I headed out to Cherry Creek today to photograph the prairie dogs. Colorado has been in a deep freeze for weeks, and deep freezes have been cycling through the state since Christmas. I’ve been out to Cherry Creek and other nearby birding areas a few times, however the frostbiting cold (at times, -15°F!) has kept most of the birds away…hardly anything to see in weeks. The last couple of days, the daytime temperatures in the sunlight have actually jumped, and are almost comfortable. I decided to take advantage of the momentary warm (truly momentary, starting tomorrow were back in the teens) and see if I could get some pictures of the prairie dogs in “dog town”.
I brought my handy chair blind with me this time. Prairie dogs, especially in large colonies like the one in Cherry Creek, have a notorious way of sounding the alarm (their high pitched bark, from whence they get the “dog” par of their name.) Without a blind, the alarm effectively goes on forever. I was hoping I’d be able to eventually ward off the alarm by crawling inside my blind and waiting patiently. I trudged out into the middle of one of the major wards of dog town, and started setting up my blind in one of the scattered stands of juniper and scattered bush, hoping the blind would blend in and seem like just another juniper. While I was setting up, I suddenly heard a growling racket, then a synchronous chorus of howling. At first I thought, “Wow, did someone drag their dogs out into prairie dog central?” Then it hit me…Coyotes! I knew they were in the area…I had spotted them in the same region on multiple occasions before, and I knew there was a pack that moved through hunting the prairie dogs. I grabbed my huge lens and pointed it around the juniper at my back…
There they were! A whole pack, or at least part of the pack that I am familiar with. Five of them (the whole pack is about nine in size, if I’ve counted correctly). One larger one, and four smaller ones…maybe yearling pups. All of them were howling! A good, hearty, heart-felt howl for the good old moon. Yup, late afternoon as it might have been, they all seemed to be pointing their snouts up and howling right at the half moon clearly hanging in the sky. Once they got all the howl out, they all marched on in a big throng, stumbling over each other playful growls, eastward. The prairie dogs set off the alarm, and it rippled through the entire ward, and on into the next, following the pack as they went.
One of the pups noticed the odd creature with a big long snout standing amongst the bushes. He took an interest for a while, but eventually decided that hunting down a tasty meal was more interesting. (Good thing too, as the big long-snouted creature was me, the photographer…and I’m always happier when the pack of hungry coyotes isn’t coming towards me. ;-))