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?

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