Fraternizing with the Raccoons?

A dog walker approached me in the dark, before dawn, to ask me about a strange sound he heard: hissing and a breathy growling. He told me he decided not to enter the park with his two small dogs because he wasn’t sure of the sound; he asked if it might have been a coyote. I told him that it could have been a coyote, however, the local neighborhood coyote is not one who reacts to dogs and walkers this way: she’s an accepting gal who keeps away from dogs unless she has been chased, and even then she comes back only to make sure the dog has gone away.

many sets of eyes in the dark – there were actually 5 sets

I finally approached the area where the sound was heard, and I heard it: a loud, raspy, breathy growl that came across as an intense explicative.  I shined my flashlight on the spot, only to find five set of eyes huddled together. Yikes!  Then I saw with my flashlight that one set of eyes belonged to a coyote. No one was moving — they were just sitting still, all five of them together, eyeing my flashlight. I gasped, knowing that this coyote, a loner, didn’t have a family — so I wondered if she had invited another family of coyotes into her area. It was something I had never witnessed.

One set of eyes belonged to a coyote

Ahhh! Soon I was able to see that each set of eyes belonged to a masked and stripe-tailed raccoon! It was a mother and three youngsters, in addition to the one coyote. The youngsters kept to the bushes. Mom and coyote appeared to know each other. They  walked around, inches from each other, totally ignoring one another. There was no aggression between them: probably a truce had been achieved long ago. The coyote wasn’t going to mess with Mom Raccoon and Mom Raccoon wasn’t going to mess with the coyote.

However, the coyote was pawing at the bushes where the youngsters (almost full-sized) were hanging out, provoking and testing what their responses might be, hoping for some kind of reaction.  Mom every now and then discharged a raspy, growly exhalation in warning. BTW coyotes make this same warning sound towards each other, but not as loudly. The coyote backed up a little but did not leave. This state of affairs continued, unchanging, for about half-an-hour. Finally, the coyote went off into the distance, where she sat down and waited patiently for something to happen: treed raccoons were not much fun!

Dawn now was slowly creeping in and more people were arriving at the park. Maybe the coyote knew the raccoons would make a run for it at some point? With her gone, the raccoons indeed soon edged their way through the bushes down to the street and then ran across — three and then the fourth — with the coyote now at their heels once they were out in the open, running with them.

Raccoons are tough customers for coyotes, and although I have seen coyotes eat raccoon, most encounters I’ve seen end up in a standoff. It’s the juveniles and enfeebled raccoons who are most vulnerable to coyote predation, as well as those who might find themselves unexpectedly separated from their families when confronted by several coyotes. This particular coyote seemed more into entertainment, and maybe even company, than anything else — fraternizing?! I’m sure this coyote could have grabbed one of the youngsters had she wanted to, but she seemed more interested in simply testing their mettle. When they got to the other side of the street, the raccoons scrambled up a tree, and the coyote was left down below, all alone. NOTE that this indeed is an unusual coyote: she flees from cats at the slightest provocation and has even tried gingerly interacting with them — or maybe she was testing their responses.

UC Davis’ DNA Study of Coyotes in San Francisco

click on image to enlarge

Back in 2007, shortly after I began my own dedicated urban coyote investigations and studies, I became interested in the possibility of using DNA from scat to find out more about our urban coyotes. In researching lab possibilities, I came across Ben Sacks at UC Davis and then Erin Boydston who would soon be working for the USGS. Erin confirmed for me that Ben was involved in such a study. It was Erin Boydston, who had been hired by the Presidio to document the wildlife in that park, who delivered the first sample of DNA (this was a blood sample) to Ben’s lab for analysis where it was determined that the coyotes were from Mendocino County. My timing was perfect, as Ben Sacks asked me to collect scat from San Francisco for his DNA study here. I contributed to the study as the *citizen-scientist* and a naturalist with a special interest in coyotes.

This poster above, with a summary of the project, has just finished being assembled by Camilo Sanchez who has been a part of the project at UC Davis. I’ve been given permission by Ben to post it here.

