Yesterday morning I witnessed quite the little drama on Antelope Island. Two of them, really.
This post will attempt to document what I saw. I lost sharp focus on a couple of these shots and some of the action was far away but I hope the images I include here will give you a feeling for all the excitement that unfolded.
Going north on the ranch road we spotted four coyotes. Three of them crossed the road and walked slowly west while one of them left the area. At first I didn’t think they were in hunting mode, rather that they had a destination in mind.
But this one detected a vole under the 6″ deep snow. From its body language it was obvious that it was able to hear the vole, even through all that snow.
I’ve deliberately cropped this image to include the second coyote in the background. Notice in this shot, and the next two, that the background coyote is intensely watching something in front of and above it (there’s a relatively high mountain in that direction).
Coyote #1 begins a pounce toward the source of the sound.
The next image in the burst.
It lands in the snow but apparently missed the vole.
It stopped to listen again for a few seconds then pounced one more time.
With its nose buried, it pushed through the snow like a snowplow for several feet. I believe that it was following the scent of the vole in its snow burrow.
And this time it came up with the vole but the coyote paid a dear price. It was very obvious to us that the vole had bitten the coyote somewhere inside its mouth. And that it hurt. The reaction of the coyote was to flip the vole forward. Here it’s landing in the snow.
The coyote was in obvious pain…
and was extremely careful about approaching the disabled vole.
Notice that the fangs are bared and the hackles raised.
The coyote picked up the vole and dispatched it with a bite to the head.
But before the vole could be swallowed, coyote #2 took off at what must have approached top speed in the direction of the mountain.
And coyote #1 followed immediately. I can tell from other images that the vole was still in the coyotes mouth. It was swallowed on the run.
I don’t remember which of the two coyotes this one was but I include the shot to illustrate how fast they were running toward the mountain. Here the coyote hasn’t yet begun to ascend but all three animals headed up the mountain lickety-split.
I had no idea what was going on and I still don’t for sure but this was their destination, perhaps 3/4 of a mile away from me and high on the mountain. There appears to be a carcass of some kind (Pronghorn?) that the coyotes had previously fed upon (based on all the tracks). There were two Rough-legged Hawks (only one can be seen here) and several ravens and magpies hanging around the apparent carcass.
Why they suddenly raced up the mountain at break-neck speed is anybody’s guess. Perhaps, with their keen eyesight, they spotted the birds there and felt the need to protect their food source. Maybe they noticed some other predator approaching the carcass?
I can only speculate but it surely was an interesting few minutes as I watched all of this unfold.