Trap Cameras: Dad Patrols / Pup Explores

Today, I’m posting a video sequence of a coyote on his patrolling rounds, and of a youngster investigating the area, captured remotely on a trap camera. Pups are 3 months old now and their curiosity is insatiable, of course! But this posting is more about trap cameras which aren’t as benign as most people think.


Use of trap cams and what I’ve seen. I’ve used them extremely sparingly in the past. Out of respect for what coyotes want and so as to observe natural rather than fearful or protective behavior, I stay away from denning areas: rather, I’ve used field cameras to count pups after they start exploring well away from their dens. And I’ve used them more recently for tracking an interloper coyote who was driven from her territory by another coyote.

There IS a difference between trap-cameras and human hand-held cameras, but not necessarily in the way people imagine: I’m referring to the intrusiveness factor. In some ways they may be less interfering than human presence, but in many ways they are more so.

Some of the reactions of coyotes to my and other trap cameras as seen in images from those cameras led to my doing a mini-study on trap-cameras. The outcome: I found that these devices are surprisingly intrusive from the animals’ point of view as seen by the images of their reactions to them. On the other hand, although my motives have been “tested” a couple of times by coyotes (I’ve always walked away when this happens), this is rare. Although they’ve watched me, they effectively have not reacted to me, a human photographing them: this is why I’m able to document their natural family lives. We have plenty of other humans passing through the parks in San Francisco so I just blend in with the rest of them. If these had been non-urban coyotes not used to having humans around, I’m sure I would not be able to do what I do.

Conversely, coyotes DO routinely react to trap cameras, often adversely, and they are as aware of them as they are to any human in their area.

For the coyote, I think it boils down to an “understandable known” which is a human taking photos (and I’m talking about doing so respectfully and from a respectable distance), versus an “incomprehensible unknown” which are the clicks and whirrs and flashes of a contraption without a human presence yet “triggered” and focused on them when they appear: that’s when the lights and the noises go on. I’ve even seen several coyotes test this: they stand in the distance waiting for the IR lamp to turn off or the noises to begin, and then they make a slight movement that confirm THEY are the triggers.

So how are these field cameras intrusive? Coyotes often become startled by them, stopping dead in their tracks. The cameras elicit stares and investigative or wary reactions, especially as the coyote gets closer to them. The cameras all make sounds, and coyotes can hear even the faintest of noises, even if you can’t. So even if these cameras are missed visually by coyotes, they still know they are there — this must make them even more disturbing. Even the “black glow” cameras, where the IR flash is invisible to humans, are very visible to coyotes. I’ve actually seen coyotes interact with these cameras by angrily defecating in front of them, kicking dirt in anger at them, and even taking them down when they can [see photos and video below]. Wow! 

When the field cameras are up high and unreachable, they appear to be ignored or not to be seen, or so I thought, until I looked closer. When I set them on high ledges where they could be accessed by animals — they were.  So it’s a fallacy that trap cameras are not intrusive: coyotes know these are human instruments and likely malevolent in some way. Coyotes may even know you are spying on them.

“In the name of science” is often accepted as a good excuse for using them. Scientists want their “facts”, but people should know that they do impact the animals on deeper levels than they might be aware of. 

Having said all this, I have used trap cameras, as I stated above. Recently, my cameras were left up overtime when I neglected to pick them up for several days because I was too busy to go get them, and I discovered that the cameras caught some behaviors worth posting, always sprinkled with the reactions I’ve just described.

Some of what the cameras caught include: Dad bringing back prey to his pups, a mom regurgitating her food for her only pup, a youngster waiting around impatiently for his parents to return from hunting, older sibling playing with a younger pup,  a mom playing with her youngsters as though she were one of them, parents trying to shoo their youngster into hiding in the bushes but youngster doesn’t heed them, a dad pacing and standing very still as he listens carefully for a possible intruder he’s heard! I’ll post some of these in the coming weeks. The video today shows a pup exploring with insatiable curiosity, and Dad patrolling before that.

Some images and a video of coyotes encountering trap cameras.  Here are examples of how coyotes reacted with suspicion & investigation, kicking dirt in anger, defecating in anger and as a message, and knocking down the camera [Press one of the images to scroll through the gallery].

 

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 the best way to keep his dog safe around coyotes: when you see a coyote, whether it is in the far distance, approaching, or at your side, always 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.

