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.

“I See You Caught Something”

“I see you caught something.” “Yes, but you can’t have any of it.” “I know, I was just looking.”

Several times now I’ve seen a coyote approach another who has caught something, and stare at the food, as though requesting to share it. I wonder how often, if ever, smaller morsels of food are shared?  If that coyote is eating a larger prey, he will leave the second pickings for the next fellow, but not until he has had his fill. I’ve noticed that after the initial gaze — which may or may not involve a request for some of the spoils — the approaching coyote will look in the opposite direction, or move off a substantial distance, where he makes himself look disinterested by looking in the opposite direction. He will sit there and wait patiently.  When the dining coyote makes it clear that he his finished by walking off, the “disinterested” coyote hurries over to eat his fill.

Notice that even though the prey was a substantial size here — it is a gopher — it was swallowed whole. The bones are crunched down — you can actually hear this — and the food slowly becomes compacted enough to be swallowed in a gulp, or in several gulps.  This is not the only way of getting small prey down, because I have also seen gophers torn apart before being eaten. So ultimately, which procedure the coyote follows may depend on the size of the critter caught.

Preening & Cleaning & Rolling & Slithering

The grooming began with the paws which received a slow and careful licking, and moved on to the back which received an equal slow and careful licking. Then the belly area was dealt with, and after that the head was thoroughly and firmly shaken back and forth, as though something were in an ear that needed to be dislodged.

Soon the intensity of the grooming increased into what might be called a “scratch-bath”. It seems that the right itchy spot on the back could not be reached. When the initial back-scratching with a hind leg — doggie fashion — failed, the coyote got up and walked over to where the ground was rough with dried twigs poking up through the dried grasses.

Here the coyote lowered its head, poking it under and through a pile of dead grasses, then slowly slithered to the ground, like a snake — scooting itself over those rough twigs, propelling itself with its hind legs for several feet, allowing the forelegs to be dragged under its belly. The coyote then stood up and shook itself out, and went right back to slithering over the scratchy roughness below itself. At one point it stopped and rolled repeatedly  from side to side, feet swinging up in the air, relieving that hard to reach itch on it’s back. When all was well and done, the coyote moved to a comfortable spot and went to sleep!

This mundane exercise took a total of about ten minutes.  Lately I’ve watched squirrels, a raccoon and many birds preening and grooming themselves: cleaning fur or feathers and scratching themselves. None got into it as thoroughly as this coyote, nor did they seem to enjoy it as much.

Mister Tries, by Charles Wood

Mister Scrapes

My dog Holtz and I ran into Mister Wednesday while walking in my Los Angeles area coyotes’ field.  I was glad to see him ahead of us, he going down a path on which we were going up.

The photographs show that Mister looked, scraped, evaluated and fled.  In contrast, Dad’s scraping display signals that next he will approach.

It took me some time to notice body language in the photographs that Holtz probably instinctively knows how to interpret.  The photographs show that Mister’s feet are pointed away from us before, during and after the scraping display.  In comparison, Dad stands on a perpendicular to us when he scrapes.  Dad’s perpendicular stance doesn’t suggest fight or flight.  Mister’s angled away stance suggests flight.  I wonder if a perpendicular stance creates more stress in the observer for being ambiguously not fight, not flight.  In any case, the perpendicular stance Dad uses shows his full length and a better view of his raised hackles, an awesome side view of a coyote’s power.

Mister fled.  Holtz and I continued along out of the field and Mister was nowhere to be seen.  (Dad would have visibly followed Holtz and me).  Near the exit, on the other side of a chain link fence, Dad appeared and began scraping, positioned on the perpendicular.  Not needing to see more, we left and so did Dad.

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.

