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.
I, too, have seen a coyote in Columbia, but it was many years ago — I estimate about 1989 — when I was living by myself in the Bentana Apartments on Tamar Drive — kind of across from Phelps Luck Drive and Jackson Pond.
One afternoon, or perhaps early evening, I was walking across the Bentana parking lot, when I suddenly saw an animal that I instantly thought was a coyote. It crossed about 20 yards in front of me, and the light was good, and I saw it clearly.
I don’t remember if it was loping, or running hard, or exactly what gait, he/or she used. Unlike the animal you saw, “my coyote” wasn’t nearly as large as a wolf, nor did it remind me of a wolf in any way, nor a dog. I would estimate it was about the size of a golden retriever, but thinner and lankier than a dog. it didn’t move like a dog.
After that one sighting I never saw it again, nor heard coyote calls at my apartment. So my story isn’t as exciting and significant as yours, but ever since then I’ve been aware that coyotes could definitely be living in our midst. And it’s comforting to know that we have “wild company” which we may see again someday.
Ned, please let me know when you have any exciting hikes or other events coming up. I would be interested in joining you for some of those, if that’s possible under our present social distancing.
I hope that you, Kathy and your family are all staying healthy and doing well. Hope to see you again sometime soon. If we’re not wearing masks at the time, we can still talk by staying 10 or 12 feet apart, if that works for you.
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A few years ago I too saw a coyote on one of my early morning runs in Long Reach. At first, I thought it was a dog before I realized it looked like the coyotes I had seen when we were outside Tucson. We are fortunate to have enough areas locally to have the variety of wildlife we do.
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