Twist a Rope of Sand, A Paradox, by Karen del Mara

          Sometimes, when you need something, it just falls into your lap. That happened while I was looking for images of coyotes recently. I am writing a story about three kids who visit Bandelier, New Mexico during the Depression and shortly before the Civilian Conservation Corps arrives to develop it into a national monument. The book will be a sequel to Vagabond Wind, the Adventures of Anya and Corax. In the new book, before the kids take center stage, I needed to call upon those mythic characters, Coyote and Raven, to help fill in the background story of Frijoles Canyon.

        By chance I tripped over a photo that perfectly illustrates the encounter of these two rivals. It led me to Coyoteyipps, Janet Kessler’s wonderful site. Janet has very kindly allowed me to use this amazing image in this, a sample from Twist a Rope of Sand, More Adventures of Anya and Corax. If you’d like to be occasionally updated about the progress of this book, you can e-mail me at kmdelmara dot com, or check www.kmdelmara dot com.

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TWIST A ROPE OF SAND
There has always been a Trickster.
Since the Time of Beginnings, the Old Ones knew him as
a symbol uniting opposites:
Transformer and Destroyer, Joker and Truth-Teller.
He is contradiction and paradox,
because everything in our world is balanced by its opposite.
We may complain that nothing ever changes,
but if that Trickster puts his nose over the doorsill
our life can turn in the space of one pawprint.
And herein lies a tale.

A PARADOX
Circa 1050 C.E.
Near Frijoles Canyon, New Mexico

          She rides the hot thermals with barely a flap of her wings. High she soars, impenetrably black against the sky.  That is how Raven is the first to see what is coming, one day while she circles lazily over the sweltering Parajito Plateau.

          Out there, far away across the mesa. Something unfamiliar.

          But this distraction is forgotten a moment later when she spies her enemy. Coyote! That enemy she so loves to hate. It’s that old trickster Coyote himself, creeping along the rim of the canyon, slinking among the boulders, probably stalking a marmot or a pica.

          Haha, Senor Coyote! No pica for you today, Raven croaks to herself.

          Coyote, glimpsing the shadow of Raven hovering above him, crouches low and prepares to lunge at her. With a scream, Raven dives and swoops past him, nearly clipping his ear and hoping to alert any prey to Coyote’s presence.  Coyote rears up, snapping his ferocious jaws but catching only the odor of Raven’s dirty feet. So intent on Coyote is she, that she nearly collides with a branch of a pinon tree.

          As so often happens for Coyote, though, the encounter works in his favor. Raven’s attack alerts him to another danger. Out there, what is that he sees? Anxiety sharpens his perception. Vague, indistinct forms, rippling in the shimmering heat of the plateau, the oddest band of creatures he has ever seen. He sits up and watches them, yipping small panicked cries, ears alert, nose scenting. What are those strange animals? There are many of them, definitely coming his way. Alarmed, Coyote turns, disappears over the rim of the canyon, and threads his way down the cliff.

          He and his extended family have made homes in this canyon for time out of mind. What would happen if those strange creatures discover this beautiful place? Would they want to stay? He fears that, in a blink of his yellow eyes, his life could be upended, his home dislocated, his children endangered, the prey he hunts no longer in their customary haunts. Everything would change.

          Ah, Senor Coyote, you are right to be afraid. Yes, even you, with your breed’s superior ability to adapt. Your old habits, old comforts may have to be left behind, and it may happen that you are allowed only a sliver of time in which to move on. Things can change just that quickly, and suddenly the dark angel of fear is standing at your shoulder.

          But you, Senor, you best of all, realize that you must release this dark angel, as you have needed to do, time and again. Because then and only then do the archangels enter; you discover what is waiting for you. And Time spins loose from the eddy that snagged it, and flows on to its secret destination.

