Togetherness During An Outing

On this outing, their tight bond manifests itself through waiting for, watching out for, communicating with, searching for and constant eye-contact with each other.

Dawn was breaking as I entered a park to hear faint distressed barking in the distance. It was the kind of coyote barking that occurs when they’ve been chased by a dog. It was the male of a pair who was belting out his displeasure. I hurried until I was right next to the sound and recorded it, though I could see no coyote. When it stopped I followed the path to find the male up ahead of me. He trotted along, turning to look at me once and then climbed an embankment where he looked around. I knew he was either looking for the dogs or for his mate. After a few minutes, he trotted on and then dashed into the grasses to this heartwarming scene, in photo below. She had probably been with him when the dog incident occurred. He had stayed put and howled to keep attention on himself while she made her getaway.

Together after being separated by a dog and after *he* howled, drawing attention to himself and away from *her* so she could slither away from danger

Together after being separated by a dog, after which *he* howled in order to draw attention to himself and away from *her* so she could slither away from danger. Here they are curled up together in the grass for a moment.

After their short greeting, they walked on, each hunting alone several hundred feet apart. They kept checking on each other and then headed up the hill where I was standing. The male came up and waited, but the female saw me and preferred taking the long way around me. He then followed her, and they both trotted off together on the path.


I took a circuitous route so as not to interfere. When I next saw them they were still trotting along together. That’s when a dog darted at them and the male gave chase. The owner remembered that it’s best to keep dogs leashed in a coyote area. Then I lost sight of the male, but I followed the female as she foraged in tall grasses. She did so for about 20 minutes on a quiet, untraversed area of the park, but she didn’t catch anything.

trotting along together

trotting along together

At the end of this stretch of her hunting, both she and I looked down to see the male waiting calmly for her on a rock — looking around for her. She began heading down the hill towards him when suddenly he bolted up, saw and assessed what was coming from the other direction and fled: it was a large golden retriever who had caught sight of the coyote and was coming after it. The coyote was fast, and I let the owner know what was going on. So many dog owners are totally oblivious to what their dogs are doing. The dog and owner then went the other way.

Now, the female was out of sight. The male doubled around and headed back to where I had last seen the two coyotes together. He sniffed around and marked the area. People were passing, so he slithered under a bush until all was clear and then headed out again on the trail. Just then a runner appeared with his two dogs. The dogs did not see the coyote, but the coyote saw the dogs, and the owner saw the coyote. The owner leashed one of his dogs, turned and went the other way. Yay! More and more dog-walkers are learning to move away from the coyotes! The coyote just stood and watched him go. Maybe he was surprised that the dogs hadn’t come after him.

So the coyote turned and headed down a grassy hill into the brush. I had seen a lot of psychological contact and togetherness in this mated coyote pair, but also I had seen plenty of dog intrusions. About half an hour later a siren sounded and I recorded the male responding to it from the brush he had entered. Again, I didn’t see him as he howled.  Later on, I had one more glimpse of the male on the other side of the park before he descended, again, into the brush, this time for the duration of the day.

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Knowing Me

Coyote hurrying in my direction to keep away from dogs and walkers. It's actually dark outside, about 9pm -- it's astonishing that my camera was able to register these clear, albeit blurry, images.

Coyote hurrying in my direction to keep away from dogs and walkers. It’s actually dark outside, about 9pm — it’s astonishing that my camera was able to register these clear, albeit blurry, images.

I’ve known this coyote for seven and a half years — I’ve known him from before he was born. I can say this because I witnessed the entire courtship and pregnancy leading to his birth and knew he was on the way. He probably knows me as well as I know him. Coyotes are as curious about us and our dogs and probably spend more time watching us than vice-versa, and they are fast learners.

I once read that, “Your dog knows you better than you know yourself. Why wouldn’t he? After all, he/she spends all his/her time watching you.”  I thought, “well, of course!” Well, coyotes also spend time watching and getting to know us, our patterns of behavior, our attitudes and treatment of them. They are known for their curiosity and for observing. They are consummate hunters because they come to know the minute behaviors and reactions of their prey — they learn this by watching.

For the most part, this fella treats me the same as he treats anyone else: he keeps his distance and is suspicious. Yet at the same time, we have an understood pact, born of years of experience: my pattern is to stand off and observe. I stay well out of the way so as not to be an element in the behaviors I observe, and I never purposefully engage his or any coyote’s attention or interact in any way. I have defended him against dogs and he understood my role during those occasions. He’s formed an assessed opinion of me based on all of my behaviors which are relevant to him over the last seven-plus years.

