Mystery Foxes, by Charles Wood

Dad 2010

I took the 2010 picture of Dad in early June. He walked out of his hiding place in the brush and boldly strutted by Holtz and me. Dad stopped not far away and seemed pleased with himself as I photographed him.

Thursday Dad ran at my two dogs and me, stopped, and watched as I made them stop their barking and lie down. Dad was in his field on the other side of a fence and my dogs and I were up on the river bank. Instead of walking my usual southbound route I had come up to their field from the south. My plan was to catch my coyotes unawares. I didn’t.

Both photographs show the prominent scar on Dad’s nose. Mom’s droopy ear and Dad’s nose uniquely identify them. Mom and Dad are a solid core for their pack, their children. I know Mom and Dad when I see them and I can count on seeing them. The children seem as a furry blur in comparison and are harder to distinguish and monitor.

Dad 2012

Two days ago a jogger spoke to me as he went by on the river bank. He yelled out that he had just seen a fox. I was surprised to hear that since I haven’t seen a fox on the river in at least ten years. I walked to where he had pointed and I didn’t see anything. I can’t imagine that someone would confuse Dad or Mom with a fox. I can imagine that someone would confuse a coyote puppy with a fox. In the first week of June last year a park ranger said he had seen two foxes in the field. It is a bit of a mystery that fox sightings occur at about the time I expect coyote puppies to be out and about.

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.

Three At Dusk, by Charles Wood

Here in LA County Sunday I finally saw three of my coyotes just as I got ready to call it quits. A young one came out to wait. It soon hid in the brush. Mom came up just a bit later from the south. She stopped and, with her child hidden nearby, immediately started to howl. She howled unanswered for several long breaths. Then others joined her howling and yipping even though they were a few feet away! It is when the others joined in that I switched on the video. Mom’s voice, though hard to distinguish, is the highest. She has a thin and very high voice. Sunday was the first time I heard it. Most of Mom’s howling was not in my direction. She only turned my way when she was more or less done.

Six seconds into the video a rabbit decides to relocate. Mom heads to her family nearby and the video is cut before she goes into their hiding place camera right. When the video resumes, Dad heads camera left, their child comes out, and Mom pees camera right. It is Mom who pushes her child away from Dad. In that segment it is clear her milk has come in. Note that the child comes back in ten seconds. Mom holds perfectly still for Dad’s inspection of her and the child gives them more space. Dad next seems to feel a choice is required of him: follow Mom and child camera left or deal in some way with me. Maybe trying to decide, he sits and scratches. Dad then pees where Mom had. Unfortunately, the child did not and I don’t know if it is male or female. After more cavorting they head east. They exit where the rabbit was last seen, though they don’t seem interested in finding it.

I should mention that I have had an second dog with me for a few months when I watch for my coyotes. Both Holtz and Lucas, an eighty-five pound German Shepard Dog, watched their wild dog cousins Sunday with interest, standing silently with me on the riverbank.

Mom’s howling was unexpected. I’ve seen them reunite at the same spot several times. Many more times I’ve seen one or more coyotes there waiting patiently for other family members to show up. They arrive and they wait, but I’ve never seen any howl for others. The obvious difference is that Mom recently had her pups. Maybe Mom’s anomalous howling was for being in a hurry for being away from her pups. Maybe not. She may not have been summoning the others with her howl, may have known they were right there. She may have just felt like howling.

Where are this year’s pups? It is the same question I posed last year upon seeing Mom with her milk in, but no pups around. Who was with the pups, or, were there any? My guess is that last year she had a small litter. The young coyote in the video is probably one born in 2011 and it has taken me a year to see it.

This year I’m not sure if the adults in the pack are more than the three in the video. I suppose Mom, who has successfully raised a few litters, is in the habit of leaving newborns behind in their den. I have to assume she knows what she is doing. I think the fact that she is out, apparently taking a break from newborns, means that there are more than three coyotes in the pack this year.