The Natural Progression of Life, by Charles Wood

Dad message

My dog Holtz and I are about the same physical age, his having caught up with me, both of us with some gray and stiffness.  Dad seems to have passed us both in four months.  I’m told that there may be an underlying physical condition for why of late he is showing prominent hip bones, a sparse coat, white fur and what resemble age spots, though he may have mange.  I’m told that without a physical exam, there is no way to tell what is going on with him.  Christine Barton of the Fund for Animals Wildlife Center continues:  “As long as he appears uninjured and able to move and function normally, there would be no reason to interfere with the natural progression of his life.”  He may look like a beat up old coyote, but he isn’t acting like one.

Dad following up

Sunday before sunset, in the nature preserve, Dad placed himself in front of me and did some scraping.  I took some pictures and Dad walked away from us.  I began to walk away from him, towards the exit.  Seeing me leave, Dad turned and trotted towards Holtz and me.  I lobbed a golf ball towards him and he cut into the brush.  At the exit he re-emerged at a trot, making sure we had got the message.  Seeing us so close to the exit, he trotted off into the woods and disappeared.  I would say that Dad continues to function normally.

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.

Asking For Help And Receiving Some

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 Slide show has 21 slides.

I was able to get these shots between wafts of fog that kept blowing in and leaving. What is going on here is that one coyote is bothered by something on her tail area. Whatever it was, she wanted it off — possibly it was causing discomfort — maybe it was a burr or something like that which was pinching or had become embedded in her skin.

What is of interest is that this coyote was able to communicate her need to the other, and the other tried his best to help. However, the problem was not solved by his attempts to help, as can be seen by the coyote with the problem trying again to remove the source of discomfort on her own in slide #9. It appears that she was unable to do this.

Slide #10 shows that she then continued soliciting his help: walking or rolling in front of him and thrusting that sore spot in front of him.  Maybe he knew his help would be futile, or maybe he got tired of helping, or maybe the message was not so clear this time, but his interest shifted to leading them both into the woods and out of my view. I’m hoping that maybe he helped her some more once they were under cover.

A Furious Fight

I heard from a neighbor that there was a terrible coyote fight last night at one of my coyote observation areas.  How did she know this, I asked?  The fight occurred right outside her fenced yard; the racket was tremendous. She said it sounded like a very fierce dog fight, only she knew it was coyotes — she hears them often and knows the sounds of coyotes very well, though she has never heard coyotes fight before.  Might the fight have something to do with a new female who we have seen recently who now might be claiming the territory that once belonged to others?  We speculated about this. She told me that female fights can be furious.

Coyotes avoid all fighting — actual engagement — if they can. Most of the time if there is a dispute between them, the dominant animal need only assume his/her threatening stance. The subordinate animal will accept the other’s supremacy by assuming a submissive posture and will avoid making eye contact with the dominant animal. Hierarchy disputes within packs don’t last very long. However, when two dominant alphas from two different packs have a dispute, a fight could very well erupt. The winner gets his/her way.

The fight occurred in the dark at 9:30 at night — nothing was seen, everything was heard. The witness told me that she yelled out for the coyotes to stop, and they did for just a moment, but then they proceeded with their battle. We’ll have to see how important this fight was for determining the status quo or changes regarding these coyotes. I am worried about what I might find out.

I’ve inserted a children’s poem which I’ve always loved. It came to mind after hearing about the furious fight. Though it is whimsical and light hearted as a child’s poem should be — it depicts the fury that I imagine might have been involved between the coyotes as described by the woman I spoke to.

[Post Script: I saw the resident coyotes a few days after this incident. They acted as normal as could be — as if nothing at all ferocious had ever taken place. Maybe they “won” what was a territorial battle? Or maybe a coyote’s status was redefined or reconfirmed? I can only speculate. And, I wonder how often such battles occur?]


Dad’s Health, by Charles Wood

April

Tuesday I found a spot in the nature preserve that seemed good.  I had a long view of a straight paved utility road and hoped to catch crossing it a very young coyote.  I got tired of waiting and walked slowly down the road.  A tree squirrel alerted a bit too far from me.  I stopped to listen for why.  Behind a tall wall of drying wild mustard I heard a quiet rustling coming knee high ever so slightly towards me through the brush.  I backed off immediately and retreated fifty feet.  Then a coyote pushed onto the road where I had been standing.  It was Dad.

