acting out a plan, a plan that allowed for the contingency of Mister needing help.  The coyotes wouldn’t have acted out a plan had I left when Mister began to bark or left when later they started to warn me with stares.  They see Holtz as a serial intruder into their home range and don’t want him around because they perceive Holtz as a potential competitor.  To a coyote, showing one’s self to a lingerer is supposed to be enough to cause an intruder to leave.  In fact, Holtz had wanted to leave well before Mister showed himself, having planted his feet and refusing to go with me towards the brush out of which Mister later emerged.

After Mom joins Mister her eyes follow Holtz.  Mister moves right, perhaps too soon.  Mom waits and continues to study before deciding to approach on our left.  She made an assessment and a decision based on how we were physically positioned towards her.  I didn’t notice what tipped her to our left.

Mister draws in behind Mom and they rush in.  Holtz barks and then whines in frustration at my restraining him.  Mom and Mister stop short and withdraw.  They meet up with Dad who comes to them from within the bushes.

Still King?

In the past, Dad has been the one to message Holtz and me in the way Mom and Mister did today.  I don’t know if Dad’s health doesn’t allow it or if the parents think it good experience for Mister.  If Dad is losing it, Mom is stepping in to fill his shoes.  It isn’t my experience of Dad that he hold back or prefer greetings, scratching and play to messaging Holtz and me.  My goal is to find him alone in order to better assess his temperament and health, to see if he still is the king I’ve known him to be.

Posting written by Charles Wood. Visit Charles Wood’s website for more coyote photos: Charles Wood. His work is copyrighted and may only be used with his explicit permission.

Low Key Rendezvous, by Charles Wood

Sunday I videoed my Los Angeles area coyotes as they met up for the evening.  In the video, Dad and Mom stand in the back while Tom wanders and Mister sits.  About a minute into the video Mister appears to ask Mom for a kiss.  I believe there was a fifth coyote hidden in the brush.  It may be the one that ran to catch up with the other four.

It was nice to see Dad and the others practically indifferent to Holtz and me.  Their stares were low key and they were relaxed enough to instead be attentive to each other.  Mister didn’t feel he had to prove something to everybody, even stopped staring.  Only Mom felt strongly enough about us to mark.  Their tails said to me they were ready to explode in joy except for the man and dog.  Sunday the five arrived at approximately the same time, greeted and then moved along to where they go most evenings.  They had a place to be off to and each knew it as they met.

Mom Sentry

At times one or two show up ahead of the others.  Mom did a few days ago while teenage boys were spray painting under the bridge.  She sat on higher ground and watched the boys while watching for her pack to gather.  When I arrived there I pointed her out to their amazement.  You just never know who is watching you tag.

Posting written by Charles Wood. Visit Charles Wood’s website for more coyote photos: Charles Wood. His work is copyrighted and may only be used with his explicit permission.

Chased Into A Hollow

Being out at twilight in a park allowed me to glimpse an owl hunting — I don’t see this often. It was quiet and it seemed at first as though no one was around, but I was wrong. Soon a dog appeared, and the owl took off as it and its owner got nearer.

As I watched the owl fly away, I heard another man yell sharply at his dog. That was the tell-tale sign that alerted me to the possible presence of a coyote on a trail.  As I headed in the direction of the voice, I began to hear two coyotes bellowing out their distress at having been chased.  One coyote must have run off, because its barking receded into the distance.

However, the other coyote was very close by, in the bushes. I could not see the coyote at all — so, to begin with, I just took a photo of where the sound was coming from. It was in a hollow right next to the trail — not, as usual, up high and away. Although at first I had heard two coyotes barking together, the barking pattern changed when one ran off.  The barking began alternating between them, one after the other, taking turns, seeming to answer each other, until the far coyote stopped altogether. The nearer one continued a little longer and then also stopped.

Within a short time, the closer coyote must have sensed that the danger had passed — the dog and walker were long gone — because it came out to inspect it’s surroundings, looking around carefully before trotting off to continue what it probably had been doing before the dog arrived: hunting for voles and gophers.

I’m including the recording in which you can hear the near and the far coyotes’ barking. Unfortunately the recorder picked up the sound of my walking as I was trying to visually spot the coyotes!


