Cooperation continues

I’ve been making frequent visits up the road to keep tabs on Coyote and Badger, and I’m pleased to report that their cooperative hunting relationship continues. I first saw and photographed them on Sunday. On Monday, it was a dreary and rainy overcast day, but I did manage to find the pair again, just as Badger went aground and Coyote began a nap, so I left them alone.

Knowing that we animals are such creatures of habit, I searched out the pair again today. We had a skiff of snow on the ground, and it was still snowing, so visibility was limited. I found Coyote out hunting alone this morning, but tried again at lunchtime, once again getting lucky in finding the pair hunting together, seeking out prairie dogs. Badger came fairly close in my direction, but Coyote has wearied of my presence. All  my images are taken from the confines of my pickup truck, on a muddy roadway with lots of industrial traffic from the natural gas fields.

 Coyote wouldn’t come closer to the road with me present (although I see they cross the road several times each day), so they resumed their hunting in the distance.

 Click on the photos to see the larger images. On Sunday it seemed that Coyote was the leader in terms of determining their direction of movement, but today Badger was definitely the leader.

 I’ve done a little research on what we know about the badger-coyote relationship, and in reality, we know little.

I found a note in American Naturalist in 1884 describing the “curious companionship of the coyote and badger,” based on observations made in Wyoming. Samuel Aughey wrote: “Sitting on a lofty butte examining some fossils, I saw, several hundred feet below me, a coyote and badger walking together, and every few minutes stopping and playing. The coyote would go in front of the badger, lay its head on the latter’s neck, lick it, jump into the air, and give other expressions of unmistakable joy. Its antics with the badger were very much like that of a young dog playing with another pup, or when meeting its master. The badger seemed equally well pleased.”

I found some other scattered mentions, and a 1992 paper by Steven Minta describing the coyote’s increased hunting success rate when the animals cooperate with badgers. Minta’s study used 42 badgers with implanted radio transmitters on the National Elk Refuge in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

I’m sure I would have been thrilled to witness this relationship wherever it may occur. But I find some pleasure in the fact that I am witnessing this in my own neighborhood, where coyotes are hunted, and amid active natural gas development. This is truly multiple-use land, and remains WILD.

The girls go on a hunt

 My coyote magnetism continues. Sunday afternoon as I headed
down the highway en route to the sheep, a beautiful coyote with long gangly
legs ran across the road in front of me. Laughing at the continued presence of
these wild canines in my life, I pulled off the highway to get a few images of
the coyote as she ran away.

But she didn’t run far. As I watched, the coyote ran through
the sagebrush, but soon paused and turned. Instead of looking back at me, she
was looking elsewhere. I strained to see what could be so interesting in her
line of sight, and soon saw a red/brown fury erupt through the sage, headed
right at the coyote. The coyote stood quietly, winking both her eyes at the
approaching badger – apparently waiting for her companion.
Once the badger approached the coyote’s side, the pair took
off through the sagebrush, hunting together companionably. At times the coyote
would surge forward after some small prey, but would often stop and look back
over her shoulder, allowing the smaller predator to catch up.

I had the distinct pleasure of watching badger and coyote as
they zig-zagged together through the sagebrush for about 20 minutes. I never
left the roadway, but remained in my truck, camera and lens out the window,
with Hud the herding dog leaning on my shoulder, just as captivated by the
scene as I. We watched until the two hunters continued on their merry way, out
of sight.
I returned a little later in the day, hoping to catch
another glimpse of the pair, and was rewarded by the sight of badger’s rump
disappearing into a hole she was frantically excavating, with Coyote stationed
nearby. As Badger threw dirt into the air, Coyote reclined on the ground,
watching the excavation, and blinking her eyes as some of the dirt landed on

Eventually Badger quit throwing dirt, but did not reappear
above ground. Coyote got up and inspected the new hole before lying back down
next to the hole, placing her chin on her paws and falling asleep. Satisfied, I
left them to their slumber.
My apologies that the photos are not of better quality (they
are severely cropped in), but they serve the purpose of proving my story true.
I dared not approach for fear of scaring them away, or otherwise altering their
Sunday outing. I did see both Coyote and Badger again later in the day, but
this time they were no longer together.

Two Skulls

Suburban Bushwhacker posted some photos of a skull that he wanted his readers to guess at.

It was a European badger. I know because long ago, after were were unable to stop in what the English call a “roundabout”* to retrieve a carcass, zoologist- artist Jonathan Kingdon gave me a skull of one with the beginnings of muscles that he was building out of plaster of Paris. I wonder if I could have even gotten it home these days?

At least one reader suggested– jokingly?– “black bear”. Years later Libby and I, on our first spring hike into the Magdalena Mountains, found the skeleton of a winter- killed bear melting out of the snow at about 8500 feet.It was huge and seemed very old, with worn teeth.

They are very similar but for size.

And here is one of Jonathan visiting Tucson a few years ago, with Lashyn. He is living mostly in Rome now and continuing to do writing, science, and art. I will write more on him and his work later.

*New Englanders call them “rotaries”. New Mexicans don’t have them.

Hackee sack anyone?

I’ve been working hard all week, either on the computer or on the ranch, so this morning I played hooky and went for a three-hour photo excursion to some of my favorite places in our county. This sandhill crane was busy throwing a chunk of cow manure in the air, hitting it with his head and beak, playing with it like it was a hackee sack. I saw it as I was driving by, and I swung back around to try to get a photo before it quit. One photo was all I got, but mercy what a fun photo it is. Anyone out there still doubt that animals play?

A small segment of Sublette County, Wyoming has one of the largest nesting concentrations of long-billed curlew of anywhere in the world. They love flood-irrigated hay meadows, digging through cattle dung for bugs.

I saw more Swainsons today than any other raptor.

This bird seemed to be about to burst its chest as it cheerily sang the song of spring. The Meadowlark is Wyoming’s state bird, as it is for several other states.

As I headed home, it was starting to snow a little, and a badger appeared alongside the road momentarily before disappearing into a burrow.