Scout Continues On The Run

Scout disappeared from my radar about six weeks ago, after a short return to her old territory at the end of June from where she left abruptly after seeing that her vanquisher was still there. It appears that this little coyote will never give up hope of returning. . . . some day, some day.

For those who do not know her story, she was viciously driven out of the territory she had owned for three years by another coyote, Wired, in February. Sadly, humans probably had a hand in the outcome of the territorial battle.

July 20th. Photo credit: WMontgrain

A couple of weeks ago she resurfaced in a park across the city. Some of the photos showed her looking well and healthy, but others showed her looking very thin, even factoring in that all coyotes look scrawny at this time of year because it’s the end of their shedding season: there is nothing left of their 3″ thick and fluffy winter coats.

She is an interloper without a territory, and interlopers are not allowed to stay long on claimed territories. The new park has long belonged to another entrenched coyote family. Scout was there for only about ten days, when a neighbor saw the territorial fight on Sunday, July 21st at dusk that seems to have ended her stay there. She has not been seen there since this happened: she is again on the run, leading the life of a fugitive.

So Scout is continuing to experience hard times. I try to console myself be remembering that coyotes are resilient and are made to deal with adversity. We all hope she is okay.

I continue to see Wired very sporadically in the territory she took over from Scout, but few other people have ever seen her there — she is a much more elusive critter. She makes regular long exploratory trips to all corners of the city: her latest excursion took her to 19th Avenue, close to Stern Grove. After these wanderings, Wired always returns to the territory she won from Scout where she continues to be irregularly, but often enough to keep Scout away and homeless. UPDATE 8/8: According to her radio-collar emissions (as per the ecologist at the Presidio) she has spent her recent time at the Presidio and Lands End, and been all the way down to Brisbane.

Scout Update: Heartwarming and Heartbreaking

I’ve been able to keep track of our territorially-displaced coyote, Scout, for the last four months as she kept herself out of the way and inconspicuous for the most part in various neighborhoods throughout the center of the city. And then, during the last several weeks she appeared in none of those places and I lost track of her.

So it was overwhelmingly heartwarming to hear from my friends that she had been spotted in her old territory the morning of June 26th: she’s alive and kicking and has not, apparently, given up hope of returning to her old home: what a trooper!  And a brave one at that since she might have been risking her life!  I was sent images, and indeed it was her: she was there, off-and-on, during a five hour interval that morning where, I’m told, she could be seen repeatedly yawning, I’m sure out of anxiety. I myself was only able to catch trail cam images of her before dawn that day as she headed toward her old hill (see above), and then again as she headed away that evening.

Wired making sure Scout stays away

By that evening, Wired — the radio-collared coyote who won the territory in a battle in February — had picked up her scent and was already on her trail. When Scout sensed her presence she was compelled to leave the area. The next day I caught images of her at one of her nearby hideouts where she hadn’t been in almost a month. Then, Wired, too, was seen checking out that same area (see images directly below): she is still hotly pursuing Scout. And now, again, I have lost track of Scout. Wired is back and remains in charge of what is now HER hill where she can be spotted sporadically.

The infrared photos show that Scout has several new sores on her underside and legs which she did not have before. Are these due to malnutrition, bugs, infections, being repelled by other coyotes, or simply wear and tear from life? Let’s hope this is just part and parcel of normal coyote nomad existence. Coyotes are very resilient, as this coyote has already shown us, so we can hope whatever is going on resolves itself quickly.

So Wired remains the territorial empress of what had belonged to Scout, and Scout remains the territorial-less roving nomad and vagrant, eeking out a living in-between territories claimed by other coyotes who keep her at bay. That is the part that’s heartrending.

Wired: the reigning alpha coyote

Coyote Territorial Movements: Scout’s Story

I’ve been able to keep up with a displaced coyote for the last four months. I decided to summarize what has been going on recently with her, as well as her territorial life previous to the battle which displaced her. I’ve used names here to help you keep the individuals involved sorted out.