My own study of coyotes here in San Francisco — investigating and documenting urban coyote behavior including their behavior in relation to people and pets and getting this out to the public, documenting different levels of habituation and its effect on their behavior, and documenting different population pockets, densities, and territoriality in the city — something no one else has been doing — has been ongoing since 2007, hey, making it the longest running such study in the city! I’ve asked Ben if he might be able to do more analysis (I’ve already collected and vialed specimens from throughout the city) — specifically to determine what proportion of our coyotes are the progeny of those originally from Mendocino County, and how many might be immigrants from the South. Because of the structure of funding at universities, Ben told me that he can only continue this study if we find funding for a graduate student. Hopefully this will happen — and the study will be an ongoing one, continuing what was begun in 2006.

When I first started, it was Stan Gehrt — from Ohio State, who runs the longest running coyote study in the country — who spurred me on by encouragingly corresponding with me during my initial documentation work, answering my questions about what I had observed, sharing his incredible territorial diagrams (before they were published on his site), giving me citations, and then connecting me with a graduate student, who came all the way to San Francisco to decide upon and carry out a dissertation project. Interests change, and she decided to move on into journalism and videography. As a journalism intern, and with her background knowledge and interest in coyotes, she interviewed me for a Bay Nature Connections profile where she called me “a pioneer in the photo-documentation of the lives of urban coyotes, capturing their intimate lives”, a phrase I like and repeat when describing what I do!

PHOTO: Summersaulting!

There’s lots of joy in watching a carefree urban coyote having lots of fun! This one found a ball to play with which had been left by a dog. Among her antics with the ball were jumps, sprints, tossing the ball up in the air and catching it, and repeated roly-poly tumbles and summersaults!

Cityrise, by Jack Kessler

Cityrise

The city rises
Safe-haven for coyotes
Attenborough says

At 91 he should know
He saw cities burning
shattered

But now they rise again
and go global and digital
and within them are rats

Rats are food, for many,
for natives, for immigrants
for visitors, whether they arrive,
by land or sea or air
for coyotes, salmon, raptors

The dangers out-there
once plagued humans
and cities have plagues

but they also have food
and warmth and shelter
and healthcare
and people who love them,
like you —

So welcome to the city
Stadluft macht frei
the old saying said
and now let us all, together, have trees


You and the coyotes are on the leading-edge — the bleeding-edge, it’s sometimes called… — of the future, in Global Cities, according to David Attenborough, in a BBC series Planet Earth, the section of which he calls The Earth —

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Planet_Earth_II (2016)

— see the original best via Netflix, with him narrating, Section 6, “E1S6” —-

He is the David Attenborough, now age 91, of “Gandhi” & much other TV and Movies fame… He feels city-expansion has created safe-havens and food-sources attracting wild animals, and that now one of the greatest challenges, for both them and humans, is that both can live together either in harmony or as enemies — for each needs the other, he says…

I’d add only that there is a 3rd factor, needed as well by both the other 2: trees…

[Don’t poison them]

Coyotes: Beyond the Howl, An Educational Exhibit by Janet Kessler

In case you might have a burning interest to know more about coyotes, visit my exhibit which is going up next Sunday at the Sausalito Library and will run for 6 weeks! It’s more of an educational exhibit than anything else, showing some of their constant interactions. The more people understand how social they are, the easier it will be to accept and even embrace them.

Coyotes are social and, except for some transients, live in families. The 28 large 24”x16” zoomed-in snapshots in this exhibit show some of their less-seen behaviors and interactions, as well as their individuality: each coyote looks different, and the differences reach deeper than their fur. Short howling and hunting video clips are included. An explanation of a few relevant survival behaviors and some simple guidelines help round out “the picture” of these neighbors who are becoming a more visible part of the urban landscape.

Janet Kessler a.k.a, “the Coyote Lady” in San Francisco, has been called a, “pioneer in the photo-documentation of the lives of urban coyotes, capturing their intimate lives”. She is a self-taught naturalist and urban coyote specialist who, daily over the past 11 years, has been documenting coyote family life, their behavior towards people and pets — and our pets’ behavior towards them — and getting information and easy coexistence guidelines out to everyone. Google her “Coyotes As Neighbors” video, and visit: Coyoteyipps.com.

Dates: January 28 to March 10, 2018

Hours:

  • Monday-Thursday 10am-9pm daily
  • Friday-Saturday 10am-5pm
  • Sunday noon-5pm

Place: Sausalito Public Library, located in the City Hall building at 420 Litho Street in Sausalito Enter parking lot from Bee Street (off Caledonia Street). From San Francisco, take a ferry ride over!

