WAY OUT HERE - Wily 'tricksters' strike the ranch – again

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Something we've always had to deal with way out here at Walkers Ranch in western Walla Walla County is coyotes. There's a large tree farm nearby that provides a lush home for the rogues to roam free and undisturbed.

We frequently hear them yipping and howling at night, which is actually kind of cool and entertaining. The only time they cause problems is when they come out of the trees to hunt for chickens, cats and who knows what else. Plus, they scavenge garbage cans for scraps.

Fortunately, we haven't lost any cats to them for a few years (I guess we're breeding coyote-savvy survivors). They'll definitely ravage the garbage cans if they're overfull and the lids aren't secure, but that's my own fault.

So I was actually pretty shocked one morning when I found that they had dug underneath the barnyard fence and slaughtered all of our ducks and geese. Although I'd heard stories, they had never gone to those lengths way out here. They tricked me!

It was a devastating attack, apparently performed with stealth and precision. We didn't hear any commotion, despite the geese being especially good "watch dogs" - more than willing to sound the alarm and defend their home. There actually weren't even many signs of struggle, just a couple claws marks on the ground.

Coyotes are like ninjas!

About a month later I was lying awake in bed around midnight, just listening to a mild mid-summer thunderstorm blow through, a nice break from the monotonous scorching summer sun assault of mid July. We rarely get any rain that actually hits ground way out here in the summer, but the breeze through the windows was nice - plus, thunder and lightning is always cool, right?

So I was lying there, dozing into dreamland, when suddenly I heard the unmistakable yip and howl of coyotes. It sounded like there were two, but I couldn't tell for sure. All I knew was they were close - right at the barnyard. Again.

I quickly jumped out of bed, slipped on my Birkenstocks and rushed out the front door - in my boxer shorts. Not a pretty sight.

In their rush to escape the wild hunters, our fleeing cats activated the motion lights, which probably scared the coyotes away. But I wasn't going to just hope they ran off. I rushed down the hill toward the poultry flock.

Just as I reached the barnyard, the house light turned off, leaving only the moonlight. That, and the wind, made some very eerie and freaky shadows.

Now, right about when I had opened the door and left the house, the Union-Pacific freight train started passing by and sounding, well, like a freight train. That was probably why the frogs in the ponds didn't hear me pass by and just kept on croaking.

Have I mentioned we don't have any firearms at Walkers Ranch, other than BB and pellet guns? That way there's no temptation to take random potshots at the neighbors. Better safe than sorry.

I do keep a machete strategically placed at the ready just in case, but didn't grab it as I left the house. The coyotes are the only intruders we've ever had, so I usually forget it's even there.

Anyhow, so I'm chasing coyotes and moonlit shadows, with a freight train rambling down the tracks to the east. Bullfrogs are croaking up a storm to the west. Occasional lightning flashes in the distance, followed by rolling thunder. At midnight. In my boxers. And in my Birkenstocks.

That's when I stopped and thought: Coyotes are tricksters!

So like I said before, I assumed they'd already scattered off. But then again, the train was now blocking their route back to the tree farm where they live. And did I mention that the grass in the field surrounding the barnyard is just tall enough to conceal a coyote lurking in the dark?

Of course, I had to do a complete wsweep of the area to ensure all was safe. So I slowly continued on around the barnyard, stopping each time I saw something move - maybe a coyote, probably a shadow.

After confirming the coyotes were long gone, I walked back up the hill to the house. I stood on my front porch, overlooking the barnyard, the trees swaying in the breeze and the open field beyond.

All was calm and peaceful now, as the storm had blown through and the train by now was way down the tracks. The chickens were clucking softly as they settled back into their coop, the bullfrogs continued their zenful croaking and the wind had died down to just a light whisper. It was now a very beautiful summer night.

So why did the coyotes purposely yip and howl, alerting me to their presence and position, drawing me outside in the middle of the night - in my boxers and Birkenstocks, looking like a fool?

Coyote, the trickster!

Burbank-area writer Erik D. Walker, author of "In Pursuit of the Perfect Burger," can be reached at erikandtina@walkersranch.com.

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