The wanderings here were put together based solely on my visual identification of individuals in different families I’ve observed over the years, and with a couple of field cameras. I seldom use field cams because they are intrusive: coyotes know they are there. I define anything as intrusive which changes the behavior of a coyote. Coyotes look right at the cams because of course they can see them and hear them. You’ll notice that many trap-cam photos show the animals looking directly at the camera. Sometimes a coyote can only hear the camera, in which case you will get photos of the coyote (or other animal) looking up and around as he/she tries to figure out exactly what and where the sound is. Some coyotes come over and examine the cameras because they are worried about them. I know one coyote who actually “messages” his dislike to such cameras by defecating in front of them, kicking dirt, or even knocking them down! Yikes! Anyway, since I’m not seeing Scout on her territory, and I wanted to follow through on her story for at least a while, I resorted to using a couple such cameras on routes where coyotes have been seen several times. Friends have allowed me — when these coyotes have been sighted in their areas — to put up a camera very temporarily on or near their properties and I want to thank them for helping out!

These coyotes wander generally and much more than I’ve depicted here. The movements depicted here are simply to show points where they went, and when, which affected Scout’s story.

I did not observe the coyote referred to as “Wired” being captured and radio-collared on January 3rd. My observations of her begin after that. I called up the Presidio to ask about the new radio-collared coyote in Scout’s area. Within San Francisco, no coyotes are radio-collared EXCEPT those within the Presidio, so they would know about her. That’s how I have that date. She was in the general area of Scout’s territory for weeks before the territorial fight. Scout’s sudden change of behavior to constant periphery walks and patrolling hinted at what was to come, but I was unable to identify what was causing this behavior change until after the attack: then it all fell into place.

Coyotes, once you get to know them, can be identified by their faces, their general body shapes/outlines and their movements/behaviors. But in addition, very interestingly, I have found family resemblances within some families — no different from in some human families. Recognizing these family similarities has helped me find where some coyotes had once been after they moved, by going back to my previous photos of that family. Dispersed individuals often, of course, continue to change a little appearance-wise as they fill out to their adult sizes. There is a slight difference between the younger and slightly older coyote which may throw you off when attempting an exact identification — until you compare them to the previous photos you took of them and realize and confirm that indeed, they are one and the same coyote.

Scout was Queen Bee as a loner for two and a half years in her territory. The bliss of friendship and camaraderie followed and lasted five months. She was obviously as thrilled at the new situation as were her long-time observers. But it ended and she fell hard. Defeated in battle by an intruder, she lost everything, and was barely able to hold on to life itself. Even now, to stay alive, she must constantly flee from place to place, continuously looking over her shoulder. Scout’s story emphasizes how strong coyote territoriality is: they fight for and defend their turfs. Her story also speaks strongly for how extremely social coyotes are: they interact all the time — both adversely and harmoniously — and have strong family ties: they sometimes even check on family individuals over distances.

As of this posting, here are my last two sightings of Wired and Scout. Wired is seen on May 24th (three days ago) passing over the path that Scout has been taking for a week: that’s the first part of the video. Then, Scout is seen this morning passing through again: note her continual looking over her shoulder before continuing on the path: she does not want to run into Wired.

Recovery and A Transformed Life

I no longer see our banished coyote in her old territory, but I have been seeing her, if only infrequently, not terribly far away. It’s of course great to see that she’s still alive: she’s a survivor. Her situation a month after receiving her wounds can be seen in the video below: she endured an infection in the torn up part of her neck which then began to drain — the video below depicts this. Today, two months after this video was captured, she is fully recovered from the infection.

Showing the draining infection from a territorial fight as it appeared about a month after the wounds were sustained. She has recovered. (Trap camera in friend’s backyard).

But her life has changed drastically from what it had been before the intruder drove her out from what had been her paradisal three-year home — she has had to change gears. She is now an outsider, a sort of outcast. She has become an interloper without a territory and belongs nowhere, except out of the path of other coyotes. She’s living on the edges and in-between other coyotes’ territories.  This changed situation must be hard enough on her, after having been queen of her very own territory previously. But having no territory is just part of her new hardship.

A field camera has caught the entire situation. I seldom use these cameras because they are intrusive to the animal to the point of changing their behaviors and startling them. More on that in a future posting. It is in the vicinity of a friend’s home that I began regularly spotting the banished and recuperating coyote. Then, the week before last, the radio-collared coyote suddenly appeared on the screen of an automatic camera on my friend’s property. Yikes! That radio-collared coyote appears to be pursuing the banished coyote beyond the territory she fought for and won to drive her even further away. The banished gal has strong ties to her old home, having lived there for so long. She keeps her distance from there, but not a great distance.

As my friend Lou stated in a previous post, canids and canines “can literally be everywhere by scent, sound and sight.” It’s how the radio-collared coyote found the banished coyote’s new retreat, and how the banished coyote became aware of the radio-collared gal’s appearance at that place — though they probably have not actually “seen” each other. This has caused our pursued coyote to pretty much leave that retreat, returning only a couple of times during midday hours over the following two weeks, while the more stealthy radio-collared coyote has been passing through fairly regularly at midnight.

