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COLUMN: Yowling of coyote leads to rare, close encounter

Coyote, cattle and photographer all played nice during awe-inspiring 40-minute span that put the mammals in close proximity to one another
Columnist David Hawke had a rare opportunity to get up close to a coyote on his property earlier this week.

Coyotes are usually fairly quiet creatures, keeping to the shadows and hunting the thickets far from our buildings.

So when I heard a constant yapping and yowling coming from our neighbour's corn field, my curiosity was aroused. Setting the limb pruner firmly against the next pine to be trimmed, I scuttled out of the plantation and headed for a small rise from which I could view the distant field.

Through a tangle of leafless maple branches I could see a lone coyote sitting in the corn stubble, throwing its head back and yapping in wild abandon. On this day the sun was bright and the temperature above freezing. So why not make a joyful noise?

Seeing how the animal was content to just sit and vocalize, I pondered my chances of hot-footing it back home, grabbing the camera and then jogging up the snow-covered hillside and get there in time to grab a photo? My pondering was not at all rationalized against the facts that I was already soaked in sweat and “jogging up a snow-covered hillside” may be a great way to induce a heart attack.

Maybe I have a death wish, but that’s what I did. And yes, “jogging up a snow-covered hillside” does have a way of getting the ol’ heart pumping!

As I eased the camera between a couple of rails in the fence (and collapsed in a wheezing pile of 68-year-old machismo) the single coyote was still very visible and, being upwind of my panting and smelly sweaty clothes, was unaware of my presence. I clicked off a couple pictures using a very high shutter speed to compensate for my oddly unsteady hand-held camera.

That was cool! Now what might I do? The coyote was poking around a herd of cattle that were feeding on a round bale of hay, and neither party seemed at all concerned about the other. OK, so maybe I could get a little closer?

To approach the cattle, I’d have to retrace my tracks a bit to a more secluded spot where I could climb the fence. In doing so, my foot slipped on the metal gate rail and I found myself on the far side of the gate a tad quicker than anticipated. A hot bath tonight should solve that twinge.

Upon reaching the sparse tree line I stealthily aligned myself behind a cluster of Manitoba maples, bent low and walked forward with great care while scanning the opening for a sighting of the coyote. Nope, nothing there. Perhaps it had wandered to the far side of the herd and I would now have to creep further along the tree line to get another angle of view.

As I was doing this commando-worthy manoeuvre I noticed a lone cow off to my side. It was staring towards me, but right at me. Strange. I triangulated the line of sight from the cow to transect my direction of travel and found that the implied transection would be about 40 metres ahead of me. And 41 metres ahead of me was the coyote, sitting, staring at me, slightly bemused.

A dozen more clicks of the shutter (why I needed 12 pics all exactly alike I’m not sure, but that’s what photographers do) and I took another tentative step forward, then another. How close might I get? How close was safe?

By the fine lines of its face and moderate body size, I determined the animal to be female. And seemingly alone, as no other doggie-type critters were in the field. As she was glamorously spotlighted in the low-angled winter sun, that meant I was an indiscernible silhouette from her point of view. Bonus!

But then she got up and started walking towards me! Uh-oh. Should I jump and shout and scare her off? Sit still and see if she will pass close by me? What might she do if I suddenly startle her?

About 10 metres away she veered back across the tree line and headed back into the cow field. As she quartered her trail in front of me, my shutter sounded like a machine gun! She politely ignored my paparazzi actions and quietly continued on her way (other than always having one ear cocked in my direction).

She took another wander close by the gathered cattle (“Hey Mable, hey Daisy… any mice around the old hay bale today?” “Nope, sorry Ms. 'Yote, nothin’ moving today.”).

By the time 40 minutes passed by I had taken 103 photos and not once was there ever a sign of aggression or threat from the coyote, the cattle, or me. Just a bunch of us mammals gathered on a hilltop sharing the warm winter sun.

Something caught her attention and she just up and left, loping down the slope to the valley floor. I did catch sight of her once again at the far end of the field as she stopped and looked back up our way. I looked down at the camera to check a setting and when I looked back up she was gone, just a few footprints left in the light snow.

And now I noticed how cold and wet my clothes had become; and why does my leg feel bruised? Time to head back to my shelter and enjoy a warm soak with a dash of Epsom salts!