Let’s Go a-Marking!

I watched a coyote pair as they made their “rounds” recently. The hour-long outing can best be characterized as: “Let’s go a-marking!”

Each coyote “outing” or “trekking expedition” has a different purpose, it seems. I’ve seen coyotes go hunting and go observing. This time, their purpose was definitely “let’s go a-marking.”

I came upon the pair early — curled up as little fur balls in an open field. They watched me but stayed where they were for about 5 minutes.

Then, one got up and trotted off. When he came to a rock, he climbed up to look back at the other coyote. She had not budged — maybe she wasn’t coming?  He continued down a trail. I noted where he went and returned to observe the female who had remained behind. She eventually got up and stretched — slowly and deliberately — and then disappeared down a ravine, where I could no longer see or follow her. She had not gone in the same direction that the first one went.

So I hurried along the trail taken by the first coyote, the male, and I caught up with him just as the female emerged from some bushes and  joined him. They came together in an area that was a congregating place for dogs. Both coyotes began meandering about, sniffing out the area and urinating/marking wherever they found  a smell, which was everywhere. Occasionally one would watch the other or they would look at each other: they were in sync about this purposeful “marking”.

When this job was completed, they looked at each other, reading each other’s cues, and then began trotting down a path away from the area. The coyotes had not gone far, when, over the crest of a hill, there appeared a runner with his small leashed dog. The coyotes quickly skedaddled off the path into hiding. The runner saw them and ignored them and continued his run. But the coyotes did not ignore him and his dog — they had been unexpectedly surprised by him. It seemed that now they wanted to be more careful, so they watched. They also, repeatedly, exchanged glances with each other — this is their way of communicating and gathering as much information about how the other was reacting to the situation. And then they moved to an even more hidden area behind bushes where they sat or lay down for a while. Not until ten minutes had elapsed did they slowly venture back to the dog area. The male coyote was bolder than the female about this. He went first, sniffed around and urinated some more, this time on a tennis ball. The female then descended from her hiding place and did the same.

Slowly the duo moved in a new direction, up a hill with no path. They kept looking at each other — they were constantly in tune to the subtle cues of danger or boldness from the other. Again, the male went first. The female followed, stopping for a sip of water on the way. While up on the hillside another walker with an unleashed dog began walking by. The owner saw the coyotes and leashed his dog immediately. The coyotes were far enough away so that they did not flee, but they stood very still and watched quietly until the dog and walker had moved on. They then continued their trek up the hill. One of them headed to a high rock for a sweeping look around. The female went to a much lower rock where she curled up comfortably to watch the activity below. There was almost no activity.

This inactivity didn’t last long because another unexpected runner, no dog this time, came around a bend close enough to make the coyotes bolt up and run off, out of view. The runner was pleased to have seen them — excited that she had seen two coyotes. When she was out of sight, both coyotes reappeared, began sniffing and urinating as before, and then continued their trek up the hill until a large group of dogs and walkers could be seen approaching in the distance. The female disappeared into the brush quickly, but the male went up to a little knoll and sat down to watch this group from the distance. While he was there, he became distracted by a flower and ate it, all the time watching the dogs with their walkers who were also very interested in the coyote: there was mutual curiosity and respect.

When the coast had been clear for a while, this coyote descended the hill, and that is when the female reappeared and again joined him. They both sniffed and marked a number of times in various places. Sometimes the female would mark, and the male would immediately smell and mark the same spot right after her.

They continued their descent, stopping to view a few dog walkers in the far distance, and stopping to sniff and mark on their way. They ended their outing by heading into a thicket. I knew I would not see them any more that day.

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