It’s A Small World After All

A couple of days ago I visited the Presidio of San Francisco. I haven’t been going there regularly because the ecologist there is already monitoring those coyotes, but I went this time to check on the coyote I’ve labeled “Wired” — she had been radio-collared over a year ago. I heard she had moved in there and kicked out the previous family. This coyote indeed is a “toughy”. She is of special interest to me:  I had watched her wreak havoc on another coyote (who I’ve been documenting since her birth in 2015) and then pursue that coyote throughout the city for 6 months.

Second pair of coyotes in the Park

Initially I did not find the coyote I was looking for. Instead I found another pair of coyotes who looked surprisingly familiar. I’m trying to “place” their relationship among the coyotes I know. I generally can do so by watching visually for nuclear family similarities which I then hope to confirm with DNA analysis results.

I have been collecting DNA extracted from scat samples since 2008, to (among other things) help confirm my observations about relationships and movements throughout the city. The DNA analysis (Ben Sacks, Monica Serrano, et. al., UC Davis, 2020) has already shown that our present SF coyote population of 60 to 100 coyotes all came from just FOUR founding coyotes originating in Mendocino County: It appears that our SF coyote population is indeed inbred as I’ve noted and has not been augmented from the South.

Wired ran by — she’s radio-collared

When he looked at me I couldn’t believe my eyes. Was this Puff?

A couple of days later I returned to the Presidio and this time was rewarded with the appearance of Wired and her new mate! Wired hurried by with the male following close behind — she is obviously the leader of the pair. And then her mate turned around and looked at me. When you come across an old friend you haven’t seen in ages, in an odd place, your response might be, “Wow, it really is a small world!” This has happened to me with coyotes, and it just happened again! I could hardly believe my eyes! This appears to be the coyote I had labeled “Puff”. The label is based on his appearance and is used to differentiate him from his siblings when I write about them.

He was born in the spring of 2017 in a park that is not far off [I don’t state exact locations on this blog]. I’m including several photos of him (above) taken before he dispersed from his birthplace, along with photos of his mother and father on their territory there. I have DNA from these coyotes — I collect it right after it is expelled in most instances, so I know which coyote belongs to which sample. These will be used to confirm my visual/photographed observations. Puff has proved himself to be as much of a toughy as is Wired, having joined a brother to forcefully and viciously drive out a third brother from their birthplace in August of 2018, something I was able to observe. That’s how dispersal works.

It’s great to see Puff now paired up with a like-minded female (two toughies) and they appear to be the reigning alphas of their territory. It’s exciting to see these coyotes’ lives develop beyond their dispersal, something I’ve been able to do with only a handful of them so far. I don’t yet know what their relationship is with the other resident pair. They use some of the same territorial pathways, which I’m sure has significance for determining what the relationship is.

These two pairs may in fact be closely related. I say this, because otherwise, I believe, Wired and Puff would have driven out that second pair, but they have not. The previous Presidio pair along with their offspring were driven out. My continuing DNA study will confirm what their relationship is if I don’t figure it out beforehand.

So far, none of the coyotes I’ve been able to follow after their dispersal from their birthplaces has produced any offspring. Maybe Wired and Puff will produce the first 3rd generation that I’ll be able to keep tabs on! And there’s the possibility for a next generation in one other dispersed female I keep tabs on. We’ll just have to wait and see. Although I’ve watched yet another family through four generation (parents of parents of parents), there, the breeding pairs, one after the other, have remained stable and on their original territory the entire time — in fact for 13 years so far.

More recent movements within the city:

Among the four youngsters I’ve watched grow-up and then been pleasantly-surprised to see in other parks, are two that I’ve already written about, though I may not have used these labels: Scout and Hunter.

In addition to these dispersals, I’ve also seen family members travel large distances within the city to “pay a visit” or “check on” their dispersed youngsters (Maeve, Yote). I’ll soon be writing about a Dad who was just kicked out of his most recent territory and returned to where his youngsters were living. This male and his mate had dispersed from that territory (where the two youngsters remained), rather than the offspring (who did not leave/disperse) — it’s an interesting twist in things. Some family connections seem to be maintained over a great many years and over long distances.