Janet will be in and out. If you have questions, just seek her out, or contact her through her blog, coyoteyipps.com

[Press Here for a printable Flyer]

On Installation Day: Our team of three had fun installing the exhibit in the very charming Sausalito Library: we had the layout mapped out beforehand, so only minor logistical adjustments to our plan were necessary. We were rewarded with “ooohs” and “aaahs” from the library staff and visitors from Connecticut, and then from the first official early-bird visitors. We finished a little after opening hours and went off for a reward meal overlooking the bay, which we suggest as something to add to your visit.

A Pup Called Trouble, by Bobbie Pyron

In 2012, I visited New York City for the first time. I was going there to accept a rather prestigious award from The Dog Writers Association of American (yes, there really is such a thing) for my children’s novel, A DOG’S WAY HOME. The week before I left, I saw a story on national news about a young coyote being chased through the streets of downtown Manhattan by the police and animal control. What in the world, I wondered, was a coyote doing in New York City?

I live high in the mountains of Park City, Utah. Moose, deer, mountain lions, fox, and coyotes are not uncommon sights here. And like my wild neighbors, I am most comfortable in the woods, on a trail, away from people, cars, and the incessant noise of a city. Like, I imagined, that coyote in New York City.

During the four days I spent in Manhattan, I explored the city. I’d never seen buildings so tall. I was both amazed and distressed by the way they cut the endless sky into thin slivers. The sounds and smells of the city overwhelmed my senses, and yet, I was always curious about what was just around that next corner. As I explored the city, that young coyote was my shadow. I saw everything through its eyes: the stone canyons of skyscrapers, the people with their cell phones, the beauty of Central Park. By the time I got back on the plane to return to the mountains, I had the story that would become A PUP NAMED TROUBLE nestled in my heart.

I wrote two other children’s novels—THE DOGS OF WINTER and LUCKY STRIKE—over the next six years, but I never forgot about that coyote in New York City. In my other life, I’m a librarian. I love doing research. During those years, I read everything I could about urban coyotes. I learned that coyotes had made themselves quite at home in cities from Atlanta to Portland. I read with curiosity and deepening admiration the extent of their adaptability. When it came time to work on a new book, I knew exactly what I would write about.

In my new book, A PUP CALLED TROUBLE (Harpercollins/Katherine Tegen Books, Feb. 2018), a young coyote with an abundance of curiosity finds himself whisked away from his home in the wilds of New Jersey and, like Dorothy in THE WIZARD OF OZ, plunked down in a world he could never imagine: downtown New York City.  Using my memories of how I felt in NYC and the research I’d done, I created this young coyote’s own Oz, populated by Makers (humans), Beasts (cars), an evil “witch” (an animal control officer) intent on catching him, and friends—a crow, an opossum, a poodle, and an equally curious young girl—who help him find his way home.

My great, good hope is that readers of A PUP CALLED TROUBLE will come to appreciate that no matter where they live, whether in the mountains or the city, they have wild neighbors. And sharing their community with these critters is a privilege, not a threat or nuisance. Whether it’s a red-tailed hawk soaring above skyscrapers, an opossum ambling through the garden, or a coyote trotting along a street on a winter night, they can fill us with awe and wonder. Something we could all use a little more of.

[Please visit Bobbie Pyron’s website to learn more about her: www.bobbiepyron.com]

Photos: All Wet in San Francisco

It’s been raining. Yay! Before last year, San Francisco went through a four-year drought, so we love the rain here. I don my rain gear and go splash in the puddles.

Coyotes don’t mind the rain, though I don’t know if they actually *like* it. It’s during rains that gophers, voles and other rodents come to the surface to keep from drowning in their underground tunnels — coyotes seem to know this.
And when a coyote shakes out her rain-wetted coat, dirt that has accumulated gets tossed out as well.

Here are a couple of shots of wet coyotes from the last couple of rains. In the first photo, droplets are clinging to each fur and to the coyote’s whiskers — and the camera caught the rain coming down around her. The second photo is of a totally soaked coyote — she’s been out in the rain for a while!

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