Lots of families do nature studies during their homeschooling years, making yet another nature study sound rather average. So, being the over-achievers we are, we decided to take your average nature study one step further with a population survey on the coyotes in the undeveloped area behind our home. Since we moved in, we have seen at least three that we could identify, but have only photographed two.
The area is very overgrown in places, and with several known coyotes, following a few common sense rules is a safety-must.
Rule one: Nobody goes bushwhacking alone.
Rule two: Always go armed for exploration & defense.
Rule three: Bring a first aid kit & always have your phone on and charged.
Please do not make me explain this.
These are the safety rules I insist on having followed every time the boys want to go walking in that area. Does this sound like overkill? Perhaps, but recently a coyote attacked a 9-year old girl near Dallas, and was later seen stalking a jogger. Yes, this coyote was probably alone, possibly injured and/or ill. We will know once they track it down, but even still, when winter hits prey becomes scarce. As a result, we will be enforcing these rules at all times.
In the morning, when we know coyotes are more likely to be out and about, we walk the perimeter of the wooded area. I’m not a fan of bushwhacking when it is not necessary, because it makes too much noise, thereby scaring off anything we might want to photograph anyway! We take a camera, notebook and pencil with us to document what we see, and where. Your phone will do an adequate job on most photos, but if the creature is a distance away, it will not give you the results you want. Even the coyote on this page was too far for my 300mm lens to get a really detailed photo.
When we capture photos of various animals, I’ll spend a few dollars and have some prints done. There are a number of very affordable online suppliers for photo printing, so there is no need to worry about printing at home when the online choices are so inexpensive.
One thing we have discovered, is that the coyotes have left scat all along the perimeter, just outside the fenced yards. This seems to be the line marking their territory from that of ours. At this point, we have not seen them wandering the neighborhood, but of course I would not put that past them.
Describing animals in order to identify individuals
We do not know if there are others, but after observing these three, and hearing them at night, we are reasonably certain there is one more lurking about.
For your study, I recommend finding animals that are fairly easy to identify unique individuals. Although, if that is not possible, you could certainly just count the number of a particular bird species or grasshoppers you see. The key is to be as specific as possible, detail as many of the individual features as possible.
In the same way, you can learn to spot differences between individual animals of a species. Study each animal you encounter, and you will start to see the differences.
What do I record?
It varies according what what information you are seeking, but here is our list:
1. Number. How many have you seen? If it’s a large number, estimate, but try to be accurate.
2. Color. Do any of the animals have identifying patches, different coloring, etc? Note this.
3. Size. Maybe there is a really chubby squirrel somewhere, or a really hungry-looking coyote.
4. Location. Where did you see it? Some animals have a very large range, others very small. Know the species you are observing, so you know whether to expect the same animal elsewhere.
5. Number of times spotted. Regular visitor, or just passing through?
6. Identifying characteristics. Scars, torn ears, missing tail. All of these things can help you identify individuals.
The size of a bluejay’s crest and cheek patches, shading on a squirrel’s back, and physical size are all ways that you can describe different individuals within an animals population. If you can identify gender, that is one more piece of information. Some animals are sexually dimorphic, that is, they have very different features between male and female. In birds, this means that the females are often less flashy and blend in better. In coyotes, the females tend to be smaller, but not always.
Learning Tangent is Gail’s brainchild. When it all goes down, she has to get the magazine out the door and on its way to subscribers. She has four kids, of whom she and her husband David homeschool two. She enjoys a wide range of activities including weaving, photography, writing, is a musician (both a teacher & performer), calligrapher, and is an avid sci-fi- & fantasy reader. You’ll generally find her busy doing whatever it is she wants to on a given day.