What Coyotes Do: Deliberately & Consciously Weighing A Risk

We were out on a trek this morning. I say “we” because I am allowed to tag along in the distance sometimes. Not always, and not even often by any means, but sometimes. Today I wasn’t given the “look” which says, “please don’t follow me”. It wasn’t an invitation to come along, but neither was it a “no, you can’t come.” So I tagged as far behind as I could without losing sight of him, as this male coyote made his circuit — or at least for most of it.

This is the last 1/2 minute of a 5+ minute howling session. You can hear *her* faintly in the distance at the end.

The day “for us” began with me finding him in his park howling in response to a siren as dawn broke. His mate responded from far, far off — barely audible, but distinctly her response. I’m sure he knew where she was. I did not, this time. She was obviously tucked away and safe, which gave him one less thing to be concerned about at that moment. So off he went, with me bringing up the rear at about 100 feet. It was very uneventful. We met few people or dogs and then only two at the very end of the trek.

Over hill and dale, within the park, we remained on a long path, he stopping to sniff now and then, and mark sporadically. At one point he pooped — diarrhea — and I wondered at the cause.

We came to the edge of the park, and here he paced along the edge of the road, watching out for traffic. Coyotes trek through areas much larger than their park territories — this is part of their daily behavior. As he began to cross the wide road, one car whizzed past. When this happened, he edged his way slowly and carefully back to the sidewalk, away from the car, where he stood very still and on full alert, with all of his senses focused and with every muscle taught and ready to respond. He had obviously gone through this experience many times and had learned to avoid the risks of quick-moving traffic. When the way was clear, still focused and tense, he crossed the road quickly and directly, and headed towards the long open space in back of the houses lining the street.

There were no fences between those apartments or between their backyards, so it was a perfect coyote-corridor. Here, he continued stopping, sniffing and marking the length of the very long block of connected apartments. He was always on alert. Sometimes he would stop longer at certain spots. Occasionally, nonchalantly, he turned his head, or head and body, just enough so that he could keep an eye on me.  This one knows I’m interested in him. He also knows that I’m not at all interested in getting close — it’s probably confusing for him. Other animals who would be interested in him would either be interested in him as prey, or in messaging him antagonistically. I simply didn’t fit the bill.

After about half an hour of trekking, he came to a fence with a plank missing. The gap was big enough for him to fit through. Should he try it? He spent well over a minute intently assessing the opening. His head would go forward and then he would withdraw it and look up and around in all directions, including at me. He did this maybe about 8 times, and finally, bravery won the day and he went through. I went up and examined the opening: the opening abutted the low support beams under a porch, and these were less than a foot off the ground. The coyote would have had to squeeze tightly and then bend to make it through. There was no chance for me, so I returned to the park, thinking my observations were over for the day.

But, within twenty minutes, who should come trotting up the path to the spot where I had first seen him howl in the morning, but Mr. Coyote himself! He continued along the path, now going in the other direction, somehow avoiding detection, between a couple of runners. He climbed a steep knoll where he then spent a few moments surveyed his domain — this “surveying” is a common coyote activity — and then he continued on his way, over hill and dale, through a field of waist-to-chest-high dense brush. I hurried over his lookout hill to the field below and was able to, at times, see his back as he slithered along, hidden by the bushes. When a dog and walker appeared in the distance, the coyote loitered behind one of these bushes until they had gone, and then he himself hurried along his chosen route and disappeared into a dense thicket, and I knew he had “gone in” for the duration of the day. His trek lasted a little over an hour.

slithering away in waist-to-shoulder high shrubbery

slithering away in waist-to-shoulder high shrubbery

Predator-Safe Dog Runs

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Laurel loves her dogs, and she loves our urban wildlife, including the coyotes. She knows that raccoons and coyotes go a-trekking in the evenings, and sometimes even during daylight hours. “A predator-proof enclosure allows the family dogs safe, secure, anytime outdoor access between naps on the couch and outings to the dog park”. But the dog run was not predator-proof initially. She changed that so that now it is. Laurel is dedicated to saving dogs, raccoons and coyotes, and her creative solution is depicted in this photo.

It was after seeing a coyote trot through her front yard one evening, and reading reports of aggressive raccoons, that this San Francisco resident wanted to ensure the safety of the family’s three dogs. The pet door goes out to a ramp that leads into the dog run, which is now totally secure on the top and sides. “Our dogs are a part of the family and it gives us peace of mind for potty breaks even in the middle of the night”, reports Laurel. The dog-run’s most recent update is a black coating of paint, which actually makes it almost invisible when looking out of the solarium overlooking it.

An added benefit of this design is that two dogs who don’t get along can be let out at the same time because of the way it is partitioned. This helps with when a family member brings his/her antagonistic dog to visit while they go on a family trip. Laurel also walks dogs through her organization: Golden Gate Dog Walking, in San Francisco.

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Garbage Patrol

in a parking lot – rejected item – in the parking lot  
retained item – ten minutes of leaning up – peeing/marking
 

It was dark out, so the photos were blurry, and there was no feel for nighttime or darkness because the camera compensates for the lighting, making it look like daytime. So I experimented and came up with a lighting solution which really does give the viewer the right feeling I had when I took the photos — taken in the dark. Is this how things look in infrared? The tint seems to mask the graininess caused by low light.

Only about 2% of a coyote’s diet, as revealed by scat analysis, is composed of human produced items. Coyotes always prefer their more healthful, natural diet of rodents, berries and vegetation, but sometimes they indulge in “finds” for the change. Coyotes at times will visit picnic areas, trash cans and grocery parking lots where, if our trash is lying around, they will opportunistically pick things up for a special treat. I’ve seen them spit out stuff, so much of it is totally unpalatable to them. But some is enjoyed as you can see here.