          Meanwhile, …. [press here to read more]

Coyote Denning Behavior 101

The main point to understand about coyote denning behavior is that it is *protective territorial messaging behavior* and should not be equated with *unprovoked aggression*, which indeed is how it might look. Our Officials need to learn about these behaviors and help the public understand them: the outcome of not doing so, as seen here in San Francisco, has been the death of a coyote who was not *read* properly by authorities.

Coyotes have ONE precious thing they own: their pups.

Their whole social system and territoriality are geared for successful raising of their litters. There is just one family on any territory. They keep other coyotes out of their almost two square mile exclusive territory: this is what their territorial behavior is geared for. That territory provides the food they need to sustain themselves, and the area they need to raise their young safely. They are pretty successful at keeping other coyotes out, however wolves, mountain lions, and even dogs and their owners are constant problems for them. And it’s dog owners who often walk their dogs into coyote areas in the first place, knowingly or unknowingly. Please learn what to expect and what to do if you encounter a protective denning coyote.

Dens may be dug from scratch, or pre-existing burrows from other animals under tree trunks or rocks, and may even be found under our porches!

Dens and Den areas.

We have just about 20 coyote territories here in San Francisco, each with ONE alpha male/female pair of coyotes who may or may not have produced a litter of pups in any particular year. Please see the territorial map I researched and made to get a sense of these territories.

The actual den is used only temporarily for the pupping season. Then — just like bird nests or our own bassinets — these are soon outgrown and abandoned, to sleep out in the open, usually in hidden places.  Dens might consist of openings under trees or rocks (which could be expansions of pre-existing burrows of other animals), or they dig their own dens from scratch, or they’ve even denned under our porches

Coyote pairs usually dig several dens in their territories — not just one — which mostly may never be used. Pups may be moved between dens several times in the first few months of life, usually for safety reasons or possibly due to a flea infestation. I’ve seen pups rotated between dens at one month after birth, at 6 weeks and again at 3 months of age. One of the families I know gave birth within one of the water reservoirs, but within 6 weeks those pups were moved out of there. Why? Turns out the holes under the fence which they used for access were being closed-off/plugged-up by the Water Department and the parents must have feared eventual complete blockage of their escape routes. After about four months of age, coyotes seem to shuffle through wider and wider areas constantly, and of course, the pups are roaming and exploring more and more as time moves on. By four months of age I’ve spotted some as far away as a mile from their birthplaces.

It’s important to understand that coyote *den protecting behavior* extends FAR beyond the immediate den itself — the protected area is not just the immediate area around the den. It covers a large playing field within the territory where the pups will eventually be exploring and hunting — half a mile to a mile from an actual den is not an exaggeration.

WHO might the coyotes target with their protective den behavior?

ANY dog may become a target for being messaged, no matter what its size. These fellas are smart and self protective: I’ve seen them more frequently approach the more mellow dogs such as labradoodles, even without provocation, “just as a precaution”, whereas they might more often keep their distance from larger or more powerful dogs. Coyotes feel more comfortable approaching any being their size or smaller. Unfortunately, small children fall into this category — they also are seen by coyotes as smaller, unthreatening and mellow, and therefore they could be, and have been approached. Coyotes approach to message their warning to “get away” and “be aware of me”. Please supervise small children closely in coyote areas. Small children, of course, need to be protected constantly from many dangers including right in and around the home: from dogs, from traffic, from pools and even ponds which they could fall into, from cleaning poisons in the house, even from some foods which might be harmful to them: this is why they can’t be left alone and must be supervised constantly. And beware that very small pets — mostly cats — have been grabbed by coyotes. Coyote nutritional needs skyrocket during pupping season, so they may grab what opportunistically appears in their pathway: a coyote has no idea who is your pet and who isn’t.

