Kangaroo Apple or Poroporo

I watched a coyote forage in one of these bushes. When the coyote left, we went up to examine the berries which I had never seen before. I took a tiny taste, and my friend gulped down a couple to help us determine what they were: the flavor was bitter with a tad of sweet. When I got home, I couldn’t find the plant on the internet, so I turned to my Nextdoor site and posed the question there. They indeed came up with what it was: Kangaroo apple, as it’s called in Australia, or poroporo, as it is called in New Zealand are native to those areas, but have been naturalized into the Bay Area and can be found throughout San Francisco. AND, we should not have eaten them as they are poisonous — they belong to the nightshade family! Yikes!
Once I had the name of the plant, I looked up more about it. Interestingly, it’s flowers are hermaphroditic (having both male and female organs). They are blue-violet or white in color, and a little over an inch in size. Flowers are followed by berries of about the same size. The berries, it turns out, are poisonous only while green — they become edible once they turn orange.  Whew!
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The next day I went back to see if the coyote would appear again: I wasn’t sure it was eating the fruit or possibly foraging for snails or slugs on the plant. I wondered why a coyote might eat toxic material. As I watched, I saw that the coyote eating only the orange colored fruit! Maybe the green ones were unsavory and bitter as well as toxic? Smart coyote!

 

Apples, Blackberries and Pears, Oh My!

This fella found quite a smorgasbord this morning, all within the space of about 4 square feet! He must have been in coyote heaven. Right after he had picked up and eaten some voles without expending much effort, he walked just a couple of feet to a patch of fruit. There were blackberries, apples and pears either on the vines and trees which he could reach, or just lying around on the ground where they had fallen. I watched him eat one and then another and then another and . . .

He ate for a long time. He ate standing most of the time, but for a while he ate lying down in the cool ivy under the fruit trees. He crunched through the apples and pears the way we would, chomping on mouthfuls at a time, and sometimes taking bites that were too big so that part of the fruit fell to the ground. Then he got up and walked away. There was still plenty of fruit left lying on the ground by the time he departed, so I guess he had his fill!

As he ate, he kept his eyes up, high above himself, and on the lookout constantly. I wondered what was going on above him!? I never did figure it out for sure. It crossed my mind that at one time he may have been hit by falling fruit — a la Chicken Little. I have seen gum nuts fall off of Eucalyptus trees which startled coyotes enough to make them run. Or, it could have been a waving tree branch which he was wary of. Coyotes appear not to like things moving over themselves.

 

It’s The Winter Solstice!

Coyote youngster with thick neck and breast fur for the winter

Coyote youngster with thick fur for the winter

Winter’s darkest day is today — it’s the shortest day of the year and the beginning of Winter!

In case you’ve forgotten, solstice means “stationary sun.”  The sun stands still at 5:11 pm on December 21, which is today. The winter solstice north of the equator always occurs on or around December 21st, give or take 24 hours. The US will get only 9 and 1/2 hours of light this day! Up until the winter solstice, the sun moves southward a little each day, and the days become shorter. As the sun approaches the solstice, this southward march slows down, and at the solstice the sun stops its movement south and pauses, motionless: that will occur at 5:11pm for us! Then after the solstice, it will reverse itself and move a little more northward in the sky each day, and the days will become incrementally longer again.

How does this affect coyotes?

Food chains all begin with plant growth. Plants require plenty of daylight to thrive. Fewer daylight hours mean plants cease or slow down their growth at this time of year. So there are fewer growing plants to feed the voles and gophers, and therefore fewer voles and gophers to feed the coyotes — these are their favorite foods in San Francisco. Animals cope with winter in a number of ways: by migrating, hibernating or adapting. Coyotes adapt.

One of the things they adapt is their diets, by eating other foods which are available at this time of year: foods such as pine seeds, and bark or insects in the bark as shown in the two photos below, which I thought was pretty interesting! They are known as “opportunistic” eaters, which means they can eat just about anything. Coyotes will still eat voles and gophers — but because there are fewer of them, they must supplement their diets at this time of year.

It may be because gophers and voles are not so plentiful in the fields that coyote youngsters are out more alone or in pairs now, rather than foraging all together with the entire family, as they did earlier in the year. Coyote youngsters may also be out alone more because they are feeling much more self-reliant and independent at this time of their lives, after all, the next step in their development will be dispersal.