Taken to the streets: I found the banished one trekking across town before dawn this morning, right in the middle of the street. She stood right in front of the car with headlights shining brightly on her. I jumped out of the car and took this photo.

And there’s even another level to the story. The area these two female coyotes have been passing through appears to “belong” to a mated pair of coyotes who I’ve known many years. I didn’t know this until they began appearing sporadically in the trap camera. I apparently have placed the camera in a perfect cross-roads spot — it’s Central Station there! The camera has been catching the pair together, or more recently the male alone, coming by, if infrequently, and sniffing for the last several weeks, as seen in the third section of the video below: I’m sure these territorial owners know exactly what is going on through their noses and what Lou said above: they are very aware of the two coyotes, and may even be aware that one is pursuing the other. . . . in THEIR territory. Hmmm. What’s going to happen? As you can see in the video, the male marks the area as he passes through.

Three different unrelated coyotes at separate times passing through the same location. 

Meanwhile, back at the Okay Corral (disputed homestead), I’ve seen the new radio-collared coyote regularly — her instincts are intact and she tries to keep out of view — in diametrical contrast to the first coyote. And she makes forays into what was our coyote’s new retreat. The displaced coyote is no longer seen in her old territory, and, it appears, she’s being forced away from her new retreat.

The radio-collared coyote keeping a low profile at her won territory.

As I’ve said before, there’s lots going on in the coyote world which is below our radar: this is what coyote lives are like; these are things they have to contend with.

Adversity Continues

Wired coyote has returned

After brutally driving off our 3-year resident coyote and hanging around the area for about two months, the Wired intruder headed off to an area several miles away where I serendipitously encountered her a number of times. She appears to be roaming the entirety of San Francisco, from corner to corner. I wondered if she had permanently moved on. I wondered what her plans were. But she was gone less than a week and is now back patrolling the turf she battled for and won.

Ragged: tattered and torn in body, but not in spirit

During those two months, our previous resident coyote had been staying away and hanging low as she recovered from her severe wounds and infections. Then, during the last week she, of course, became acutely aware of her rival’s absence and was making daily forays to her old turf, bravely sticking her toe in the door — so to speak — moving to reclaim her domain. We of course no longer ever saw her romping joyously at the top of hilltops, Queen of her domain and ever so happy, but rather slithering by quickly and surreptitiously through inconspicuous places. Her tentative forays were not being met with resistance from her arch-rival and things appeared to be going well for her. That was during the week the Wired coyote was away. But now that she’s back, we’ll have to wait and see what kind of a truce, if any, is worked out between them. Let’s hope there’s not another fight.

It’s been an amazing drama, and a scary one, if you care. One has to wonder at the stress and tension being sustained by this brave little creature willing to risk her life to defend her turf. Coyotes are known to kill each other over their territories: it goes to show just how important their exclusive land-claims are for their survival. Again, I want to point out how intense coyote lives are, with ups and downs to match anything going on in the human world.

See: Detrimental Effects of Radio-collars

A Protracted Territorial Feud

Coyote internal affairs are every bit as involved as our own, and much more interesting than the human/coyote/dog interface which is what most people are mostly aware of due to news reports. Their lives can be melodramatic and riddled with thrills! Here’s an example on par with the Hatflieds vs. the McCoys.

The newly-arrived one: wary and guarded in her new surroundings, especially after the non-welcome she received from our resident coyote.

Few people noticed that a new coyote was around, and no one imagined that this would change the course of the lives of our resident coyotes. What was HER story? Had she left her home of her own volition, or had it been a forced dispersal? Might she have even been driven away from the next place where she tried squatting? How long had her wanderings been? Time-wise at least a couple of months, distance-wise at least over half of the city, according to reports. She was here now, and again according to reports, had been in the area for a good number of weeks before a territorial battle took place. She needed a place to live in order to survive and was probably desperate. I’m trying to keep her point of view in mind here.

She appeared to be unscathed from the encounter, whereas the resident female had sustained wounds:  maybe this is because the newcomer had already been through this kind of thing before and was practiced, whereas we know the territorial defender — the coyote we knew and had come to love so much due to her very upbeat personality — had led an unchallenged and unperturbed life for 3 years as queen of her park. Both newcomer and the displaced residents (there was a male with her) have been lying low since that fight.

