100_0924.jpgNot long after midnight this morning, I was sitting by my woodstove looking into the flames when I heard a coyote howling in the neighboring horse pasture (right), which is owned by the Giacomini family.

The howls consisted of wails followed by a series of yips, and the coyote sounded so near I went out on my deck to listen more closely. When the coyote howled again, another coyote on the Point Reyes Mesa answered. Before the answering howl ended, however, the first coyote resumed its howling.

After a couple more rounds of wails and yipping, the two stopped only to have the silence broken by the distant howl of a third coyote. This one sounded as if it were somewhere near the Red Barn, but it was too far away for me to be certain. Nonetheless, the distant howl immediately drew more howling from the first coyote.

100_0630_1.jpgSoon all three coyotes were howling at once. They finally stopped, but I stayed outside, straining to hear more in the blackness of a moonless midnight.

For a minute or two all was quiet, but then a fourth coyote started howling. The howl was so faint I could barely hear it, but it seemed to be coming from the vicinity of West Marin School. Immediately the other three resumed their howling, creating a coyote cacophony on the northern end of Point Reyes Station.

I photographed this coyote at the top of my driveway three months ago.

Many West Marin residents have heard a coyote chorus at one time or another, and unless they were sheep ranchers, most of them probably enjoyed it. Of course, one can hardly begrudge sheep ranchers their resentment of coyotes.

After a 40-year absence, coyotes returned to northern Marin and southern Sonoma counties 25 years ago as a result of the federal government’s ordering ranchers to stop poisoning them. In the years since then, depredation by coyotes has put an end to well over half the sheep ranching here.

100_1164.jpgIn my case, however, the howling was a happy reminder that here in the small towns of West Marin, the Old West lives on. The coyotes howl, and the wind blows free.

Despite all the coyotes in the area, 12 blacktail deer, including this adult buck which I photographed today, have been spending time in my pasture all week.

“When hunting larger prey like deer, coyotes hunt in packs,” notes NatureWorks, a website of New Hampshire Public Television. “One or more coyote will chase the deer while the others wait, then the next group will pick up the chase. Working in teams like this, the coyote can tire the deer out, making it easier to kill.”

It happens that there are a number of fresh badger burrows in the horse pasture where the first coyote did its howling, so I was fascinated to read on NatureWorks, “Coyotes also often follow badgers and catch prey that pop out of burrows the badger is digging.”

Relying on badgers to flush field mice and gophers for them! Amazing! Those coyotes really are wiley.