More Dens

A friend let me know that she discovered a coyote den fairly close to her own home! Chert rock formations and outcroppings are common throughout the entire Bay Area. The den apparently was not used this year and is not being used now, though she told me that several years ago she heard coyote pups all the time from that area.  It appears to be a very “classical” den, with a very deep entryway protected by an overhanging rock. And, of course, it is located in a hidden and secluded area, although not far from my friend’s home.

I wanted to find out more about the den, but it would have been impractical to dig it out, and I was fearful of sticking my hand in it: who knows what might be lurking in there now!  What you see here is the opening into a large hollow area. There had been a mass of overgrown tangled blackberry brambles hiding the entryway, and it was only when these were thinned out that the den opening became visible at all. It is likely there is another opening close by, hidden like this one had been.

Not far from her home, about an eighth of a mile away, is another den which her neighbor told me about. It is completely different from this one, consisting of a flat area hidden below tall grasses close to a natural spring — not a cave at all.  I couldn’t get a photo of this one, also hidden in thick brambles. But I am sure, it being so close to the other one, and from what these folks told me, that it was used by the same coyote family.

Coyote dens are used for giving birth and nursing young pups. Most coyotes have several dens between which they move the youngsters, both for protection against possible predators and to escape from bug infestations. As the coyote pups grow up, they stop using the dens. Adult coyotes sleep out in the open or under bushes, usually during daytime hours.

A Foot Is Put Down

holding a foot down

The vole was caught, but it tried to get away, of course. As it reached the other side of the path the coyote extended a foot and put it down on top of the prey, pinning it down, trapping it and sealing its fate. The coyote stood up and kept its weight on its prey for a full ten seconds — an incredibly long period of time when life and death are concerned — standing absolutely still and looking off into the distance. I actually could not tell that this is what was happening until the coyote finally bent down to pick up in his mouth what was under his foot and run off with it before eating it.

In most instances that I have seen, a coyote will scramble quickly to get a firm hold of its prey in its mouth to prevent it from slipping away. But this time there was a calmness as the coyote stood there with his weight on the vole. Had he been squeezing it to death — preventing respiration –on purpose, the same as the hawks do? I have seen hawks hold onto and squeeze a rodent over what felt like a long time, but in fact was only about ten seconds, while looking calmly off into the distance, exactly as the coyote had done. It points to a behavior and a use of the legs which I have not seen before.

“Choose One, Ladies”, by Charles Wood

If you were a marriageable young coyote female, which brother would you pick?  Would it be Mister?  Or would it be Tom?  Does Mister’s white-tipped tail seal the deal?  Or would you forgive Tom that fault when you say “I do.”?

Mister has a yearling brother Tom.  How could I have confused Tom with Mister?  Yet confuse them I did.  Tom is one more male yearling to add to my pack, last pictured together in my post here:  Los Angeles Area Pack, by Charles Wood.

Posting written by Charles Wood. Visit Charles Wood’s website for these and more coyote photos: Charles Wood. His work is copyrighted and may only be used with his explicit permission.

Excellent Hearing and A Poison Oak Bush

This young fellow knew exactly where what he wanted was — right in the middle of a poison oak bush!!  He leapt in and forcefully pushed branches aside with his neck and forepaws, thrusting his nose to the exact right spot on the ground which he obviously could not see. Immediately the coyote came up with a vole. He munched it down right then and there rather than back out of the bush. Notice that he’s keeping an eye on a bird flying overhead — coyotes tend to keep an eye on everything that is happening around themselves. The vole was found totally by sound, without any visual help at all.

Bouncing Happily Through Tall Grasses

This happy coyote went bounding through the tall grasses, leaping over some of the low bushes, turning back to sniff a few things a couple of times and then continuing on its route. It was not in a hurry to get anywhere — it was just having fun. There were no people or dogs around, so its activity was prompted only by its own upbeat mood. This is the joyful and carefree freedom which I hope for all of our urban wildlife.

Three Coyotes, by Charles Wood

Saturday Dad and Mister were waiting in the rendezvous area and didn’t like it when Holtz and I showed up.  Soon Mom with her cauliflower left ear arrived.  Mom muted their exuberance in greeting her, showing even Dad her teeth.  Dad took a break to roll in sand.  They all went up the hill to wait.  Eventually Dad and Mister came down while Mom watched, prone on the hill with her head on her paws and a bored expression.  The last scene shows Mister intently staring while Dad messages and then walks off camera to scrape dirt as Mister takes a look around.  Eventually they all went to their nest area.