By the way, Wired was in Puff’s birth-territory for awhile when he was still there. I don’t know if she is related to him, but there has been a long-standing association. I’ve also seen two other Presidio coyotes at Puff’s birth-territory. I wonder what the special tie is between these two family groups.


Endnotes: It’s very satisfying to have one’s visual observations confirmed by hard data (DNA). “Science” tends to accept only hard data, not visual data, though I have my photographs which indeed show connections. Incidentally, I do not use gadgets such as radio-collars or tags, which I think are harmful. I recognize coyote facially and can follow them that way, using sequences of photos to study any details. Except in a few instances, the coyotes I document are all labeled based on their appearance so I can readily know who they are.

Rufous! by Charles Wood

Rufous 2013

Rufous 2017

Today I was fortunate and saw Rufous. The 2013 photograph and the 2017 photograph: same Rufous, different years. That’s my boy! The river of life in and all around him.

I was opposed to his match with Mary and had hoped Rufous would just go away or be chased away. Mary’s parents lost their territory to Rufous and Mary in 2013. I guess Mary knew what she was doing when she accepted Rufous’ proposal. Since 2013 it has been 5 years of offspring and Mary’s life is more than half over.

Rufous wasn’t glad to see me of course, me just another blip on his radar and a choice to make. Today he sauntered around a little before trotting away.

Posting written by Charles Wood. Visit Charles Wood’s website for more coyote photos from LA: Charles Wood. His work is copyrighted and may only be used with his explicit permission.

Mystery Foxes, by Charles Wood

Dad 2010

I took the 2010 picture of Dad in early June. He walked out of his hiding place in the brush and boldly strutted by Holtz and me. Dad stopped not far away and seemed pleased with himself as I photographed him.

Thursday Dad ran at my two dogs and me, stopped, and watched as I made them stop their barking and lie down. Dad was in his field on the other side of a fence and my dogs and I were up on the river bank. Instead of walking my usual southbound route I had come up to their field from the south. My plan was to catch my coyotes unawares. I didn’t.

Both photographs show the prominent scar on Dad’s nose. Mom’s droopy ear and Dad’s nose uniquely identify them. Mom and Dad are a solid core for their pack, their children. I know Mom and Dad when I see them and I can count on seeing them. The children seem as a furry blur in comparison and are harder to distinguish and monitor.

Dad 2012

Two days ago a jogger spoke to me as he went by on the river bank. He yelled out that he had just seen a fox. I was surprised to hear that since I haven’t seen a fox on the river in at least ten years. I walked to where he had pointed and I didn’t see anything. I can’t imagine that someone would confuse Dad or Mom with a fox. I can imagine that someone would confuse a coyote puppy with a fox. In the first week of June last year a park ranger said he had seen two foxes in the field. It is a bit of a mystery that fox sightings occur at about the time I expect coyote puppies to be out and about.

Posting written by Charles Wood. Visit Charles Wood’s website for more coyote photos: Charles Wood. His work is copyrighted and may only be used with his explicit permission.

Three At Dusk, by Charles Wood

Here in LA County Sunday I finally saw three of my coyotes just as I got ready to call it quits. A young one came out to wait. It soon hid in the brush. Mom came up just a bit later from the south. She stopped and, with her child hidden nearby, immediately started to howl. She howled unanswered for several long breaths. Then others joined her howling and yipping even though they were a few feet away! It is when the others joined in that I switched on the video. Mom’s voice, though hard to distinguish, is the highest. She has a thin and very high voice. Sunday was the first time I heard it. Most of Mom’s howling was not in my direction. She only turned my way when she was more or less done.

Six seconds into the video a rabbit decides to relocate. Mom heads to her family nearby and the video is cut before she goes into their hiding place camera right. When the video resumes, Dad heads camera left, their child comes out, and Mom pees camera right. It is Mom who pushes her child away from Dad. In that segment it is clear her milk has come in. Note that the child comes back in ten seconds. Mom holds perfectly still for Dad’s inspection of her and the child gives them more space. Dad next seems to feel a choice is required of him: follow Mom and child camera left or deal in some way with me. Maybe trying to decide, he sits and scratches. Dad then pees where Mom had. Unfortunately, the child did not and I don’t know if it is male or female. After more cavorting they head east. They exit where the rabbit was last seen, though they don’t seem interested in finding it.

