Rufous and Mary’s Place, by Charles Wood

For several years I visited a nearby field to watch two wonderful coyote parents whom I named Mom and Dad. In November 2012 I found that their daughter Mary had paired with Rufous and displaced Mom and Dad from the field. Mary was born about April 2011 and has lived in the field her entire life. (I  don’t know Rufous’ origins or history other than that he is the type to weasel his way into a territory and turn a nice young coyote female against her own parents.)

In the video I included scenes of goings on in the field other than those of coyotes. Rabbits are plentiful, I’ve never seen so many there. The first scene shows two in contention about something. The second scene shows rabbit contentiousness isn’t uncommon and that rabbits take dust baths (the rabbit in the rear flops down to roll in the dust.) Next is Mary investigating and running away, though I could not determine what she ran from.

On a subsequent day both Rufous and Mary went toward the den area. Note the rabbits that jump around in the brush easily getting clear of her. Also, Mary seems to have scratched a marking onto her neck, and at that time appeared to still be nursing (June 7.) Following is a scene of a dancing rabbit. Next, a red-tailed hawk appears to have caught a rabbit. That hawk is a real work horse and is there every day. Over about two months I’ve only seen Rufous and Mary four times.

The final three scenes are from June 28, 2013 and begin with a rabbit once again getting clear of the oncoming coyotes. Rufous goes ahead while Mary hangs back, both having spotted my two dogs and me. Rufous veers camera left and then appears to break into an unsuccessful chase of rabbit. The last scene show Rufous catching up to Mary near the entrance to their den area. Mary doesn’t appear to be nursing any longer, my first having noticed her lactating May 1. If you watch closely you’ll see another rabbit bounding away from Rufous and Mary, neither appearing to have expected to encounter yet another running rabbit. Both appear to look around for where the rabbit might have come from rather than to look for where the rabbit may have gone. As I said, the hawk is a real work horse, but he is an army of one against the rabbits and Rufous and Mary don’t seem to be taking up much slack. Not pictured are two skunks that seem to go wherever they want around Rufous and Mary’s place. Mom and Dad ran a tighter ship, that’s for sure.

Becoming serious now: once Rufous and Mary went into the den area I didn’t hear the sounds of a coyote family reunion. However one clue, perhaps, that there were pups there is that Rufous and Mary were more interested in getting into the den area than in challenging my dogs and me. That was perhaps the first time that they didn’t message us to leave. Once they were concealed in the den area, they didn’t later come back out as in the past to check on my dogs and me, hopefully because they were being secretive and were busy with the pups.

Another observation: when Rufous and Mary were coming straight at my dogs and me, Mary held back and Rufous went first, providing cover for her. When they traveled with their flank towards us, Mary went first where Rufous was placed to cover her rear and flank where he could easily cut off an approach. In neither case were they bunched up. Instead they were positioned for maneuver.

As to the rabbits: in past years there weren’t as many in the field while at the same time more coyotes were living in the field, as many as seven in some years. Rufous and Mary remind me of my dogs where, upon having a rabbit run off, look around for where it came from after a short and unsuccessful chase. In the video it is interesting for me to see that to a coyote as to the camera, a rabbit is just a flashing tail that’s easy to lose sight of, an effective defense for the rabbit.

Typical Travel, by Charles Wood

The video clip, out of focus for the first ten seconds, shows Mom and Dad as they typically travel together on this particular stretch of road. The clip begins as they trot along together. Then both pause to reconnoiter, watchful and alert. They move on. Dad takes the low ground and Mom has his back, positioning herself on high ground. She is ready to either defend his rear or to join Dad should he encounter foe. Out of view, my guess is that Dad is investigating a scent. Momentarily Mom hurries to join him.

Mom and Dad come back into view and stop at a scent. They both mark it and scrape. Probably they are messaging my dogs and me and are at the same time, more importantly, marking over scent left by an intruder. Mom and Dad both leave their mark to be read by any interested coyotes. It says, “Team Mom and Dad are here. Stay away.”

Dad lingers for more investigative scent sniffing while Mom hurries toward an entrance to the den area. Dad trots to catch up with her. In the final seconds of the clip, Dad scoots past Mom, leading their way into fairly dense brush. I don’t think Dad was pushing to lead Mom, or trying to get ahead of her so he could lead, protect and serve. I think instead Mom just happened to slow down so as to sniff something and Dad just happened to pass her.