Fall In LA County, by Charles Wood

Mister

In Los Angeles it had been weeks since I had seen any of the coyote family that makes its home in a field by a concrete river nearby.  Sunday I saw an eighteen month old male who I’m guessing was Mister, though it is hard to be sure given his winter coat.  I haven’t seen his mom in six weeks and it has been eight weeks since I last saw his dad.  From late spring through summer I see my coyote pack on almost any day.  In fall and winter, if not for their droppings, you would think they were not there at all.

Mister's Message

Where do they go and how far away?  Mister left a message for me today that is also a clue as to their whereabouts:  they go where the ripened fruit is and eat a lot of it.  If anyone reading recognizes the seeds, please let me know the name of the plant so I may try and locate some.

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.

“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.

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.

Presto, Change-o?

Ahh! I noticed a coyote up on a hill and took it’s photo. I was sure it would not be there for long, and sure enough when I went by again 20 minutes later it was gone. But then, on my way home, I saw it again, maybe half an hour after my initial observation, and I took another photo. My view at dusk through a zoom lens was pretty much what you see in the top photo. Without the powerful zoom lens to look through, the coyote was barely visible at all and blended in superbly with its surroundings.

When I got home I blew up the photos in order to identify the coyote and was met with a surprise. The coyotes I had photographed in the exact same location, with the exact same poses, were actually two different guys! In-between taking these photos I had seen the second guy hurrying towards this area, but I didn’t think anything of it except that I was happy to see him. He disappeared seconds after I saw him. He apparently went to the exact same spot where the previous coyote had been.

Was it just coincidence, or was there more involved in choosing this exact same location to curl up on? Is this a special place which these two coyotes happen to like, maybe because it seems to serve as a lookout? Or maybe he came to this spot because he could smell that she had been there? Could this have been some kind of “changing of the guard”?  Lots to speculate about!

Coyotes can be distinguished by their very individualistic facial features. The first one is a gal, with large eyes, sleek face and is almost dainty looking in the way her face tapers at the nose, at least compared to the the second guy. The second guy is a guy, with wider forehead and wider nose and heftier build.

Encountering Someone New

I recognize all of the coyotes I see on a regular basis as individuals — and they recognize me — so when I did encounter someone absolutely new, it gave me the opportunity to observe a kind of wary curiosity towards me which I had not seen in a while. This little gal was charming in her careful-curious/ push-pull behavior towards me!  I’ve named her “Wary”.

Her individualistic characteristics would probably not be recognizable to many, but to me they stood out: her extremely fine and pointed snout, her uneven and almost human eyes, her large rounded ears with the very dark centers which she kept straight up and higher than any of the other coyotes do, her compact stance. There were coat markings, but it is the facial features and comportment which have always interested me the most. There was a delicacy about her and an alertness or readiness to flee — along with the very natural “insatiable curiosity” which is so characteristic of most coyotes.

She did not ignore me as most of the others now do, but watched me carefully and questioningly — always on her toes and ready to split.  After standing there, very still, and observing each other from a large distance on the path where we first spotted each other, she turned to hurry off, but then came back to peek at me from behind a bush, stretching her neck to make sure she could see me, and to see what I was doing. For my part, I walked away when I could tell she was having second thoughts about watching me watching her — but she decided to linger  a little longer which gained me a few more minutes to try to get a good shot of her. Then, her better instincts took over, and she trotted away.

I don’t know if I’ll ever run into her again, but I’ve named her anyway, just in case I do see her again. I say “her” because of her delicate features. The coyotes whose gender I could not be sure of  I tend to label as females until and unless they prove this is not so. Females tend to have “sweeter” or “cuter” faces with narrower jaws and foreheads and delicate little noses — at least compared to the males. Young coyotes have these same features until they grow out of them — which is why two I knew as infants I called females — but they ended up revealing that they were males — not for a full year did I know this! I have a friend who laughs at the change: “they were girls for almost a year”!  The older males I have seen were obviously male: they were bulkier and hulking, husky fellows who huffed and puffed, kicking and scraping the ground in a big display of power before departing. Their message was clear and I stayed clear. I wonder if the young males I’ve known will be like this? I wonder if this one will remain a female?