August (a)

He stared, shook himself for his face being slightly wet and then trotted away from me on the road.  He cut into the brush on the side opposite from which he had come.  I continued leaving, knowing that Dad would re-emerge and that if I wasn’t quick enough, he would do so ahead of me.  We know each other’s tricks.  Tantalizingly, along the road on the side from which Dad had first appeared, more rustles came from the brush, although I couldn’t take time to investigate.  Dad appeared behind me as I arrived at the exit.

August (b)

Last April Dad looked fit.  Tuesday, allowing for this season’s sparser coat and for his head being a little wet, he nevertheless looked gaunt and his face looked whitened, like that of an old coyote.  I love that coyote and I couldn’t believe the change in him, felt wounded.  It is he, my having checked his markings down to his busted lower left canine tooth.  His eyes are the same, and before I checked that tooth I thought that if it isn’t Dad, then surely it’s his daddy.  Dad’s hips poke out, he seems to squint with his right eye, there is a dark patch on his left face and there are new dark eraser sized markings on his forehead and on the sides of his face.  He is looking like a beat up old coyote.  Yet even so, he’s still got game and I’m hoping he still has his health.

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.

Done For The Day, by Charles Wood

MomDad

Sunday at dusk Mom and Dad waited for other pack members to show up.  Earlier I had seen Dad coming out of the nature preserve south into the field.  Mom showed up a little later.  She sat quietly while Dad did fidgety pacing.  Then my homeless friend walked towards me, coming from within the field where he had eaten dinner.

He asked me if the coyotes still go into the field.  I pointed them out to him.  Then he volunteered that a month or so ago he saw two coyote puppies out with an adult in the place where Mom and Dad were sitting.  Saturday another river bank acquaintance said a few days earlier, at noon, he saw a coyote on the river bank.  He said it was a small coyote, to the north of us outside of the nature preserve.  With some prompting from me he did say it could have been two or three months old.

coyote expert

Sunday, as well as the last time I saw them, Mom and Dad didn’t have any of the new puppies with them.  Had any been there, they would have been harassing their parents for play, I reason.  I don’t know how often Mom and Dad allow their new puppies to be attended to by the yearlings.  It looks like they allow it regularly.  If true it surprises me, but should it?  My parents didn’t worry much when my teenage sister baby sat me.

For fun, I’ve included a photograph of a local coyote expert, one I see regularly who is constantly pregnant and who knows far more than I about my pack.

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.

Listening

I decided to listen as I walked along on a still and quiet morning with no people or pets in sight.  Yes, there were lots of birds singing and there were the usual traffic noises. But also, there were constant “scritch-scratching” sounds, and constant rustling sounds. I stopped and stood totally still to see if I could tell exactly where these sounds were coming from. Sure enough, when I slowed down, I could pinpoint where they were coming from with ease, and I could actually see little rodents at work within little  two-inch areas: digging, pulling foliage into their burrows, or running through the thick grass areas.

These small critters usually tunnel underground over vast areas and only come to the surface at their burrow openings — this is where I was hearing and seeing them. I can imagine how much easier it would be for a coyote, with his extra sensitive hearing, smelling and eyesight, to sense and then to catch what it needs to survive.

Here is an observation which I found amusing. I watched this coyote stop dead still on a path as it had been sauntering along. It was a hard path which had no vole or gopher holes on it. Yet the coyote with his keen hearing could hear the activity below the path. The coyote spent a full minute and a half locating precisely where the sound came from, and then — instinctively — did his “n-curved” dive, fortunately landing on his feet instead of his nose! He then pawed at the ground in a last attempt to reach his prey before moving on — he knew he was missing something which he could not get to.

The coyote HAD to dive because the situation called for it in a certain way — the same way my dog HAD to shake himself out when he saw the rain, even though my dog was standing inside looking out at the rain.

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