A coyote may follow or try “escorting” your dog out and away from areas they want to protect.
Screaming his anger from a distance

What the behavior entails:

Below is a video of a mother coyote dealing with a dog who came into her immediate denning area. You’ll notice in the video that, not only is this mother jumping around angrily with hackles up and a snarly face, images of which you’ll see in the gallery above, but she is also screaming piercingly and angrily. The screaming doesn’t occur as often as the posturing behavior seen in the still images, but growling can occur, and ultimately, if the message is not heeded, short charges towards and a nip to the dog’s back legs or haunches may result, cattle-dog-fashion, to get the dog to leave. The behavior, of necessity, is intense, persistent and insistent because that is what gets a response — we humans are actually scared into action by this behavior, whereas we probably would not be to anything less. The behavior can occur at very close range to the dog, which of course intensifies the message and its scariness. Dogs tend not to take the message too seriously and usually go chasing after the coyote, often returning with a nip to their haunches. I want to emphasize that the intensity, persistence and insistence are SCARY to us humans. I’ve been watching this behavior in multiple den areas every single year for the last 14 years: it is absolutely normal denning behavior, even when it involves children, and has nothing to do with a particular coyote “having become aggressive due to feeding”. Coyotes don’t become aggressive when they are fed, they become mellow and docile — they lose their concern and wariness . . . until they are under pressure, such as during pupping season.

Along with this posturing seen in the video, beware that coyotes usually sneak up from behind (NextDoor posting) to deliver their scary message, often with short bursts of darting-in and retreating towards the pet they are worried about. However, if you turn and face them, they are bound to stop in their tracks — until you turn your back on them again. They do not want to risk injury to themselves, and so they avoid approaching the front of a dog — where the teeth are — and a human gaze.

Another important point to make is that you are not very likely to ever encounter this behavior — it’s simply not a constant occurrence, especially where there is good signage. But having said that, you really need to know about it just in case you do come across it: please educate yourself about it and be prepared.

What can you do?

Remember that the pupping season lasts a good part of the year: February through the Fall. First, know WHERE denning areas are and try to keep away from them. If you find yourself within a denning area, keep vigilant, especially if you have a child or dog with you. Be prepared for a coyote suddenly appearing and making a beeline towards your dog or child. The minute you see a coyote, please pick up a small child or small dog and walk away from it. Larger dogs or children should always be led away or be taught to walk away from the coyote and should keep going away from it, even if the coyote follows. Although coyotes may follow a dog out of simple curiosity at most times of the year, during pupping season, the following could be “escorting” behavior, i.e., making sure you leave the area. It’s easy to walk away, so just do it: most importantly, GET AWAY from the coyote. And please know it is protecting something it cherishes and considers very precious.

I’ve asked myself WHY it is that people, who KNOW of denning areas and of coyote behavior, persist in taking their pets through these areas.  I think the issue is that people don’t really want to change their habits, and I understand this. We’ve all worked out the easiest way of doing things for ourselves and we like sticking to our routines. The coyotes have thrown an extra step in our way and it’s simply inconvenient. I think you have to like the coyotes to willingly make changes, but, of course, many people do not.

What needs to be done by our city authorities?

It is really important for authorities to educate themselves and the public about what is going on and what to expect. The City of San Francisco recently killed a coyote for its very normal denning “messaging” behavior. If there had been better signage, if there had been flyers explaining what to expect, if there had been a docent on hand, it might have helped. The people who complained to me didn’t fault the coyote at all, they faulted the city for not getting out proper, useful and timely information. People need to know *what to expect*, *what to watch for*, and *what to do* during denning season. Plenty of good signage can go a long way in fulfilling these needs, and a handout would be awesome.

For the love of . . .

One of my sons told me that my message needed to be more directly to the point with as few words as possible. I think this will work now. Please don’t feed coyotes. Please spread the word.

Mom Brings in the Grub and Helps Eat It

Many species regurgitate food for their youngsters, including wolves, wild-dogs, gulls, bats and apes.

For coyotes, regurgitated food is a kind of pablum or baby food which is fed to them as the milk-weaning period ends at about 6 weeks of age. And regurgitated food usually ends as the parents begin bringing in more and more whole prey, and as the youngsters become proficient at hunting for themselves.

