Dateline – January, 4, 2020 – Denton County, Texas
A report of a rare bird sighting took me to a new residential subdivision on the eastern shore of Lewisville Lake early this January. I followed the lead to a small community lake sitting on a rise between the much larger reservoir and the neighborhood.
It didn’t take long to recognize that the birds I had come to see were not present. But as a consolation prize of sorts, I did notice a lone Wilson’s Snipe sitting in plain view and close range in the short grass next to the water’s edge. I find Wilson’s Snipes infrequently enough that a chance to get a shot of one–at relatively close range and in good light–would more than make up for the absence of my primary objective. The promise of some special pictures was there, if I could just avoid inadvertently blowing this nice opportunity.
But as I raised my camera to take a picture, the snipe casually moved forward just a few inches and disappeared behind the low bank created where the grass met the water. He was gone from view.
Now it was time to keep my cool. If I gave him just a few minutes, the snipe might reappear in a good spot. So, I waited. And then I waited some more.
Perhaps a little impatiently, I shifted to the left just a bit hoping to catch a glimpse and verify at the very least that the bird was still there. Instead, I clumsily flushed the snipe. I stood there slightly off balance, watching the bird fly an erratic course over to the opposite side of the lake. He landed near a patch of tall grass on the far bank.
I was more than a little disappointed in myself for being so ham-fisted, but I don’t give up easily. Now I was pretty much obligated to make my way around to the far side of the lake for one more try. It wouldn’t be hard to get there, just a little bit far–a walk of about 500 yards or so.
As I approached the place where the snipe had set down, the high ground now gave me a clear view of Lewisville Lake and the expansive tall-grass floodplains leading out to the the big reservoir. In a small clearing at the base of the rise some out-of-place motion caught my eye. A Coyote sporting a big, fluffy, winter-coat stepped out into a clearing roughly 50 yards from where I stood.
At about the same time I noticed the Coyote, he noticed me. Surprised, we stood there for brief moment staring at each other and sizing up the situation. Then I starting taking pictures–the Wilson’s Snipe completely forgotten.
The Coyote did what Coyotes almost always do in a situation like this… He turned and started trotting away, with the goal of putting as much distance between him and me as possible. As he fled, the Coyote looked back over his shoulder repeatedly to be sure I was not pursuing.
I wasn’t. Instead, I was busy taking as many pictures of this close encounter as I could. As this Coyote slowly disappeared into the thick vegetation on the floodplain, it occurred to me that I should have a quick look around to see if there were any other song dogs in the immediate vicinity. Coyotes frequently patrol in pairs–where there is one, there is often another in very close proximity.
Sure enough, a second Coyote soon followed the first onto the same clearing. And then–a bit surprisingly–a third Coyote emerged from the grass to join his amigo.
Now the three of us repeated the script followed with the earlier Coyote. The two new Coyotes eyed me warily as I took their pictures, and then the pair moved away together, quickly tracing the same retreat route taken by the first.
As these two slipped away through the tall vegetation, I noticed a fourth Coyote cutting through the grass from a different direction, running hard to catch up with the other three. Now all four Coyotes made their way around the small cove in front of us, traveling together in loose pairs.
The four Coyotes exited the floodplain as they passed through a dilapidated fence line and out onto the short grass of a well manicured rise bordering another subdivision on the far side of the cove. Even though they were now over 300 yards away, the Coyotes continued to stop periodically to look back and check on my intentions.
As this group of Coyotes reached the top of the rise and were about to disappear behind it, I got one more nice surprise. Now a third pair of Coyotes was spotted slogging through the floodplain vegetation in an effort to rejoin their comrades on the hill. These two Coyotes had been following the original four up close to my position, but when they saw me, they held back to see how things would settle out. Now they were circling back around in a wide arc, working hard to rendezvous with the other four.
Six Coyotes is as big of a group as I have ever come across at one time, so this was a pretty special encounter. I kept shooting pictures until the last Coyote had disappeared over the distant rise. I took a moment to be grateful for my good fortune, and that is when I remembered the Wilson’s Snipe. Was it possible that I might still get a picture of that elusive bird?
I turned my attention back to the small community lake, trying to recall where I had seen the snipe land. I followed the dam down to the water’s edge, but there was no sign of the long-beaked bird. Not ready to give up yet, I worked my way further along the shore until I reached a place where the vegetation forced me back up onto the rise.
I reached the top just in time to see a two of the six Coyotes come sprinting by at the base of the rise along the margin of the floodplain. They flew past me at full speed.
Coyotes seem to be creatures of habit. It appears that Coyotes have patrols that they make with some degree of regularity, and they don’t seem to appreciate when they are interrupted mid-routine. I’ve crossed paths with Coyotes in the past who would wait me out, and then continue on their way after I passed by. That’s what these two were up to. They were so determined to get where they had originally planned to go, that they gave it a another try after they believed I had left the area.
This second interruption proved to be one too many for these Coyotes. Once again the pair retreated back across the floodplain, giving me one last glimpse as they disappeared for a final time over the rise adjacent to the distant subdivision. And that was that.
Oh yeah, and I never did get that picture of that crazy Wilson’s Snipe.