Coyotes on the Cliff in Daly City, by Mark Citret


I live in Daly City, on the western side of the western-most street, just south of the San Francisco city limit. My backyard backs onto about 150 feet of cliff top before it plunges down to the Pacific. About a month ago, at dawn, I just caught sight of a sharp featured canine creature loping northward along the cliff top. Before I could grab my binoculars he was out of sight. But I’d seen enough coyotes in the mountains and the desert to know it was a coyote.

Then yesterday morning around 8 I saw this handsome guy just standing out there, stalking a gopher hole. This time I had time to grab the binoculars. I opened the window to see him more clearly, and at that point he looked up and was quite aware of me, but he didn’t bolt. I guess the prospect of the gopher was too enticing. I wanted to take some photos, but I had no idea where my point and shoot was. I’m a photographer, but I prefer film and it had been so long since I’d used my G10 I didn’t even know where it was. Knowing he might be gone by the time I found it, I risked it, and when I’d finally found it he was still there, intent on getting the gopher. Got a few shots off before he finally made his leap at the hole. I don’t think he got his prey. He trotted off north. I’ve attached a few pix.

I then googled “coyotes in San Francisco” and that’s how I came across your name and website. I’m wondering where this guy lives. I’m about a mile south of the stables at the SF/Daly City line, and there are pretty large stretches of wildland above Thornton Beach, below Skyline Drive and the Olympic Club golf course. I’m wondering if his den is down in that area, or if he comes all the way from Golden Gate Park. Any ideas?

In any event, it was a thrill to see him. I don’t own any long lenses, so the 30mm zoom on my G10 is about the best I can do. If I could entice him into hunting the gophers right in my backyard I could get a better close-up.

I’ve enjoyed your website and blog.  

Hide N’Go Seek

I became aware of a group of dogs and their walkers only when this coyote kept looking up in their direction. As the group approached, the coyote moved several times to better and better vantage points, but did not head off. As they got closer, the coyote moved over to patch of grass.  He nibbled the grass, almost as a distraction to himself, as he continued to watch the approach of the dog walking group. Was he getting nervous? One might have thought that the coyote would have hurried off rather than stick around. But no — curiosity can be powerful! Finally, when the group was about at the point where they would have been able to see him, the coyote bounded out of sight and out of harms way to a hiding place, where he remained until they passed.

Having avoided detection, and still wanting to watch them, he now ascended to another lookout, one from which he could make an easy getaway should that need arise. He still kept watching them! Was he testing his luck, or testing his ability to not be seen? They continued their walk, descending a path that circled around, and the coyote ran to the other side of the rocks to watch them as they went. The coyote remained undetected until the very end — almost. When the walkers entered a wooded area they could no longer be seen — all except an unruly dog who was lagging far behind. This dog had her eyes and nose out for the coyote — there have been plenty of previous chases by this one. Having caught whiff of the coyote, the dog went after it, and that is when the coyote finally split for good. The chase occurred  unbeknownst to the owner who had walked on ahead. I later told her about it.

Reading a Scent

After hunting for a while this coyote finally disappeared into the brush. I thought that was the end of my observations for the day, but not so. Soon thereafter, two large men and their two large pit bulls appeared from a path close to where the coyote had disappeared. They proceeded down a trail which would lead them out of the park. The coyote then reappeared from the brush, sniffed where this walking group had lingered for a moment, caught sight of them, and then follow them, not too closely, but within eyesight, until they left the park. The dogs and walkers never turned around, so they never saw the coyote, and when they exited the park, the coyote disappeared again into the bushes close to the park’s exit. No one was any the wiser because of this. And that was the end of my observations of that coyote.

Within 10 minutes, there appeared another coyote sniffing around where the first one had first caught whiff of the dogs.  This coyote sniffed intently and looked all around, stretching his neck high, but no one was in sight, and maybe the scent of the dogs and the other coyote had begun to dissipate a little because he didn’t seem sure of which direction to follow. He finally made his choice. Instead of following the scent on the trail that led out of the park — the direction the others had gone in —  he turned around and retraced the path the dogs had originally come from.

I’m wondering: Did he lose the scent which led out of the park? Or did he mean to retrace the direction from which dogs and coyote had come? Was his interest a curiosity in the dogs or in meeting up with the first coyote? Or, might he have been attempting to assess if the dogs and coyote had had an encounter?  We don’t actually know what pheromones and other clues were there for the second coyote to tap into. It’s always fun to try and figure out what these animals are up to!