In this video, Mom rushes in to feed her brood and they know what’s coming: two of her three four-month-old pups dance with excitement around her, barely able to contain themselves, one emitting little vocalizations of anticipation. As the youngsters close-in excitedly towards Mom’s mouth, she has to weave herself through them to find space where she is able to regurgitate the large quantity of food which she has brought to them in her belly. Before it’s even all out, they dig in. . . . and she partakes in the banquet! Soon the third pup appears. There is sibling competitiveness, and in the end Mom begins to groom one of the pups.

It’s really cool that this occurred right in front of my field camera!

The “Abandoned” Family

Old alpha female guarding her pups from atop a knoll overlooking the area, and snoozing at the same time, always with one eye open!
Here she is barking at a dog lingering too close to her denning area.

What’s happening in the family Rookie abandoned, and why might he have left?

You’ll recall from my posting that Rookie was actually an unwelcome intruder to begin with within the family he joined and then left. He had moved in on that family which had lost its long-time alpha male to old age, and he moved in right during the short breeding period. The scent of hormones called and he filled that role. But I don’t think Rookie was ever totally accepted. I continued to see the original family grooming each other ever so affectionately — in Rookie’s presence — but he himself, Rookie, appeared to be groomed less often and more out of a sense of duty than anything else.

The remaining yearling male in that family, a two-year-old who might otherwise have been encouraged to disperse, was obviously being encouraged by his mom and remaining sibling to stick around — something I could see through the family’s greetings, grooming and interactions. Well, he’s still there, and with Rookie gone, he appears to be in the process of moving into that alpha male position if he hasn’t already done so.

I get the impression that both Rookie and his abandoned family are happier and better off with the change. Rookie has been warmly and openly accepted by his new mate in a new territory, whereas I don’t think he had ever been totally integrated into the family he left — he always remained “the outsider”. This may be the reason he left. From what I’ve seen in coyote families, interpersonal dynamics and feelings run very much parallel to our own, the big difference being that they seem to move on quickly with the challenges and changes that confront them: with an attitude of, “it is what it is”. And this “abandoned” family is doing just fine — even better — without him. Several generations before this, by the way, within this same family, the family existed and thrived without an alpha male — that male had been killed by rat poison. Over time, one of that alpha’s male offspring ended up moving into that alpha position. This family is quite an inbred one.

How has the abandoned family adjusted to Rookie’s departure? The old alpha female is now the sole overseer and guardian of the family — she had been very much under the thumb of her previous old mate — the one who died of old age — she was always “second” to him in command. But that has now changed. She can be seen guarding and messaging intrusive dogs. Her vigilance keeps her more out in the open, and takes her to knolls with vistas where she perches herself for snoozes, always with one eye open. And she is raising her pups born this year. She still keeps them well hidden, and disciplines them severely for breaking her rules. A couple of days ago I heard intense angry growling, and then the response: the high-pitched complaining yelps of a pup being disciplined. I tried recording it, but did not catch enough of it to post it.

I have not seen the alpha female’s two-year old daughter lately — this is a littermate of the remaining male yearling. Remember that she also and unusually, for being in the same territory, became a mother this year. The last time I saw her she had a horrible huge (6″x 12″) raw, red, inflamed wound on her side. I got the impression it was some kind of mite. I hope she’s healing and I hope she’s still around. I’ll keep my eyes open for her. [UPDATE: Good news! I saw the two-year-old daughter one day after I posted this writeup: she was hunting alone in a field and her hotspot seems to have resolved itself!]

Two-year-old male son of the alpha female is acting as the ipso facto alpha male now. He obviously feels very relaxed at the way things are now.
Alpha mom grooms her yearling male son, creating a tighter bond and promoting him as the territorial male.

And her son grooms her in return just as affectionately.

And off this pair goes, for their evening trek together, probably very happy that Rookie left.

