“Pursued”, by Charles Wood

Saturday I waited on the river bank for half an hour looking east.  I stood with my dog about 130 yards from the main north-south dirt road often used by my coyotes.  I neither saw nor heard anything until 7:40 pm when three coyotes exited the underpass trotting south into their main field.  Dad, in the rear, stopped several yards south of the underpass.  The other two continued their trot south.  Dad dropped scat and then hurriedly followed the other two coyotes.  Apparently all three were hurriedly returning from the area to the north, an approximately 100 acre sanctuary for animal and plant life.  Their main field is connected to the sanctuary by an underpass and I have previously observed both Mom and Dad in the sanctuary.  In contrast, my coyotes’ main field approximates 25 acres, where all except around six acres were mowed a month ago for weed abatement.  My coyotes numbered nine a week before the mowing:  Mom, Dad and seven pups.  Since then I’ve observed no more than four coyotes together at the same time in their field.

Dad caught up with the other two, having stopped to look behind him several times in the process.  Together, they all stopped to look north from where they had come.  I saw no pursuers.  Dad took a break to groom his mate.  A youngster was lying on the ground beneath them.  Dad finished grooming Mom and then bared his teeth at the youngster.  He stood over it, tongue out, as Mom went a bit to the north and stopped.  She looked both north and east down flat dirt roads.  Apparently pursuers could come from either north or east.  The youngster followed her, and then returned to Dad.  Dad put the returning youngster to the ground with seriously bared teeth.  The youngster then remained near Dad as Dad again checked north.  The youngster also stayed with Dad as he went to investigate some odors a few yards north of where Mom had stopped.  This investigation lasted about a minute.  It ended when the youngster headed south while Dad marked whatever they had discovered.  Mom and the youngster headed south and Dad followed.  While following, Dad frequently stopped and looked behind.

Mom and the youngster arrived at an entrance to what I assume is the area of dense brush that contains their den.  She marked the road and then she and the youngster disappeared into dense brush.  At that point I looked back down the dirt road for Dad and did not see him.  I waited a bit, saw no pursuers and decided the show was over for the evening.  I doubted that any vocalizations would follow because vocalizing didn’t seem wise in the circumstances.

What were the exact circumstances?  From whom did they flee?  Why was Mom groomed and the youngster instead chided?  The second time the youngster was disciplined seemed clearly to tell the youngster to remain near Dad.  What odor was important enough to give them pause to investigate and mark when obviously in flight?  Did the three return to join other family members?  How many of the other six children are still alive?

That the three were fleeing from one or more coyotes seems a safe bet.  Perhaps the grooming behavior performed on Mom by Dad was to calm and reassure her.  The youngster obviously had messed up earlier.  I say obviously because it had prostrated itself by the time Dad had caught up with them.  Had it handled an encounter with other coyotes poorly, or caused such an encounter?  After being disciplined it chose to head towards Mom and apparently for that, was disciplined again.

It seems safe to say the odor marked was that of a coyote trespasser.  The odor was important enough for both father and child to thoroughly absorb the information it contained.

The position Mom took, looking both north and east, suggests that no other of their family members were east.  The area to the east, consisting of about four lightly covered acres, has its own north-south entry point and another entry point at the east most boundary, not particularly safe from intruding coyotes.  The more southern area into which they ultimately disappeared is dense brush.  I have seen Mom alone similarly seeming pursued as she headed south.  She at that time also marked the point where she headed into that brush, nearly the same spot as this Saturday.  This southern area is about two acres and I can’t take a step there without cracking dry twigs or rattling brush.  Probably intruder coyotes would sound similar alarms.  The high ground, banks to surrounding road beds and structures, are planted with rows of reeds that are green and supple for being irrigated.  They are thick, high, and have tight yet navigable spaces for evasion and ambush.  I’m hoping the other youngsters can be left there unsupervised while Mom or Dad or both reconnoiter before taking more family members out for their early evening hunt.

I’ve read and heard many times that feces and urine mark territory and thought it rather benign, perhaps even thoughtful or polite.  I have rethought that.  I have seen Dad drop scat a few yards from me to begin a confrontation.  Dumping, scraping, mock charges and barking do drive me off, particularly with the way he looks so much larger with his fur buffed out.  It isn’t simply that he can drop scat.  He can do so and back it up with all his power.  To mark while fleeing, and to mark the area they have the most interest in defending suggests to me:  “Abandon hope all ye who enter here”.

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.

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