Signs of Scat, An Old Coyote, A Sick Ewe and A Dead Rabbit: More on Ginny’s Coyote Area

Hi Janet,

scat upon scat (now with mold)

Yesterday I walked the other way onto the well-used multi-purpose trail called the Springwater Trail.  The first half mile of the trail heading east has had a lot of scat at times.    This is the area I referred to as being half a mile away and possibly containing a den.  Yesterday there was only one quite recent pile while everything else had been there a week ago.  Today I walked to the pups sighting location.  No new scat anywhere.  I’m wondering if that means the pups have been moved.  I also checked another part of the trail not too far away and found no new scat.  I have seen a lot of it there before also.

We saw the lame coyote once when he trotted in front of our car.  He looked and moved like a very old dog would move and that is why I label him as old.  He is not thin but is very ragged looking.  I have only seen a coyote once on the trail (that is how I found your blog because I wanted to learn all that I could about them) and that was right at the trail entrance near our house.  Hunting for rabbits no doubt!  Bud saw an adult last fall on one of his walks. Both of these had beautiful coats and seemed very healthy.

trail where pups appeared

Last week I met a family with grandparents walking on the trail and mentioned the coyote scat to the children.  The grandparents told me they have sheep and coyotes stand at their fence and sing and whine all the time.  The grandfather told me that recently he had a sick, old ewe and THREE DAYS later when he went to check on her he only found most of her skeleton.  He is sure the coyotes picked her clean – including her gum tissue and ribs.  They said coyotes would infrequently take a newborn lamb after I asked if they thought the coyotes actually killed anything.  Any person who would knowingly leave a sick animal for three days – well I cannot relate to them.  I’m very cautious what I say to people on the trail about the coyotes.   One man we see on the trail is sure someone shot coyotes a few years back.

blackberries through which pups disappeared; there is more scat again now, indicating resumed activity in the immediate area

On Monday I noticed a dead rabbit at the beginning of the trail which is near our house.  It appeared to have died mid-crawl.  I turned it over and did not see any injuries or changes in hair.  About a week earlier Bud said “it smells like something died in the blackberries” as we walked by the same location.  Several neighbors and dog walkers who use the trail came to the same conclusion I did – that a neighbor might be poisoning rabbits.  We are all very concerned.  I really hope this is not the case.  Yes, rabbits do incredible damage to yards and gardens but rabbit fencing keeps them out.  I know, we added it to the existing deer fence around our yard.  Yesterday the rabbit was gone but I suspect a neighbor disposed of it.  I have read that coyotes are very smart about not consuming poisoned food and I hope that is the case here.  We have a family of red-tailed hawks in the greenspace that I am really enjoying and I think they prefer freshly killed prey over carrion.  Poison can travel so fast up and down the food chain.

I’ll let you know if I notice any changes.  I don’t expect to see coyotes because our dog really seems to have a history with coyotes.  He is a Bouvier rescue we have had almost a year.  He spent several years running loose on the NM mesas and he thinks deer, coyotes and rabbits are to be chased.  He also barks like crazy.  I’m sure the local coyotes know him and make sure not to reveal themselves to us!

Ginny


Crossing A Busy Intersection Intelligently

I watched a coyote cross the street this morning. The coyote was very intelligent about it. There was a stop light. The coyote didn’t cross when all the cars were fully stopped at a red stop light. No. The coyote just stayed back and watched from the grass beyond the sidewalk. Then the traffic started up again, moving en masse, almost as one big object. The coyote crossed the street when that burst of cars had passed — it had waited on purpose for that moment.  I was amazed!  I’ve heard of coyotes using crosswalks and stop lights to cross busy streets. This one used the traffic lights, not as we might have, but nonetheless in a way that worked!

This individual coyote knows how to handle traffic and obviously has had plenty of luck doing so, at least lately. Two years ago this same coyote was struck by a car. I didn’t see the accident, but I did see the severe limp which lasted for well over a month. But an acquaintance actually saw the accident. We both immediately knew it was the same coyote because none of the others ever showed this kind of injury. One of the chief causes of death in urban coyotes is being struck by a car. Just a couple of days ago, at about 7:00 am, a coyote  was fatally struck by a car as it wandered into the street. Please keep your eyes out for wildlife as you drive!

Coyote Paths: Coyote behavior

Coyotes use all the paths in parks. They tend to avoid interference when they are walking, so paths of all sorts are what they like to stick to, at least for the most part. They even stick to roadways and sidewalks if these are free of people — these being the pathways of least resistance. Of course, they also pass through many areas without paths: on rocks, on trees, in thicket areas — but even these are often habitual routes. These paths of theirs seem to be used regularly — you can see them worn into definite patterns in grassy areas. I’ve seen coyotes and not humans on the paths in the photos above. These paths are much thinner than a human path would be, but they are definitely worn paths. Of course, other critters also make these types of trails: opossums, raccoons, foxes and skunks in our area.

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