Los Angeles Area Pack, by Charles Wood

Bold

Wednesday I saw Bold as I was standing on the river bank.  She sat on the road in the field and after a few minutes began an approach.  I left for home.  Undoubtedly there are three siblings from last year with Mom and Dad this pupping season, two females (Bold and Shy) and Mister.

It is clear from the picture today that Bold is female.  She is also identifiable in that she lacks Mister’s black tipped lower lip, a trait Mister evidently got from Dad.  Sister Shy also lacks a black tipped lower lip, is slightly smaller than her siblings, and her eyes are friendlier.  Mister seems a little smaller and rangier than Bold.

Shy

Bold and Mister actively warn me while Shy has only warned me when accompanied by Dad.  Shy is less purposed around me, leaves more quickly, usually has her mouth open and/or tongue out, and has a happy-dog personality.

Mister

A year ago I would have described Mom as, though not exactly friendly, at least somewhat indifferent compared to active Dad.  Yet soon enough Mom began to warn me on sight as does Dad.  Bold’s fuse is longer than Dad’s and Mister’s while Mom stares a little longer before going to work on me.  Shy doesn’t work without encouragement and Bold is firm in her stare and willing to escalate if I linger.

Dad

It isn’t possible for me to observe my five coyotes without raising their concerns to some degree or another.  I’ve only seen the siblings hunt when they were very young.  The only one I saw eating was a pup chewing on a dead bird.  They don’t play with sticks or pine cones when I am around.  It is typical for me to spot a coyote only after one or more has spotted me.  Other than from Shy, the looks I get are of coyotes enduring my dog Holtz and me yet again, enduring the task I represent to them, the task of inviting me to leave.  Shy won’t hold my gaze for long, the others will stare at length.

Mom

Our encounters are engaging though not entirely entertaining.  Still, in the two years I have been observing Mom and Dad I’ve learned a few things.  Coyotes maintain a more or less permanent home; year old coyote offspring, both male and female, can stay with their parents despite new puppies; father coyotes do child care; and coyotes hide themselves and their puppies well, to name the most significant.  I’m not sure how I will manage to see young puppies this year when there are five observant adult coyotes united in their will to not allow it.

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.

Dad’s Son, by Charles Wood

Saturday as I arrived at the bridge I saw that I had already been spotted by one of my Los Angeles area coyotes.  It wasn’t glad to see me, sat and stared up.  It stood and began to urinate like a male.  Yet it wasn’t Dad.  It was a yearling male coyote!  I’ve named him Mister.

I had thought there were four coyotes in my field:  Mom, Dad and two female yearling coyotes, Bold and Shy.  I was wrong.  I didn’t realize that one of the survivors from last year’s litter was a male.  My previously posted video (http://coyoteyipps.com/2011/04/21/dad-and-his-daughter-bold-by-charles-wood/) was also of the male coyote I saw Saturday, though I thought then that I was observing Bold.  I wasn’t.  It was Mister.

After first recognizing a male youngster, Mister, I wondered if he and Bold were the same coyote, wondered if I had Bold’s gender wrong.  On study, Mister has, like Dad, a lower lip with a black tip and Bold lacks that marking.  Shy has unique markings under her left eye and walks around with her mouth open.  Bold may also be a male, but “she” is not Mister and neither Bold nor Mister are Shy.

Mister

One reason in favor of my accepting three survivors from last year is that in August 2010 I took a photograph that appeared to have one too many youngsters in it, a youngster standing off at the side partly hidden by a bush while two other youngsters greeted Dad.  That mystery coyote didn’t participate in the greeting and vanished quickly.  Photographs are difficult to interpret and I felt there wasn’t enough evidence to allow myself a third survivor.  Unfortunately for me, I usually see one or two coyotes, three infrequently, four very rare.  I’m now willing to accept that the August 2010 photograph indeed shows a third surviving youngster from 2010’s litter of seven.

Mister

Mister was the only coyote I saw Saturday.  Evidently none of the others thought he needed any help, though some or all of them may have been there concealed.  One of Mister’s roles in child care is to keep me away, as they all do.  I had read that young males are driven off by their parents before the next litter is born:  not absolutely true.

