“My friends and I were delighted to witness a lively urban coyote enjoying a morning romp with a tennis ball. We felt so fortunate to have the opportunity to observe a wild animal at play.”
20 Nov 2016 Leave a comment
This review of “Seasons” was originally published on SFForest.net. The movie encapsulates the history of our gorgeous planet — the history of it all, not just mankind. This is history as we should be looking at it and comprehending it. Habitat destruction is increasing at an alarmingly faster and faster pace. Habitat, habitat, habitat: it is the most important factor impacting wildlife, including urban coyotes. In San Francisco, forests and thickets are being removed in favor of native grasslands which, it turns out aren’t even native!
This movie, SEASONS, mesmerizes with the beauty and magic of its photography of the forests, forests which are few and far between these days. The story is told almost entirely visually — few words are needed. The movie begins as the Ice Age wanes and melts, creating lush, gorgeous and almost impenetrable forests — life wants to live — and these forests spread across the continents and so do the species which inhabit them.
To begin with these are secret places which humans inhabited only minimally — after all, there were few people in the world back then and forests were not so hospitable to people. So the forests were left to thrive — for eons. The movie both gives you a feel for the everyday life of the forest and its inhabitants — the many species that live there — at the same time zeroing-in on these species during both some of their more brutal life-changing transitions and during the softest transitions such as birth. In those few moments of change, the animals become “who”s instead of “it”s — individuals on their journeys through their lives in the forests which covered the world.
The movie takes us through a number of seasons. Nothing really changes at first except the seasons themselves. The movie opens onto a white blanket of snow and buffalo coping with incredible cold — each of them in the herd is hunkered down in the snow so as not to expend energy — winter is brutally harsh. We then hear a screech owl as the thaw of winter takes place and hear the dripping of water — the melting snow. And the movie begins.
With springtime come babies, birds, bugs . . . too, like bears — and a shy human observer — that’s all the human activity there is to begin with. And we begin to see animals at telling moments in their fight for survival or for a place in their social hierarchies: horses fight viciously for dominance or mating rights — magpies watch knowingly.
Soon Fall comes with wind, more bugs and birds, geese migrate and then snow again. And again the snows melt into streams where we see beavers and pelicans. We see hogs and wolves. We see baby ducks jump (literally crash land from enormous heights — but they are light and it doesn’t hurt them) — this is the journey they must take. We see bears, one lying lazily in a tree watching a vicious fight between two other bears — they are amazingly ferocious. We see spiders weaving webs and then more wind and rain, drenching rain this time, and a rainbow.
Wolves are introduced: they howl and they hunt and they, too, as bears, moose and horses, have ferocious and life-altering dominance clashes: bears use arms to hit each other, horses use teeth to bite or hooves to kick, deer use antlers to whack each other, wolves use teeth. A snake slithers over low-lying branches and we find ourselves rooting for the little mouse to escape. Flying squirrels are gorgeous — all the animals are gorgeous. Then we see baby wolves escape into their den from a bobcat — how brilliant it is that Mama wolf chose such a tiny entrance to keep such predators away. And throughout it all, green, green leaves which always hide the animals somewhat. The leaves soon turn to oranges and browns and fall off as the seasons progress.
A strutting deer is taken by a bobcat behind a snowbank, so we don’t actually see it, but we know what happens. A young wolf is viciously driven out of his pack and has to make it on his own. He accepts his fate — this is HIS journey. And again, we glimpse a single human passing through. Nothing has really changed year after year — only the seasons.
But slowly, instead of the wild hogs, we see pigs and goats and castles. There is a hunt and an arrow is used. Humans are taking over with their roads and harnessing animals to make life better for themselves. In the meantime, there are fewer and fewer places for animals to take refuge. Trees are felled — we are told it takes 3,000 trees to build one ship in Her Majesty’s navy. Animals begin taking refuge in the mountains. There are now more open fields, so there are more butterflies. There is another hunt by humans who have “advanced”: they use horses and 20 hounds to pursue one deer. The forests have been cut specifically to allow this kind of hunt: it was a microcosm of what we were doing to the entire world: the world would be for us and us alone.
Then machines and horses and war, factories spewing out filthy smoke and the spraying of poisons such as DDT to control our environment. Cities now pop up where forests used to be. The movie proposes that a new alliance is possible — that now we must work to preserve what is left — that it is possible but we must do so now. There still are some forests full of beauty and magic: the movie depicts them in all their gorgeous glory. It’s time to wake up to what human presence is doing and arrest our taking over it all before it is all gone.
Experience the beauty of the natural world with SEASONS, a documentary from the team behind WINGED MIGRATION: http://bit.ly/SeasonsFilm.
14 Nov 2016 6 Comments
Coyotes ignore most dogs passing through their territories if the passing-through is done calmly, without getting too close to the coyote, and without paying the coyotes any heed. I spoke about “motion-reactivity” in my last posting. In this posting I’d like to address a dog’s zeroing-in on a coyote — making the coyote “an object of interest”.
A coyote may respond to this by assuming that, “If I’m an object of interest to you, that spells possible danger to me — a threat”. The perceived threat is particularly true in coyotes’ regular-use areas. In the wild it would occur if the onlooker were “after” the coyote in some way, either a predator or a competitor for the resources in the area. “I therefore need to keep an eye on you, and maybe let you know that I won’t allow you to carry through.” So the dog now becomes an object of interest for the coyote. The coyote may just watch, or he/she may follow, or even try to message the dog to leave or stay away.