Mom, Dad, and their family don’t spend all their time in or in proximity to their den area, are away from there for hours at a time. Upon returning, they reclaim it by marking, clear out any intruders, and eventually meet up with other family members. In short, they sweep the area clear before settling in. Once settled, they attend to family matters and guard their space.

Puppy Watch – No Sightings, by Charles Wood

Here in Los Angeles County my coyotes see me before I see them. Once I noticed Mom in the distance observing me. Once I looked up to see a yearling watching me. Dad also kept the pressure on me, seeing me first about every other day. I received their attention despite trying a new tactic.

Typically I walk east to get to watching places. Saturday I instead went north along the eastern boundary of my coyotes’ field. Along the east is a fenced off structure that has only a couple places where I can see into their field. Unfortunately, they too can see me.

I hoped they wouldn’t see me. As I happily walked, Holtz was ahead of me. Then he turned to come back. Immediately he started adversarially stalking towards something to my rear. Holtz’s head was slung low, protruding with his tough guy gaze fixed on the other side of the fence. I grabbed him and turned around. I expected to see a dog with a walker. I saw nothing. It must have been a coyote, no doubt one of mine that had been tailing us. Compared to a few months ago, my coyotes are visible and active.

Coyotes with puppies are more active for a couple of reasons. First, they are alert for interlopers. Coyotes hide and protect their young and are vigilant for all possible dangers. Also, they hunt more for having more mouths to feed. Fortunately for coyotes, nature provides them with more to hunt during spring.

This time of year, my coyotes’ rabbits also produce offspring. Controlling rabbit populations is an important coyote job. Young rabbits are easier to catch than adult rabbits, and I imagine that in good years there are lots of them for adult and child coyote alike. The richness of vegetation from good rains provides more cover for rabbit nests. Rabbit nests would be fairly easy for a foraging a coyote puppy to find all on its own. Yet the coyotes and other predators don’t find all the nests. One reason they don’t is that adult rabbits make themselves conspicuous this time of year, acting as fast running decoys that lead predators away from their nests. Dense ground cover with a bumper rabbit crop in their field is an excellent incentive for my coyotes to remain in their field.

A balance between predators and rabbits protects the field itself from a being overgrazed by rabbits. Fifteen years ago, when I would only see foxes, rabbits were a problem down river at Leisure World which suffered from a rabbit invasion. I suspect that since the coming of coyotes, that invasion silently went away along with the foxes.

Recognition of individuals, bonded, walking home

It was still dark as two coyotes ran by in a hurry — it was hard to see them in the dim light. I looked far up the hill to see a group of walkers and their unleashed dogs — the coyotes were evading them. The coyotes kept their eyes on the group, but then stopped and looked at me. I always stand still when I see coyotes. The coyotes stopped fleeing and hung out for a moment some distance in front of me. But the walkers could then be seen again, and a woman from the group was yelling at her dog. The coyotes must have sensed danger to themselves because they then headed off and disappeared into the brush. I don’t think the group of walkers or dogs were aware of the coyotes.

The walkers moved, temporarily, out of sight and out of earshot. When I got over the crest of a hill I saw both coyotes walking slowly and calmly, and exploring the ground together. When the walkers could be heard again in the distance, the coyotes stopped their activity and looked up. When the walkers became visible again, the coyotes continued walking away from the group and in a direction I have seen them walk before. I’ve seen them walk in this direction often at about this same time — they gave the feeling that they were walking “home”. The coyotes were not in a hurry — they were far enough away from the group to know they could get away if they had to. They crossed the path, out of sight, avoiding detection by the walkers who then came down this same path.

I’ve been able to see that these particular coyotes distinguish me from groups of walkers with dogs. Through their behavior, one can see that coyotes can recognize and distinguish certain groups of dog walkers, certain dogs, and, yes, certain people.

Of note is that these two coyotes, nine-month-old siblings, tend to stick together most of the time — they appear to have a strong bond. One is definitely the leader, the other, the follower. I see them less and less often with their mother.

And the third observation that I’ve been becoming aware of, is that these coyotes were actually walking home — a direction in which I’ve seen them head, shortly after dawn, where they probably remain until dusk can camouflage them again. These coyotes are not out during daylight hours. “Home” may be a den area or close to a den area, or it may just be a place where they feel comfortable, safe and at ease: the same as what we use our own “homes” for — a place we head for at the end of a day.