I Saw Me A Coyote This Morning, by Charles Wood

Charles was a frequent contributor to this blog until his coyote family fell apart, his dogs passed away, and he moved to New Mexico. Use the search box to find postings of his observations along with supporting photos.

I live now in Grant County New Mexico and have lived here about two years. Coyotes adapted to the Southwest long before humans existed even as a gleam in some future primate’s eye. Coyotes lived here for an incomprehensible duration of time. Human occupation of the Southwest is insignificant by comparison. To coyotes, we are the newcomers, are an upstart oddity good for nothing important. We are a nuisance neighbor at best, that even though, as a coyote may see it, we humans are possessed of a mind.

I live on the edge of Silver City proper, known for the Empire Zinc strike documented in the film Salt of the Earth. Goyahkla (Geronimo) was born not far from here, a medicine man turned warrior who was not permitted to die near the Gila. If one is inclined toward flights of imagination, then that he is still here in spirit would seem just a fact. By imagination somehow I try to get a reading upon why things here are different. At times we see a pronghorn or two grazing among the cattle on ranch land that just seems to go on for hours when we drive to El Paso. Mannie, the man who built my residence’s fence, said last week that he modified a fence for a neighbor a bit down the road. The javelina somehow regularly penetrated that neighbor’s fencing, that fencing not able to protect an inner sanctum of fruit trees from their plunder. Mannie field-engineered a solution and was pretty satisfied when telling of it. I wouldn’t have thought there were black bears here. But there are as this story shows. http://www.scdailypress.com/site/2018/11/30/bear-spotted-in-downtown/ A year or so ago it didn’t surprise me to hear that a mountain lion was shot when it came too close to a local elementary school. It did surprise me to learn that said school was not at all far from my new house. On the day I first drove up from Lordsburg off the I-10, coming upon Silver City I saw an elk munching off to the side of the road. It’s common to see mule deer, but you can live here a long time before happening upon an elk.

But coyotes? They are here and they have gobs of undeveloped land. When I first arrived, I may have seen one near my home while taking a walk. But it was gone so fast I couldn’t be sure it wasn’t a local dog. My neighbor a few doors down has two lab mixes. As I walk by them with my dog they fight over who gets to rail at us from behind their four-foot chain link fence. A couple times, coming back from a walk, I saw them coming off the hills and heading for their yard. They get out. It isn’t hard. That neighbor said that once they retrieved them from the pound after being out all night. Mostly they guard their yard with its toddler, not a stretch for wolfish traditions. Those dogs can leave their yard anytime they want, but usually they don’t. Sure there are roads and traffic, but there are deer. People drive according to the posted limits and watch for dogs and deer.

But coyotes? Not much of interest for them in a human settlement, they having plenty of range to themselves. Still, I assume they are out there. When I walk in the hills near my home, I keep my dog leashed, a two-ish red heeler, an Australian cattle dog mix. That breed has some dingo in it, and to me, it shows. Skittish, food is his mantra, but he doesn’t recognize food on the hoof. A rabbit is a curiosity and it doesn’t occur to Hunter to chase it. He’s on his leash any-hoo. He isn’t going to get to chase anything. But scent? Lord. Anything who brushed a particular branch of a shrub, Hunter sniffs it with focused precision. A deer who scratched herself on a sapling, that he studies. Last night, we went out front to the abutting hillside so that he could do his duty. His nose wouldn’t let him bother with such, he was alert and ready to chase down the hill into the darkness. I wouldn’t go. We turned and went to the civilized side of my street, and went inside. I’ve learned to notice things. I try to pay attention.

For instance. One midnight I took him out front and, as I approached my front yard gate, a ferret type creature went from shrub to tree in an instant. Then I heard some awful hollering as two excited raccoons quickly came across the street from the hill. They continued down the dirt street which separates my house from my neighbor’s. I was still inside my front yard’s fence. Then a crow flew over low and slow and let out a low throaty burst. I thought “Something isn’t right here” as I impatiently opened my front gate. A cat then ran from under my car parked beside my fence. Then a lone deer fled from its station down the dirt street a little. I turned around, shut the gate behind me and went back inside. Nobody out there was settled and I took the hint. I didn’t need to know what was out there, none of my business.

So last night when Hunter wanted to rock and roll down that uncivilized incline, I turned around and went back inside. If I don’t see why he alerts, he doesn’t get to go and depending, I go somewhere else. We’re learning caution. I don’t know if a coyote recently rubbed against one of Hunter’s shrubs or not. None of my business and none of his business and that’s that.