Dad’s stint in the sand was typical of how they, when engaged with me, will frequently get distracted.  They get distracted by their fleas, each other, by pack members possibly hiding from my view and by sounds from farther away, to name a few.  They don’t forget that I am there, yet intruder notwithstanding, Mister on  Saturday allowed himself a moment to read his father’s ‘tea leaves’, so to speak.  Likewise, Dad seemed ready to openly cavort though he couldn’t get Mom to forget just for a moment about Holtz and me.  Dad seemed disappointed with her rebuff, licking his lip and quivering his head from side to side in order to come to terms with what to him may have seemed as a pointless refusal by Mom to play.  For a second, Dad almost looked like he felt he did something wrong.  I’m tempted to give Dad a voice in the video at the point just after Mom shows her teeth:  “What!  Teeth?  Oh yes, the man, of course, and the dog, well, they are still there, I see that, yes, of course Mother, but, you know, they haven’t moved, never do really move you see:  they don’t, haven’t that is, the dog is sitting after all and not even looking exactly at us.  But I see what you are saying, of course, of course.  Well then…we’ll see, what to do about it and when; when is important, so let me… oh! I itch, first things first then.”

I did notice in a photograph I took that Dad’s four lower right premolars are worn to nubs.  I’m beginning to accept that he is a beat up old coyote.  Would that Mom would cut him some slack.

Posting written by Charles Wood. Visit Charles Wood’s website for more coyote photos: Charles Wood. His work is copyrighted and may only be used with his explicit permission.

Sketches from Courtney!

Courtney Quirin has allowed me to post a couple of her wonderful sketches. These charcoal drawings capture the special personality and character of coyotes in a way that my photos and my behavior descriptions cannot. Thank you, Courtney! Courtney is an artist, an ecologist who has worked in Ethiopia, and an All American runner, to list just a few of her talents.  San Francisco is her new home where we embrace and welcome her!

Dad Ten Days Later, by Charles Wood

It is hard to believe I haven’t seen Dad for ten days.  Wednesday I went into my Los Angeles area coyotes’ field hoping to come across one.  Dad was in the rendezvous area, apparently alone. He saw my dog Holtz and me before I saw him.  Dad approached us and I pulled Holtz closer with his leash and made him sit.  I stepped towards Dad and he backed off.  I then began to video.

The video shows a fairly low key Dad.  Near the end of the video he scrapes with his head pointed toward me.  Usually that’s when he starts to approach.  I didn’t want him to come closer so I put my hand into my pocket for a clicker.  He ran off as I fiddled with my pocket, not waiting for the clicker.  I’ve never used a clicker before.  A few times in the past I’ve reached into a pocket for a golf ball to lob at him.  I’m pretty sure he suspected that I was going for a golf ball.  I took my eyes off him to reach into my pocket.  When I looked up a moment later he was gone and I had to play the video to see how and where.  He watched Holtz and me as we left.

The previous day as I sat under the bridge I heard Dad’s pack howling.  They were in the nature preserve hidden in the distant trees.  Their calls echoed faintly under the bridge and were muffled in part by the sound of traffic passing on the street above me.  The howling stopped and I didn’t see any coyotes.  Several minutes later several teenage boys on bicycles rode towards me out of the nature preserve.  I asked them if they had heard the coyotes.  They said yes and that although they hear them frequently, they have never seen them.

Posting written by Charles Wood. Visit Charles Wood’s website for more coyote photos: Charles Wood. His work is copyrighted and may only be used with his explicit permission.

Family Play Scene

The most obvious sign of a family is when what you thought was a twosome suddenly shows itself to be a threesome or a foursome! We had only been seeing two coyotes at this site, an older male and a young female. After identifying them, I stopped looking closely at these individuals, because it was so easy to distinguish them.

Then we came upon this family play scene. Ma played with a youngster, while Pa curled up to hold down the fort in his own way — with shut eyes. He’d glance over at the play now and then but didn’t want to be a part of it. Dozing off, away from the others, but within view of them, was his idea of fun. Pa is substantially older than Ma in both his appearance and in his energy level.

