Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Walking at Dusk

There are signs of spring and signs of spring. Robins have been singing the last few days, not on territory, just warming up. Nuthatches continue to sing. The juncos are still around (unusual for us to have a flock here all winter), and they are starting to sing. But the breeding season is a ways off yet.

What is here though is dusk. I left the house at just before 6 tonight and came home an hour later still able to see my way around. In the winter it is so easy to miss the chance for a walk at the end of the day--a moment's distraction and the sun has dropped out of the sky. It was good to get out and really spend some time in deepening gloom. No birds but a pair of mourning doves, no mammals but the rabbit I startled at the bird feeder when I got back, but soon the evening will be full of sound again: robins, wood thrush, woodcock, and even some warblers.

I also needed to get out in the dusk because I needed to claim back my territory from a very active pack of coyotes. From the middle of January to almost the end of February there was an enormous amount of coyote activity in the fields and in the yard and streets of the hamlet. I saw track evidence in the fields of what appeared to be four animals travelling together. Many mornings I saw tracks in the yards of at least two. I heard coyotes howling off to the east, and then answered from just west of the yard. I saw a coyote come down the road and across the far end of the yard one night after seeing a coyote sitting in a field one the south end of the hamlet in the middle of the morning the day before.

Coyotes! One February night's tracks.

Over the last couple of years, and particularly the last 12 months, I have run into a number of coyotes. Except for one occasion when the coyote didn't notice me the meetings have all gone the same way. The coyote looks then leaves. There has never been a hint of a threat, though the encounters generally leave my heart pounding, not entirely a result of the thrill of encountering the wild.

I've never met four coyotes, and I'm not sure I want to. I'd love to see four all at once--but maybe from a car, or at a great distance, not on the ground, in the field. I don't believe there's any danger from them to an adult human being, but this is probably because coyotes are smart enough to know that I might have a rifle with me, but not perceptive enough to be able to tell that I don't. It isn't because four coyotes would have any trouble taking down a lone human being--something they might not know, but that I'm unlikely to forget.

The intense activity has abated--my speculation is that the hamlet is on the border between the territories of two packs that were getting themselves in order for mating and raising new pups. On this theory, the activity has died down because the border has been established and the coyotes are deeper within their respective areas establishing dens, etc. There were fresh tracks out there tonight, but of one or two animals, not four. And if I'm right, it's unlikely that they'll be all together right around here again this season--too busy.

So the time was right to get out there in the dusk, when coyotes are most likely to be active, to shake out my nerves. And it was lovely.

6 comments:

Trix said...

Lucky you!I am craving the canid company...
I find it comforting that most wildlife will look and leave, but for how long? Imagine how close a reaction our beating hearts are to their reactions - animal impulses? Fear, trepidation, the raising of the hackles...

T. Beth said...

I've seen a pack of 8 coyotes, and my mother recently saw a pack of 11 here in Tucson. It is a bit alarming to see so many all together, but it is also interesting to see the pack dynamics. I'm so used to thinking of coyotes as iconic creatures of the western US that I'm always surprised to hear how truly widespread they are.

Your four coyotes have a good chance of becoming 8 coyotes later in the year. :-)

TroutGrrrl said...

I'm a bit jealous. I've never seen more than one coyote at a time - and only from the seat of an automobile.

Pamela Martin said...

trix: you've got the coyotes there in Toronto too--though I imagine it's a quiet, skulking life for them there--no choruses in the downtown night.

The coyotes I've come face-to-face with have seemed very cool--so unlike a flushed rabbit. But maybe I seem that way to them too.

t. beth: Interesting that you've seen such large packs in Arizona--I think of the western coyote as much less pack-oriented than the eastern, much less wolfy, so to speak.

Coyotes have spread east, north, and most recently south so quickly that it's not surprising that the mythology hasn't caught up yet. So many coyotes in Ontario now--and yet they only first arrived here in the 1920's or thereabouts.

pohanginapete said...

The only coyote I ever saw was at Yosemite, but I hope I'll get to see more. And hear them — I never heard them. Enjoy them, Pamela. Aotearoa's only extant native land mammals are two species of bats; we have introduced mammals but somehow it's not the same...

Ontario Wanderer said...

We have been seeing pairs of foxes' tracks in the last of the snow but I think the coyote tracks are of one individual even though I hear more than one some evenings.