Stealthy behavior in the dark: Coyote behavior

Today I was up way before dawn, so I headed out to see what kind of day it would turn into. It was dark and clear when I left home in the car. As I reached the top of a ridge it was both dark and foggy. Not too foggy, but foggy enough to create a glow around the street lights in the distance. The San Francisco area has wonderful diverse microclimates which can all be found at the same point in time within half a mile of each other. On one of the exposed roads it was windy, lower down it was totally windless. In a swampy area it was ten degrees colder than elsewhere.

I reached my intended park where I encountered a fellow walker and his dog — the only other pre-dawn walker I have come across — and we began to talk. We stood still, remaining in the same spot as we conversed. It was still dark. We then moved on, and as we did so, a form materialized out of the shadows about 40 feet away. The coyote was barely discernible at first and not initially easy to identify because of its stance and the way it was moving. After seeing the coyote for a moment, my first thought was that something was wrong, that maybe the coyote was sick or had been injured. The stance is one I’ve seen coyotes assume, but not maintain for any length of time. This coyote maintained it for this entire encounter. It had its hackles up, its back was curved up high while it kept its head down — it was a strong U-shape, and it was walking on tip toes very slowly and deliberately. It approached the dog that was with us within about 15 feet, but never got closer. Occasionally it pulled its lips back to show its teeth in a menacing sort of way: the coyote was messaging the dog, but the dog wasn’t picking up on the message. The dog ignored the coyote and continued walking on the path in front of us. The coyote backed up along the path, keeping its distance, keeping its eyes on the dog, and remaining in its hunched over position. It did not run off, but remained about 40 feet ahead. Then as we kept walking away from the coyote, the coyote disappeared off to the side somewhere after which we did not see it. It did not follow the dog.

This coyote must have been observing us the entire time we had been conversing in the one spot. It obviously did not like the dog lingering there. I actually had a totally different feeling from this coyote encounter than what I have experienced in the past — maybe because of the darkness, but also maybe because of the stealthy nature of the animal. I remained in the park, but the coyote did not approach anyone else — in fact, it is unlikely that anyone else even saw it while I was there. Later on I noticed it in the distance, just for a moment, where it looked perfectly fine and normal. It had been much too dark to take photos. Over the next little while I was able to tell that this was a coyote messaging the dog to get away. It’s so simple to respect the message. When we walk in the parks, we are invading the only place they have to live.

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