Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Communing with Coyotes

Late Sunday afternoon (after a beautiful mild day), Toby and I went for our end-of-the-day walk down to the Hudson River pump house (the water source for our end of town). It was an uneventful walk, until we reached the dead end. That's when we heard it: the unmistakeable bark of a lone coyote.

Usually we are aware of our local coyotes when they take up voice en masse, yipping and howling in a woodland choral performance. It's a distictive sound, and one sure to either delight or disturb the listener. But every so often the coyotes (and foxes, actually) will vocalize by barking. Like their howls, their barks are easily identified, once you know what they are.

I placed this animal in the wetland just a stone's throw from the pavement where the road deadended by the pump house...a little too close for my comfort. Toby, who normally ignores the howls, was suddenly on alert, and decided that the call of the wild must be answered, so he barked back. What followed was quite the exchange. The coyote would "bark bark bark" and Toby would "bark bark bark." Then the coyote would answer, followed by another response from Toby. This back-and-forth barking went on for some time. I wonder what they were saying to each other.

But, I also have a very active imagination, and while I know that the odds of a wild animal coming out of the woods and pursuing us are slim to none, that part of me that still can freak out in my parents' basement was taking no chances. We commenced our return trip back up the road towards home...rapidly.

After about a quarter mile, as we passed a house along the woods, Toby suddenly stopped and went on alert, facing the woods. Had the coyote followed us, taking a shortcut through the woods? By now the two of them were silent, so I had no way of knowing what had grabbed Toby's attention.

We got home without further incident.


The next morning, as we were wrapping up our morning walk, we had another encounter...sort of. We were headed up the street (just past the church parking lot) and I was waving at a local girl who was just driving off to school, when she suddenly pointed behind me. I turned to see a lovely coyote dash across the road and into the woods, right were Toby and I had passed not 30 seconds before!

My boss, who lives just up the road, says she's seen a pair of coyotes multiple times crossing the street there between the parking lot and the woods. And there have been tracks and scats around the neighborhood. HM...could it be that the sudden increase in feral cats has brought the coyotes in for easy hunting?

When you live smack in the middle of the woods, with wilderness areas all around, you just never know what wildlife might cross your path. I've seen most of the mammals species that call the Adirondacks home (foxes, coyotes, bobcats, fishers, martes, otters, minks, bears, long-tailed weasels, porcupines, beavers, squirrels (red, grey, flying, chipmunk), snowshoe hares, deer, mice, voles, muskrat, lemming). The only one that still alludes me is, you guessed it, the moose.

Some day.


  1. Cool story. One DOES wonder what they were saying to one another. My two idiot dogs would not have been content to bark back and forth with a coyote but would probably have rushed off into the woods after it (which is one reason they're never off leash). I wonder what a coyote would do with a pair of incredibly dumb and enthusastic 50lb basset hounds? I wouldn't care to find out. I would have left quickly, too!

  2. Loved your story about the coyote. I recently had an encounter with a red fox; I too, was walking my dog through a recently disturbed stand of woods and there, before us, ran a red fox across the road. He then stopped and stood atop a small hill looking back at us, not 25 yards away. The thing that scared me was his growl, it sounded almost cougar-like, definitely a warning sound. I too, thought there was little danger that this wild animal would pursue us, but I took no chances and we quickly retreated. I left slightly shaken up, but very grateful for that close look at such a beautiful animal. Thanks for you story!

  3. I see signs and hear sounds of coyotes frequently, but never felt any reason to fear them. But I did read recently about a young woman being attacked (can't remember the details). Would a coyote be more or less likely to attack if you're accompanied by a dog?

  4. Jackie C - I wonder if the growl was directed towards your dog. That would be my guess, but who knows what goes on in the mind of a fox.

    Woodswalker - I don't know if my dog would've been an attractant or a deterrant. I can see it going either way, which is why I really didn't want to take any chances. If we were posing some sort of a threat to the coyote, I'd think attack would be more likely, but since we didn't even see the animal, the chances of it perusing us should've been slim. Unless it was a young coyote with a lot of curiosity. And maybe my dog was hurling insults at it...who knows!?!

    Woodswoman - I have to keep my dog on a leash all the time, too - he's taken off on me more than once, disappearing into the woods. So, he's only leash-free in our fenced-in yard. It's a shame though - I dream of having a dog I can walk with off-leash. >sigh<

  5. Coyote numbers are up in my little corner of the Park as well. (Southwest corener: Town of Ohio in Herkimer County.) At least one of them is nearly the size of a wolf. (And I know what a wolf looks like from trips to Minnesota and the UP of Michigan.) All to the detriment of the local deer population. We've seen few fawns the last two years and in the past three weeks we've seen nothing but coyote tracks in the few snow falls we've had. No deer. No snowshoes. We also lost our local fox population. Three years ago we had an active (and very productive!) pair of foxes in the area. Today they and their offspring have disappeared.

  6. The coyote attack was in Nova Scotia. A young woman was killed. It seems so strange, like something is missing from this story. Now a coyote that has been living in the Beeches, an area near downtown Toronto since last winter, is getting renewed attention with calls to kill it. It killed a small dog last February, but officials were unable to catch it over the summer.
    Coyotes are adept at living on the edge of habitations, so there are bound to be conflicts, I guess.

  7. The attack referred to by Woodswalker occurred in Nova Scotia, in Cape Breton Highlands National Park, about 2-3 weeks ago. You can read all about it in the Halifax newspaper (it's online). Inexplicably, a pair of coyotes attacked and killed a healthy, fit 19-year-old woman, who was hiking on a fairly popular trail. Nothing like this has ever been reported before. Odd, and obviously horrible in this case. But I don't think they are a real threat to people. To domestic dogs, of course, they are a serious threat. You are wise to be very careful when you are out with your dog.

  8. Thanks for the news bulletin, Gromit, Barefootheart and Joated! I don't have TV, so in many ways I'm cut off from the news. If it isn't covered on NPR (when I'm listening), then I don't hear it.

    One has to wonder what triggered these animals to attack. Was it pack mentality (I've seen perfectly sweet dogs become insane when in a pack)? Was the woman running and this triggered a chase/hunt response? Did they possibly have rabies or distemper?

    Did someone witness this? If not, how do they know there were two of them? I guess I'll have to look up the article!

    I never take anything for granted. Any animal, in the right situation, can (and will) attack. I suspect that for the most part, wildlife fears humans, but every so often one will take the plunge and attack...for whatever reason.

    A local woman was riding her bicycle up near the old iron mine several years ago and a young coyote started following her. I think a car finally came along and she was "rescued."

    It all just goes to show that nature deserves our respect. Don't be foolish. Don't try to be overly brave. Remember, they are faster than us, and are better armed (lots of teeth and the ability to use them).