The Dilemma of Denning, by Walkaboutlou

Hi Janet. 

The continued scouting of the 2 mom pack carries on and is really amazing.

So the situation was Chica Alpha Mom, and Janet the Yearling Daughter (possible) denned together to combine 11 pup litter. The Alpha male is Slim Jim, old but more than capable. Yearling male, Big Brother, rounds out adult pack. 

Mom and Daughter early in denning were fed regularly by the males. Deer scavenging, and Bison afterbirth proved to be fortuitous finds for males. About 3 weeks into denning, both females suddenly went back to foraging and hunting. Big Brother was relegated to #1 pup sitter which he seems made for. He alternatly is playful, guardian, and cleans pups for hours. At night he is relieved, it seems, to forage and water for himself.  

Last year the pack denned in hilly country, surrounded by thousands of field rodents, etc. This year, they moved their early dens to a rocky series of cliffs-like terrain miles from the hills. This is very likely the regular passing area of foraging wolves. Also…this year is far drier. There are less rodents.

The cliffs are perfect for tiny pups to start. But they aren’t ideal to raise a older litter. We suspect the calorie and water needs for large litter, will mean a move soon to a late spring/summer rendezvous area. It also will mean pups can start foraging for rodents and grasshoppers themselves. This is pivotal. I think especially of Slim Jim and Chica weighing denning safety vs feeding family. Its really a process. The cliffs mean some safety. The hills mean pup development and food. And the hills hold danger in every way. 

It has been a great start for the den but not perfect. The pups went from 11 to 9. A golden eagle who regularly soars over is suspected. For 2 days the pups seemed to stay in den. And Big Brother snarled up into the passing sky silhouette. We dont think this a coincidence. 

Also, Old Slim Jim showed us how seriously he takes denning. Coyotes are vocal. Notoriously vocal. Big Brother was yipping and howling and was even joined by several pups. It seemed he was literally leading a puppy chorus when Slim Jim came racing up to the den and literally slammed Big Brother down and gave him a very big round of discipline. Big Brother slunk to a nearby rock, chastised and mournful.

The watcher (the family members are taking turns in observations) was pretty stunned at Slim Jims ferocity. He is actually a very laid back guy (and really tired and slow) But then we discussed-how many times have they vocalized at this den? Well…until that incident, no one has heard vocalizations. It would appear, Slim Jim, Chica, and Janet have been mute here for some weeks.

We think we know why. Trail cams reveal passing wolves just miles away every few evenings. As they trot through, they no doubt are hard at work raising their litters too. But wolves are very hard on coyote dens. They will not hesitate to raid and dig out denned pups. We believe Slim Jim knows too well, the risks of denning with wolves about. And he has perfected ghost like habits this year. Big Brother learned a big lesson.

So…Slim Jim, Chica, Janet and Big Brother all are working hard and 9 of 11 pups still thrive. They likely are on the cusp of moving their litters to the hills and spring/summer areas. BTW-every night Chica and Janet clean the pups and attend them. Big Brother leaves. And when pups go down, Slim Jim hops a tall rock to do the night’s sleep sentinel post. Chica often approaches him. She grooms and nibbles his face and sparse coat. He seems to greatly relish this short time. His old tired white face relaxed and strong. 

I am very moved at this pack. And old Slim Jim’s efforts to raise his latest family. 

1) rocky cliffs; 2) This area of vast foothill ranges will be likely where this year’s pups will be taken for summer rendezvous. It is much more dangerous but this is where the pups will need to be. It’s here they will learn to be Coyote survivalist. 

He’s An Old Man

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I got to the park and noticed one of my coyotes in the distance walking behind some bushes. So I rushed down the hill so as to be able to “capture” which coyote, WHO, it was. Two men saw me and said, “one is over there”. I asked, do you know who, which one? No, of course they didn’t. I put up my camera, took a couple of shots and examined the image. It was Silver. They said he looked so calm over there; that he got up slowly and was now stretching he was so relaxed. And, “do coyotes always walk like that?” I knew what they were talking about — there was stiffness in this fella’s pace. I answered, “he’s an old man, and I’ve got to run catch it — I don’t want to miss it.”

“I don’t want to miss it” is my usual approach to coyote viewing, and in this case, this “old man” would be slipping away at some point and every moment I had with him was valuable to me. I followed. I knew his path. Several other people stopped to watch, but I asked if they could move out of his path — the path I knew he would take — and they complied. He kept moving, traveling for about 1/4th of a mile through the park and then stopped in an overgrown spot for several minutes where he listened and sniffed with his head down and finally dove in. He came up with a tiny garter snake.

Usually coyotes “toy” with garter snakes and leave them, as far as I have seen, but this time the snake was carried off. Maybe it would be a toy for his litter born that year, or maybe it would be food for them. He disappeared into a thicket and I didn’t want him to feel followed, so I turned the other way. On the way back I crossed paths with one of the people who had stepped aside for him only a few minutes earlier. We talked about “the old man”. I mused at what he might be like in a year. “A year?” was the response I got. “This guy isn’t going to last a year”, was the answer I got. I could feel my eyes fill up with water. He was eleven-and-a-half years old at that point — I’ve known him all his life. The coyote had walked very slowly. He sometimes looked like a pile of rags. My friend suggested that he was probably going blind. I hope you can understand the urgency of not wanting to miss it.