On my way to Water Mill the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, I spotted something that looked like our oldest dog, a Malamute/German shepherd mix, in a Sagaponack farm field. Immediately, I thought it was a wolf or a coyote.In fact, it could have been a coyote/wolf mix, better known as the eastern coyote, tweed wolf, New England canid, coywolf, or Canis latrans x Canis lycaon, a hybrid of the Western Coyote and Eastern Wolf.
There seems to be a bit of controversy over this point, however, genetic testing of the Eastern Coyotes, showed part wolf, part coyote and part dog.
“Coyotes, dogs and wolves are pretty much the same chromosomally,” said Frank Vincenti, founder of Wild Dog Foundation, based out of Mineola. Mr. Vincenti has been giving talks on canid conservation for 25 years and is very outspoken in support of hybridization.
“We’ve disrupted these animals,” he said, “This is an adaptation, not Frankenstein.” Two species breed under duress when they can’t find their own to mate with.
“Coyotes are wolves. They have minimal genetic differences,” he said, “Most likely they inherited the dog genes in prehistoric times.”
Hybridization comes when one species has a larger population than the other. “Anything can happen in the wild,” he said.
The DNA doesn’t really matter here. What matters is that the coyote made it this far east. “This is monumental,” Mr. Vincenti said, “I thought maybe it was no longer around.”
Mike Bottini is part of the LI Coyote study group looking at documenting the colonization of Long Island by coyotes and examining their impact on our ecosystem.
“The most recent sighting of the South Fork coyote that I know of was about six weeks ago, crossing the Bridgehampton Turnpike from the Old Sag Harbor dump/LIPA powerline and heading toward Schellinger’s shooting preserve,” Mr. Bottini said, “Schellinger keeps pheasants and ducks in pens in that area, and releases them for hunting. The coyote might be keying in on all that feathered food. The injured birds would make an easy meal. They often end up on the adjacent Mulvihill Preserve.”
Mr. Bottini figures since this coyote was first observed here in the fall of 2011, it is at least four and one-half years old. “A number of people have gotten photos of it over the years (we assume there’s just one at this time) in Wainscott, Sagaponack and Water Mill,” he said.
East Hampton photographer and wildlife rescuer extraordinaire Dell Cullum saw a coyote in the same area, at the same time of day, last Wednesday, one day after I saw him.
“You probably saw the coyote,” he said, “I saw him last week as well and seen it two other times since October.”
The coyote was caught by Mr. Cullum’s handheld camera, the New York State Department of Conservation’s trail cameras and “a farmer in Sagaponack, several years back, who practically tripped over it eating a game-bird.”
Mr. Cullum first photographed “Wiley,” as he calls the coyote, in March 2014 when it ran in front of his truck and across an open field behind Poxabogue Golf Course. “I’ve seen it a half dozen times since. Usually early morning hours at first light, but last week I saw it sitting in a field at Townline at a hundred yard standoff with a red fox.”
The railroad tracks offer plenty of deer carrion as well as a great travel route. “Between that, small mammals, rodents, farm birds, game birds and a never ending, always growing issue with garbage, our local canid friend will never go hungry and will have no reason to search out domestic pets or bother people, in which they are rarely a threat,” Mr. Cullum said.
Mr. Cullum agreed with Mr. Bottini. “It’s a lone coyote,” he said, “No babies.”
There are babies on Fishers Island, at the eastern end of Long Island Sound. “When I was doing a survey for river otters on Fishers Island in 2013, I found lots of coyote tracks and scat and learned that the island has a healthy, breeding population of coyotes,” Mr. Bottini said. Pretty good proof that coyotes can swim.
While picking up a bale of hay to cover my garlic crop at Wölffer Estate Vineyard, I asked Fernando Fino, who has been with Wölffer for twenty-five years, if he had ever seen the coyote. “No, I’ve seen foxes,” he said.
Mr. Fino also saw what he thought was a fox den, a ten to 12-inch hole in the ground with sand piled up in two to three-foot mounds around the hole.
Coyotes will take over old fox dens and both coyotes and foxes will take over old woodchuck holes. A den needs good drainage which is why golf courses are perfect. Sand pits are naturally dry.
Unless a coyote has a den full of pups, it is not going to be territorial. Pups stay with parents until their eyes open or about five to seven-weeks old. Coyotes are fully grown at nine-months old. At that point, they weigh about 40 pounds and can run up to 40 miles-per-hour, faster than I usually drive my car.
Males are bigger than females and can reach up to five feet long, from nose to tail. Their fluffy tails are usually pointed downward. Their ears are erect. Colors vary but are usually a mix of red, brown, black and white thick fur.
If truth be told, when I first heard about coyotes out east, I was fearful, mostly because I have a small dog. When I saw the coyote, however, my view changed dramatically. I am no longer afraid. In fact, just the opposite. We need more of a balance of predators and prey.
Coyotes eat tick-infested rodents such as rats, mice and voles and will even take down a fawn up to 20 days old. It’s unlikely that our lone coyote will go after a pet. If it happens to get up close and personal, make a lot of noise and it will probably run in the other direction.
Hopefully Wiley will stick around and maybe even find a mate. A female was found last spring in Battery Park City.