Note that coyote coats are at their fullest at this time of year. Coyote fur can be over 4 inches in length and can make them look much bigger than they look during the summer when their fur is at its shortest and sparsest.

Mom Eats Grass, by Charles Wood

In this video clip Mom is pulling green shoots off a tall grass type plant and eating them. I watched Mom continuously for ten minutes after she ate that particular grass and she did not regurgitate. However, grass eating by coyotes is also known to be very often followed by the coyote soon regurgitating the grass and much else. In fact, when we see a coyote or our domestic dogs eat grass, we can be almost certain that they will soon vomit. Intrigued, I looked for a study on coyote diet. In Chicago, grass species accounted for from five to ten percent of food items found in coyote scat.

Some amount of the grass species in coyote scat must get there from the stomach contents of some of their prey. Also, some grasses eaten by coyotes never make it to their scat. Mom’s green shoots of grass assuredly left her body. I expect they later exited from her rear because they did not come up during the ten minutes I had her continuously in my sight. In my own dogs, I’ve noticed that when they eat grass leaves from my lawn, they do throw up. However, when they eat long, tender, wispy green, and succulent stems of uncut grass in my local park, my dogs don’t. My dogs love those shoots, pulling on their leashes to make sure we visit the long grass; and later pulling against their leashes when, finally bored, I begin to move them away. Mom too, seems to be enjoying her greens as much as my dogs do. Perhaps she knows not to eat too much grass leaf in order to be sure that the parts of the grass she does eat will indeed stay down.

The Grass Is Always Greener . . .

. . . . and, if you can get to it, you might as well go for it.

It was really dark out, but you wouldn’t know it from the photos — I have an ISO of 6400 which helps compensate for the darkness. The coyote begins eating grass on this side of the fence after trekking for a very short time. In fact, he may have come to this location specifically for the grass which is brown in most places of the park. It must not have tasted very good. The grass may have looked greener on the other side of the fence, because the coyote approaches the hole in the fence — it looks like he knows it well — and slithers through it. Once on the other side of the fence, the coyote continues eating, now the greener grass. When he’s eaten what he needs to, he sits down and heaves a number of times, then stands up and belches everything out. After one more nibble of grass, he heads towards the hole in the fence, and again scoots through it to continue his trekking! This little episode lasted a total of 7 minutes.

The coyote must have had an upset stomach. Just like dogs, they cleanse their insides by eating grass and then regurgite the grass, along with all the rest of the contents of their stomachs.

The hole in the fence was only about 5″ in diameter — it looked much too small for a coyote to pass through — more like a raccoon passageway. We have to remember how lean and scrawny these animals really are. In addition, the wires of the cyclone fence are bendable, and the coyote may have been able to push the wires enough to get through. Then again, maybe they indeed can fit through a 5″ hole!

Hunting Togetherness

These two seem to be in each others’ faces. If they were to catch a vole or gopher, I wonder if they would share it? Towards the end of the video here, one coyote runs off because dogs are approaching. The other coyote didn’t seem to want to give up the possibility of a catch! However, it, too, bolted, the minute the dog actually saw it and began to chase — right after I cut off the video.

Scouting Around A Log

A coyote stops at a log to scout for a possible meal. The scrutiny was intense and thorough, but yielded nothing! I didn’t start the video until most of the exploring was already over, but you can see from the stills I took before the video that the coyote was all over the log. I didn’t see any digging, just poking and sniffing, so I assume it was scent and not sound that drew the coyote to the log.

Tip Toe!

I asked a very good friend if he thought this video might be too long for viewers. This is what he said:

“It is wonderful, & beautiful — particularly the sound, and the length, which both are perfect — nature is slow… those digitalkids & iphonephreaks who believe they live in a soundbyte world, don’t — there are entire worlds out there, surrounding them and containing them and of which they are a tiny miniscule and unimportant part, which move far more slowly — Nature is one of those, Geology moves far more slowly even than that — Astral events, the stars, move both far more slowly and sometimes a whole lot faster, than they do — let the slowness here, decorated so wonderfully by that chirping-birds & airplane soundtrack, remind them of their own relativity in all of that”.

