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Friday, April 30, 2010

Sweet break in the snow and coyote social behavior

This morning, K and I took a mountain bike ride in the blustery sub-freezing air. You'd never guess that it was almost May here. Near the start of our ride, something invisible to me irked K - perhaps it was a wild animal or the one other trail user. To get her attention, I asked her to sit and look at me. You can tell by the photo that, although she was following my instructions, her ears, nose, and mind were focused elsewhere.
When I ride with K, I often stop to play with her or do a little training. Today, we worked on a trick where she puts her front paws on a tree and stays bipedal until I release her. She learned to hold it for a few seconds but not longer. I wonder if it's too stressful for her body to hold it?
Then, as I checked a favorite path of our big male mountain lion for tracks or other signs, K volunteered one of the many tricks that I've taught her to do on downed trees.
I think that the lion loves to lie in wait in this cluttered area because the deer walk through it to get a drink of water, and the jumble of wind-fallen trees provides the lion with many hiding places. We didn't see signs of him today.

After riding with K, I left her at home to snooze and rode the only loop that I thought might be snow-free. First, I passed a meadow that usually has mountains behind it. Today, a veil of clouds hid the towering peaks. Also, for the first time in weeks, all the summer birds had abandoned the meadow. They probably fled to lower elevations because the temperature hovered slightly above 20 deg F. An insect-eating bird, like a bluebird or a swallow, can't find breakfast in that kind of cold!
The willows lining the meadow showed signs of awakening. Some of their catkins had begun to bloom iridescent yellow through the gray fuzz that covers nascent catkins. Birds, bears, and other wildlife all eat willow and aspen catkins in early spring so these furry flowers were a welcome sight.
As I rode on 4wd roads toward a ridge whose snow melts very quickly after a spring storm, the sheer quantities of water flowing down every slope astounded me. I think that this was the wettest that I've ever seen our meadows and forests.
A closer look revealed that the surface of much of the water had frozen overnight and hadn't yet thawed.
When I finally hit the ridge, the trails were ideal! The sun and wind had obliterated any evidence of the snow.
The storms sitting on the horizon made the foothills look smokey and ominous.
Just before leaving the ridge, I rolled through a forested area where the snow remained, and I discovered that many animals hang out on the same ridge as I do after a spring snow. My favorite, a bobcat, had strutted along the trail. He also left numerous scent markings consisting of scraped pine needles and snow, sometimes topped with scat.
After the bobcat's tracks peeled away from the trail, I saw the tracks of elk, deer, coyotes, and turkeys. I love having tangible signs that these wild animals had tramped along the same path as my bike tires.

I arrived home as the snow started falling, and I discovered that the wildlife cameras in our clearing had recorded another fascinating coyote interaction a couple of nights ago. One coyote had foraged under our birdfeeders for a long time when a more dominant coyote arrived. Watch the body language of the submissive coyote as he used a slinking gait to go greet his pack superior. Then, watch his obsequious behavior as he interacted with the more dominant coyote. He groveled, following the other coyote around and throwing himself on the ground while licking the chin of the other coyote.

I wish that the cameras had captured the initial meeting of the two. However, I found the behavior of the submissive coyote to be so familiar. It fits exactly how a very under-confident dog greets humans or other dogs.


  1. Awesome!

    Thanks for sharing!

    BTW, Khyra says nice fluffy khoyote tails!

  2. What an expression K had in that first photo! I can't get over how beautiful your meadow is...and yes, that's a lot of water!

    Thoughts on the coyotes: The interaction reminded me of the guarding discussion we had on Champion of My Heart. This looks a lot like how Kona pushes dogs away from a resource. She's less submissive about it, but she gets her head low, gives tons of kisses, and puts herself between the other dog and the resource.

    It almost looks like the submissive coyote successfully pushed the dominate one away from the bird feeder. Every time the dominate coyote tries to move, the submissive one throws himself between the ground around the feeder and the dominate coyote. It looks like the dominate one finaly gives up and leaves. The submissive coyote then quickly gets up to check the feeder...

    Really neat stuff! Glad your camera caught it.

  3. in the second still, i thought i saw signs of a female??
    great pics of K and you describe her look exactly!
    looked like a glorious day in the woods!
    unless K has bad hips, i don't think standing upright for short stints is a bad thing....:)

  4. Love the valley with the creek and frozen waters. Can imagine the clean crisp air. That willow closeup was great.
    What an amazing companion K is!

    Hugs and snaggle-tooth kisses,
    Sierra Rose

  5. Hi KB, Surely, this type of interaction shown on your camera is where the term "groveling" originated! It was cold here in Denver this AM,too - I had to wait to run. A very unsettling spring - more snow on the way!

  6. K looks like I feel in the morning a lot of times! I think she's prettier than I am at that hour, though.

    That looks like such a great place to ride!

    I know what you mean about all those crazy old dog rituals! They're so endearing and they're the things you remember forever!

  7. It's been a few days since I've been to your blog, so I'm amazed because the snow seems like it melted a lot. Maybe you're just in a different area, but I still find it so amazing how things look so different every day.

    I loved watching the coyote video. Those submissive signals were so similar to a domestic dog's, yet so somewhat stronger, too. Would you agree?

  8. Incredible captures! Fascinated by how you are training K - amazing! Beautiful shots of a frozen landscape in MAY!!!! My goodness!

  9. Oh, that first photo is great - c'mon, let's get tis done, I have bigger tings to think about and sniff and track:)

    Great video on the coyotes too.

    Woos - Phantom, Thunder, and Ciara

  10. AC: That's a fascinating interpretation of the coyote's behavior. You're absolutely right. The groveling kept the other coyote from eating ANY seed. My only question is about why the submissive coyote didn't stick around to eat as much of the resource (i.e., the seeds) as possible... but, perhaps it was the same coyote who came back later that night.

  11. kks: I see the same sign that the dominant one might be a female in the still photo. And, thanks for the reassurance about bipedal standing for short periods not being bad for K. We had extensive hip tests (Penn test) done so we know that she has fabulous hips. Today, she stayed in position much longer.

  12. Sam: Around here, spring snow, even several feet, melts very fast because the sun is so strong at high altitude. However, you're also seeing mostly the parts of our forest where the sun has melted the snow - I'm not even bothering to try to visit the other half of the forest!

    And, I agree - the coyote submissive signals are much more exaggerated than in a dog.


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