Thursday, March 9, 2017

Coyotes At Union Bay

Here is a recent post from the Union Bay Watch Blog published by Larry Hubbell, long-time photographer and birder. 

Here also is an in-depth article about Larry and his work

Coyote Karma
Last Sunday morning was gray, damp and quiet. I suspect most Union Bay residents were just sipping their first cup of coffee when a crow dived out of a tree in front of us. 

Ginger, my daughter's dog, and I were just returning from an early morning photo shoot...

... with a red-breasted sapsucker who seemed to have a flair for fashion. 

At first, I thought the crow was headed our way, then I realized its trajectory was slightly to our right. Normally, crows simply glide to the ground when they see something of interest. Often half-circling their target for a final inspection, before committing to landing. On the other hand, a steep dive often indicates the presence of a predator (in need of harassment) or an agile food source, attempting to escape. Uncharacteristically quiet, the crow pulled up and strained hard as it climbed up and away to our right. When I glanced back at the crow's intended target, I finally saw the coyote.

I suspect the coyote saw us at about the same time. There was a bit of brush between us and the wind must have been blowing in the coyote's direction, because Ginger was completely oblivious. The coyote turned and padded back and forth, as if it was trying to decide which way to escape. 

Finally, it turned tail and trotted up a small embankment and 'hid' behind some low hanging branches of western red cedar and douglas fir. The coyote did not seem especially large. I wondered if it might be fairly young.

Up until last year, I had never seen a coyote around Union Bay. My family, friends and acquaintances had all seen them - but not me. I saw my first one in late Spring in the Union Bay Natural Area. Sadly, I was on my way to a meeting and I wasn't carrying a camera. During the Christmas Bird Count this winter, my fellow bird counters and I saw another beautiful specimen. This time I had my scope and binoculars so I got a good look - but once again - I was not carrying a camera. This third sighting was the charm. Coyote karma finally smiled on me. I had my camera.

It also seemed fitting that this encounter came just two days after I published my first and only road runner post. You can see the photos by clicking on the following link, Beep, Beep.

The coyote seemed to get a bit braver the longer we both observed each other. Ginger noticed nothing.

In Ginger's defence she is used to me stopping to take pictures of birds. She most likely thought I was photographing the crow or possibly another red-breasted sapsucker. 

The coyote began to move forward. For a moment, its behavior almost looked like a preliminary to pouncing. I suspect it was more instinctual.

Ultimately, the coyote came out of the brush.

After a step or two it sat down to observe.

I was using my longest lens so it really wasn't quite as close as it appears in these photos.

Soon it was distracted by the movement of a branch or a bird.

It even allowed itself to blink.

Getting completely bored it began to stretch and yawn.

Sometimes I wonder about the coyotes' karma. What did they do in their past lives to end up on the far side of the canine ravine? What small genetic differences separate coyotes from man's best friend. At the end of this wikipedia post it does mention that hundreds of years ago coyotes may have been partially domesticated by Native Americans.

Finally, the coyote turned and disappeared into the trees. A moment later the wind must have shifted. Ginger was suddenly shaking, shivering and whining. She was totally scared once she caught the scent of the coyote. Clearly, Ginger felt danger at the thought of being consumed by a coyote. We headed towards home and she quickly settled down.

There are times when it would be convenient for me to let Ginger off her leash, so she could run. I am sure Ginger would enjoy the freedom. However, if a coyote caught her when she was running free it would not be Ginger's fault, or the coyote's fault, it would be my fault. Coyotes consuming pets is one of the major justifications for destroying coyotes in the city. (Although I suspect rats, rabbits, squirrels and ducks are the majority of their local diet.) 

Keeping Ginger on her leash not only keeps her safe, it also helps to protect the coyotes from being hunted and destroyed. Attempting to live in harmony with nature may not always be the easiest option, but it sure feels like it is worth the effort to me. 

Have a safe day on Union Bay...where nature lives in the city!


ps: In another instance of Coyote Karma my friend Dan, from Whidbey Island, also published a piece on coyotes this morning. Click on the following link to read his wonderful writing, Did You Hear Those Coyotes? 

Going Native:

Without a functional Environmental Protection Agency, it falls to each of us to be ever more vigilant in protecting our local environments. Native plants and trees encourage the largest diversity of lifeforms because of their long intertwined history with local, native creatures. I have been told that even the microbes in the soil are native to each local landscape. My hope is that we can inspire ourselves, our neighbors and local businesses to plant native flora and to support native wildlife at every opportunity. My intention is to include at least one photo each week and visually challenge us to know the difference between native and non-native lifeforms. 

Which of the following birds are native to Union Bay?





Scroll down for the answers


a) Red-winged Blackbird - female
b) European Starling
c) Northern Flicker - male

The name gives it away. european starlings are not native to Union Bay. This Wikipedia Link states that Eugene Scheiffelin released the first 60 starlings in New York in 1890. In the book, "Union Bay - The Life of a City Marsh", which was published in 1951. At that point the authors stated that the starlings had reached Bellevue, but not yet Seattle. Today, there are over 200 million starlings displacing native birds all across the North American continent.

The other two birds are native to Union Bay. The northern flickers are woodpeckers which make their own nests. Often they excavate nest sites in the dead cottonwood trees on or near the south end of Foster Island. The next year, after the nest has been used just once, it is not uncommon to see a flock of the smaller starlings drive the a pair of flickers away from their nest and take it for themselves.

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