Various “Hellos” and “Gathering Her Flock”

Today I was watching two young coyotes hunt when I saw a dog and its owner in the distance come over a hill and down the path I was on. The coyotes have seen this calm dog and walker often, and normally wait back and watch them. But this time I was surprised that the two coyotes actually walked towards them, as if to greet them!! At about 80 feet the walker stopped to watch, at which point the coyotes went off the trail to hunt, and to watch back. When the walker and her dog proceeded on her walk, the coyotes got in FRONT of them, appearing to “lead” the way back to where they had been when they first saw the walker. I’ve seen this “leading from in front” before. The young coyotes seemed to have been communicating “So pleased to see you!”

This is when the third coyote showed up — the two young ones were way ahead of us now. This third coyote is a dominant female and the mother of the young ones. She has always “greeted” this benign, easy-going dog with a warning display consisting of a direct, steely-eyed gaze, and a hunched-over, snarly expression, often while pawing at the ground. There’s nothing lackluster about this greeting: it was noticed, even though the walker and dog did not alter their behavior except to stop for just a moment — they walked on.  I was now with the walker in back of the younger coyotes, and maybe the mom thought we were “following” them.  Her greeting lasted only a few seconds. Then, as I have seen before, this mother coyote seemed to “gather” her two young ones to lead them off or head them “home”  for the day:  she was “gathering her flock”.  The walker continued on, the young coyotes disappeared into the underbrush, and the matronly mom remained back, sitting atop a rock for a few more minutes before slithering away herself. The mother coyote seemed to be communicating: “I’m doing my job, be forwarned!”

In contrast, a few days ago I was watching these same two young coyotes as they hunted quietly off to the side of a path. There was no mom around that time. The peacefulness of the scene ended when a group of loud voices could be heard approaching.  At the same time, a dog came running up the trail after the two young coyotes. The two coyotes ran together to the top of a hill where they turned around, tense as rubber bands, and watched intently for further action. Interestingly, the dog didn’t continue to pursue the coyotes. Rather, he seemed happy having “swept the path clean of coyotes”. The coyotes stayed where they were until the group of walkers could be seen visually, and then they disappeared. This particular group of walkers had already proved itself antagonistic towards these coyotes and the coyotes knew to remain out of sight. Here the message from the dog was “Git”, and from the coyotes: “Okay, we’ll go.”

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