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Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Wildlife all around us

The dogs and I took our 'sunset' walk a few hours shy of sunset yesterday, and the pristine white snowy mountains with ghost-like puffy clouds surrounding them stunned me.A dark veil sat high above the mountains but didn't fall far enough to block the sun until this morning.
When we're awake early, as the first light filters through our pine forest, we've been spotting a coyote under our bird feeders almost daily. He chows down on fallen seeds and probably watches for a sleepy and careless rodent or rabbit coming to eat seeds. He vanishes as the light brightens.
Today, within 20 yards of our deck, I saw that the coyote had strategically dropped scat next to and on top of R's old scat (coyote scat is on the right in the photo below). This scat placement suggests to me that the coyote is trying to establish the area around our house as his territory and sees our dogs as competitors.I've wondered why coyotes are aggressive toward dogs and even kill them - whether their motivation is territorial or predatory. I wasn't sure if coyotes recognized dogs as close enough relatives that they'd feel territorial competition with dogs. I think that the scat-placement by our coyote probably answers the question. I also think that we'd better stay on our toes, to prevent any run-ins between our dogs and the coyotes.

Even though coyotes present a threat to my dogs, I love having coyotes living all around us. They're a key part of the ecosystem, and they're tough animals who've resisted many years of extermination efforts by humans. Most people don't know that most coyotes live in packs like wolves, with multiple adults helping raise each year's litter of pups. The 'extra' adults babysit while the parents hunt. The aunts and uncles also bring food to the litter after their own hunting forays. Coyotes nearly match wolves in their social behavior and intelligence.

I felt a tiny spark of health returning this morning and a semblance of easy movement that's been missing for days. K and I rolled through the forest, just enjoying nature and being together. We immediately saw more signs of coyotes. They'd been using my Fatback wide tire tracks as a packed path overnight. Their paw prints precisely followed the depression left by my tires on more than one trail.

I felt enthusiastic to explore some more after leaving K at home. I rolled past the elk herd, and an unperturbed elk had a magpie sitting on its back picking at its fur. I wasn't fast enough with my camera to capture the image but I've read that magpies eat ticks and other bugs that can infest elk in the spring and summer. The elk in the photo was lolling in the shade when I spotted her - but stood up to check me out. At this time of year, the elk hide from the sun almost all day. Even though the air temperature was about 35 degrees, her winter coat was too warm for her to lie in the sun.

Later on, I pedaled up a 4wd road that was mushy with snowmelt. My goal was to check out two patches that harbor dense crowds of pasqueflowers in the spring - but none had sprouted yet. However, a myriad of birds played in mud puddle, taking fluttering and splashing baths.Juncos outnumbered the other birds but backed off whenever a robin arrived. In the photo, a robin was bathing and a couple of juncos approached with trepidation.
Just a few pedal strokes later, a pair of wild turkeys had left deep tracks in the mud as they walked side-by-side. The tracks were almost as big as my hand. Last year, at about this time of year, a wild turkey took up residence on our property, strutting around and picking at sunflower seeds scattered over the ground by songbirds. Aside from the presence of our dogs, it was a good place for the bird to hide from the spring turkey hunters.

I loved riding my bike today. I rolled lightly through the world rather than struggling to make it home. Today, like on all of my rides when I spin the pedals easily, I felt like I've traveled a transforming journey when I arrive home - my mind flowed as I pondered nature and simply turned the pedals.


  1. I loved this blog!
    CeAnn Lambert
    Indiana Coyote Rescue

  2. I'm the same way about the turkeys - there are a few places that we run into turkeys pretty regularly in the National Forest, but I somehow forget to mention them with asked by turkey hunters!


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