I should mention that I have had an second dog with me for a few months when I watch for my coyotes. Both Holtz and Lucas, an eighty-five pound German Shepard Dog, watched their wild dog cousins Sunday with interest, standing silently with me on the riverbank.

Mom’s howling was unexpected. I’ve seen them reunite at the same spot several times. Many more times I’ve seen one or more coyotes there waiting patiently for other family members to show up. They arrive and they wait, but I’ve never seen any howl for others. The obvious difference is that Mom recently had her pups. Maybe Mom’s anomalous howling was for being in a hurry for being away from her pups. Maybe not. She may not have been summoning the others with her howl, may have known they were right there. She may have just felt like howling.

Where are this year’s pups? It is the same question I posed last year upon seeing Mom with her milk in, but no pups around. Who was with the pups, or, were there any? My guess is that last year she had a small litter. The young coyote in the video is probably one born in 2011 and it has taken me a year to see it.

This year I’m not sure if the adults in the pack are more than the three in the video. I suppose Mom, who has successfully raised a few litters, is in the habit of leaving newborns behind in their den. I have to assume she knows what she is doing. I think the fact that she is out, apparently taking a break from newborns, means that there are more than three coyotes in the pack this year.

Fall In LA County, by Charles Wood

Mister

In Los Angeles it had been weeks since I had seen any of the coyote family that makes its home in a field by a concrete river nearby.  Sunday I saw an eighteen month old male who I’m guessing was Mister, though it is hard to be sure given his winter coat.  I haven’t seen his mom in six weeks and it has been eight weeks since I last saw his dad.  From late spring through summer I see my coyote pack on almost any day.  In fall and winter, if not for their droppings, you would think they were not there at all.

Mister's Message

Where do they go and how far away?  Mister left a message for me today that is also a clue as to their whereabouts:  they go where the ripened fruit is and eat a lot of it.  If anyone reading recognizes the seeds, please let me know the name of the plant so I may try and locate some.

Posting written by Charles Wood. Visit Charles Wood’s website for these and more coyote photos: Charles Wood. His work is copyrighted and may only be used with his explicit permission.

“Choose One, Ladies”, by Charles Wood

If you were a marriageable young coyote female, which brother would you pick?  Would it be Mister?  Or would it be Tom?  Does Mister’s white-tipped tail seal the deal?  Or would you forgive Tom that fault when you say “I do.”?

Mister has a yearling brother Tom.  How could I have confused Tom with Mister?  Yet confuse them I did.  Tom is one more male yearling to add to my pack, last pictured together in my post here:  Los Angeles Area Pack, by Charles Wood.

Posting written by Charles Wood. Visit Charles Wood’s website for these and more coyote photos: Charles Wood. His work is copyrighted and may only be used with his explicit permission.

Family Play Scene

The most obvious sign of a family is when what you thought was a twosome suddenly shows itself to be a threesome or a foursome! We had only been seeing two coyotes at this site, an older male and a young female. After identifying them, I stopped looking closely at these individuals, because it was so easy to distinguish them.

Then we came upon this family play scene. Ma played with a youngster, while Pa curled up to hold down the fort in his own way — with shut eyes. He’d glance over at the play now and then but didn’t want to be a part of it. Dozing off, away from the others, but within view of them, was his idea of fun. Pa is substantially older than Ma in both his appearance and in his energy level.

Playing between Ma and the youngster consisted of chasing, tumbling, leaping and wrestling, with continual forays in our direction to check us out. The youngster also kept looking off into the distance which made me think that maybe there was a fourth coyote who we did not see — and one of the photos certainly made that a possibility — though it could have been the lighting that prevented definitive identification. I only actually saw three coyotes at any one time.

Interestingly, we could have predicted that there were young ones in this area because of Ma’s unceasing guarded and anxious behavior whenever we saw her, and because of her seldom leaving her protected area unless no people were present. It turns out that we’ve actually been seeing this youngster at various times without knowing it: somehow I mistook him for his Pa since we only ever saw two coyotes at any one time, and I assumed the lighting was causing the slight difference in appearance which I saw — it is easy to mistake the identity of coyotes under poor lighting conditions. However, once you definitively identify a coyote, it is easy to go back to the older photos to distinguish what you couldn’t before, and I can now see that the youngster has been around for many months.

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