My son Nicolai and I went out tracking coyotes a few days back. We left late in the day with the intention of finding a hide and watching the coyotes come out at dusk. As usually happens, we found so many other things to look at, so many tracks to follow, that by the time the coyotes started to yip and howl we were still following some fresh horse tracks from the previous day. The coyotes did appear right on time- they saw us first, but not until they had been communicating for some time just over the ridge from us. We got to hear them up close, and try to translate what they were saying. Coyotes use yips, howls, and yip-howls to communicate with each other and between groups. The Desert Explorer website has more on the lives of coyotes. When they saw us they headed off quickly in a safe direction.
We found the usual fresh coyote tracks throughout the area, and the track we chose to follow led us to a curious feature in some tall grass. It appeared that a few coyotes, including a couple of pups whose tracks we were following, had stopped and played there. The tracks led into the grass, and then out of it. We found a couple of pieces of old garden hose that they had chewed, possibly thrown around or played tug-o-war with as pups do (much of the area was farm and ranch land in the past and old dumpsites can be found in some of the washes). There were small teeth marks on the ends of the hoses, as well as on a few other pieces of hose that had been chewed off.
As we left the feature in the grass to continue tracking the group up the wash, we met a Racer that stood perfectly still for us, probably very frightened. Its bright color made it stand out against the green of the grass. They average between 56-82 centimeters in length, with females being longer, according to Hammerson’s Amphibians and Reptiles in Colorado. Ours was on the long end of the range, near three feet in length.
Besides the Racer and the coyotes we met up with three Great Horned owls. Nicolai was leading as we walked into a stand of cottonwoods along a creek and two of them took off right above him. We stopped to watch them fly off and land in some more trees close by. It was then that we heard the third owl just 20 feet away. The three began communicating with hoots, barks and what might have been the call of a juvenile. The barking, perhaps of the female, is the most interesting of their vocalisations. After they flew off we concluded from their sign that they had been using the trees as a perch for some time. We watched them for a while with binos, and got to see and hear them again at dusk as we left by the same trail.
We spent a couple of hours just following the trails the coyotes had made up and down all the washes. They are so prominent that it is impossible to lose them. It offers a great opportunity for Nicolai to practice his tracking skills.
The area we visit is alive with wildlife. Many birds live and travel through the area. At this time of year the Killdeer are everywhere. They were screaming at us during our entire hike, from the ground and the air. Some were undoubtedly trying to coax us away form their nests, as plovers are known to do. The chorus frogs have quieted down some, but we still heard them here and there.
Our next trip out we will be sure to settle down as the sun sets and let the coyotes begin their evening in peace, and if we are lucky we’ll get a couple of good photos of them.