On this particular evening, there was debris strewn in this parking lot, and the coyotes noted it as they trekked by. After briefly surveying the surroundings for safety, they did not hesitate to enter the area and went at it! Almost no one was around, and there were few cars — I guess the coyotes noted this, too, and that’s why they entered the parking lot. They wandered around, sniffing things on the ground — almost all of it was rejected and they’d turn their attention to the next piece of trash littering the ground. Finally I saw one of the coyotes pick up a plastic bag and run to the grassy edge of the lot with it. She spent a full ten minutes cleaning up whatever was in the bag. I guess that was enough for her because immediately left the lot after peeing on the spot where she had eaten. I have no idea what she had consumed, but  thought that it could have been the discarded portion of a burrito or sandwich.

leaving – walking down a street – about to cross street
something sumptuous found – keeping an eye on the moon? – rubbing her face
rubbing her back – crossing a street – body rub under some bushes
 

I followed her down several streets to a neighborhood residence where she went straight to a spot she must have known about, dug something up and nibbled on it. She stayed there eating whatever she found and looking around, and up, to make sure she was safe. She was there over ten minutes. My thought is that, since she went straight to that spot, she may have buried something there. When she finished she licked her snout, then went over to a patch of ground with grass only a few paces away and rubbed the sides of her face on it and then her chin. Hmmm — interesting! Then she got up and walked over to a bush which she used to rub her back against, back and forth: was she actually scratching her back, or was there an oder on the plant which she was trying to absorb? She then crossed the street where she found more shrubbery which she rubbed against and under, again, for a considerable period of time, as if she were wiping on, or wiping off, an odor.  Finally she trotted off, peed again, probably as a message, and was off and out of sight.

Trek, Far and Away, Beginning At Dusk

A few days ago, I was able to keep up with one of the coyotes I know as she began trekked at dusk.

caught a gopher

caught a gopher

She started out in a park where she found a gopher as she lingered, waiting for the day to fade. Then she headed out into a neighborhood street, with plenty of parked cars but no moving traffic. She picked up a couple of mice at the edges of driveways. She didn’t have to search for them — they were just “there”. She couldn’t have seen them. Did she hear them or smell them?  They were small and eaten quickly.

through a neighborhood

through a neighborhood

She then headed, decisively, to wherever she was going. She walked at a fast pace and kept her body high and tall — she was on high alert. She was amazingly tuned-in to her surroundings and the human world she entered as twilight set in. I’ve been told that pet dogs know their owners better than the owners know themselves. This is because they watch you all day! Well, coyotes don’t watch you all day, but they do watch us — from behind the scenes — and they learn our patterns.

middle of street

middle of street

She seemed to know where human perception lay, and that it wasn’t as keen as hers, especially at night. She knew when to stand still, when to duck down or simply walk behind a tree so that only part of her was visible — not enough to make her recognizable. Only one person saw her — amazed — “is that a coyote!” She stuck to the side of the road where she could duck into high grasses or shrubbery if she needed to — and she needed to three times, when three different cars went by. But she also wandered into the middle of the road several times, zigzagging right down the middle of it.

gopher in open space

gopher in open space

Her next stop was way down the street at an abandoned field where she hunted and caught another gopher. It took her only a short time to eat this, crushing the bones so the gopher could be consumed whole. Then she trotted assuredly onto a long church driveway. She seemed to know where she was headed. She moved along the driveway fairly quickly, stopping to sniff and “mark” in a couple of places, before climbing a hill at the edge of the church property. Here she hunted a little, but didn’t find anything.

dashing through a break in the traffic

dashing through a break in the traffic

She was now at the edge of a 6-lane thoroughfare. I thought she would turn back and descend the hill — but she waited there as the traffic whizzed by — she was hidden by the fading daylight and the darkness under dense trees. Then she took off — resolutely — across the street! “Oh, no,” I thought, “I’m going to have to watch her die”. But, as she crossed, the traffic magically parted for her. In fact, I was able to cross during the same brief break in the traffic. Her judgement and timing were excellent.  She got to the other side of the street and climbed the steep grassy embankment and was off down the next winding two-lane road. Please note that it’s much darker than the photos show — the headlights of the cars are on because they need them.

up an embankment through dense brush

up an embankment through dense brush

I exerted myself  to keep up but lagged behind because of the steep hill. When I got to the road she was now on, she was way way ahead — almost invisible in the dusk. I decided to give catching-up a try. I was able to do so because she stopped to examine and pick up some road kill — I think it was part of a squirrel. She carried it off to the side of the road where she was somewhat hidden in the tall grasses. This is when I caught my breath. She spent several minutes eating her find. She then descended from her hiding place and continued on her way, up the two lane road.  Her trajectory as I followed was in a single direction — far and away from where she began.  I wondered where she was ultimately headed. I would have needed night vision goggles to follow any further.

car headlights help me focus

car headlights help me focus

what you can see with night vision goggles

what you can see with night vision goggles

I actually tried on a pair of night vision goggles from my son’s lab. Wow! In a totally blackened room, you can SEE! What you see is a very clear and sharp black and green. I wondered how close these are to coyote night vision. Most of the daytime treks I’ve kept up with lasted anywhere from one to three hours. I’ve always assumed that nighttime trekking was a more substantial endeavor, maybe lasting all night. I wasn’t able to find out how long this one lasted because of my own inability to see. I turned around and went back.