Last year I didn’t see any undispersed youngsters around when the puppies emerged.  Nor did I see Mom and Dad together with the puppies, just saw Dad caring for them, from June to the end of August when I did see Mom again.  By the end of August I would see two youngsters and missed that there was a third.  Still, four of the puppies had apparently not survived through August.  I suspect that life is easier for Mom and Dad with some of last year’s puppies around to help with newborns and to defend their territory.

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.

“River Pack Update: Some things change, some stay the same” by Charles Wood

My last post was February 22, 2011 when I photographed the mom coyote that lives in a small field that borders one of Los Angeles County’s concrete ‘rivers’.  That post was about 9 weeks after having seen Mom, Dad and their two undispersed female children who by today would be about a year old.  In the past I called one of the children Bold and the other Shy.  I have included their earlier photographs in today’s post.

A couple weeks ago I began to enter their small field a few times to walk along its roads with my leashed dog Holtz.  Coyote tracks and droppings were on the roads, yet my coyotes, if even present during my visits, would not come out.  I remember winter 2009-10 was a time I rarely saw my coyotes.  Winter 2010-11 has been the same.  I wondered if Dad was still paired with Mom and if not, who would be with whom and would there be more pups this year.  I wondered if the two female youngsters had dispersed or worse.  Perhaps they had all moved to other areas.

Today as I walked south on their road, at their nest area, I spotted the first youngster peering from the brush.  She came out to watch us and then left to hide.  In her photograph, note she has distinct blemishes below her left eye.  Regardless, I’m not sure if this first youngster is Bold or Shy.  I seriously doubt it was neither.

I continued my walk and later left the field via the same road.  Dad peered out from the nest area.  I photographed him and he went back into the brush.  I walked on towards the exit and Dad and a youngster came out to the road and watched our progress and assessed whatever odors we had left on the road.  I say ‘a’ youngster because I am not sure which it was.  Eventually Dad and the first youngster pictured began to follow Holtz and I as we continued to leave.  They did so after returning to the brush and coming out to the road several times.  For the fact that they were not in my continuous view, I’m not sure Dad’s companion in approach is the same youngster shown marking on the road.  I am sure Dad’s companion in approach is the first youngster because the final picture of her in this series shows the same blemish pattern below the left eye.  If she is Bold, she is still so.  If she is Shy, she is less so and learned more from Dad today about how to deal with intruder dogs.  What has changed, and what is the same?

Certainly Dad is the same in his distaste for Holtz.  When following us, Dad decided to quickly close the distance between us.  Before so doing, he scraped dirt.  He and the youngster split up, where Dad came east of the rocks and the youngster came towards us to the west of the rocks.  They met up at the rocks, the youngster holding back as Dad charged Holtz.  The Dad And Youngster photograph was taken after Dad’s charge.  He had come to about 20 feet and stopped, backed off some and stood as shown.  He seemed calmer so I took his picture.  I didn’t take pictures during Dad’s charge because I was charging towards Dad to get in front of Holtz.  Here we see one function of long hair on a coyote’s nape and shoulders:  he sure looks bigger!

My exit strategy after such a confrontation is to walk on, stop, turn around and stare, walk on, turn to stare.  Dad’s exit strategy is to pace, yawn, poke his tongue out, find a nearby site to lie down, attend to his grooming needs and stay put as we leave.  The youngster wanders around, visits Dad, wanders some more, going back and forth yet not forward.

I’m happy to know Dad is still holding his field and that at least one of last year’s pups is alive and undispersed.  I suspect that Mom is present and that there may indeed be more pups this year.  I’m interested to know if last year’s pup(s) will remain and have a role in caring for newborns.  The weeds are growing back quickly in the areas cleared in fall and winter.  The coyotes make use of the additional cover as a puppy kindergarten.  Last year I began seeing the pups in late June, observing them from outside of the field.  The information gained today leaves me content to now keep out of the field.

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.

Four!