Three At Dusk, by Charles Wood

Here in LA County Sunday I finally saw three of my coyotes just as I got ready to call it quits. A young one came out to wait. It soon hid in the brush. Mom came up just a bit later from the south. She stopped and, with her child hidden nearby, immediately started to howl. She howled unanswered for several long breaths. Then others joined her howling and yipping even though they were a few feet away! It is when the others joined in that I switched on the video. Mom’s voice, though hard to distinguish, is the highest. She has a thin and very high voice. Sunday was the first time I heard it. Most of Mom’s howling was not in my direction. She only turned my way when she was more or less done.

Six seconds into the video a rabbit decides to relocate. Mom heads to her family nearby and the video is cut before she goes into their hiding place camera right. When the video resumes, Dad heads camera left, their child comes out, and Mom pees camera right. It is Mom who pushes her child away from Dad. In that segment it is clear her milk has come in. Note that the child comes back in ten seconds. Mom holds perfectly still for Dad’s inspection of her and the child gives them more space. Dad next seems to feel a choice is required of him: follow Mom and child camera left or deal in some way with me. Maybe trying to decide, he sits and scratches. Dad then pees where Mom had. Unfortunately, the child did not and I don’t know if it is male or female. After more cavorting they head east. They exit where the rabbit was last seen, though they don’t seem interested in finding it.

I should mention that I have had an second dog with me for a few months when I watch for my coyotes. Both Holtz and Lucas, an eighty-five pound German Shepard Dog, watched their wild dog cousins Sunday with interest, standing silently with me on the riverbank.

Mom’s howling was unexpected. I’ve seen them reunite at the same spot several times. Many more times I’ve seen one or more coyotes there waiting patiently for other family members to show up. They arrive and they wait, but I’ve never seen any howl for others. The obvious difference is that Mom recently had her pups. Maybe Mom’s anomalous howling was for being in a hurry for being away from her pups. Maybe not. She may not have been summoning the others with her howl, may have known they were right there. She may have just felt like howling.

Where are this year’s pups? It is the same question I posed last year upon seeing Mom with her milk in, but no pups around. Who was with the pups, or, were there any? My guess is that last year she had a small litter. The young coyote in the video is probably one born in 2011 and it has taken me a year to see it.

This year I’m not sure if the adults in the pack are more than the three in the video. I suppose Mom, who has successfully raised a few litters, is in the habit of leaving newborns behind in their den. I have to assume she knows what she is doing. I think the fact that she is out, apparently taking a break from newborns, means that there are more than three coyotes in the pack this year.

Gathering Information and Curiosity

While sitting in a depression on a rock,  I observed and photographed a young coyote. When the coyote moved, I moved away from my perch to get a better angle. Then something kind of fun happened. The coyote walked back over to where I had been perched, looked at me in my new location, as if he were making a connection, and proceeded to intently sniff where I had previously been sitting. He went over the place pretty thoroughly with his nose and then turned to looked at me one more time as if to confirm what he had just found out about me.  He then walked off, not even bothering to “mark” or “trump” my scent. I wonder if I don’t count for much!

I’m trying to speculate what kind of information a coyote might have tried to pick up about me? Within their own species various bits of identifying information could be obtained by scent, such as whether male or female, reproductive status or availability, aggressiveness, if it was a juvenile, something about diet. But my being outside of its own species, I wondered what kind of information it might have been looking for? Or, maybe it hadn’t been seeking any particular information, but rather sniffing out any clue which might have revealed a better understanding about me?

As with dogs, coyotes often go over to sniff out where they’ve smelled or seen another dog or coyote. But I’ve not seen dogs perform this ritual on humans.

Some Dogs Can Sense Coyote’s Presence in an Area

Peeking out of a hiding spot after an alerted dog passed. The dog did not find the coyote.

Several people have told me that their dogs can sense when a coyote is around, even though they had not seen or heard it. Some dog’s smelling is far more acute than others. So, even though most dogs are oblivious, a few dogs will begin acting differently the minute they sense a coyote.

How do the dogs react? They become more alert and  uneasy: a heightened awareness and a stronger interest in their surroundings. They’ll begin sniffing for clues and looking about for any signs that might tell them where the coyote is. Finally, the dog may spot the coyote and give chase, or, as I’ve seen with one small dog, it may hug against its owner’s leg for protection! Some dogs think coyotes are like squirrels — objects to be chased. Some dogs think it is their duty to drive a coyote away. And some dogs actually would like to play. Best to keep your dog close and leashed in a coyote area.

More Singing With The Sirens

Here is a high-pitched, squeaky sort of a howl accompanying a siren. No matter how often one hears these howls, they always are thrilling. The serenade went on for quite some time, but I’ve just posted the first part because the blowing wind began to produce static on the recording. At one point, you’ll hear a dog barking, and the coyote stops to listen for just a second before continuing its own song.

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