A Coyote Hunting, Then Killing And Eating A Vole

It’s nice to see coyotes and other predators on Antelope Island hunting successfully for voles once again.

For the last year or so there’s been an apparent crash in the vole population on the island (vole populations are normally cyclic).  I used to regularly see coyotes, raptors and even shrikes hunting them and I’d often spot the little rodents scurrying around in the sagebrush or crossing the road in front of me but such occurrences have been rare for many months now.  Only recently have I noticed a rebound in their numbers.

 

coyote 1185 ron dudley

 1/2500, f/6.3, ISO 640, Canon 7D, EF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM @ 160 mm, not baited, set up or called in

Yesterday morning as we were leaving the island we encountered this coyote hunting the causeway (while processing this shot I noticed it’s a “twofer” – there’s a bird perched behind the coyote).  It was very close to the road and so intent on finding food that it barely glanced my way.  Here it had located potential prey by smell (most likely a vole) and did a little digging for it but came up empty.  So the coyote proceeded a little further east and almost immediately…

 

 

coyote 1207 ron dudley

  1/2500, f/6.3, ISO 640, Canon 7D, EF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM @ 150 mm, not baited, set up or called in

 came up with a vole.

 

 

 

coyote 1215 ron dudley

 1/2500, f/6.3, ISO 640, Canon 7D, EF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM @ 150 mm, not baited, set up or called in

At this point coyotes are in danger of being bitten.  Those powerful little rodent teeth can make a coyote pay a dear price for its meal, something I’ve seen (and documented) many times.  It appears that the coyote is using its incisors to grasp the prey by its front feet which puts the voles teeth dangerously close to lips, nose and tongue so…

 

 

coyote 1222 ron dudley

 1/2500, f/6.3, ISO 640, Canon 7D, EF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM @ 150 mm, not baited, set up or called in

the coyote very quickly gave the rodent a little toss…

 

 

 

coyote 1223 ron dudley

1/2500, f/6.3, ISO 640, Canon 7D, EF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM @ 150 mm, not baited, set up or called in

 and repositioned the vole…

 

 

 

coyote 1227 ron dudley

 1/2500, f/6.3, ISO 640, Canon 7D, EF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM @ 150 mm, not baited, set up or called in

so it could quickly chomp down and kill the prey with a serious bite to the head.

At this point the coyote swallowed the vole but sadly I missed much of that action.  I was so close to the coyote that I was using my backup 7D with attached zoom lens and I had inadvertently stuck in a slower memory card so my buffer filled up at this critical point.  So frustrating to once again make a rookie mistake!

 

 

 

coyote 1229 ron dudley

 1/2000, f/6.3, ISO 640, Canon 7D, EF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM @ 150 mm, not baited, set up or called in

Then the coyote continued east as it searched for another meal.

I’m encouraged to see evidence of a rebound in the vole population.  Perhaps this will soon draw more raptors to the island – they’ve been woefully scarce out there for much too long.

Ron

 

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Anticipating Take-off Angles – Meadowlarks

Avoiding “clipped” body parts is perhaps the biggest challenge associated with take-off shots.

Take-offs are lightening fast, especially with relatively small songbirds and if you’re close enough to get good detail they’re often completely out of frame before you can trip the shutter.  Once you develop your skills (and reflexes) you may be able to keep most of the bird in frame with only a few body parts cut off or clipped but of course the goal is to not only get the entire body in frame but to also have enough room around the bird for pleasing composition.  It isn’t easy!

If you can anticipate angle and direction of take-off your chances of success are greatly enhanced.  Doing so is highly variable, depending on many conditions.  Here’s some examples:  (each of these shots was taken on Antelope Island last week)

Western Meadowlarks are very common on Antelope Island right now and I get a lot of practice with them.  Birds are most likely to take off in the horizontal direction that they’re facing but then you have to worry about the “vertical direction” – will they take off from an elevated perch going up or down or level and at what angle?  Sometimes their perch helps you to guess correctly more often.

 

 

western meadowlark 3258b ron dudley

 1/5000, f/6.3, ISO 500, Canon 7D, Canon EF500mm f/4L IS II USM, not baited, set up or called in

The favorite perch of meadowlarks on the island is the tops of sagebrush which often have vertical bare twigs from last years growth surrounding the bird.  Those twigs must be avoided at launch.  Here there are few twigs and they’re not very high so I anticipated that the meadowlark would take off in the direction it was facing (to my right) and that the angle to vertical would be almost level because that direction was clear of twigs (the more vertical the direction of take-off the more work required).  I guessed right and got a shot I like without clipping anything and with enough room in front of the bird for decent composition.

 

 

western meadowlark 3213 ron dudley

  1/3200, f/6.3, ISO 500, Canon 7D, Canon EF500mm f/4L IS II USM +1.4 tc, not baited, set up or called in

When it was perched this meadowlark had lots of twigs around it in every direction and they were sticking up fairly high so I figured it would take off at a steeper angle than the previous bird – which it did.  Again, nothing clipped or cut off and there’s enough room for composition.

Some might also notice the scarcity of feathers just above the “armpit” – something I covered with this species in a previous post.

 

 

western meadowlark 2811 ron dudley

  1/4000, f/6.3, ISO 500, Canon 7D, Canon EF500mm f/4L IS II USM +1.4 tc, not baited, set up or called in

This meadowlark had been perched on the green branch at bottom with very long twigs sticking up around it.  About the only direction it could go was up so I aimed my lens above the bird and waited.  Through the viewfinder I could only see the top half of the bird but the timing for this shutter click was just right.  It’s a bit of an unusual flight pose but I enjoy it for its variety.

I realize that most of my readers are likely more interested in the images themselves than they are in the technique used to get them but some readers are also bird photographers and occasionally I like to do this kind of post.

Happy Easter, everyone!

Ron

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