But once I did break my rule to not interfere. A photographer with his dog was enticing/encouraging the coyote to approach them. The photographer and dog were on the path the coyote was trotting along. The coyote took a very wide detour around the man and dog to avoid them but then stopped to watch this duo staring at him. The man started taking photos and walking towards the coyote who now was within 50 feet. From years of observation, I could see that the coyote was turning to his defensive/messaging mode. If you, and especially if your dog, stares at a coyote, especially while approaching it, the coyote will become aware that he has become an *object of interest*, and the coyote may wonder why and what is going on. In a coyote’s world, *the interest* would be one of either predator/prey or possibly a territorial dispute.

This man and his dog have continually been a little too *in-the-face* of this coyote which is probably why the coyote stopped when he was being stared at so intensely. I did not want the photographer to set up an antagonistic situation and then get a photo of the coyote messaging his dog, and it looked as though this was going to happen. The coyote would have *messaged* either by taking on fierce-looking body language as a warning or possibly even by nipping the dog’s haunches as a stronger warning. The  photographer and his dog should have been moving on and away from the coyote — not towards it. So I interfered to prevent any engagement — and the possibility of such a negative photo — by clapping my hands and getting the coyote to move on.

What is interesting — and this is the point I want to make in this posting — is the coyote’s total surprise at my unexpected behavior. The coyote didn’t seem to believe his eyes at first — this wasn’t one of the behaviors he had ever seen in me before. I could see that he was actually confused. The coyote look at me, frozen, in seeming-disbelief. I repeated my actions and the coyote backed away slowly, while looking at me quizzically. My behavior here was totally out of character. And I, too, felt that I had betrayed our understood contract, and I had. But that was better for the coyote than having him photographed in an antagonistic pose next to a dog by a man who was intent on publishing his photos — that would have been more negative publicity for our coyotes. This is an isolated instance of my interference and it hasn’t happened again with this coyote. I need to remain totally neutral always to get the natural behaviors I’m seeking.

Another instance of a stunned reaction from this  very same coyote was the time I walked my son’s dog. This coyote did an obvious double-take because I never before, during his lifetime, had been *with* a dog. This particular coyote, by the way, always flees the instant he ever sees the one and only woman who pursues him relentlessly and aggressively. The coyote has learned to avoid this one person because he knows she will engage in hostile behaviors towards him: she charges at him no matter how far off in the distance he is as he’s minding his own business, flinging rocks at him and screaming. These little vignettes I’ve described here are to show how *in-tune* coyotes are to our behaviors — they do get to know us.

As I said, this coyote treats me like anyone else: keeping his distance and maintaining his suspicions. BUT, he knows I will never pursue or hurt him, and in a pinch, I suppose he knows I’ll be the one who will be accommodating and will move aside to let him go by — this sort of routine has played out often between us.

He pees/marks as a message to those in back of him

He pees/marks as a message to those in back of him

He turns to continue on his way, and then acknowledged my presence in passing with a "hello" type of look

He turns to continue on his way, and then acknowledged my presence in passing with a “hello” type of look

Back to the story behind the photos posted here. So today, when I saw the coyote trotting briskly in my direction and then look over his should at the two walkers and dogs coming towards him from behind, I realized that he was fleeing from the dogs and I was in his pathway. If he hadn’t known me and my patterns of behavior, he probably would have diverted off of the path to get away from both me and the dogs. Instead he hurried in my direction because he knew I was safe and that I would move for him. And indeed, I hurried down the path and away from him onto a cross path so that he could get by, and I then turned around to watch him and the developing situation. The coyote had come within 10 feet of me and, turned around to watch the dogs and their owners who were still approaching him. He peed/marked for them — actually a message of warning — as he watched them coming closer. He was aware that I was right there but he paid me no heed. Then he turned to continue on his trotting way,  acknowledged me as he went, and I acknowledged him with, “Good day” and a nod, and he trotted on into the cover of bushes, with one last glance at those of us in back of him before disappearing from view.

The coyote hurries on and into the brush

The coyote hurries on and into the brush

I reminded the dog walkers of our newest protocol for keeping things safe around coyotes: when you see a coyote, whether it is in the far distance, approaching, or at your side, the best policy is always to tighten the leash on your dog and walk away from the coyote without running.

Before disappearing completely, the coyote turns and looks at those of us in back of him. He had gotten to where he wanted to go without incident.

Before disappearing completely, the coyote turns and looks at those of us in back of him. He had gotten to where he wanted to go without incident.