But this morning. Down the incline and onto our dirt path, I saw the coyote on a path perpendicular to our line of travel. It was holding still, had seen us first from perhaps 70 yards away. The morning sun blazed it’s straw-brown colors in brilliance. It was a healthy coyote in the prime of life. I stopped immediately and bent toward it with my head protruding out. It saw that and in reply trotted forward about three or four steps. It stopped and watched, waiting for our next move. I looked again and we made eye contact. I turned around. I straightened up. Hunter didn’t see it at all. There are several paths through the low grass, shrubs, juniper saplings, and weeds. I certainly wasn’t going to walk parallel with the coyote, such a move would be aggressive. I turned around and went in the direction from which I came. The coyote knew l was giving it room enough to go anywhere except to follow. It didn’t. I checked. Why would it follow a nuisance newcomer species with a four-legged runner companion trampling around in the weeds? Such a sight is discordant. It was a coyote in its prime and therefore wasn’t about wasting its own time. Hold still, trot thrice when spotted, and look for the nuisance’s next move. It’s a dance well-choreographed by time immemorial. Only the young don’t know the steps.

I could let my dog off leash here. There’s plenty of spaces without people and dogs. A few years ago, living in Long Beach, where with Janet’s help I learned to better understand coyotes, I learned that having a dog off-leash feeds a fantasy of a kind of freedom that doesn’t exist in nature. We are the species that seems not to obey time honored rules. By their minded motions, those other creatures seem to have a good understanding of all that much our modern mind has lost. We can re-learn, we can be rehabilitated.

We must learn. There’s a long-passed medicine man out there in the hills, and there within all life, life-the-minded-ones, her spirit is on the wind, and right beside us too. Nature is a hard comfort made possible only by a love that despite everything binds all ones to another. We collectively need now more than ever to listen and follow such examples. For where there is love, there can exist no anger. Somewhere of Arizona I heard it said that wild donkeys at dawn file into a small town. Each wild donkey takes a corner as its own. Each gets petted and fed carrots and apples during the day, ever happy to greet a stranger and receive a blessing for giving one. And as dusk comes, they all leave their corners to file out of town and traipse back into their hills. Those hills are inside us and speak to us in the dreams we have at night, and speak to us in the silence we often fill with all our parroted and ineffectual chatter. I may make it to that town, and if I do, I hope I remember to not speak one word, to instead let it build inside me until that spirit is palpable, for in that substantiality of spirit, healing is found, a memory of what I was before time began, and what I shall be in eternity.

A Territorial Changeover

Although I know territories which have been in the same coyote families for over 12 years, I also know territories with coyote ownership turnover. One dynasty ends, usually because the tenants can no longer defend their turf in the face of aggressive or continued intruders, be it due to old age, death of a mate, or even dispersal of youngsters who might have helped defend the area: youngsters can be forced out by parents who want room for their next litters, or they move on due to their own inner drives. Or maybe the territory just no longer has the resources necessary to support a coyote family.

Although I’ve seen coyotes move on to greener pastures and thrive after leaving a long-term territorial occupation, here is a case where the move did not bode well for the coyotes who left: within two months, we saw the departed pair wandering around the fringes of a shopping center, looking ragged, thin, angry and snarly. Their health had plummeted and and we feared their lives were coming to an abrupt end. We haven’t seen them again.

What happened to the territory of this departed pair? In this case, a female daughter and her younger brother were left behind — I’ve written about them before. After several months of seeing no one else there, two new males arrived and befriended the almost-3 year old female. It appeared that the female and stronger male might be bonding: both went off together for several months and we thought their life-long partnership was sealed. We saw younger brother a few times while she was gone but then he, too, left.

Female daughter before heading off with her beau

But then the female daughter returned, looking anxious and desperate, with constant darting glances of fear — her behavior was very different from what it had been previously. The two new male coyotes were with her, but it certainly didn’t look anymore like she was part of a “pair”. And then one day after a number of weeks, this female appeared no more.

The two males remain here and so, now, does their shy sister. These three are related — either two younger and one older sibling, or even a father and his two offspring: the two younger ones always move out of the way for the older one who seems to be a bit of a tyrant — from a territory only about half a mile away. I had been struck by the strong family resemblance between them and coyotes I had seen on the next territory over. Yes, family resemblances are amazing in some coyote families and have been the first “link” in leading me to further identify where certain coyotes came from and family connections! Reviewing my photos from that territory, I found these coyotes to be one and the same as those. I haven’t been back to their old territory to find out what’s going on there. These three would have abandoned their territory for the same reasons I listed above.

