This coyote posed for pictures!

In the past week, I’ve seen a coyote hunting in our neighbor’s field three different times. The first two, it moved out of range before I could get my camera. But this morning, he or she was a little more obliging, leisurely nosing around in the tall grass, close enough for me to get a shot. I turned off the sausage, grabbed my camera, and hoped it wouldn’t get spooked and run. Sorry for the poor picture quality, but these are the best I could do with my “point-and-shoot” camera.

coyote in the field

coyote looking for mice

coyote

In more populated areas, coyotes avoid interaction with people by hunting at night. In our rural area, they are more brazen and hunt during the day, too. They are opportunistic feeders with a varied diet, which includes scavenging the large kills of other animals. In the Blue Ridge, they hunt rabbits, foxes, mice, beavers, all kinds of fruits and berries, and I suspect even the salamanders in our neighbor’s pond.

It’s possible with all the recent sightings that there’s a den nearby. If that’s true and there are pups to feed, this coyote will be out hunting again. With any luck, I can sneak up on it and get a closer shot. Maybe a better option would be to attach my BirdCam to a tree and see what activity it captures. Stay tuned!

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Ol’ Man Winter’s Last Gasp?

We had five or six inches of snowfall from yesterday’s storm (sigh). All in all, we haven’t had a bad winter, but I’m tired of the cold and snow and wish spring would get on with it. Here’s some pictures from my walk today. Beautiful, yes, but I’m hoping Ol’ Man Winter is packing his bags and heading out of town!

View through the valley of the Short Hills

View through the valley of the Short Hills

Autumn in the wetland by the brook

female cardinal

A female Northern Cardinal and Dark-eyed Juncos

Seadheads from last year's ironweed

Seadheads from last year’s ironweed

The beehives

The beehives

Path down to the back field

Path down to the back field

Are you as ready for spring as I am?

A short stay at the pond

Yesterday, a beautiful pair of Canada Geese suddenly appeared on our neighbor’s pond. Leisurely swimming from one end to the other, they were checking out the water and its environs to see if it was a suitable place to nest. I watched from a distance for quite a while, snapped a couple of pictures, and left so as not to disturb them.

Canada geese

We live in an area where strong-running creeks flowing out of the mountains vastly outnumber the slow-moving bodies of water that geese prefer, so I was a little surprised to see them. But our neighbor’s pond is made-to-order. With gently flowing water, a moderately sloped bank with no tall vegetation to hide a predator, and a surround of mowed grass perfect for eating, I’m sure the geese pair were thinking this spot would do quite nicely.

But things are not always as they seem. This morning, I happened to look out the window just in time to see a coyote loping out of the woods, headed in the direction of the pond. As I watched, out came another…and another…and another! I immediately thought of the geese, but when I looked over at the pond, they were gone. Perhaps they had seen the coyotes earlier and beat a hasty retreat. With four coyotes in the area, they would have stayed at their peril and put their young at extreme risk.

And coyotes aren’t the only predator the geese would have had to worry about. Their eggs and young would be tempting to foxes, skunks, raccoons, and even ravens. That’s why geese populations are increasing in urban and suburban areas. These areas provide excellent goose habitat with far fewer predators than a rural setting like ours. Well-kept lawns, golf courses, business parks, city parks, and recreational fields provide excellent forage. They also often contain water reservoirs, lakes, ponds, and marshes dotted with islands that provide safe nesting sites for geese.

I hated to see the geese leave, but the pond wasn’t a safe place to raise their young. With any luck, they will find a more suitable place and in just a few weeks, be parading a new family.

Downy and Hairy at the suet feeder

We’ve had Downy Woodpeckers at our feeders since we moved to western Virginia, but this winter we started seeing their larger cousin, the Hairy Woodpecker. I’d been waiting to catch the two males together at the suet feeder and I finally got my chance.

The Hairy Woodpecker at the feeder while the Downy waits his turn

The Hairy Woodpecker at the feeder while the Downy waits his turn

So as not to appear overly anxious, the Downy pecks at the bark while he waits

So as not to appear overly anxious, the Downy pecks at the bark while he waits

It’s easy to distinguish between the two species: the Downy is about 6 inches long with a short, stubby bill; the Hairy is robin-sized, about 9 inches long, with a bill almost as long as the bird’s entire head. Even though their ranges for the most part overlap, the shyer Hairy is found within or along the edges of deciduous forests, while the tamer Downy is more often found in woodlots, parks, and suburban back yards. Due to the considerable size difference, ecological competition between the two species (for food and nesting places) is rather slight.

