New Coursing Book

To See Them Run: Great Plains Coyote Coursing, with text by Utah folklorist Eric Elaison, splendid photos by Scott Squire, and a long introductory essay by me, is finally out from the University Press of Mississipi… and about time! Our efforts have seen us, for about five years (more?) right through a couple of academic presses and out the other side, as Plains coyote coursing was seen as too retrograde for modern audiences, or, even sillier, presses demanded material on non- existent “Native American Coursing”. (A quote: “I was leading my greyhound and whippet. As I passed two Native Americans, my wife, who was following, saw them pointing at the dogs and saying ‘there goes dinner’.”

It is a really beautiful “Coffee Table Book” AND a thoughtful text– a great gift for hunters and students of dogs and the Old Ways, for Christmas or birthdays. I can truthfully say we are all proud of it as well as relieved that it is finally a book. I will add more photos later but wanted to get this post out. One complaint: Amazon will not let me list it under my name, on my page, although those who have introduced my books routinely list them on their Amazon pages. Perhaps a word to the publisher?

In the Hawk Pasture

What I call the “hawk pasture” is an open hay meadow tucked into the foothills of Wyoming’s southern Wind River Mountains. Irrigation water and a water gap for cattle provide a draw for a variety of wildlife, but this year the birds that have taken over, including sandhill cranes, sage grouse, a pair of Northern Harriers, and a short-eared owl. The harriers and owl are competitors, and it has been a pleasure to watch both species hunt during the daylight hours. Here’s a few shots of the harrier pair as they chased a coyote away from their turf. (Click on image to see larger version.)

Back to normal programming

 

I don’t know why, but I’ve never seen as many coyotes as I
have this year. Is it due to the drought, good pup production, or the fact that
I seem to be a coyote magnet? When I was driving out to see the sheep two days
ago and was thinking about posting a few of my new coyote photos, a coyote ran
across the dirt road directly in front of my truck, causing me to laugh out
loud at the timing.
Here’s the same coyote as above, from a different angle …

 

Last weekend Jim and I had just sat down at the kitchen
table for lunch when I glanced out the window to see a coyote approaching
toward the house from the Mesa. I snapped this image just as Rena greeted the
bold coyote. The coyote escaped, despite the efforts of Rena and Jim.

When I proclaimed myself a coyote magnet a few days ago,
Andrew Campbell pondered if I were speaking in code, asking, “Is
a ‘coyote’ a male ‘cougar’?” I snickered about that comment all day. Lecherous
middle-aged men – perhaps calling them coyotes is an apt term. It’s also the
highest of insults coming from a shepherd.

Prey base decline

We’ve noticed that our western Wyoming jackrabbit population has crashed in the last few years, and that makes us wonder about cohabitating wildlife and livestock species, and what the impact will be to those animals.

With so few jacks last winter, our wintering golden eagles didn’t stick around long because there was little for them to eat. I had heard that when the jackrabbit population crashes, livestock depredations increase. That certainly seems to be the case this spring.

The Farson farm community south of us is field after field of rich alfalfa, and during the peak of the jackrabbit population, it’s where I go to photograph large groups of jacks as they congregate and spar together. Now it’s unusual to see even a single jackrabbit in the valley. But within the last week or so, there have been at least 13 newborn calves killed by coyotes. With their major prey base unavailable, the coyotes have turned to calves. Both the photos with this post were taken around Farson, just a few miles from each other. The jackrabbit congregation was taken in 2008, when the population was near its peak. The coyote in the image is typical for this area.

We are due to start lambing in about two weeks, so in preparation for that, I’ve had an aerial gunner flying our lambing ground and shooting coyotes from that range. Our dogs have been working overtime to keep the sheep protected, and have been successful in doing it, but I’m not willing to have my lambs start getting killed before I do something. On Friday, while the airplane was working our lambing pasture, Jim took Hud the herding dog with him to another pasture just to the north. Jim stood in the middle of the dry irrigation ditch and blew on a jackrabbit-in-distress mouth call, while Hud dashed around in the sagebrush nearby. The first animal to respond to the call was a curious doe pronghorn antelope that took a steady look at Jim and walked away. The next responder was a coyote that keyed on oblivious Hud and was racing for him when Jim shot the coyote in its tracks.

Before we started gunning coyotes in the last month or so, we had coyotes coming along our back fence line during the day, in the hay meadow across the highway, and even down at the end of our driveway. Two of the guardian dogs have been working themselves ragged at night in chasing the coyotes, but they are getting so tired and sore-footed they aren’t able to catch and kill the problem coyotes at this point. Fortunately, the oldest and wisest of the guardians is Luv’s Girl, who always remains with the sheep while the others chase the coyotes. She knows that her time is better spent amid the herd. Between the dogs and the three burros, the sheep are well-protected, but that’s no guarantee that a predator won’t end up having some success. It’s our job to try and prohibit that, but this year we may have our hands full.

Sometimes the worst predator problem we have comes from one of the smallest predators – the red fox. We have one on our place this year that Rena spends far too much time and energy chasing. The little bugger is terribly fast, and there is no way that big dog is ever going to catch it. The fox is no danger to our adult sheep, but to baby lambs, that’s another story. A mama fox feeding pups at a den site can be one clever lamb-snatcher.

Doo, doo, doo, looking out my back door


It’s one of those mornings I’m finding it difficult to get anything done, since I’m spending most of time looking out the window, watching our Akbash livestock protection dog Rena, and how she handles two coyotes that have been in our neighborhood all morning.

Rena alerted me to the two coyotes as they crossed the meadow across the highway early this morning, putting the stalk on a group of Canada geese, but not succeeding in so much as alarming the big birds. The coyotes disappeared into the tree-lined ditch and did some howling and yowling, but Rena’s not allowed to go across the highway, so the coyotes were safe.

Eventually Rena turned her attention to playing with our herding dog pup, Hud. A little later I realized Rena was starting to “huff up” again, so I called Hud to my side and went to the kitchen window to watch. Rena caught a movement in the sagebrush behind the house, so I grabbed a camera and took this photo from my back doorway – sorry it’s not any better quality.

Rena chased the coyote, but neither animal seemed terribly serious about the chase today. If you click on the photo, you can see an enlarged version, with the coyote in the lower right corner. There are also two prairie dogs standing at the entrance to their burrow, watching the chase as well. I’d like to photograph Rena actually catching a coyote, but since there aren’t any sheep here at the house, Rena’s not really guarding. Oh but I would love to photograph any of my guardians catching a ‘yote. Usually all I get are the carcasses, which I admit does make me proud of the dogs’ good work.

Dear dog: Please break the rule


This cold and blustery day started with me letting Hud the herding dog puppy outside to find a dirty-headed bald eagle sitting on the power pole, watching the goings-on in the yard. Okay, so I put the big dog out with the little dog as a precaution.

Morning proceeded, and I noticed Rena the guardian wasn’t staying close enough to the house to entertain the pup. How come? These two tricksters (click on photo for larger image) had come through, attempting to lure Rena out the back fence and onto the Mesa big game winter range. Rena is a lovely dog, but how I wish she’d grab at least one of these two coyotes. Now we’ve got a game where the Mesa fence is “safe.” Grrr says me. Maybe I’ll try to pop one with something more than a camera.

Our sheep herd will be moved here to the house in a few more weeks, and with them come the guardians with less tolerance.