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Sunday, October 25, 2009

Canines in the forest

Winter has settled into every nook and cranny of life up here in the thin air. Snow first pelted out of the sky yesterday during our evening hike. In a brief break, the moon sliver shined through the dusk light.
Overnight, one coyote visited on and off all night. I wonder if the coyotes have focused on our territory to this extent every winter. We installed our wildlife camera in May so we don't know. In the photo below, the coyote looked ready to leap up into a tree. Unfortunately, our camera needs 30 seconds between photos so I don't know what he did next!
This morning, K and I rolled out into an undeniably winter landscape. Snow and ice pellets streaked out of the sky, covering our tracks soon after we made them.
I've noticed from my rapidfire camera mode that K almost always flicks her tongue up over her nose just before she reaches me on recalls. I don't understand what that means. Perhaps, anticipation of treats makes her salivate and flick her tongue? The classic interpretation of a tongue flick is that it denotes nervousness but I can't imagine that K feels nervous about finishing a recall. Afterall, I give her a ton of treats and a celebration party every time!
After her recall, she sat next to my bike while I examined some tracks.
Snow flakes hung on her fur and ice formed on the whiskers above her eyes.
After I left K at home, I rode only a little bit more. Although the falling snow made the landscape starkly beautiful, the cold had infiltrated my layers, leaving me chilled. As I rolled along a trail that K and I had traveled only a brief time before, tracks from coyotes, a fox, and deer told an interesting story. It appeared as if both the fox and the coyotes had galloped furiously along the trail all on the same route. After a third of a mile or so, the coyotes slowed and veered off. Only the fox tracks remained. In the photo below, the fox galloped from bottom to top in the faint furrow left by my tires. Very soon after this point, he too left the open trail, entering a dense pine forest.
In the midst of all of these furious galloping tracks, some deer tracks meandered. The deer didn't move fast. Rather, they carefully put down each hoof, not throwing snow behind them like the canines had done.

I suspect that the coyotes chased a fox but gave up. The deer happened to wander through at almost the same time but no one chased them. Nearby, I could hear hunters' shots. I'm glad that they can't access our little slice of paradise. I hope that the deer stay put!

I rolled home, put my bike in the basement, and looked out the kitchen window to see a tan form moseying into our clearing. Squirrels dashed up trees and the magpies, who had been foraging below our bird feeders, flew out of reach. In the photo below, the coyote was gazing at the magpie, perched atop the stump, with great interest.
To my surprise, the magpies chased the coyote away. A few of them ganged up, divebombing him until he left the clearing. I guess that a big advantage to foraging at night is that a coyote doesn't get harassed by birds.
We've seen Corvids, including magpies, crows, and ravens, intimidate coyotes in the past. After an elk died near our property, we watched the procession of scavengers pick off every last morsel of muscle. Around that carcass, the birds won showdowns with coyotes more often than not. The birds worked as marauding gangs swooping at the canines. The coyotes would lurk in the trees until the birds departed, and, only then would they eat their fill.
I love watching the life stories of our wildlife unfold. I try to read the signs in the forest and understand the complex interactions underway. Today, I was captivated by the evidence of a canine chase that had occurred just after I'd been on the same trail. I wonder if those animals watched K and me roll past? Or, if they just happened to arrive shortly after we did? I'll never know.

I think that this fascination is part of why I love having dogs in my life. They're domesticated but they speak a different language than we do. I watch the nuances of their behavior, like the tongue flick at the end of K's recalls, and try to understand what they're saying to me. Sometimes I feel certain that I understand but, plenty of times, I'm puzzled. I bet that my dogs would say the same thing about trying to understand me!


  1. Here is my guess on the tongue flick. Maybe K wants you to know FOR SURE that she is no threat even though she is entering your "space" head on and at a high rate of speed.

  2. Thanks again for another khool post!

    The khoyote eyeing up the magpie was pawesome to see!


  3. KB, your post are always so beautiful! I can almost smell that crisp cold air and hear the stillness that a snowfall brings!
    I miss it sometimes. :(

  4. Roxanne's guess sounds good as any. Calming signals can be funny sometimes.. seems like there's a million ways to interpret them.

    Love the pictures of the coyote and the magpie!

  5. Fascinating how the size of the animal does not necessarily equate to its winning a situation. Through tools (skunks and porcupines) or teamwork (the magpies), the wild shows that sometimes the winner is not the strongest.

  6. I agree with Roxanne - I don't see the tongue flick as necessarily being a nervous gesture, but rather a visual signal negotiating the peaceful entry into your space. I've noticed that a lot of dogs will tongue flick or do look-aways when their handlers return to them after a stay, also.

    I love the snow pics - I'm hoping we get a few good snows this year. The past few years we hardly got any snow at all, but we were in a serious drought. It has been so rainy and wet this year, I think we might be in for a few good snow storms!

  7. Hey there, KB
    Thanks again for another amazing day of 'rolling'. You sure are in tune with your environment! It is really beautiful to read about it all - and a real privilege.

  8. Hi KB,

    Thanks for visiting my blog and offering a "too much shedding suggestion". We will look into thyroid at our first opportunity.
    In the meantime, we have read much of your blog this morning and found it a delight! We'll be back!


  9. You are far more observant than I - I am certain I have overlooked such details on my rides. Can I admit to wanting to hear more about the bike? ;)

  10. I'm glad you are so fascinated with the wildlife because I love reading your observations.


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