The Downy is one of my favorite birds, partly because they are so people-friendly, but also because they are of the “share and share-alike” mentality at the feeder, waiting their turn while the nuthatches and other suet-lovers get a shot. I’m impressed that the Hairy, a bird that is built to go head-to-head with the aggressive and oft-obnoxious Blue Jay, is also willing to share.

Well, this is a first

Today was warm and sunny, quite a change from all the cold, wet weather we’ve been having here in western Virginia. The birds took full advantage of the beautiful day, singing and chasing after potential mates. Three male Red-winged Blackbirds showed up at the feeders, probably migrating north, but other than that, it was the usual customers – titmice, chickadees, juncos, nuthatches, finches, and woodpeckers.

It’s been my experience that cardinals are often the last visitors to the feeder in the evening, so I wasn’t surprised when I saw this male Northern Cardinal late in the day. I was surprised, though, that he was perched on the suet feeder, of all places.

IMG_2387

I did a double-take because I have never seen a cardinal on a suet feeder. Normally, they prefer platform-type feeders or peck around below the feeders, catching the morsels that fall.

I watched him bend down and take a bite, then ran for my camera. I was only able to get one picture before he flew off into the woods. Seeing the cardinal eating from the suet feeder was a first for me, but maybe it’s a more common occurrence than I realize. Anyway, I’ll be watching to see if this particular cardinal has decided he doesn’t want to wait for crumbs!

Coyote in the field

I have a habit of looking out the window a lot during the day, wondering what I’m missing while I’m inside. This morning, I happened to look out and saw a dog-like form in my neighbor’s field. Even though it was a football field away, the animal’s size and gray/tan coloring told me it was an Eastern Coyote. I grabbed the binoculars and sure enough, it was a large coyote. Extremely wary, coyotes don’t stay in one place for long. By the time I found my camera, he had moved behind a hill and out of sight.

I hurriedly put on my coat and went out to have a look, but by the time I got to where I had seen him, he was gone. Our neighbor’s farm is 300 acres of woods and fields, with lots of places where a coyote could hide or raise a family. Coyote breeding season is underway, so if he has a mate and pups nearby, I might get to see him again.

Coyotes move through our area, but haven't caused any problems. Photo by US Fish and Widlife

Photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Coyotes make their dens in a burrow under rocks, in hollow tree trunks, and under piles of brush. If undisturbed, they will repair and use the same den in successive years. Females produce a litter of three to 12 pups which are born between March and May. The male and female both engage in hunting rabbits, mice, wild turkeys, deer, rodents, and other food sources.

The pups begin to venture outside the den at three to four weeks of age. (To see pups emerging from their den for the first time, watch this wonderful video called “Coyote Cubs Singing” produced by BBC Worldwide.) Young coyotes will leave their parents care in the fall following their birth. If food is abundant, the pups will stay and hunt in the family pack until the start of the next breeding season. If food is scarce, they will leave to find their own hunting territory. Overall prey abundance and diversity dictates the total number of coyotes that can thrive in a given area. (source: Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.)

Historically, the coyote was commonly found in the Great Plains of western and mid-western states, but during the last 50 years has expanded its range eastward. Two factors that contributed to the eastern expansion were the elimination of its ancient foe, the timber wolf, and the establishment of the deer herd in the East as a plentiful food base. The coyote is an adaptable and resourceful predator and despite efforts to reduce their numbers in many places, there may be more coyotes today than in colonial times.

In the Blue Ridge, coyote populations are increasing, largely due to abundant small prey and deer populations. These cagey predators tend to steer clear of humans, but will take livestock such as chickens, sheep, pigs, or domestic animals if the opportunity presents itself. We do have to be concerned about our chickens and I worry about Callie, a Shih Tzu-mix of about 20 pounds, so we keep a close eye on her when she’s out. Supposedly, they do not particularly target livestock or domestic animals, but if the pickins’ are easy….

In the meantime, I’ll keep looking out the window.