Playing between Ma and the youngster consisted of chasing, tumbling, leaping and wrestling, with continual forays in our direction to check us out. The youngster also kept looking off into the distance which made me think that maybe there was a fourth coyote who we did not see — and one of the photos certainly made that a possibility — though it could have been the lighting that prevented definitive identification. I only actually saw three coyotes at any one time.

Interestingly, we could have predicted that there were young ones in this area because of Ma’s unceasing guarded and anxious behavior whenever we saw her, and because of her seldom leaving her protected area unless no people were present. It turns out that we’ve actually been seeing this youngster at various times without knowing it: somehow I mistook him for his Pa since we only ever saw two coyotes at any one time, and I assumed the lighting was causing the slight difference in appearance which I saw — it is easy to mistake the identity of coyotes under poor lighting conditions. However, once you definitively identify a coyote, it is easy to go back to the older photos to distinguish what you couldn’t before, and I can now see that the youngster has been around for many months.

Scent: My Own Sense of Smell

As I spotted a coyote hunting, a gust of wind wafted a smell in front of me — I definitely smelled a skunk. Oh no, I thought, the coyote had found a skunk. But as I continued watching, I realized that the coyote was after a squirrel which evaded capture. I knew it was a squirrel because of the way the coyote soon kept looking up into a tree. But I got another whiff of that smell.  I then thought that maybe it was the smell of a carcass — a capture from the previous night?  But that idea evaporated because the coyote would have approached such a carcass, and I didn’t see him do so.

Someone stopped to talk to me, and I lost track of the coyote. When the conversation ended, I decided to pick up where I had last seen the coyote on a path off in the distance. When I got there, there again was that stink. Ahh! I realized that this coyote must have been sprayed, and was carrying around a thick blanket of skunk perfume on itself, and leaving a trail of this odor behind as he passed through. I wondered if I myself might be capable of following the smell! Would it be possible for me to experience a sense of what it must be like to actually smell what I was looking for and follow it’s trail, in the exact same way as dogs and coyotes do? So, I became a coyote.

I lost the odor in several places, but reconnected with it in others. Although the odor did not help me find the animal, it did allow me to know several places where it had been. And I did glimpse the coyote again at the end of the trail. After I participated in this little adventure, I felt somewhat “initiated” into a canine reality.  Smelling for humans tends to be rather vague and not always “turned on”, but for canines it is intense and probably constant — it is one of their prime methods of gathering information.

Ferdinand the Coyote, by Charlotte Hildebrand

It’s hard not to hear the goings on next door, especially given that my kitchen window looks out on my neighbor’s yard. At night I can hear swishing in the bushes as the night creatures make their way to Thea’s bowls. In the morning I hear more swishing and tap tap tapping and see the skunks and cats and crows and coyote that come to eat breakfast and dinner.

To be fair, the coyote hasn’t been around much this summer… until last weekend. This comes as a relief but not a surprise as Mary Paglieri, a “human-animal conflict consultant” with the Little Blue Society, told me this would happen. She explained in scientific detail how he would eventually wean himself of human interaction (I’m assuming coyote is a he but he could be a she): “Given time, this matter will resolve on its own, the coyote will decide [when].”

When coyote does come around, it’s like a homecoming. Thea comes right into the lower yard where coyote’s lying in the grass not more than five feet away. She talks to him and coyote listens, waiting for her to put food into the bowl. Then she gives him her blessing and climbs back up the steps to go inside. Thea is unafraid because the coyote is her friend. He likes skunks. He likes to smell the breezes. He likes the tall grasses in Thea’s backyard. He must get sick of coyote life—enough of the urine smells and hard rocks for beds and howling at night.

Coyote is Ferdinand the bull: “He liked to sit just quietly and smell the flowers. He had a favorite spot out in the pasture under a cork tree. It was his favorite tree and he would sit in its shade all day and smell the flowers.”—Munro Leaf, illustrated by Robert Lawson

Seeing is believing. Here is Coyote as Ferdinand:

Reprinted from Charlotte Hidebrand’s blog, The Rat’s Nest. For more of Charlotte’s writing, please visit her website: http://charlottehildebrand.blogspot.com/

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