This video is long, at 5:51 minutes. The most interesting parts are the tiptoeing at 1:10, the series of pounces where she caves in the underground tunnels of her prey at 1:44, and then the furious digging and moving of ground cover at 2:17. She exposes her prey by this digging and grabs it at 3:28 and then eats it. A young female shows how adept she is at her hunting routine:

Here is a breakdown of what is occurring:

  • To begin with, patiently, she stands there, super alert, watching and listening, triangulating her ears from side to side, and nodding her head back and forth to exactly and precisely locate her prey by sound.
  • At 1:10 she tiptoes, ever so carefully so that her prey may not hear her — a little bit closer
  • Soon thereafter, at 1:44 she tenses, getting ready to leap, backs up a little bit and then springs up and down into several pounces, landing hard on her forepaws with a series of  “punches” meant to knock in her prey’s intricate tunneling system underground. This prevents the gopher from escaping through that tunnel network. This lasts until 2:05.
  • At 2:17 she begins furiously digging and digging, both deep into the ground to break through into the tunnels, and on the surface to move the ground-cover out of the way, all the while continually keeping a wary eye on her surroundings, including me and folks walking in back of me.
  • At 3:28 she catches her prey, disables it, and tosses it to the ground. Then, by looking around, she assesses how safe it is to eat right it then and there. She decides it’s not so safe, so she runs off with it.
  • At 3:36 until the end of the video, she eats her prey, tearing into several more manageable eating portions and chewing these down to swallowable sizes — it takes a while, and then she calmly walks off. Note that there is no waste — she eats every bit of her prey: entrails, muscles, fur and bones.

Indigestion

I don’t think very many of us give thought to wild animals getting ill or feeling ill or aging. I once watched a coyote squint as it looked into the distance. I wondered if the coyote’s vision was getting blurry — like humans when they age. I wondered if their aging vision could benefit from the things we humans have so ingeniously created for ourselves: lasik or glasses?

Anyway, coyotes do get ill and they do feel bad sometimes. Today I watched a case of indigestion exacerbated by basking in an intense hot sun. I can relate to this, because when I have eaten a heavy meal and then stayed out in the direct sun for too long, I have felt that meal become sluggish rather than being digested easily.

So after two hours of basking in the intense sun and obviously having a blast doing so, the coyote moved off to a shady spot where the look in its eyes conveyed that same intestinal discomfort that we all have felt at times.  Of course, I didn’t know what was going on and wouldn’t until this sequence of events was over.

Soon, the coyote got up slowly and sluggishly wandered down a hillside where it began yanking at the tallest strands of grass and ingesting them. After several minutes of eating grasses, the coyote began to heave, billowing its stomach in and out until it’s mouth opened wide and out came an astonishing mass of undigested food. It must have astonished the coyote, too, because it stayed there looking at the pile, and then sniffed it over carefully. Finally, it tried — unsuccessfully — to “bury” the mess by using its nose to push old grasses over the pile. Then it walked slowly away.

I was able to make out that it was an entire gopher, still intact but somewhat decomposed. Gophers in this area can get pretty close to a full pound in weight. Coyotes eat gophers, not by tearing them apart, but by crunching the bones so that the entire animal can fit down it’s throat. My theory is that this huge meal and the heat of the sun made for difficult digestion, which in turn caused a nauseating feeling and then the self-medication. I’ve seen regurgitation before, but not with all the detail I saw this time. The coyote wandered off and out of sight, but not until two more stops were made for more grasses.

Dried Gum Nuts

Coyotes have been foraging in the dried leaves along the paths, eating something which, until now, I hadn’t really concentrated on. Then, as I spoke to the owner of a Rhodesian Ridgeback, the dog began foraging and crunching the same stuff as the coyotes. It was gum nuts from the Eucalyptus trees!  This dog was picky about her gum nuts — some were crunched and then spat out. But some of them were crunched and swallowed.

Gum nuts are the hard woody fruit — the hardened seed container — of the Eucalyptus.

The gum nuts, which contain seed and chaff, remain on the tree after it has flowered. When they ripen, they fall off. Once on the ground, they dry out as they age. The valves in the top of the nut open and release the seed and chaff. Even before this happens, the woody seed container becomes dry and brittle and much easier to crunch open by a foraging animal. Seeds, it would seem, are nutritious, and maybe even tasty?