Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Coyote Stories II

(Continued from preceding post)

Like many mammals, coyotes like to play with things. The coyotes at the preserve not only liked to play with things but they had a playground in the field right in front of where their tunnel  through the brush opened onto the meadow.  And their playground was strewn with toys.  From somewhere they had, collected a very old plastic container that once held bar and chain oil.  Another favorite was a green soda pop bottle.  They also liked the plastic cap I placed over the shallow pvc well I had installed in one of the basins or ‘pans’  in the heart of the preserve.  I used the well to check the water depth in the shallow basins or pans that wander through the Preserve and the coyotes use the cap as a toy.  If I didn’t put it on securely I was likely to find it almost anywhere in the preserve with the tiny indentations of sharp little coyote teeth all around its perimeter.  (I tried to remember to put it on securely.)   

Another item that seemed to fascinate the coyotes was an amber plastic rain gauge.  I didn’t mind the well cap, after all, just as it was my responsibility to make sure the cap was securely fastened to the well pipe, it was the coyote's responsibility to try to remove the cap.  But the gauge was another matter.  You don't have a bog if you don't have water and you don't understand the bog if you don't understand  how water works in, on, and through the bog.  Consequently, I took weekly precipitation amounts at the bog.   After losing several weeks of data to the coyote's inquisitiveness I placed the rain gauge on a high pole.

The coyote's favorite toy, however, was a plastic yellow duck.  I first discovered this duck nestled among the reed canary grass. It wasn't until the staff began to remove the reed canary grass that the coyotes discovered the plastic duck.  This is not a small toy, nor is it light, so it must have taken some effort to carry it back to the playground and that is where I found it one day among the other toys...the green soda bottle, the black bar and chain oil container, some Styrofoam and the yellow duck, with its head missing.

The coyotes at the preserve were often a highlight of my weekly visits.   Always good for a chuckle and a smile, some times of tolerant frustration, I looked forward to seeing them, catching a glimpse of them as they followed behind me, and hearing them sing.  For some reason the coyotes left the preserve after I’d been there about a year and a half.  It wasn’t long after that I completed my work and moved on. The place just wasn’t the same without the coyotes.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Coyote Stories I

The coyote, Canis latrans has been as much a part of my family life as my brothers and my sister.  I spent my childhood in Southern California during and following the Second World War.  Early in my Middle School years my family relocated to the San Gabriel Valley at the base of the San Sierra Madre Mountains.  Things were much different in the LA Basin at that time.  There were fewer of us and much more open land.  From the back of our bright new post-war home to the base of the mountains were hundreds of acres of orange groves and thousands of acres of oak scrub and brush.  There were dove and quail, and rabbits and raptors.  There were also the coyotes.  I learned to listen for these little wolves and to watch for them along the sides of the dirt roads that, at that time, still crisscrossed the fields and orchards of Southern California.  During high school others things captured my attention, and imagination, and I didn't think so much about the coyotes.   But they were never far away and I would hear the yips and howls of what author Jack Couffer calls the Song of Wild Laughter on my way to an early morning college class or to my job washing dish and bussing tables in a small, local restaurant.   

My work with federal natural resource management agencies brought me East and along with me came the coyotes spreading across land they have once occupied.  From Washington, DC, to Florida, to Georgia, and now to North Carolina, this ubiquitous little wolf has only been a walk at first light, a full moon, or a shadowy glimpse away.  

For several years I served as Steward at Bat Fork Bog Plant Conservation Preserve,  a small native plant preserve almost in the center of Hendersonville, North Carolina.  It did not take me long to realize that coyotes were among my companions at the preserve.  The Preserve is located only a kilometer, possibly a bit more, from downtown Hendersonville and only a few blocks from the main fire station.  The coyotes liked the fire station; they especially like the sound of the sirens as the large red trucks lumber out of their barn-like shelter and roar-off on their missions of mercy.  The coyotes often accompany the sirens with their high-pitched howls.  I remember one of the neighbors living on the high ground to the west of the Preserve asking me if I was afraid of coyotes.  I told him I wasn't and he said "good, cause you sure have a lot of them in there," gesturing toward the boggy lowlands below us. 

(Image courtesy of Google)

(Continued in the next post)