Freddy the Coyote

May 13, 2016

Before his encounter with the roto-tiller this morning I’d only seen Freddy once, and that was two years ago this summer when he came out to watch my tractor mow around the seedlings in a stand of pine and walnut next to the woodlot.  Accompanied by a much smaller coyote with an identical brown coat, Freddy spent an hour hunting mice in the lee of the tractor, deftly stepping out of cover to nab food disturbed by the bush hog.

At the time I was glad to see the pair.  We’d been more than a year without a resident coyote following the disappearance of Emily, the old alpha who had set the rules around the farm for six years.  Emily had become very tame as she studied our habits, and so she and her offspring often visited the orchard and garden, producing a few startled visitors and the odd photo-op.

Not so with Freddy.  Apparently he had checked me out and found me wanting, because I just never saw him again.  The tracks were there: huge paws accompanied by the delicate footprints of his mate.  Our spaniel took great delight in their scat, so we were reminded they were around on every walk.

This morning the landscape waited nervously for the promised rain.  Since 4:00 it had tried and failed to let loose.  I paced the back deck, revelling in the sudden warmth but a bit nervous about Friday 13th and the coming rain.

Freddy appeared suddenly.  He needs a good brushing to get that long winter hair (faded almost blonde) off his hips and shoulders.

While Emily used to enter the orchard with a confident swagger, Freddy skulks.  The tall, rangy coyote floats lightly over the grass.  This morning he spent much of his time looking over his shoulder, which made it harder than ever to tell where he’s going.  I had a momentary surge of adrenaline when he took several steps directly toward the stairs to the deck, but he suddenly veered off toward the garden.

The scent of the freshly tilled soil obviously intrigued Freddy, but then he caught sight of the rototiller and jumped back.  He stared, thought it over, and retraced his tracks out of the garden, disappeared behind a row of wild grapevines, and re-appeared one field over to complete his transit to the mouse-rich patch of seedlings on the knoll beyond the barn.

So that’s Freddy, a no-nonsense coyote mousing to feed his family.

 

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Emily in hot water

September 9, 2012

The afternoon buzzed its way along. Martin was in the wood shop with a trailer-load of pine to machine into baseboards for his house renovation. I think he had the shaper running at the time of the event.

Charlie was next door in his garage, the red Porsche half-up on the hoist, seats disassembled and scattered around the floor while he installed a roll bar.

Every light in both buildings was on and all doors were open. Of course.

That was when Emily the wolf finished her afternoon meal of ripe pears and trotted up across the yard, only to encounter her beloved Ranger, the bearer of dead squirrels and fish heads, and a strange human making loud noises in the building. She looked in, then continued on to the next building she hadn’t seen open before. So she stuck her head in for a look, satisfied herself that there was nothing of value to her there, and continued on out to a secure spot in the middle of the adjoining field.

Just then I happened to walk up the driveway to see Emily stage her trot-by of the artisans’ alley. I didn’t know it was she. The hairs on a wolf’s muzzle are a lot like a Monet painting: they show different colours at different distances and angles. Up close Emily didn’t seem to have any white on her muzzle at all. I assumed this was a new wolf, and a bit of a threat.

Prodded by my wife (“She’s not a pet. She’s a wild animal.”) and Martin (“There’ve been a whole raft of people killed by them down east!”) I reluctantly got the rifle and headed out into the field to deal with the rogue.

The wolf had lain down in the middle of the field behind the garage to sleep off the effects of all of those sugary pears. She looked up as I approached in the Ranger. From the accustomed line of sight I realized immediately that this was Emily, not a stranger. Still, she had crossed the line in alarming family and friend, so I had to take action.

From a hundred yards, offhand, I took careful aim with the rifle and shot … the dirt three feet to the right of Emily’s left paw. She bolted up, ran twenty yards, turned and looked at me: “What are you doing? Are you sure you want to do this?” I sent another 180 grain 30 calibre Emily’s way. Another direct hit on the spot three feet to the right of her left paw. This time she took the hint and galloped away, mouthing a vile imprecation back over her shoulder. Nothing can curse like an angry coyote.

But where was she to go? This was her field, her home. She has defended it against all comers for three years now.

The rifle again locked up and order restored, Martin took the Ranger with two oil drums of sawdust back to the pile, only to drive back with the barrels unemptied. Seems Emily had stood her ground against this interloper, sitting by the path and defying him to come any closer. Martin turned tail. He unlocked his fancy automatic shotgun, loaded up, and asked me to ride shotgun if I expected him to get rid of the sawdust he had generated over the afternoon.

Emily met us back around the sawdust pile, but acted less resentful when I spoke to her, even though I scolded her for her walk through the yard on a busy afternoon. Reassured that I was there, she retreated to the fence row where she peeked out at us from concealment. Martin dumped his sawdust without bloodshed.

Charlie’s reaction to Emily’s visit was visibly less aghast than Martin’s, but then Charlie grew up with dogs. He knows how they think. Martin seemed a little spooked by the large and overly familiar canine examining his woodworking project.

I hope Emily thinks it over and decides to leave off the lawn visits for a while. Otherwise I may have to improve my aim with the rifle.

Now I know what writers mean when they say that if you feed a wolf, it’s a death sentence for the wolf.

UPDATE:

It’s been two weeks since I educated Emily with the .300 Savage.  She’s become a good deal more discreet in her movements since.  A couple of days later she came upon us in the field but took herself to the other side and cover as soon as Cagney barked at her.  Emily’s still around, and still makes her visits to the orchard.  She’s just more careful with the scheduling now.  An old wolf can unlearn a dangerous habit, it seems.

