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Friday, July 31, 2009

Lone coyote follows our hike

Yesterday in the late afternoon, the dogs and I ventured out into the rainy and cold forest for our usual short hike. Almost immediately, yipping and howling rose from the nearby forest. Fog shrouded the world so I couldn't see the coyote but he sounded close, very close. Fortunately, R was leashed, as he always is for the first 100 yards of our hikes, and K responded immediately when I told her to heel. We know that coyotes visit our clearing based on our wildlife camera (see below) but I've rarely heard one lurking so close to us for such a prolonged time in daylight, albeit very murky daylight.The canines went berserk - barking, growling, jumping, and lunging. And, funniest of all in retrospect, R reverted to his puppyish high pitched caterwauling, sounding as if he was singing harmony for the coyote.

When the coyote persisted, we turned back to get our serious leash-walking gear - good harnesses so the dogs wouldn't pull me and nice leashes (not pocket-sized thin one). We started our hike again, and the coyote launched into song. He seemed to follow us, enshrouded in the mist so I never spotted him. The dogs eventually calmed down enough to walk politely on leash but they stayed on high-alert every step of the hike.

I recorded the coyote near the start of the hike and pointed my camera in the direction where I thought that he was. A warning - if your dogs are nearby, you might want to use earphones to listen to this. Last night, by playing the video out loud, I sent our dogs into an hour-long tizzy searching for the coyote who they felt certain was hiding inside the house.
video

Then, when the coyote seemed so close that I was certain that we'd spot him soon, I recorded again. At the end of this clip, K delivered a warning bark to the stalking coyote. He briefly paused but then resumed his song.
video

We made it home fine but I have a very painful neck and headache from R's wild leaping and leash-jerking when we first heard the coyote.

This morning, we'd progressed from yesterday's winter weather to spring weather so K and I had breakfast on the deck. A coyote serenaded us again, sounding so close that I kept scanning the forest edge for him. This time, K reacted in a dignified way. She sat calmly to appreciate his music. I wonder why the lone coyote is singing so persistently.I cautiously rolled out for my ride with K, worried about a coyote luring her into a pack-organized trap. We stayed away from the meadows where we've encountered coyotes in the past, and, K behaved beautifully, staying in a heel when I requested it.

We climbed up to our favorite look-out where I could discern the cloud-cloaked mountains, unlike yesterday.We rolled through a forest, and K alerted me to a recently deceased weasel. At first glance, his size tricked me into assuming that he was a rodent. His body size and shape mimicked an oversized chipmunk with a long neck.
A slightly closer look showed that he was a fierce predator, not a rodent. In particular, his razor sharp canine teeth ruled out the notion that he was a rodent and made it clear that he belonged to the Order Carnivora, which includes the dog, cat, skunk, raccoon, weasel, and bear families. His teeth, coloring, size, and telescoping neck led me to believe that he was a Short-Tailed Weasel (a.k.a., "ermine"), one of the smallest carnivores. In the photo below, you can see a single canine tooth, likely the lower one.These weasels subsist mainly on mice, voles, shrews, chipmunks, pocket gophers, and bird nestlings. They're said to have fiery metabolisms, leading them to hunt and eat all night long. This weasel has his summer nut-brown and white coat with a black-tipped tail. This species transforms into a pure white color, to match the snow, for the winter. I wonder if yesterday's cold wet weather killed him or if the attached tick that I spotted on his shoulder somehow led to his demise.

After checking out the weasel, K and I rolled through a grassy opening in the forest and caught sight of the Divide again. It looked even more ominous, especially for the morning.
I left K at home so that she could eat and reach the awe-inspiring canine sleep quota. I headed east, downhill for the first half and uphill for the second half. I pedaled up a trail through oceans of Horsemint. Hummingbirds buzzed around the purple flowers and hovered to sip their nectar.During the climb, after glimpsing it on a few rides, I finally stopped to look closely at a plant with bizarrely shaped flowers clustered into spheres - Showy Milkvetch (Asclepias speciosa). On the 2 ft tall plant below, two racemes have blossomed while most of the buds remain closed on the third.The petals looked almost sharp, as if they'd pierce a visiting hummingbird. But, they contrasted starkly with the bluebird sky to the east.
As I finished the ride, I passed our view of the mountains yet again, and now I felt truly grateful that I'd scrapped my plans for a high altitude hike today.Close to home, using my 'soft vision' so that I'd see the slightest movement in the woods, I spotted a fawn hunkered down in the shoulder-high grass. She was large but cute spots still mottled her fur. I wished her good luck and rolled on before I alarmed her too much. Between the coyotes and the cats roaming nearby, it must be scary to be an innocent soul like a fawn trying to grow up in the woods.

6 comments:

  1. The coyote sounds quite different than I was expecting. Do the coyotes use a lone sound to lure animals to an agressive pack?

    Beautiful photographs. It was wise not to go for the high altitude hike. That mountain looks a bit fierce.

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  2. Interesting. The Herd and the pack of coyotes that live on the ridge behind us appear to have established a truce. They yap at each other every now and then, but don't really go crazy for each other. I have seen them plenty, but never had any impression they would stalk me or the dogs. They have plenty of smaller - and easier - prey to keep themselves fed.

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  3. very interesting....loved the clips of the coyote and the pics...thanks for sharing the little carnivore....(love stuff like that, and the rib cage from the previous post...:)
    i've had patients that were suspect coyote attacks....

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  4. NCMountainWoman: The coyotes use either a lone sound or a lone lure coyote (the lure coyote tries to get the dogs to chase by appearing and then running away or even by making play bows to tempt the dogs to play). Then, when a dog chases, a larger packs waits in the forest, and the dogs can be killed.

    However, more often than not, when I hear coyotes singing, I hear more than one. That was one of the weird things about this episode.

    Thundering_herd: Perhaps your dogs and pack are big enough to intimidate the coyotes? Or, your coyotes haven't learned the luring trick. At least one dog a year is killed by coyotes using the luring trick in our neighborhood.

    kks: Glad you liked the little predator. I wasn't sure if people would be grossed out but I sure thought that he was cool. I'd never seen a weasel close up. Do you think that a tick could've killed him?

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  5. Java ignored the coyote howls but did bark at the invisible dog. The call being used kind of reminds me of what I heard at my older sister's place only it sounded more like an animal in great pain. It was trying to lure my sister's dogs and ran when we walked out towards it.

    There was also the lone coyote that followed my younger sister, jogging quietly and calmly behind her while she did her run. When a jogger came from the other direction, the coyote turned and followed him. Not sure what that was all about.

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  6. We virtually never hear coyotes here. I haven't ever heard of them going after dogs around here, either, and when I asked at the local forest service office a few years ago, they had never heard of a coyote going after a dog in this area. I think the coyotes are much shyer in these parts!

    When I played the videos, my dogs didn't react at all to the coyote sound, but jumped up and ran to look out the sliding glass door when they heard the dog bark!

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