© All information and photos in my postings come from my own original and first-hand documentation work which I am happy to share, with permission and with properly displayed credit: ©janetkessler/coyoteyipps.com.

Family Update, by Walkaboutlou

Hi Janet.

I hope all is well. We are enduring the heat and various smoke levels and life moves on. I wanted to update you on the coyote pack I’ve told you about. Short history: Chica was Top Female and Mom. Slim Jim her elderly Mate. Big Brother their Son. Daughter Janet who had left returned when her mate was killed. Chica and Janet denned together creating an 11 pup litter. It was a challenging denning season. An eagle likely got 2 pups. And later a wolf pack decimated the coyotes. Chica and 6 of the 9 pups were lost. Slim Jim badly injured. Janet, 3 pups, Big Brother all followed old Slim Jim to new part of area. And took refuge among Cottonwood stands and Bison herd. [See: Nature, by Walkaboutlou]

How are they now? Thriving actually.

It’s very easy to emotionally become involved and feel the happenings of “my” known coyotes. The rancher family that knows and follows the local coyote really know their lives. It’s hard to be open minded when a pack is decimated. But then you become amazed at the recovery too.

Slim Jim has healed very well despite the graphic injury to neck and back. We thought his old body would surely give out. He is bald on part of back. And has no fur over middle throat. But he has healed and is mobile. He does seem faded in some ways. But his advanced age, incredible exertions of season and his loss of mate and many pups all tell. Still..he is remarkable.

Mom Janet is Lean, and looking better, less ragged. She has weaned her pups and keeps more food for herself by the week. She also has picked up a “mate” it seems. She is seen regularly alone trotting with a young male in another area. He then heads off when her brother and Slim Jim show. Obviously…..they both seem to be developing some sort of friendship.

Big Brother is really a great help. He fed his father Slim Jim for weeks. And the pups as well. He is a hero to the 2 male pups.

The pups which were part of an 11 member litter are now 3 very distinct and VERY well fed and large pups. We wonder if the sheer number of 11 pups would have meant nutritional challenges. Whatever the case, these 3 are truly thriving.The male pups are called Batman and Robin. Always in a caper. And Robin the smaller pup is always in a pickle and looking for Bigger Batman to help him.

This image is not of Kinky Tail, but it’s the size I imagine Kinky Tail might be right now — still a young pup, but old enough to be developing who she is.

Kinky Tail is the 3rd pup. She is VERY big for a female. And a coyote. She is VERY bossy to her brothers. She is rather severe in her play and is top pup for sure. She dominates adult Big Brother. Only her Mother and Slim Jim are exempt. She follows Slim Jim almost constantly. She does not stay with her brothers. Kinky also is no longer fed. She doesn’t ask or beg the adults for food. She hunts her rodents and grasshoppers and was seen eating a young jackrabbit. 

Kinky forays with Slim Jim and Big Brother at times. She is very alert and immediately hides hearing distant ranch dogs or sheep herds etc…she seems very very keen for such a young one. I think the tragedies of loss and even decimation are at same time….for coyote..refiners. When you see a super pup developing from a tough time, you are seeing what made coyote thrive when Maga Fauna fell. Coyote thrive after hardships. They ARE NOT diminished or weakened as many other beings can be. It’s hard to see this unless you literally experience it.

Also…Kinky pup…she may be hard to brothers…but..she loves her Grandpa. Robin caught a vole. And as he proudly trotted…Batman took it. And even more proudly displayed it. Kinky ran in from some hidden spot and put the smackdown on both brothers. As the dynamic duo fled tail between legs, Kinky trotted off…fat vole gripped tight, and went to sleeping Slim Jim. She dropped the vole in front of his awakening bleary eyes..and watched him gulp it happily. Then he groomed her a few minutes. You could see her beaming under the doting grandpa.I think…it’s a good chance…Kinky will claim her spot in the future. I think she is the kind of coyote nature creates…to keep her kind the AMAZING canines they are.
Lou