The Funnest Discovery

by Carl Strang


I have just completed my first month at Mayslake. As I learned the lay of the land and explored the various places I want to monitor as I tease out the natural history of my new work place, every moment held a discovery. But something had to stand out, and it came on my last November excursion. I found the coyotes’ den.




At least, I think it must be. I have seen fresh coyote tracks and scats on Mayslake’s trails, and the Mayslake staff report frequent sightings of coyotes in recent years. No sign or mention of foxes, at least not yet. The den was in a remote part of the preserve that I probably will enter only once a week at most. I was picking my way through an area dense with burdock, buckthorn and some tall red cedars, and came upon a den hole dug in the ground. Its mouth was filled with fallen leaves and so had not been entered recently. A few feet away there was another, larger hole. The excavated earth around the holes was well packed and clean of invading annuals, which makes me think the den was used this past season. Both holes in this elevated, well drained site are protected by buried concrete slabs around which the animals had to dig. The larger hole has a triangular shape with each side of the triangle at least 12 inches. This is too large for any local animal except fox or coyote. Also, there were no scattered bones of prey as I might expect at a fox den, though enough months have passed since the denning season that this cannot be an entirely reliable clue.




Neither canid uses its den outside the breeding season, so I don’t expect them to be there this time of year. Unfortunately I doubt that I will be able to monitor it during the breeding season without disturbing them. Coyotes can be quick to move their pups. I will look into the possibility of clearing a viewing hole in the surrounding vegetation for remote checking, but am not optimistic. Still, it was fun finding this den and the discovery leaves me feeling that I am starting to form a connection with this place.

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