Saturday, June 21, 2008
Invasion of the Coywolves
I found only one morel mushroom this year, probably because it didn't rain at the right time, but a few weeks ago I walked up a wooded gully near here looking for more, this time without the dogs, on the alternate theory that, so far, the dogs had frightened the mushrooms into hiding every time we approached. If you don't ever allow for the unlikely, there will be few surprises, and nothing learned.
Stepping carefully, and sweeping the ground with my gaze, I came up the creek bed to within fifteen or twenty yards of a mother fox standing on a log, back to me, totally occupied with trying keep track of the six or nine kits all over the gully slope above her, chasing their tails and each other and each other's tails, or just jumping into the air like fleas.
After a few minutes of this fine entertainment, I turned to go, but something alerted the vixen, she barked three times, and the pups all disappeared instantly, like vanishing morels.
I saw no morels on that walk, and if I had brought the dogs, I would never have seen the foxes either, but the red foxes are all around us, more common than dogs and feeding mosty on mice, though they will eat most anything, probably including sour grapes, morels, and dog food, if you feed your dog outside, or have a pet door.
There are gray foxes around here too. Last year we had a gray fox den under the tool shed and I didn't even know about it until I heard a shriek one day and saw our pit-lab Tano, his jaws clamped on the vixen's neck, shaking her like a chew rope. I yelled at him, he let go, and she slunk off under the shed. I looked under there later and found her dead, with two kits latched onto her nipples.
She had a pretty face, brown and black and gray, like a hawk.
I took her out and buried her. Davey gave the pups milk and grapes and bananas, bread and peanut butter and whatever he had in the refrigerator. They hung around for a few days, then went off to forage and multiply.
The grays are a little bigger than the reds, and you might mistake them for coyotes, especially if your idea of a coyote is one of the unevolved western variety.
Our coys are much larger.
Recently I was out with the dogs in the hickory woods at the head of one of the little gorges behind the farm . The dogs Deerdra and Tano were ranging out of sight ahead of me, when a redish brown critter, .... big as a small deer..... came streaking by me, not bounding in high arcs like a deer; but running flat out, persued by Tano, who was no more than ten yards behind.
I called Tano, and he came right back, brushed past me, to follow Deerdra back toward home. Just a few seconds behind Tano , came the r coyote. It stopped a few yards away and stared at the dogs, through me ....I looked down at my hand, to see if I was there.
That animal was not much like the twenty pound California coyotes that raid garbage cans and try, without much success, to carry off small children. After freezing his prey with those yellow eyes just like the ones in wolf paintings on velvet, this animal would be able to carry off a middle schooler or a small housewife. Or me.
After a few seconds, the critter turned and trotted away.
Coyotes are not native to the eastern U.S. The the large coy animals now thriving in our woods are the descendants of coyotes which have been moving eastward form the Rocky mountains and mating with wolves along the way. D.N.A. tests have established that. People here sometimes call them coydogs, and coyotes will mate with dogs, but would as soon kill them, or both, and when they do mate, dogs contribute a gene which causes the hybrids to produce litters not just in the Spring, when they will have plenty of time to mature before winter, but any old time, so that they don't survive well in nature.
Coywolves drink at our ponds, leave their furry turds on the chicken runs, stalk neighbors who walk their dogs on leash, and they have family picnics with group howls in the near woods.
It may have been A coywolf a few months ago that snatched the roosters off the deck rail here and then set them free without their tail feathers. Coyotes eat probably half the fawns born around here each year. Deer are over abundant most everywhere in the East and adapt to fawn mortality and abundant food by birthing twins or triplets, so the coys don't have much effect there, but they also eat most of the Ring Necked Pheasants stocked here by the state, and for that offense, they are chased by organized packs of hunters. Some kind of active hostility is probably a good idea, because if you yield the woods to the coys, they will take your yard, your duck, your dog, and your cannairy. Years ago, when every country boy carried a rifle, coyotes and wolves were not know to attack people. They are loosing respect.
Watch dogs are not not usually enough to keep the coyotes away from homesteads, particularly in thickly settled areas where dogs no longer run free. The Dog's Plot dogs bark constantly on nights when the coyotes howl near, and will not go more than a hundred yards from home anytime, unless a human is with them, and then they are foolishly unafraid. They have probably heard the stories of coyotes luring dogs with playful bows, bounds, and dashes, further and further away from home, to where the pack waits.
The coyote which wandered into Central Park and into the news lately, may been an exception for the island of Manhattan, , but there are coyotes living in the city of Ithaca glens and cemeteries , and they are probably in your town too.
Sitting In your home, working in your yard, or searching the park woods for fern fiddleheads , if you don't see any kind of wild canine, it is because you have been seen and are being watched from cover.
The coy ones may be sitting out in the dark watching your television through the window right now. They are very aware of you, your children and pets, your livestock, your waste stream, the limits of our perception and of your tolerance.
Don't feed them. Don't trust them. Scare them if you can.