Today I was met by a surprise — surprises are always thrilling. Early in the morning I noticed that at this park there were two coyotes on the horizon — this is not a very common place to see more than one coyote. One of the coyotes ran down to investigate from a distance, and the other remained up on the horizon. I adjusted my camera to an ISO of 3200 because there was so little light at this hour of the day before dawn. I do not like using this setting because of the graininess, but a grainy photo is better than none at all. With the camera I am able to record and magnify what I see, and therefore examine features that might distinguish one animal from another.  I was able to identify one of the coyotes! Shortly thereafter, it disappeared into the underbrush. Coyotes are not often seen by most people. Only a few of us have noticed that there even has been a second one in this area, not to mention a third one I’ve become aware of.

I decided to leave the park after this short glimpse of activity. As I left, I noticed that the one coyote up on the horizon was still there. As I came around a bend in the path, around some bushes, I was super surprised to see three more coyotes — this included the one which had disappeared in the underbrush a moment earlier! I looked back up on the horizon, and that one was still there. This is the first time I have seen four coyotes all at once in any of the parks. I was able to distinguish each coyote once I got home and looked at the photos. The “newcomer” was very similar in appearance to another coyote that I was able to identify recently. Of course, this is probably not a newcomer at all, these coyotes have been here all along. But this is the first time I have seen a fourth, and it is the first time I have seen four coyotes all at once.

The new coyote was more ill-at-ease than the others, and stayed out only a moment before hiding in the brush. Meanwhile, the other two continued to stare at me, very cautiously. After a few more moments, the one up on the horizon came running down to these two and the three trotted off together. This, too, was unusual for me to see: normally the coyotes disappear on their own into the brush area which is closest to them, but this time the one on the horizon seemed to need to move the rest of them on. I tried speculating as to why its behavior might have been different this time: of course, there may have been no reason at all; or it may have wanted the others out of the way because of all the aggression that has recently been aimed at the coyotes by a group of people in the park; or it may have seen a dog coming, or it may not have liked me looking at them for so long. My husband later warned me that I had inadvertently been between the coyotes. If you are aware of it, this kind of situation should be avoided, for safety sake. Also, a lone coyote or two might be different from a pack. Packs always consist of family members: pups, some yearlings, the parents. We might need to consider the possibilities of having a larger coyote population in our parks for a while. The likelihood is that a couple of them will disperse and move on because of territorial constraints — a territory will only support so many coyotes. I’ll try to find out when dispersal takes place.

Anyway, it is very exciting to discover everything that comes to light about coyotes, and seeing this foursome was, for me, a particularly spectacular discovery!

Distinguishing Different Coyotes: Facial Features and Behaviors

In one of our parks I have now been able to distinguish three coyotes:  a mom and her male yearling have been seen since last year, though the yearling has been seen by only a couple of people  – and they were not totally sure about this.  And on September 17th I was able to distinguish an additional female, which appeared to be a pup from this year’s litter. The mom was lactating both last year and this year. It is odd that she would have only one puppy each year, but that is what the observation has been — so far.

Distinguishing between each coyote by their markings is not always a reliable way of telling them apart : the coats have been changing with the seasons, and daylight conditions seem to alter the appearance of their coat markings, so that you cannot be sure of yourself.  I have found that the only reliable way to tell the coyotes apart is by their unique facial features, aided by observing their very different behavior — and a camera is better than the naked eye .

Boldness, shyness, amount of curiosity, amount of daring, sitting to observe or ready to flee, running forwards to observe or only away from, and easiness of gate are all behavioral characteristics which help identify these individuals. Facial features in coyotes are as different from each other as are humans’: The yearling has a built-in frown with thin eyes and a wide, almost squat face. The new female has a storybook wolf-like look with rounder but closer set eyes, which give the snout a wider and a more prominent look. The mom, until recently, has had a classical, sleek look, with unbelievably gorgeous, child-like eyes.

The mom has changed physically over the last few months. She was exceptionally thin and sprightly, but ever since her leg injury from which it took her a full month to recover, she seems older and heavier with more prominent line markings. However, her behavior remains her tell-tale, unchanging, distinguishing feature. No coyote has ever behaved like this one: she’s totally on top of her world.