Yesterday morning while I fed the sheep their morning "tea", I noticed something. It was a duck constantly calling in the background noise of the early morning. I thought it odd for a couple of reasons but mostly because our stream has dried up from the lack of rain and I couldn't figure out where this duck was. The calling was insistent and constant.
First thinking that this was a creature who was hurt in some way, I left the barn area and walked out to the dry creek bed, turning towards my neighbor's place and walking towards the fence line. Only when I got to the fence between the properties did I see a lone Mallard hen, swimming in the remainder of water in my neighbor's catch-basin (a small man-made pond such as this is called a "tank" here in Arizona). She was frantically moving along the bank closest to me quacking at the bank.
It was then I started to put things together, especially upon gazing into our dried-up stream bed which feeds the tank the duck was in. There they were...as big as life itself. Coyote tracks. I looked around even more and found many, many more tracks all pointing to one thing. A group of coyotes had come in the night and taken this duck's little family from her. No one duckling had survived. My heart just sank. Being a mother myself, I know how strong a bond there is between mother and offspring. Most of the time I would chalk this up to an act of Mother Nature - these things happen all the time. The coyotes have to live as well and being hunters, they hunt and eat prey. Fact of life.
This year I have seen this band of marauders virtually wipe out the whole nesting population of waterfowl living in the wetlands behind our property. These coyotes are so brazen that, while I was dumping a wheelbarrow full of dirt out by the fence line, one stood within 12 feet of me...just watching what I did and was not even phased by my yelling at it to "Get!" Seeing the plight of Mrs. Mallard just sent me over the edge. Now I'm angry! Had I not put my sheep in the barn at night this could very well have been one of the lambs.
And it's not only the ducks. People in our neighborhood have begun missing pets like cats and small dogs. I finally figured out what was also bothering me about all of this...it usually doesn't happen this time of the year. We are in a very dry spell right now. The forests are tinder-dry again as we had a very dry, snowless winter. This may be an indication that animal populations, both predator and prey, are stressed for food and are moving in closer to people to glean what they can in our neighborhoods. Most of the people around us are fairly new to country living and don't realize one of the implications of this. They see the elk on our roads and in the field behind us and think they're cute and beautiful. And they are. It's just that I also see what follows these elk in my mind's eye...the species who prey upon these elk. In our area that means cougar and bear. I will now carry a very big flashlight and my cellphone with me to the barn should I have to go out after dark. And I'm thinking of making a new pen for Skittles to spend the nights inside the barn with everyone else - behind the predator-proof doors. Even if he doesn't want to come in.
Note to Self...put AZ Game & Fish on speed-dial.