The beach combing coyote used its strong sense of smell to locate breakfast along the shores of Point Reyes. It paused briefly over the body of the deceased harbor seal pup before feasting on the left overs. Once full, it wandered off leaving the what remained for the turkey vultures, ravens and crows.
With over 25 centimeters of snow to fall within the next day in Calgary, I find myself thinking back to about a week ago when I was on a warm beach in California! On this particular morning, I watched a beautiful sunrise before coming across a lone coyote feeding on the carcass of a harbor seal pup. After eating its fill it walked about 100 feet away from me combing the beach for other washed up delicacies.
A couple of weekends ago I took some friends out to Banff to try to spot some wildlife. They were hoping to see bears and maybe even wolves, but as luck would have it we had an even rarer carnivore sighting. As I came into Banff I decided to drive up the road to a ski hill as I had seen bears, sheep and coyotes up there throughout the summer. After rounding a corner I spotted a coyote on the road headed in our direction. I quickly pulled over and stopped the car, but surprisingly it paid no attention to us. Instead it ran to the side of the road, raised its hackles and started barking at something down below. For about 10 minutes it continued barking at whatever it was. While my friends excitedly took photos of the coyote, I scanned the ravine as I knew from the coyote’s reaction that it was alarmed at whatever was below and therefore, it had to be a large carnivore! The coyote slowly walked in our direction and stopped every few minutes to bark down into the ravine. After passing my car and paying little attention to us, I turned the car around to face down the road. At this point the coyote must have lost sight of whatever it was, so like us, it sat down and waited. A few minutes later a large light brown object appeared by the side of the road. Before I had time to react it bounded across the road with the characteristic movement and shape of a cougar! A few strides later and it was on the other side of the road, leaping up the bank and disappearing into the forest. Not wanting to disturb it but also not wanting my first wild cougar sighting be so fleeting, I waited until it was in the trees before driving down to where it had entered the forest. I spotted it again as it disappeared behind some trees. Based on its direction of travel I realized it was heading in the direction of a clearing just west of where it was so I quickly drove down to the spot and waited. Sure enough, a few minutes later it appeared at the top of the clearing and walked right out into the open. It stopped and stared at us before slowly walking through the clearing and disappearing out of sight! It was such an impressive animal; a healthy adult male with massive muscles over the limbs and a powerful gait. No wonder the coyote was terrified of it! In fact, the coyote wouldn’t go into the forest for some time afterwards. Instead it patrolled the road and searched the ravines for the cougar to make sure it was gone. An adult cougar can easily catch and kill a coyote and so coyotes always have to be on the lookout for them. Thankfully for us, the coyote not only spotted it but also let me know it was around as otherwise I’m sure we would never have seen it. For those wondering where the cougar photos are, I wish they were good enough to post here, but with such low light at the time of the sighting, even at 2500 ISO the images are blurred. That’s OK for me, as I will never forget experience!
Most wildlife I see outside the national parks almost always runs off into the forest to get a safe distance away from people. Coyotes are no exception. They are incredibly smart, and so adaptive that some have learned to live exclusively in major cities preying on urban wildlife (and the occasional cat or dog). Efforts to rid them from the country side have failed and in fact it usually results in the coyotes adapting to the point that their numbers increase. This lone coyote was sleeping on the shoulder of the road. I slowly approached then stopped my car and turned off the engine. The coyote continued to sit on the road but eventually got up, stretched and yawned and then proceeded to howl. It did this several times, but without getting a response back, it slowly wandered off in search of some unsuspecting ground squirrels.
This photo is from earlier in the summer before all the grass died and turned brown. Coyotes are one of the most adaptable, resilient animals and can be found in a variety of habitats including large urban centers where they prey on other urban wildlife and domestic pets.
A coyote walks through the prairie in search of ground squirrels with the Prince of Wales hotel in the background.
Late in the afternoon this coyote wandered into a meadow where I was photographing a bull elk. It didn’t seem bothered by my presence and quickly found it’s next meal when it pounced on a ground squirrel and gobbled it up.