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Thursday, April 28, 2011

Mountain wildlife and mountain peace

Most days, our mountain world feels idyllic. Going for a hike relaxes me as I forget the little stuff that often clutters my mind. Yesterday, I was having back spasms, and thus, I was particularly eagerly looking forward to our evening stroll through the meadows and forests near our house. Any kind of movement, even walking, usually helps ease my spasms.

I have a routine with the Labraduo to prevent wildlife encounters. It involves starting each hike with the Duo on leash until we reach an open area where I can scan for wildlife, and then, if all is clear, I do a little remedial training to prepare them for whatever they might encounter during our hike. I focus on "stays" and recalls. So, in the intense setting sunlight, we practiced our stays and recalls yesterday evening.

K's chocolate fur glowed resplendently in the sun as she focused her laser-like attention on me.
R pretended to focus on me and held his stay. However, you can see that he was actually sampling the scents in the breeze.
When I called them, they both accelerated to warp speed in a few steps. I always reward recalls lavishly because I think that they're so important for the dogs' safety.
After training, we began meandering across the meadow, and I simultaneously scanned for wildlife. The late afternoon light looked gorgeous to me, and I gazed at nearby peaks. But, then, as I gazed, my eyes caught some movement down by the reddish willows in the foreground. I immediately called and leashed the Duo.
When the dogs were safely leashed, I used my telephoto lens to focus on the area of movement. There are three coyotes in the photo below. They're hard to pick out, showing how well their tawny fur camouflages them in the golden grass. The most obvious one is sitting in the upper left third of the photo. Another coyote is lying down to the left of the sitting one. Then, the least obvious one looks like a rock lying in the shadow of the willow in front of the more obvious coyotes.
After noting those three, I spotted a fourth, on the other side of the willow from the rock-like coyote.
At this point, the dogs hadn't noticed the coyotes mainly because the coyotes were stationary, and we were upwind of them. Consequently, I had time to zoom in on the pair of coyotes, both of whom were then sitting. They looked healthy, fluffy, and almost puppy-like bathed in a shaft of soft sunlight.
The coyotes contemplated me and Duo for a bit, and then they decided to flee behind the willow. You can also see part of the rock-like coyote unmoving in the very bottom of the photo,.
Due to the fast moving flight of the coyotes, the Duo became keenly aware of them, and pulled my arms so hard that they're about an inch longer now!

But, the rock-like coyote still didn't move. Through my telephoto lens, I could see him rotating his head, looking at us and sniffing the wind - so I knew that he was alive - but he didn't try to flee or hide.
I was worried about him. One coyote died on our property border last year after being shot several days earlier, and, just recently, I found the body of a coyote who had been shot and had died in the forest. So, as I watched this wild canine lying unmoving despite the flight of his cohorts, I speculated that he might be hurt. However, there was nothing that I could do except leave, to reduce his stress. He is, after all, a wild animal. I went back to the meadow this morning, without the dogs, and he was gone from that spot. A friend suggested that "he" might have been a "she" and be very pregnant, rendering her lethargic. I'll probably never know the answer unless a coyote turns up dead in the near future. I hope that doesn't happen.

Yesterday evening, I felt good that I'd spotted the coyotes before the dogs did and avoided a problem. I still had the dogs on leash 100 yards later when we crested a small ridge in the meadow. To my surprise, a large group of elk was standing only 50 yards away on the other side of the ridge. They'd been invisible to me until we reached the crest. I had a brief spike of adrenaline, not wanting to have a dog-elk encounter. Again, we were upwind of them, and they were stationary, so the Duo didn't immediately notice them. I briskly walked K and R to a huge tree and kept the tree trunk between dogs and the elk so that the dogs wouldn't see the elk. I asked the Duo for a down-stay, and I snapped a few photos as my adrenaline levels fell.
At that point, I decided that this particular sunset hike was going to be entirely on-leash. The wildlife seemed to be all around us so I didn't want to risk having my rambunctious pair of canines running free.

Then, a short time later, my decision to leash the Duo was validated when a bobcat bounded out of a boulder outcropping just in front of us. He jumped over a rocky escarpment and vanished. The Duo went almost insane with excitement. He'd crossed our path so near to us that we could see every detail of his fur.