Intent On Not Revealing Where She’s Going

coyote stops and turns to look at me

coyote turns and looks at me

This mother coyote tried remaining out of sight — I saw her keeping to the bushes — but she had to cross the path I was on, so, of course, eventually she knew that I saw her. She was very aware of me. After coming to the path, she trotted on over its crest, down an incline and remained out of my sight until I came to the crest of the hill. She continued trotting along this trail until she came to an intersection of paths. Here she stopped and looked back at me. Then she looked in other directions to assess the situation, and then she looked back at me again. I took her photo. She then squinted at me — she was communicating her needs to me. I stayed back, letting her know that I understood her message and would comply: I would not follow her.

She then proceeded around the bend of the trail and out of sight. I did not follow, as she had requested, but climbed a ridge from which I could see her on the trail below. She had trotted on and then come to another standstill, looking back to see if I had followed. I knew from her behavior that, if I had followed, she would have lead me down this path which was away from where she had intended to go. Instead, since I was not behind her, she turned back about 100 feet and slithered into one of her secret hidden tunnels through the brush and, most likely, on to her pups, which we’ve heard but never seen. By respecting the coyotes’ needs, by actually listening and understanding their communications, we are achieving a mutually acceptable coexistence with these urban neighbors or ours.

when she realizes no one is following, she turns back to her secret escape route

when she realizes no one is following, she turns back to her secret escape route

Coyote Behavior: Dusk

As the light of day wanes, I’m poking around in a park in San Francisco when a coyote darts out of the bushes and rushes past me. I drop what I’m doing, and lift my camera — I’m happiest when there are coyotes around to observe.

He hunts in tall grasses, patiently waiting with his snout close to the ground. Suddenly he darts to the side and pounces. That was his first vole of the evening. He’ll soon catch another in those tall grasses. Voles are small and two are only a snack.

The grasses are super tall right now and coyotes are hard to detect in them. From a distance all one might see — which gives their presence away — is the tippy-tops of the tall grasses erratically wiggling more than the rest of the wind-blown grasses.

He trots deliberately over to another area where he pokes around in several of the openings which he himself might have created in the dense tangle of thick, foot-deep weeds which carpet that part of a hill. He spends time with each opening, sticking his snout in, listening, and moving the stalks aside. After examining several openings in this manner without success,  he turns around and heads towards where I first encountered him. It’s a slow walk, with casual hunting stops along the way, though he doesn’t catch anything else. En route, a distant siren sounds — or maybe it’s not so distant. Maybe it just sounds faint and distant because of the strong winds. He’s at the top of a hill and the wind is blowing strongly and in furious gusts. He begins howling. In the video the wind ruins the recording but the coyote is shown belting forth. Turn the sound way down to see the video — wind on a microphone is deafening so you’ll want to hear it at a low volume.

Immediately, SHE, his mate, returns his calls.Soon there is back and forth communication: howling and yipping which to me is beautiful and and comforting, but which to others might be more readily described as eerie and disturbing. Today it is mostly drowned out and overpowered by the bursts of wind on top of the hill.

Turn the volume on LOW — the wind is blowing furiously which results in a painfully raspy sound in the video. What you may not be able to hear is the beautiful calls and responses between the two coyotes — the mated pair

After several minutes of howling, with snout whipping up and around like the wind itself, he stops and looks around to assess his surroundings for safety, and then heads down the hill and towards her. He seems to know exactly where to find her — he located her by her return calls. But on the way he suddenly stops, frozen in place for a few minutes, and looks around, straining all of his senses: it appears that he has caught her scent sooner than expected.  Instead of waiting from her calling spot in the under-cover for him to arrive, she has set out on her own — maybe to intercept him. But they are not on the same path, so if he had relied on vision alone, he would have missed her.  Using all of his senses, he detects her presence nearby and then sees her several hundred feet away. They stand very still and stare at each other for what seems an eternity but is only a few seconds. Then he relaxes, turns around and walks past some bushes in order to meet up with her.

Their rendezvous and greeting, with variations, is standard for coyotes. He slowly approaches her, and as he gets close, his posture is upright and tall. She immediately falls on her back deferentially. Thus begins their greeting ritual. He smells her carefully — maybe he can tell what she has been up to? When she knows he’s satisfied, she gets up carefully and then she begins grooming him — licking and pulling ticks off his face and affectionately pulling his ear. As she’s grooming she stands next to him, and then she extends her neck over his — he allows it: these two are well matched.