That they all came over together from one place is interesting. So they are still all “family” members, it’s just that there is no mated pair among them. Let’s see how their story develops over time!

 

Inbreeding: An Example in San Francisco

I’ve been documenting this family, on the same territory, for over eleven years now.

When this fella turned four, he and his mother (her first mate having been killed by rat poison several years before) produced four pups, three of whom survived to adulthood. By fall of that year, his mother-turned-mate disappeared, possibly killed by a car. So their one daughter then became the fella’s mate the following year: i.e., this mated pair are 1/2 siblings sharing the same mother, and he is her father. Yikes! Of the four litters they have produced over the last four years, only one female has survived to full adulthood. You might want to read about inbreeding depression. The consequences of inbreeding include lower fertility, higher infant mortality, higher susceptibility to diseases and parasites, and generally weakened systems.

Coyotes returned to San Francisco in 2002. There were only a handful of coyotes early on. It is very likely there may have been inbreeding in the population here prior to the time I began documenting this family.


Photos of the evolving inbred family

In 2008 the territorial family consisted of Mom, Dad, and one pup who I simply called “Yearling”. This was the first family unit I ever documented. A year later, this same mated pair had a second litter.


Mom and Dad’s second litter consisted of two males. Within weeks of their birth, Dad was killed by rat poison, leaving Mom single. She and her two male pups, Bruno and Silver, formed a tight-knit family which always did things together, but the male siblings who began as best friends eventually turned into arch-enemies, with the stronger-willed Silver driving his brother out: it appeared they were rivals and jealous for their mother’s attention and affection. If their father had been around, both males would have been driven out, preventing what then happened.

Mom


When Silver turned four years of age in 2013, he and Mom produced four offspring: mother and son had become a mated pair. This was the first inbred litter I documented.

One of their pups died as an infant leaving three. Then one male, Acorn was harshly dispersed at 9 months of age. That left two offspring, Chert [female] and Gumnut [male] who remained with their parents until one day in early November in the year of their birth, Mom suddenly vanished, possibly hit by a car. So now these two youngsters, Chert and Gumnut, began living with only their father Silver, (who was also their 1/2 brother), on the territory.

Siblings Chert and Gumnut became BFF — extreme buddies who played together and groomed each other constantly — from all appearances, they were destined to become a pair.

But Chert was the only female around and her father decided she would be his next mate. For months he tried driving off Gumnut who wouldn’t leave. And Chert was definitely bonded to Gumnut, making Silver’s task extremely difficult.


Silver (right) is Chert’s 1/2 brother and her father. Their reproductive success has been very low.

Silver and Chert (who is Silver’s daughter and 1/2 sister) become a pair. When Chert is two years old, she produces a litter: now the close inbreeding has been doubled. There is only one pup, Scout.

In the summer after Scout was born, Silver finally forces Gumnut (his son and 1/2 brother) to leave. [There actually is a chance that Gumnut could have fathered Scout. Scout adored Gumnut and vice-versa, but Silver’s domination and put downs would have been hard to get around — Silver perpetually physically placed himself between Scout and Gumnut to keep them apart. Scat DNA, which is all we have, is only able to identify the maternal lines.]

Litters have been born every year for four years to Silver and Chert, but no pups ever survived except Scout from their first litter. Scout is the only one.


I hope the genealogy is clear here. If you have questions, please send them in a comment (can be kept private). For a couple of short easy-to-read articles about inbreeding see these two articles: https://evolution.berkeley.edu/evolibrary/news/101201_panthers and https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4231599/

Magic Experience With A Coyote Pup, by James Romano

Good morning!

I have to relate an experience I had with a coyote pup that was apparently separated from his family.

I am a tanker (fire bomber) pilot. I am currently based in Lancaster, CA on Tanker 107. On Tuesday morning, I was walking across the ramp from my aircraft to the crew shack and I saw a very young coyote pup sitting on the taxiway between me and the shack. I am guessing he was about 4 weeks old, +/-. He was all alone. I walked around him and sat down on the ground about 10 feet away from him. He was very calm, but was looking around – I assumed for his family. He was very weak on his feet, but otherwise looked healthy. He was absolutely adorable – cute and sweet as can be.

I am not a fan of making contact with wild animals because I believe it ultimately leads to their destruction at the hands of humans down the road, but this guy needed help. As I sat there, I invited him to come to me. After a short time, he did just that. He was only mildly cautious as he approached, continuing to stop and look around. I felt he knew he needed help, and seemed to be comfortable with my energy. He would start briefly as I moved my hand slowly, but immediately relaxed as he continued his movement closer to me while looking around.