The best way to keep your dog from focusing intently on a coyote is to keep moving when a coyote is out there, be it nearby or far away. Moving AWAY from the coyote communicates to the coyote that you are not interested in the coyote. Most of the time the coyote will reflect back this lack of interest.
A prototypical example occurred today with a dog named Lily. Lily usually ignores coyotes and actually runs towards her owner whenever she senses or sees one. Owner and dog then leave the area together. But today, something about two coyotes caught Lily’s interest. She stood there, mesmerized by them, and they, in-turn, looked back at her. I think the owner was oblivious to the situation at first — this is why it’s important to always be aware of your dog when out. I probably should have interfered, but the distance was great, and the coyotes were below a bluff, which added another layer of separation.
Lily’s interest was intense. She stared and watched them for several minutes, and began flinching in anticipation of something exciting. Her owner then noticed her and felt this would lead to no good. Dog and owner left, with Lily leashed at first, but then unleashed and lagging some distance behind.
As they distanced themselves, with Lily lingering behind, both coyotes — when there are two, they often act as a team — headed in Lily’s direction, excited and at a fast clip — they now were on a mission. I yelled out for the owner to call his dog which he did. Seeing that the dog and owner were together and both moving away, the approaching coyotes stopped.
But it did not stop there — coyote activity never stops where you think it might. They had sensed that they had become objects of interest and now they needed to do something to keep it from going further. One coyote watched to make sure the duo left. The other now sniffed, peed, and kicked-up-dirt where Lily had stopped on her exit path at the edge of their field — a sign of their displeasure. Then they hurried over to the bluff where she had watched them intently for so long. There they again sniffed the area thoroughly. They were trying to find out as much as possible about Lily through any scents she might have left. They did this for some time, covering every inch of the area.
I don’t know what they found out — maybe they were trying to find out Lily’s dominance status or whether she was a male or female — but they left their own scents there — as messages. When they were done they headed back into their field again.
Both dogs and coyotes remember these interactions. The dog may now start looking for coyotes every time she comes to that park — I’ve seen this new sense of purpose occur in many dogs once they become aware of coyotes. But also the coyotes may keep a lookout for this dog, or others, who show such a keen interest in them: an interest, from their point of view, that could only lead to no good in their eyes.
My advice to dog-owners is that, when you see a coyote, leash and continue on and away from the coyote, showing as little interest in the coyote as possible. Please read the How to Handle a Coyote Encounter: A Primer.
08 Nov 2016 Leave a comment
Motion reactivity is a big factor influencing coyote behavior. If you have a dog, you need to know about it.
Motion reactivity is a reaction to excessive or fast motion. Coyotes are programmed to react to this kind of stimulus. It’s because of this that we tell folks not to run from a coyote. When a coyote sees something running, say a running rabbit, it is immediately put on alert and pumped with adrenalin in preparation for pursuit. It is a hunting and a defensive instinct.
If your dog is actively chasing a ball, actively chasing or wrestling with another dog, or fighting with another dog, these involve fast and hyper motions. A coyote’s attention is immediately attracted to the activity. They stop what they are doing and are drawn to it.
Today, we saw a classic example of this motion reactivity. A dog walker, who knew a coyote was nearby, allowed her dog to walk off-leash in the area. The dog’s attention was caught by a juvenile Red-Tail Hawk who had slammed into the grasses to grab a rodent and then hovered close to the ground for a few seconds. None of us noticed how quickly the dog ran off, excited, enthusiastic and full of unleashed energy, after the hawk.
The dog’s excited dash across the field — involving hyperactive movements and speed — immediately caught the coyote’s attention. The coyote had been foraging calmly in the grassy field several hundred yards away — not at all close to where the hawk activity had been. She had been ignoring the continual stream of dogs and walkers passing by for the previous couple of hours, looking up only now and then from her own activity — they all had passed through calmly and uneventfully.
But when the hyperactivity began, and the dog’s quick movements were in her direction and away from the owner, the coyote’s instincts kicked in, and she dashed like a bullet towards the dog. As a number of people yelled at the owner to get her dog, the owner scrambled to do so and was able to leash the dog. The coyote stopped about 75 feet away, deterred by the number of people — five of them — standing by the dog.
Chances are that the coyote and dog might never have made contact. But the coyote is territorial, which means she protects her hunting areas. Coyotes drive outsider, non-family coyotes out of their territories. Territories belong exclusively to the one coyote family which lives there and these territories are not shared with other coyotes. The coyote’s motivation in charging at the dog would have been to drive the dog — an obvious hunting competitor judging by its pursuit of the hawk — out.
The coyote was deterred from advancing further by people. If people hadn’t been there, and if the owner had been alone with her dog, the owner’s option would have been to leash her dog and WALK AWAY immediately, thereby showing the coyote that the coyote nor the territory were “objects of interest”. This is accomplished by walking away and increasing the distance between dog and coyote. Increased distance is your friend.
The event was very interesting for everyone present, but it could easily have ended with a nip to the dog’s haunches, and been a more frightening experience for the owner. On the other hand, the incident could have been entirely prevented in the first place had the dog been leashed in an area where a coyote was known to be foraging.