For the last couple of weeks, then, mostly out of the corner of my eye, I’ve been glimpsing the newcomer furtively passing through back alleyways, mostly scared and fleetingly. Few other neighbors have actually seen her (or for that matter, even know about her). Several people saw her when I did, but they were unable to recognize her as a different coyote — they simply saw a coyote form: most people cannot identify individual coyotes, even with markers. I’m slowly beginning to see her more and more.

Recovering from her wounds, far enough away. Photo by Adrian Parker.

The wounded coyote — the one who has been displaced — has been hiding out in a distant green space where neighbors spotted her (and also saw the male, once) trotting up the streets, foraging quietly, or even sleeping in their backyards. She was keeping away and healing.

THEN, several days ago, my friend Doug caught a glimpse of the tattered female (see photo below). No one had seen her in the three weeks before this, so we had assumed she had been driven off for good, but we were wrong. What a mess she looked! She was lacerated from head to toe: on her head, neck, and legs. Were these wounds from the fight I documented earlier, or had there been additional confrontations? Her fur might have concealed the extent of her wounds when I first saw them three weeks ago — I don’t remember them looking this bad. Would she now stay? She was seen only for a minute at this sighting, and then disappeared from view.

What a mess she looked! Photo by Doug Dunderdale

For the next two days, the only coyote we ever saw, glancingly, was the cocky newcomer gal who traversed the park looking very much at ease as she sauntered through. Human glances hurried her on her merry way and out of view fairly quickly (below).

New Arrival

Then, surprise, a day later, Miss Tattered and Torn was back, with the lacerations on her face, head, neck, and legs more obvious than ever (below). She was limping and disheartened, but apparently not giving up.

As you can see from this posting, coyote internal affairs can be every bit as involved as our own, and much more interesting than the human/coyote/dog interface which is what most people are mostly aware of due to news reports. Watching and documenting them is like watching a soap-opera with cliff-hangers!

Hope we’re not in for a long, protracted Hatfield vs. McCoys affair, which, in case you have forgotten or never knew, was a drawn-out human territorial battle way back during Civil War days. It sounds pretty similar to me.

As for the newcomer, if she remains, hopefully people won’t feed her or befriend her as they did the previous resident coyote. That coyote had been put in daily danger as she waited for food on the street, approached some people, and even chased cars from which food was tossed.


Of peripheral interest: I’ve been following these particular coyotes since their births. The displaced female had come to this territory three years ago, arriving at 9 months of age from a park several miles away where I had watched her grow up in a 3rd generation family, each generation of which I had followed — she was the 4th generation. The male who she is attached to, had arrived only several months ago from his birthplace all the way across the city. At a year and a half of age, he was harshly driven out of his home by his siblings, not by his parents. Even after his arrival here, he continued to wander for days at a time, often three-mile distances in the opposite direction from his birthplace, but this wandering had been diminishing. And then, a New Arrival, an Intruder appeared. Things can change in the blink of an eye. Let’s see how the story unfolds.

A Coyote Defends Her Turf

Territoriality is a huge component of coyote behavior: it is a prominent thread that runs through many of my postings, including my last four, and now this one.

Lickety-split down the street

The day’s observations began when I saw this coyote run down the middle of the street, away from an open space. Something important was going on for her to run off at a full speed gallop, lickety-split, like that. Coyotes may run  like this from dogs, but there were no dogs after her, and I sensed she was the one leading this charge, doing the pursuing. She disappeared down a distant street and I didn’t think I would see her again anytime soon. I decided to explore some of the surrounding streets that included little habitat niches as I took a morning walk in the pouring rain.

Soaked through and through

Within half an hour I saw what I thought was a new coyote because it did not look at all familiar — I know all the coyotes well in the various territories where I document, including this one, and this, I thought, was not one of them. As I continued to watch, this coyote’s “behavior” revealed to me that this was none other than the lickety-split runner I had observed earlier. She looked so completely different because she was absolutely water-laden: she was SOPPING like an old rag, including all the fur on her face which lay matted down and made her look different, so she was unrecognizable by her appearance alone. She climbed up a nearby slope slowly and laboriously, which also threw me for a loop at first. As she crossed the street, she attempted shaking out all that water contained in her coat a number of times, but she faltered. She was unable to do so. This is why she was so water-laden. I knew something was amiss. Might she have a neck injury?