So, although our world usually seems idyllic, it can be challenging to navigate nature with a pair of athletic and high-energy dogs. I train and train and train to prepare them for wildlife encounters but they're independent beings with their own minds. I'm 95% sure that I can call them away from any kind of wildlife. I believe that it's impossible to ever be 100% certain. So, I'm always scanning for wildlife and have their leashes close at hand.

Eventually, our hike calmed down as the sun set in a purple kaleidoscope sky.
I even dared to unleash K briefly for a photo. Then, the three of us sat on a rock and took some deep relaxing breaths to feel the mountain peace.
I love both parts of living in the mountains - the unpredictable wildlife and the peace. I felt both yesterday.


  1. Interesting the coyote would lay still like that. I've had deer lay like that and let me walk by if I pretend I don't see them but I don't remember any other animal doing it.

  2. Wow, that was quite the adventure. You are one very brave woman, and thankfully very wise too. That purple hued sky was magnificent.

  3. Very pretty pictures! I've always heard that you should never let your dog off lead if you don't have a recall - it is good that you re-affirm this - both of the duo are too pretty to lose!


  4. Maybe the coyote just was that rare one that will try to lay still and not be noticed. Then again, maybe you'll see some coyote pups around soon, too!

    I love seeing wildlife up close if I know that we're all safe. It sounds like your instincts served you well this time around! I'm glad you walked away from it all with just some good stories to tell and pictures for us all to admire! :)

  5. You have wonderful and exciting adventures! To be out in the mountains with the wildlife and nature has got to be so wonderful and of course, on high alert! Reading your posts takes me back to the past when I went to the country to horseback ride and ran into so many different (and harmful) creatures if I came up on them too quick. It was a magical time for me though and I miss it so much. The pictures are just amazing. How in the world did you spot those coyotes! They really do blend in so well. I love the pictures of the recall too and the last one is beautiful...they are all wonderful. Getting away from everything really can take your mind away of pain and stress....I have always found it such a relief and so much fun. Lots of love, Debbie and Holly

  6. I really like your coyote shots, a lot.

  7. Man, I felt my adrenaline start pumping as I read along! I wish I could switch places for you with a day and experience your forest. Of course, all of Marge's time in there would be on leash, since she has never experience such intense distractions.

    That last photo of K is so eerie and breathtaking.

  8. Those coyotes really blend in with the grass - that's amazing! There's a really great article in Audubon magazine about urban coyotes and how they have adapted to urban life and how they help reduce the rodent population in cities. It also talks about the differences between urban and rural coyotes - in terms of hunting and pack structure. It is worth reading - very interesting.

  9. What an exciting hike you and the duo had!
    I am wondering about the coyote now too:)

  10. I was on pins and needles as I read your words!
    I know your heart must have been beating so fast when you were hoping K and R did not see the coyotes.
    Good there was no confrontation.
    I think you had a wonderful end to a perfect day,,, especially sitting with the dogs watching your purple kaleidoscope sky.

  11. So when you got home the Runner asked, "so where've you been?" And you said, "oh, just walking the dogs." Just a regular old day... Ho hum... :-)

    Rottie Kisses

  12. What an adventure! Guess everyone thought it was a good day to be out and about. Must be something to just out and encounter such extreme wildlife. Glad you are all safe and sound and I know you'll be doing all again tomorrow, so enjoy!! :)

  13. Love the way R's teeth can be seen when he's running. Sign of a happy fellow.

  14. Love your pictures! And wow, that was some adventure. Thank you for sharing, and I'm very glad it had a happy ending. :)

  15. The Duo's pics were awesome - especially liked the one of R trying to be serious -

    Of course, you know we LOVE the coyote pics -

    Just incredible to see them!

    Thanks again!

  16. Great photos and blog! tweeted them today: @coyotewrites

  17. I can feel the relaxation and beauty through your photos... they're amazing.
    -Corbin's momma, Jenn

  18. Really cool photos! I especially enjoyed the coyote ones.

  19. Da training you do withs da duo is just amazin'.
    We haves coyotes around heres and even though they skeeres mum, we hope he/she ain't hurt. But, I knows you can't interefere eithers. Just da circle of life I guess.

    Mum here...question: When the ground hog got in our backyard I was able to call Albert back and away from it until...the other 2 dogs came out. I had no control over them and ther vet said they went into pack mentality and it was hopeless. If you have both at the same time are you concerned about that as opoosed to just one?

    Puddles...and mum

  20. What a great cluster of wildlife encounters. And R's fanged look as he ran to you made us smile.


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