The major block of her days are spent with pups. He is the one who has chosen the safest areas to keep the pups sequestered. His main duties, as displayed by his behaviors, are to patrol for safety and bring home food which he carries in his belly and then regurgitates for the pups. Safety is one of his chief concerns. He often even escorts/shadows her when she decides to go a-hunting. He does so to guard and protect her, but also to keep an eye on her!   Young pups do not participate either in these rendezvous nor the treks which follow. The youngsters are tucked away carefully and left alone during these occasions.

After several minutes of grooming, he steps aside and then he leads in my direction. She has become the shier of the two in the last few months — which she wasn’t at one time — and moves away and around me. His route, keeping his distance, is more in my direction. And this is when I decide to leave — I don’t want to get in their way. It’s getting dark and anyway, the camera will stop being able to process the light soon.

Pups!!! And How The Divide Suddenly Doesn’t Feel So Vast, by Ella Dine

FullSizeRender

I spent several hours observing the family yesterday, mostly because I wanted to catch a glimpse of the pups. I thought there were two, and based on my observations, I have no reason to suspect more. It was well worth the wait. The pups bounded out of the den area toward mom looking very much like similarly-aged, wiggly, exuberant canine pups. When asked what word comes to mind when folks think of coyotes, most are probably not inclined to say adorable, but I am convinced this is because we don’t often get the chance to watch these creatures interact with each other. These pups were utterly Adorable. They showed appropriate deference to mama, and when she nudged them back into hiding, they complied obediently. They appeared so energetic that I wondered what they do all day–how are those energetic little bodies confined to what appears to be a small den area? This is purely speculative, but I imagine they do sleep a fair amount, at least during the hottest part of day. I also began to wonder about the parents–what having a litter would be like, for instance, for the first time? How startling would it be that suddenly this mix of instinct and responsibility becomes your single overarching biological imperative? How stressful would it be to try to protect your babies in the wild?

I realized that part of the fascination in observing this family is watching instinct in action, animals with no agenda other than pure survival and all the attending struggles and challenges inherent in it. It’s quite beautiful.

Surrounding the area, people passed leisurely, most looking down at phones. I had a million gadgets myself– a phone in my pocket, a clunky camera around my neck. It brought to mind the most obvious thought: of course we sometimes harbor an irrational fear of wildlife. We know next to nothing about what their experience is really like. We are so removed from our own inner-wild (conditioned as we are to tame and master our own, uglier impulses) that witnessing that shadow side–that latent part so familiar to our most distant ancestors (and the very thing coyotes depend upon to thrive) can be spooky, but also exhilarating. Anyway, we certainly have more in common than not–all it took to convince me of that was to watch a mama with her two adorable babies.

You can see by this pic how well the pups blend in!

You can see by this pic how well the pups blend in!

 

Thrilled To Be Observing My Urban Wild Neighbors, by Ella Dine

I live in Portland, Oregon, and I have observed a coyote family in the same location dozens of times in a green space/natural park surrounding a local college, most notably in the evenings, and especially during pupping months.  The area provides not only diverse coverage but also supreme visibility, with rock and mulch piles of varying heights.  It also boasts plenty of shade and a water source (either a stagnant puddle or two, as you can see in the second picture, or a tiny creek/run-off not too far away).  Best of all, this little area is set back just far enough from all major walking paths so that the coyotes can go about their business while dogs and their people pass by at a safe distance.  Most people seem to pass without noticing the coyotes at all.  Today, I observed mom and dad, and got a brief glimpse of one pup, though I believe there are more in the family.

2016-06-06 (1)

Just seconds before this, mom was lounging.  I will call her “mom” because I think she is the female, but I may not be correct.

2016-06-07 (5)

Here she has opted to step up on a rock for a better view.  She remained this way for a long while after hearing some kids yell in the distance.  Until, her thirst got the best of her…

2016-06-07 (3)

It’s going to be 100 degrees in Portland for the 2nd day in a row, which I imagine is tough on the coyotes.  After disappearing to where I think the pups were, mom reappeared and drank some of this muddy water.  I couldn’t help but wonder if coyotes are prone to the same illnesses as their canine counterparts, like giardia?  

2016-06-07 (4)

2016-06-07

All was quiet for a long time, with little movement in the area until mom ran out of sight.  I looked around to see what mom had run from, and I spotted someone on his way back from wherever he had been (I think this is the male—he appears darker in color and slightly larger).  