Just then a siren sounded in the distance and she began soulful and mournful howling — it wasn’t something I’ve heard from her before. I’ve heard this type of howling before as a very upset warning sound for intruders. After howling only a short time, she again tried shaking out the water from her drenched coat, but she could not accomplish the task, possibly due to pain. Within a minute she crossed the street, and then ran when she felt she was threatened by a dog (the dog was leashed), and disappeared into a thicket. In urban areas, coyotes need thickets to get away from people and dogs.

This type of howling in the video above I’ve heard repeatedly associated with intruders

When I got home, I reviewed the photos in detail. And there it was: there was a bloody gash on the left side of her forehead. As I examined the photos, I also noted bright pink/red skin poking through her fur on the right side of her head, including her ear. I wondered if she might have been hit by a car.

Wounds

Again, thoughts swam through my head about helping this coyote. But as has happened before, my instincts told me that if she could heal, she’d do it on her own. That the worst outcome would be human intervention which would tame her even more than she’s been tamed. And if it’s her time to go, she should be allowed to do so. She was totally mobile which is my benchmark for interfering with nature.

The next day I met someone who was anxious to reveal the very unusual sight THEY had witnessed the previous morning, down the street where I had seen the coyote go: two coyotes had been battling. I was told that one was initially under a parked car (this is used often as a protective hiding place for coyotes from, say, dogs and even people) and there was blood spattered on the sidewalk and side of the car. One coyote had on a radio-collar — we don’t see this too often in the City. Radio collars are not used in San Francisco except within the small national park section of the city known as the Presidio. I know the ecologist there and contacted him to find out if any of his radio-collared coyotes had been in this area — radio telemetry would reveal that. Yes, he said there was a 2+ year old female who was roaming the area. She was not from the Presidio, but had wandered in, and so he collared her on January 3. So that was the explanation: there had been an intruder and a territorial battle.

Swollen eyes, snout, neck

Territorial battles can be brutal and disfiguring. Several days after the incident, this gal’s face looked different to me who knows her well. The skin under her chin had been strangely pulled out, and there was swelling around her eyes and snout. Hopefully that would soon go down. I’ve seen an instance of where an entire chunk of skin was bitten off during such a territorial fight. A territory is a coyote’s livelihood. For them, the outcome of such a fight could mean the difference between life and death.

What was the outcome of this territorial dispute? Who won? There is only one alpha female in any given territory — one Queen Bee — so I’m supposing there had to be a “winner”. I’ve seen both female coyotes since the incident, each on separate days (not together). Both coyotes are at least several years old: both are mature and wizened coyotes.  I wouldn’t think that the resident coyote would give up her Queenship too readily. We’ll have to wait to see how this pans out.

The intruder, too, is looking for a place to live

FULL LIVES: This might be a good place to point out that coyotes have amazingly full and intricate lives: there’s lots of depth and breadth to what is constantly going on with them. They aren’t just hanging around eating and reproducing. Once you get to know them, you learn that there’s always something happening: it’s like watching a soap opera with constant cliffhangers! They are as social as we are and they have many of the same drives that come from being social: they mate for life, both parents raise the young, they play,  there’s kindness, altruism, jealousy, competition, rivalry, fear, etc., and there are the broader concerns, including territoriality and battles with unknown coyotes, dispersal, life-cycles, etc. Getting to know them through their interactions and their individual behaviors has allowed me to piece together who they are on a variety of levels.

MY FOCUS: Most scientists and academics appear to be concerned with data: numbers, measurements, trends, repetitions. So, for instance, Stan Ghert radio-collars coyotes, counts pups, takes blood samples, weighs and measures them, and graphs or maps where the animals go. A lot of this information can be gleaned and compiled mechanically (radio-collars). Or focused slices of their lives might be examined: Chris Nagy, for instance, is an ecologist, so he’s interested in how coyotes fit into the environment; Christian Hunold examines potential political ramifications.

I’m more concerned with everyday individual lives and individual histories: i.e., with what it’s like to be a coyote. I observe with my naked eye and photo-document observable coyote behavior (though I’ve done scat studies).  I’m mostly concerned with their individual interactions, their individuality (WHO they are) and how each coyote fits into its family situation, and also the human interface within the city and how that is evolving over time. These observations are direct and first-hand and take lots of focused time, similar to the way Jane Goodall observed her chimps, only Jane actually interacted with her charges, and I make it point never to do so — I’m always on the outside looking in. My guidelines I’ve refined, based on first-hand observations of what I’ve seen works best in our parks here in San Francisco.

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