FOOTNOTE: October 27, 2013

Emily’s been gone since early spring. We kept hoping she’d come back for the pears in the fall, but we haven’t seen her or any wolves, for that matter. I miss her. She was a good neighbour.

My mother walked out the lane to the flower beds this afternoon only to discover Emily*-the-wolf asleep on the deck halfway between the house and the road. Mom thought it was our dog Cagney and walked up to her and said hello. Emily woke up, stretched, yawned mightily, stepped off the deck and wandered across the field. I guess she appreciates shade and breeze as well as anyone else. Emily’s getting pretty tame in her old age and expects us to make way for her. She likes pears and visits the orchard regularly at this time of year.

In return she catches vast quantities of rodents and leaves the cat alone, so we tolerate her eccentricities.

* I just looked back at earlier posts about Emily and discovered that another creature had the same name: the first Emily was a grotesque cross between some Lupus strain and what was likely a bull terrier. She was no beauty, early Emily. She faded from the scene when the current Emily and her family moved onto the farm. New Emily had a very large, even tempered mate and they raised three pups in the 20 acre field below the house. One of these was Erin, the boldest/tamest who played games with my head all that fall.

BTW: I call this critter a wolf because she has a relatively short nose, white face, and large body. I bought a book on the eastern coyote and realized she looks nothing at all like the photos in that book. She’s the height of a medium-sized Labrador retriever, though she’s quite short in the body and wouldn’t weigh that much. Her mate two summers ago when she had a litter looked very much like a German shepherd, but both had (have) tails which hang down like a wolf’s. She has had the farm to herself for the last year, but that changed suddenly this week when her “pack” arrived.

Next morning a pair of “coyotes” came to the pear trees as soon as I came in with the dog from her morning walk. I’d seen the one with the black spot on his/her tail one time earlier; the black-tailed one was new to me. They look young and extremely light in body weight compared to Emily. Hyper-alert, they move in, grab a pear and retreat out of sight in the orchard, taking turns in the danger zone. In cross section their faces and limbs are thin like those of a deer, and they seem barely to touch the ground when they move. The black-tipped one spotted a mouse while selecting a pear from the ground and in a blinding series of motions the mouse was a meal which concluded with the “coyote” sitting down while he/she chewed. This creature makes small movements so quickly I can’t follow them. It’s just a blur.

Another update:

This morning Bet and I watched a wolf who might be Erin, the pup from two years ago which played catch with me in the orchard (I threw apples at her from the lawn mower and she caught them), relax in the field with a smaller “coyote” with her. Maybe the small ones are her pups. Haven’t seen her in over a year, but she seems to have come back for the pears.

A bit about the orchard: There are a dozen trees in three rows on the gentle slope away from the south side of the house. The first row is about thirty feet from the elevated rear deck. At the centre are two pear trees, bearing the only fruit this year during the drought. The wild apple crop has failed this year as well, so there’s a good chance we’ll get to meet all of the local wolves and coyotes over the next couple of weeks until they have the fruit picked up.

Cagney and the wolf’s cache

February 20, 2012

The snow has melted off the twenty acres to the north of the house on Young’s Hill. This afternoon our English springer spaniel Cagney discovered something buried in the grass around some young pines. She chewed, pulled up something meaty, and kept eating. Strange, that’s a large mouse if it has that many mouthfuls. She took another bite and retreated, so I prodded the newly-uncovered clump of grass and knocked out about a Mason jar-full of coarsely chopped beef. Must be a cache left by one of the bush wolves or coyotes who live on the property, buried in the snow and grass and now exposed. The meat looked fresh.

When looking from above I initially couldn’t see anything except the hole Cagney had made with her nose and paws, but there was quite a volume of food down there.

The neighbours must have drawn a dead cow out to the quarry. Erin and her mom have had a good winter if they’ve left this much food uneaten.

 

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.

http://picasaweb.google.com/rodcros/ErinTheYoungCoyote

I have written elsewhere on this board and in my newspaper column about Emily-the-ugly-coyote. She lives around the farm, does no harm, and provides us with considerable amusement when we watch her eat apples in the orchard.

This evening I cut the patch of hay below the garden. Emily oozed out of a stand of ragweed, then decided to ignore the tractor and continue her hunt for the very large mice (I can’t call them rats) that I often see on the ground there while mowing. More power to her.

But I got a very good look at this almost hairless coyote over a period of time as I made repeated trips past her. The more I looked at her head, the more I kept thinking of a Jack Russell terrier. Finally it hit me. Emily is not a spectacularly ugly coyote. She’s a coyote-coloured dog with a skinny tail. Jack Russell tails are docked for good reason, likely. When regarded as a terrier Emily suddenly looks like a large, robust, very well-fed specimen with a tight coat. I didn’t see any evidence of mange, just short hair.

This might account for her casual attitude toward us when we happen upon her. Terriers aren’t afraid of much. There’s a family of coyotes about, but the pair I saw two nights ago in the young walnuts were patterned more after a German Shepherd than a Jack Russell. They’re not exactly terrified of me either, but they keep their distance.

Emily obviously gets along with the coyotes because they share a territory, but I don’t know if she belongs in their singing group or not.

So I googled images of terriers. No, even though Emily is much shorter than most coyotes, she is way too big to be a Jack Russell. And her skull is too straight and triangular. It’s more like a bull terrier’s. Come to think of it, The rest of her is very like a bull terrier, as well, though she is somewhat lighter in build.  Her Coyote’s ears are a poor fit for that skull.  Face-on, peeking up out of the hay, she shows a distinct resemblance to Yoda, the Star Wars character.  Anyway, as Dr. Bill Barrett commented the first time he saw Emily, “There’s a lot of dog in her.”