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    A COMPENDIUM FOR THE DRY GARDEN

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Bluebirds and coyotes

Last years box; this year's first inhabitants

Last year I made this blue bird box but no birds liked it.  Then I heard that it takes a year before they’ll use it.  And, voila, some birds came and are nesting.

Bluebird clutch of eggs

That was several weeks ago.  Just a few days ago, I heard some little ‘peeps’ and thought ‘They’ve hatched!’ I built the box as an observation box so I waited till momma and daddy left, then peeked in.

The babies

Sooo cute!

Well, they’re only cute because they are so little.  Actually they are funny looking without any feathers yet.  I was told that I should knock before entering.  That way if there’s a bird in there, they will leave.  But a few times I’ve knocked and then opened the top and there’s momma sitting on either the eggs or now the babies.

Mom and Dad are such good parents, watchful all the time and constantly getting bugs for the babies.

Momma

The other day I had a weird thing happen.  Early one morning I heard a crashing in the forest, lots of squirrel alarms go off, then nothing.  I thought maybe it was a bear.  I looked up at my fence line up the hill moments later, and there stood a young buck.

‘Strange’ I thought.  Deer don’t usually crash through the woods.  Maybe he was being chased.

Later, around 2 pm, I looked up towards the same area I saw the deer in the morning and noticed some large animal lying in the grass.

“Strange’ I thought again.  “Its too hot for an animal to be lying in the sun mid-day”.  I went up to look and there was my young buck, dead.  He hadn’t been killed by an animal, he hadn’t gotten tangled in my fence.  Only his eye was bloodied.

I called the game warden.  He needs to know these things and besides, I don’t want a bear in my yard tonight.  He examined the deer and also had no idea how or why he died.  He took the buck, along with my trail camera, to a remote area.  We thought we’d get some good grizzly pictures, or maybe wolves, but instead got coyotes on the deer.  Here’s a clip from my trail camera:

“A hike is just a walk in a place where you can pee”  Demetri Martin

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Coyote pups

Yesterday morning I came across four coyote pups sniffing around the main dirt road.  Three of them finally trotted off through the meadow and down the hill towards the marsh area.  But one little pup, obviously the bold budding hunter of the group, remained in the meadows learning to hunt.

I’ve seen their mom around this territory, but she was no where in site this morning.  Not sure exactly on their age, but they look somewhere in the neighborhood of 10 weeks, I think.

Totally cute coyote pupCoyote pup huntingCoyote pup sniffing something in roadCoyote pup in grassCoyote pup

Coyote the trickster and the real world

Coyote, the trickster.

I am staying in the Bay Area this week, seeing friends, contacting clients. Last January I was here for a month working on a job, staying at Muir Beach, when I had the most unusual coyote experience.

Our house was directly above the beach, with a private walkway down to the Muir Beach parking area. On evening around 5pm, as dusk was settling in, Koda and I walked down the access steps to the beach. On one side of us was a house, on the other side of the walkway was brush and an open lot. Suddenly Koda perked up and started to bolt. I called him and saw a huge German Shephard-looking coyote, probably a coydog.  He’d been watching us.  Being curious why he was so close to these homes, I followed him through the brush.  Right next to the compost bin was a fresh deer kill.  The deer was completely intact except for its hind quarters, which were exposed and Coyote had eaten the entrails out.

The next morning, around 8am, I passed the area on the way to the beach and looked through the brush.  Within those 14 hours, that deer was not only entirely consumed, but the vultures had picked it clean to just bones.  Nothing remained!

That was my last trip.  Yesterday I met a friend for lunch in a busy North Bay town called San Rafael.  After lunch we decided to take a walk, so we drove to a quiet spot I know.  At the end of a road there’s an old cemetery.  We strolled around the manicured grounds when I noticed a coyote luxuriating in the wet, green grass.  Coyote lounged, scratched, bit his fleas, rolled around, and paid us little mind.   We circled around him, passing closer on the way back.  He stood up in a leisurely fashion, eyed us (like ‘oh you humans are disturbing my sleep’), scratched, and walked slowly around a Chinese Elm.  There must have been a nest in that tree, because birds kept dive-bombing him.  Coyote jumped in surprise as if these birds were biting flies.  It was the funniest thing.

