Stealth, Shadows and Call of the Wild!

If you encounter a coyote, it will most likely be a surprise encounter for both of you on a path. Or, it could be that you will see a coyote off in the distance hunting, or you might see it watching the world go by before it moves on. These glimpses of a coyote can be thrilling and exciting for us city dwellers: finding wildness in our own back yard becomes the highlight of an entire week! The feeling we get from seeing such a wild animal is that the world belongs to all of us.

But another feeling you can get from coyotes is that of stealth, shadows and ghosts! In these cases, usually when it is dark, you might get the feeling that you have seen something move somewhere, but you are not sure where. Your eye actually saw it but only registered it in part — our own senses have not been honed for living in the wild. Next to a coyote’s, our senses are rather dull. A coyote may very well follow or watch you as you move about — it is its nature to be aware of its surroundings. When a coyote knows it was not seen, it may prefer try to remain that way, so it will travel at a distance and in a line where it would be hard to detect. Also, because of a coyote’s lightness and litheness, it can move about in almost total silence. I have sensed these “ghosts” on some of my walks when the light was very dim.

But today in the late morning I sensed something new. I sensed being wild. I had decided to visit an overgrown area where I previously had seen fabulous moss on damp stones. I ducked into this area off the beaten track — you had to duck, you could not stand up. The moss was green and damp and the ground was soft. Yes, this is where I would take some moss photos. While I was there I spotted a banana slug — that was something new for me to get an image of. The light was not good, so I had to fiddle around with my settings. I made soft clicking sounds, which no one could have possibly heard — maybe. I made myself comfortable so as to enjoy the coolness of the place and I became pensive. It was wonderfully peaceful. Then, did I imagine I saw something move? I couldn’t really tell. I became very still. All of my senses became finely acute — there was an intensity of awareness in me which I was not used to. It was emphasized by the total quiet around me.

Something was happening. Overgrowth surrounded me so I could not see beyond just a few feet. Then, from outside of the canopy of leaves in front of me, the sun revealed a silhouette. I saw the head and ears and knew what it was. I then saw its coat as it sat down for only an instant before it was gone. The silhouette never faced me, so it probably didn’t actually see me — it just sensed me with its keen smell and hearing. This experience was the closest to “the wild” that I have ever sensed being: Not only did it involve a tremendous sharpening of my own senses, but I could see that the coyote, with all of its very acute senses, was gathering the information it needed for its own survival. I had the opportunity to touch the wild today: watching a coyote’s stealthy and acutely sensitive behavior, and having my own senses intensify the way they might have had to if I had to survive in the wild.

Bouncing Greeting

Jumping up high several times from the hind legs — or bouncing — is used by coyotes as a greeting for a few SELECT dogs. My dog and I were greeted this way on various occasions several years ago when we came across a coyote for a period of several months. There was no mistaking the friendly intent: “Hi there, I’m so glad to see you”. Could it have had a sexual component?

Since that time, I have come across another walker who reminded me of this behavior. The walker let me know that a coyote, not the same one that I used to see, had just seen him and his dog at not too great a distance and began this jumping. I asked him if the encounter was a surprise one that might have made the coyote defensive. The walker said absolutely not, he wanted to make it clear to me that it was a greeting, and that it actually occurred fairly regularly. It didn’t happen every time he came across this coyote, he said, but often enough so that he knew how to read it. I recalled my own experience when I had a dog, and I knew he was right.

The dogs involved in both of these cases were large males who never went after the coyote and pretty much ignored it. The only reaction these dogs had was a playful bark which made the coyote move back a little — this was probably the intent of the bark. There seemed to be a mutual respect for personal space and a mutual respect for “differences” that both types of canines were aware of and lived up to. The coyote, after the greeting, often followed for a few minutes or lay down to watch, carefully observing all the moves of the dog it had just greeted. Coyotes are able to read every detail of a dog’s character and intentions from its eye contacts, body movements and energy. From observing, the coyote can confirm for itself the friendly — or at least not unfriendly — nature of the dog and whether or not the coyote should expect any adverse behavior.

I have seen other dogs, those which have chased the coyote, approached in a totally different manner by a coyote. The approach was extremely brief, only a few seconds long, but it involved a kind of oneupmanship and testing from both the coyote and the dog: a sequence of short coming-in close and retreating. This is totally different from the behavior I have described as a bouncing greeting.