2016-06-07 (1)

2016-06-07 (2)
At this point, I decided to move on as I felt that dad had certainly noticed me, but I didn’t leave without noting that the coyote I call “dad” took his position where the other coyote had been, seemingly on watch.  I couldn’t help but wonder if the routine would be repeated throughout the day?  One on watch while the other checks the perimeter then they switch places?  It’s hard to guess, but I am lucky enough to retreat to my air-conditioned house, thinking all the while that no matter what transpires for this coyote family on this brutally hot day, it’s such a thrill and honor to observe these resilient neighbors whose very survival depends upon their constantly observing us.  

 

 

Low Urban Coyote Activity Noted Recently (in LA and SF)

2016-05-23

Hello Janet. Long time it has been since we last conversed but I wanted to reach out to you and say hello.We have Not seen or heard of ANY coyote issues within the past 4 months or so? No neighbor’s have come to me like they had been doing most of last year, particularly over the warm Summer months? Don’t know what happened to them and that causes concern? It is like they vanished from this immediate neighborhood and those surrounding us? Could it be they went into some kind of hibernation period? Anyway, just wanted to let you know I had not forgotten about you and our plight and wanted to reach out. Hope you and husband are doing well and your life is moving along in excellent and divine order. Warm Regards, Joyce White, your watch captain in Los Angeles.

Hi Joyce. I, too, have noticed a fall in visibility of coyotes in many of our parks here in San Francisco over the last few months. They’ve gone from being recurrently visible during the light hours of the day to rarely if at all sighted during these same hours. Yet I know that the same coyotes are still in the same parks because I hear them routinely (I recognize them by their individual yips and howls) and I do see them ever so sporadically — so it’s just that their activity schedule has changed perceptively. I’ve in fact seen a couple of lone coyotes appear in small neighborhood open-spaces where coyotes had never been seen before — I was genuinely thrilled to see these a couple of times during the four days they each remained there — but after about a week each was gone and has not returned.

As far as I have seen, the number of sightings tends to run in waves — there’s an ebb and flow to this. During these times of increased sightings, some people post their reactions on social media which has a tendency to amplify the extent of the sightings. Where folks have seldom or never seen them, there is a tendency to believe that coyotes are “taking over” when they are finally seen.  And, if there have been any incidents — such as unexpected encounters or confrontations which are often understandably frightening for unsuspecting dog walkers — the severe negative reaction posted on these sites is strong and the “solution” folks think of is, “let’s get rid of them” or “let’s relocate them”. Incidents may be discussed for months on social media such as Facebook or Nextdoor, often based on misinformation about coyotes, and with the fear factor driving these comments and often spiraling up the ante.

The increased sightings may last a couple of weeks or several months, as they did last Summer and Fall, but then they subside. Be they visible or not, everyone should know that coyotes are not interested in humans — they’ll do their best to keep away from us. Pets, on the other hand, pique their interest for various reasons. Please learn how to protect your pets by knowing about coyote/dog behavior and by knowing and following some simple guidelines: see “Coyotes As Neighbors“, a 30 minute video presentation to learn more.

Changes in coyote visibility — number of sightings — appear to be tied to individual coyote family dynamics: I’ve noticed that when a family has become disharmonious for various reasons, these coyotes are out in the open more. Last year during pupping season, adult coyotes were as visible as ever in one of the parks — there was intense rivalry going on in that family. This year, the reverse is true: things are pretty quiet on the coyote front for now and visibility has shrunk to practically nil. Come late summer, coyotes will again be out more as parents take youngsters out of their more protected hideouts into the larger world.

In addition to the changes which occur within each coyote family, including during every pupping season, one should keep in mind that in California, we finally had rains which have helped with the stressful drought conditions for our wildlife. Our coyotes, which were more visible several months ago when drought conditions were affecting them, are less so now, and the ending of the drought might be a factor. I’m told that it normally takes about 8 months for an ecosystem to begin returning to non-drought conditions. Droughts cause wildlife, including coyotes, to venture further afield in their search for food — because there is less of it where they normally hunt — and it causes them to remain out longer in search of that food. With weather conditions and the food supply returning to what is more normal, coyotes again are shrinking back into their more hidden areas and they have shortened their hunting hours.

NOTE: I’ve been photo-documenting urban coyote behavior first-hand for the last ten years, as a naturalist with a background in Ethno-Anthropology. I’ve observed fluctuations in sightings and coyote behavior over time.  In all cases which I have seen, increased visibility and incidents always cool down  — they ARE NOT indicative of a “progression of aggressiveness” nor an increased danger to humans as contended by Baker and Timm (2007). These authors relied on compilations of reported sightings and incidents by others for their report, not on first-hand field work as I have here. I’m adding my own research to the pot for a better understanding of what is going on.

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