Coyote lounging in cemetery

Coyote lounging in cemetery

Coyote the Trickster

Coyote the Trickster

My friend and I parted.  I went to get a haircut.  At the hairdresser’s the woman next to me was talking about teaching a third grade class when suddenly all the children ran to the window to see a coyote walking by.  “I’ve never seen a coyote.  Ever.” she said.

Each time, coyote was at the edge of our busy hustle and bustle.

Hustle and bustle at a farmer's market in Marin County, CA

Hustle and bustle at a farmer's market in Marin County, CA

Like a thin veil separating these two worlds, one dreamlike, the other hard edged and fast paced, coyote stood at the threshold, luring us, enticing us.  The contrast of the calm of the cemetery, isolated on the outskirts of town; the interface between open space and homes, reminded me of where I had just come from in Wyoming.  I too had come from the dreamtime of Sunlight Basin and Yellowstone, where the real world has been marginalized to a protected park.  Here in the city, people say to me:  ‘Welcome back to the real world”.  What is the real ‘real’ anyways?

Coyotes and Wolves

W___ says we’re having a ‘false spring’.  It was in the high 50’s today. “Don’t get too used to it” he told me.  For a Mediterranean girl like me, the 50’s are the new 70’s!  The solar and dryness made it downright hot.  Still, the snow cover makes for great tracking.  I’ve been learning about tracking for several years, and even was in a tracking club in California where, of course, they don’t have wolves and bears.

I decided to go hiking up Elk Creek.  My neighbor put down a horse last week and right away I saw tracks of two wolves.  (Note:  Tracks below are wolf and the smaller ones coyote for size.  My 85 lb. dog, Koda, would have tracks more in keeping with the coyote!  See that photo below) Wolf and coyote tracks I followed them for a while until they went down a steep wooded slope.  But later picked them up and, along with coyote tracks, they were headed straight for the dead horse.  Seemed like they weren’t too interested in much of the horse though, as just its organs were gone and the rest of the carcass remained intact.  Even the birds weren’t on it.

Yesterday I found a dead coyote.  It was in an area where lots of elk graze every evening.  I couldn’t find any sign of a kill, even though wolves had passed through the area not too long before.  Its front leg was exposed down to the bone.  I wondered if it had bleed to death from a trap although I couldn’t find any sign of a trap either.  I took some photos and plan to show it to the ‘elk boys’, the students who are doing the elk studies out here.  They’re very knowledgeable plus they are both hunters and trappers.  The other day when I lead them to two elk kills I found near Game and Fish, they were explaining how to age a kill, what to look for to determine what killed the animal, and what animal parts the lab needs for various stats such as age, health, and diet.

Seeing that coyote reminded me of a fellow I ran into last spring at the small campground down the valley.   This man had raised a coyote.  He knew a fellow that had killed a coyote with pups, so he took one of them.

coyote“They say you can’t raise a coyote, but I did” he told me. “The coyote used to disappear for days or a week at a time.  Sometimes other coyotes would come around and howl, trying to entice the baby out to join them, and sometimes she would.  But she’d always come back.  It was four years before I could pet her.  She’d  sleep against my leg, but wouldn’t let me touch her.  Finally, after four years, she’d let me love her. Smarter than any dog I ever had.”

“I was working with Fish and Game building a road.   My boss on the project would come up and we’d talk across in our trucks.  I didn’t like this man.  He was always down on the work I was doing, which was good work.  And the coyote didn’t like him either.  We’d be talking and when we’d finish and drive away, you know how you have your arm laying on the window.  Well, the coyote would nip at his hand when we’d pass, every time.  And she didn’t do that to no one else.  So that warden started keeping his arms inside.  One day I was working way up on the mountain and here comes the warden.  I don’t know how that coyote recognized him, but she did and she started chasing him down the mountain.  The warden ran down and into his truck and got away as fast as he could.  There was something wrong with that man and the coyote sensed it.”

I went back to look at that coyote again today.  Nothing was eating it.  I felt bad for it.  I’ve seen that coyote many times.  I feel like I’ve lost a neighbor.