By the way, I have never seen a coyote greet another coyote in a bouncing manner. Coyotes greet each other by coming in close to each other, face to face, and they often caress — at least those within the same family. If a coyote does come up to a dog, it tends to do so towards the rear end of the dog.

I have not been able to get a still photo of this, but three years ago I did get a video, with my Canon point and shoot camera, of the “bounce” which I have put up on YouTube:

Looking Up To A Coyote Sibling and Sibling Curiosity

Of course, the pups in a family always look up to their mother. And she, the mother, leads and disciplines with care and firmness and affection. But when the mother is not around, or at least not close by, I’ve actually seen a hierarchy among the siblings. It’s less that there is a leader than that there is a follower, though I’ve seen the leader check on the other. The follower waits for, and looks up to the other sibling. I’m still seeing this behavior at one-year of age. Maybe this hierarchy is permanent? They BOTH constantly check on what the other is up to — there is always an immense curiosity and interest in this!

The leader is generally bolder and can be seen more often exploring on its own, or exploring just with the mother. The follower is much shyer and prefers not to be seen by people, flees quickly, and only hangs around if either the sibling or mother are there.

Carrying Off Its Prey

Here is a young coyote running off with a gopher in its jaws instead of devouring its catch right then and there, which would normally be the case.

It is pupping season. Because new mothers at first must remain with their new pups to keep them warm and to feed them, other members of the coyote’s family, including pups from the previous year’s litter, will chip in to supply food to the new mom. Here are photos of a coyote carrying prey. Could this coyote be feeding another?

Hunting In Tall Grass

I saw this lone coyote four times in the same morning. First, it was hunting way in the distance — it did not catch anything.

Then I encountered it again, headed towards me on a path around a bend, so we didn’t see each other until we were fairly close. Instead of taking off, lickety-split, this coyote casually looked at me before it wandered away from in a fairly leisurely, not too hurried manner: there was no intensity to its behavior.

Right after that I spotted it a third time, hugging along the edge of some bushes where it was harder to see it — it was obviously trying to avoid running into anyone. I should say that few people are in the parks when I see coyotes: I think when people are around, the coyotes just don’t come out so much. The exception to this observation is when a coyote comes out specifically to “monitor” dogs: to keep an eye on dogs, especially those which have previously chased it and to make sure these dogs head out of the park.

Then I spotted this same coyote a fourth time as it hunted in the tall grass. It saw me in the distance, but continued its hunting endeavor — it was obviously onto something, and it may have been hungry. What was fun here, which I didn’t capture particularly well in the photos, was that the coyote was almost totally hidden from view, but would “bounce up” above the tall grass every few seconds to get a view of its surroundings, then it would descend again! These photos show the highest level of the bounce. I was not able to capture the curved back nor the total disappearance of this hunter. Obviously it was a delicious catch. Please notice the exceptionally beautiful white markings of this coyote!

Snips and Snails and Coyote Pup Tails

Lots goes into defining a coyote. Here is some “stuff” relevant to coyotes in our parks — sort of. Well, especially the tail in a field! Of course there are the footprints after a rain storm and there is scat. I like the flowers and moons which thrill me as much as the coyotes do — they are part of the coyote’s environment! I have found a number of dead moles — I’m wondering if these are always discarded by coyotes. I continue to see raccoon prints — always in the same locations, so I think adult raccoons can hold their own against coyotes. And yes, coyotes eat snails!!!

Change of Appearance Due to Shedding

Coyote winter coats, thick and fluffy gray with strong black markings, are now being shed as the weather changes. Note the heavy winter coat above left, and the coyote to the right who is in the process of shedding this coat. The coyote’s new coat is shorter and darker, and the markings are not as intense. Also, as more winter fur is shed, the same coyote will appear much thinner. The change is so different that it makes it very possible to mistake it for being a different coyote, but in fact it is one and the same. I’ll try to add a third photo when the shedding is complete in mid-June.

The first two photos show the heavier winter coat. The third shows that coat thinning out, leaving a darker, more uniform colored coat. The last section of the coat to shed will be the neck area: a coyote in June often looks like it has a mane!

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