Finally, he came to me and leaned against my right thigh. He allowed me to pet him immediately, and was calm and gentle as can be. He never opened his mouth or let out a sound. I gently pet him as I removed the fox tails from his coat. It was cold and windy that day, and I think he appreciated the warmth of my body and the protection from the wind. After a short time, I picked him up and placed him in my lap where I continued to caress and groom him. His coat looked good, but he was very thin. Pretty unstable on his feet.

After a time, a woman from the fire station came out to see why I had been sitting in the dirt for the last 20 or so minutes. When I showed her the coyote, she told me there was a vet tech inside that works on the base part time. I handed the pup over to her. He was very content to go with her.

The short story is the tech took him to Fish and Game. The plan is to get him healthy again and then release him in the same area. I am happy he gets another chance. I just hope my experience with him and his experience with the Fish and Game people do not lead him to be less cautious of humans.

It was a blessing to me to have this experience with this beautiful creature. It was a very spiritual moment, for which I am very grateful. The little soul had messages for me, which I believe I received. My hope is that he does not suffer in the future for delivering them.

I have some videos I took on my phone. If you are interested in seeing them, I will forward them.

Blessings,

James

Recovery and A Transformed Life

I no longer see our banished coyote in her old territory, but I have been seeing her, if only infrequently, not terribly far away. It’s of course great to see that she’s still alive: she’s a survivor. Her situation a month after receiving her wounds can be seen in the video below: she endured an infection in the torn up part of her neck which then began to drain — the video below depicts this. Today, two months after this video was captured, she is fully recovered from the infection.

Showing the draining infection from a territorial fight as it appeared about a month after the wounds were sustained. She has recovered. (Trap camera in friend’s backyard).

But her life has changed drastically from what it had been before the intruder drove her out from what had been her paradisal three-year home — she has had to change gears. She is now an outsider, a sort of outcast. She has become an interloper without a territory and belongs nowhere, except out of the path of other coyotes. She’s living on the edges and in-between other coyotes’ territories.  This changed situation must be hard enough on her, after having been queen of her very own territory previously. But having no territory is just part of her new hardship.

A field camera has caught the entire situation. I seldom use these cameras because they are intrusive to the animal to the point of changing their behaviors and startling them. More on that in a future posting. It is in the vicinity of a friend’s home that I began regularly spotting the banished and recuperating coyote. Then, the week before last, the radio-collared coyote suddenly appeared on the screen of an automatic camera on my friend’s property. Yikes! That radio-collared coyote appears to be pursuing the banished coyote beyond the territory she fought for and won to drive her even further away. The banished gal has strong ties to her old home, having lived there for so long. She keeps her distance from there, but not a great distance.

As my friend Lou stated in a previous post, canids and canines “can literally be everywhere by scent, sound and sight.” It’s how the radio-collared coyote found the banished coyote’s new retreat, and how the banished coyote became aware of the radio-collared gal’s appearance at that place — though they probably have not actually “seen” each other. This has caused our pursued coyote to pretty much leave that retreat, returning only a couple of times during midday hours over the following two weeks, while the more stealthy radio-collared coyote has been passing through fairly regularly at midnight.

Taken to the streets: I found the banished one trekking across town before dawn this morning, right in the middle of the street. She stood right in front of the car with headlights shining brightly on her. I jumped out of the car and took this photo.

And there’s even another level to the story. The area these two female coyotes have been passing through appears to “belong” to a mated pair of coyotes who I’ve known many years. I didn’t know this until they began appearing sporadically in the trap camera. I apparently have placed the camera in a perfect cross-roads spot — it’s Central Station there! The camera has been catching the pair together, or more recently the male alone, coming by, if infrequently, and sniffing for the last several weeks, as seen in the third section of the video below: I’m sure these territorial owners know exactly what is going on through their noses and what Lou said above: they are very aware of the two coyotes, and may even be aware that one is pursuing the other. . . . in THEIR territory. Hmmm. What’s going to happen? As you can see in the video, the male marks the area as he passes through.

Three different unrelated coyotes at separate times passing through the same location. 

Meanwhile, back at the Okay Corral (disputed homestead), I’ve seen the new radio-collared coyote regularly — her instincts are intact and she tries to keep out of view — in diametrical contrast to the first coyote. And she makes forays into what was our coyote’s new retreat. The displaced coyote is no longer seen in her old territory, and, it appears, she’s being forced away from her new retreat.

The radio-collared coyote keeping a low profile at her won territory.

As I’ve said before, there’s lots going on in the coyote world which is below our radar: this is what coyote lives are like; these are things they have to contend with.