Canine encounters

October 3, 2010

September 10, 2010:

The young coyote visited the orchard at suppertime today, sampling the fruit of every tree, but returning to pick up fallen pears several times. I moved out on the elevated deck to try for a photo and to my surprise she co-operated, then began a game of peek-a-boo with me. She stepped behind a trunk. I moved for a better angle. She looked me in the eye and stepped behind another tree, but she kept picking up windfalls throughout the game. Coyotes really like apples, but the one I’ve named Erin seems fond of pears as well. She must have a sweet tooth.

I’ve watched Erin and her two siblings play tag and hide-and-seek quite often during the summer as they grew up in the field just below the orchard. They love to dodge around the bales of hay and climb on them.

The best episode of the summer had to be the day four turkeys decided to forage in their field. I looked out to see two adult turkeys flying and two half-grown chicks running behind, chased by a young coyote. The birds could easily outdistance their foe, but there were large windrows in the field and traffic became a bit confused. At one point the coyote got ahead of one of the young turkeys, but by the time the bizarre chase passed out of sight of my window, the bird was doing its best to catch up.

Only later did Dr. Bill Barrett explain to me that this family of coyotes have decided defend their field. “Near Forfar I had sea gulls all over the place when I was raking and baling, but the in next field the coyotes came out and wouldn’t let one land. The mice in the windrows were theirs, and they weren’t going to share them. When I moved up to the field above the barn they didn’t follow, but that big gray hawk kept me company all day.”

Construction on the garage is an ordeal for the coyotes. The nail guns must be too loud for their sensitive ears because they disappear until they are sure no more loud bangs will come from the human’s den.

October 2:

Coyotes certainly can adapt.  After I devoutly claimed that the nail guns had scared the coyotes away, on Friday Erin resumed her afternoon visits to the orchard while I banged away on the roof of the garage.  Bet watched her languidly select each apple, return to her temporary nest, lie down and chew it up with great enjoyment.

But today took the cake for coyote sightings.  As I drove out the lane on the Ranger this morning I spotted two little heads peeking out of a bush in Laxton’s fence row, 400 feet to the north.  The two heads were very close together, as though the pups had lain down shoulder-to-shoulder to enjoy the show.  I shut off the UV to watch. One pair of ears tracked every sound. The other was so still I became convinced it was a bunch of leaves.  Eventually the still creature stood up and walked away, leaving Mobile-ears to keep watch on the noisy human.

In the afternoon I was mowing the orchard when my peripheral vision picked up Erin, seated just out of the way, clearly impatient for me to leave so that she could have her afternoon meal.  I explained to her that I needed to cut the grass and she retreated a bit, but returned.

“You want an apple?  Here!” And I fired an empire I had picked off a passing tree at her.  She fielded it like a shortstop and wolfed it down.  Next apple, same thing.  Erin seemed to like this game.  Over the space of five laps of the orchard she snagged the five apples I threw her way, and also four mice she found in the grass.  Then she disappeared.

This evening behind the garage I was explaining to Martin the habits of the coyote family when the large male raised his head from the foliage to the west of Laxton’s bush, yawned, and resumed his nap. He seems curious to identify new voices, but very calm in his demeanour.  He looks and acts very much like a middle-aged German shepherd.

October 3:

This morning produced a canine encounter which proved much more frenetic than the coyote visits.  Towards the end of her walk, Bet came around the end of the barn and spotted “two beige bullets blasting down the lane from the woods.  One jumped up on me and then collapsed on the ground, wiggling in excitement.”

She rolled me out of bed to deal with the crisis.  I nabbed the male, Georgy, and Bet located his sister, Gillie, who was raiding the cat’s food dish.  Keen on a Ranger-ride, the west highland terriers nodded eagerly at the scenery as we drove up the hill to their home.

With a population of at least four coyotes in the neighbourhood, these little bait dogs (and four turkeys) seem to be able to share the territory without ill effects. The resident coyotes don’t behave at all like the pack of four furtive strangers I saw in the quarry last fall.  They were scary, but didn’t stick around.


October 12:

My mother spent the afternoon in and around the orchard, so Erin’s schedule was off today.  At suppertime I noticed a larger and furrier coyote in her usual haunts, but with Erin’s characteristic markings around the muzzle.  Apparently she’s experimenting with her new body after the growth spurt, because windfall apples no longer appeal to her.  Now she stands up on her hind legs to pick fresh apples off the trees, often settling down on her haunches to leap straight up to snap fruit from higher branches.  She seems curious to see how high she can jump, an adolescent testing her limits.


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