April 26, 2020 – Off on my morning walk today, I was just crossing the power line right-a-way when I saw a flash 30 yards in front of me. A large animal flew across the road effortlessly, as if in a single leap. It was much larger than a fox and had dark patches on its otherwise tan and gray fur. It looked like a cross between a fox and a German Shepard, but was clearly neither. It’s size, coloring and motion all fit the description of an Eastern Coyote – a genetic mix between a more traditional coyote and a wolf.
My fellow early morning forager disappeared, as quickly as it appeared, into the overgrown meadow of brown and green grasses and wineberry bushes. I found its path through the tall wet grasses and pondered whether I should try to track this beautiful creature. I chose not to harass it. As much as I loved seeing a coyote up close, there was no need to get any closer. I like to leave the meadows, forest hubs, and green stream corridors to all the creatures that need this rare wildlife habitat here in the middle of suburbia to thrive.
I’ve had encounters with coyotes in the west – but this was different. My first exposure to Eastern coyotes was in 1972 on Flagstaff Lake, an isolated lake in Maine. At that time the lake was only accessible via rudimentary forest service roads. Tom and I were mapping the geology of the area and we had brought our partners out for a weekend wilderness camping trip. We were the only ones there, canoeing and portaging for several hours to get to what we later called Blueberry Island. That night the loons and the coyotes serenaded us with their calls echoing off a vertical rock ledge on shore. It was romantic and eerie at the same time. We were immersed in nature and felt close to the stars and all the creatures on Earth.
In 2006 Kathy and I had a little farm in Howard County. One spring we lost two sheep to a local pack of coyotes. They struck at dawn, taking down 100 pound ewes. Our neighbors had similar problems with their farm animals. We lost a cat to the coyotes as well when one morning all we found left of her was blood on the front porch steps. I’ve heard other stories of missing cats and dogs, who were left off leash and disappeared. Coyotes may also help keep down the deer population which has gotten out of hand without a top predator.
A few years back we downsized and moved to live within Columbia. I started my morning walks to try to keep in touch with nature and to seek out a little bit of local wilderness. One morning when I was up before dawn, there was a full moon, making the landscape beautiful and magical at the same time. As I walked across the right-of-way I heard coyotes calling. I had not heard them sing here in Maryland before, and it took me back to the camping trip many years ago. I love that even in suburbia, coyotes can live here too, so close to all of us, without many of us ever realizing it. It’s a balance we need to maintain with nature – we need our natural support systems to be healthy to fight all the challenges we may face in the future.