New York State Department of Environmental Conservation wildlife naturalists have confirmed that they believe the photo of a dog-like animal taken in a farm field earlier this month was, indeed, a coyote. It is the first confirmation that a coyote, or coyotes, are back on Long Island after an absence of more than 100 years.
“We received a photo late last week that apparently was from the Water Mill area and … wildlife office staff identified it as a coyote,” DEC spokesman Bill Fonda said on Monday. “We get reports of coyotes and mountain lions. We get lots of reports that are unfounded, but this is a report we’re looking at seriously and will be investigating to see if there are others in the area.”
The photo showed an animal resembling a smallish, gray, German shepherd, with a dark tail tucked downward while it ran, unlike a dog, which runs with its tail up. It was taken by farmer Rick Wesnofske in a field his family cultivates off Blank Lane in Water Mill.
Water Mill outdoorsmen say that they have been seeing what they were sure was coyote in the fields off Bridgehampton for at least two years and that despite numerous sightings by farmers and hunters, nobody was ever able to get a good picture of it. Farmer Bubby Squires sent the DEC a photo of an animal he thought was a coyote last year, but naturalists said they didn’t believe it to be a coyote.
Mr. Fonda said this week that now that DEC scientists are convinced there is a coyote living on the South Fork, they plan to make a concerted effort to confirm it 100-percent and try to determine if it is a lone individual and whether it is a transient or, perhaps, one of an established population. He said they will conduct patrols of the area, trying to find signs of the animal’s feces and paw prints. He said the state’s wildlife experts may consider trying to trap the animal to fit it with a tracking device so its movements can be followed.
Mr. Fonda said that with a single coyote, the state would not issue any particular warning to residents other than to keep their pets inside if they are concerned for their safety and live in the area where the coyote was spotted.
“But a pet is more at risk of getting hit by a car than of encountering a single coyote,” Mr. Fonda said, adding that residents in Water Mill should be careful of how they dispose of food scraps, lest it draw the animal to their property.
Coyotes have been thought to be on verge of resettling on Long Island for some time, since one was spotted crossing a bridge in Queens several years ago. They have also established what is believed to be a breeding population on Fishers Island, which is about 2 miles off the coast of Connecticut and 15 miles from the North Fork.
The arrival of coyotes on Fishers brought an upside, as they effectively eliminated a feral cat population that had , itself, wiped out the island’s songbirds, which have now returned. But on Cape Cod, where coyotes reestablished more than a decade ago, there are more cautionary tales of the animals’ return, if mostly for sportsmen.
“If you want to thin a deer herd, coyotes are it,” Water Mill resident Scott McMahon, whose brother lives on the Cape, said. “They used to have good deer hunting up there like here. Then the coyotes showed up and they kill all the fawns. It’s really bad.”
Mr. McMahon said that local sportsmen have been on the lookout for the animal since it was first spotted in 2011 and, if it is just one coyote in our area, it appears to be expanding or shifting its range to the west. The first sightings over the last two years were mostly in the region of Breeze Hill and on the Atlantic Golf Club property in northern Bridgehampton, he said, but that the animal has now been seen a couple times in Water Mill. The interest from sportsmen is more than curiosity.
“Of course, the boys have been trying to shoot him,” Mr. McMahon chuckled. “But nobody could get a shot. He’s wiley.”