Mission: To promote the appreciation of wildlife and increase harmony between humanity and nature.

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Saturday, March 4, 2017

Coyote Karma

Last Sunday morning was gray, damp and quiet. I suspect most Union Bay residents were just sipping their first cup of coffee when a crow dived out of a tree in front of us. 

Ginger, my daughter's dog, and I were just returning from an early morning photo shoot...

... with a red-breasted sapsucker who seemed to have a flair for fashion. 

At first, I thought the crow was headed our way, then I realized its trajectory was slightly to our right. Normally, crows simply glide to the ground when they see something of interest. Often half-circling their target for a final inspection, before committing to landing. On the other hand, a steep dive often indicates the presence of a predator (in need of harassment) or an agile food source, attempting to escape. Uncharacteristically quiet, the crow pulled up and strained hard as it climbed up and away to our right. When I glanced back at the crow's intended target, I finally saw the coyote.

I suspect the coyote saw us at about the same time. There was a bit of brush between us and the wind must have been blowing in the coyote's direction, because Ginger was completely oblivious. The coyote turned and padded back and forth, as if it was trying to decide which way to escape. 

Finally, it turned tail and trotted up a small embankment and 'hid' behind some low hanging branches of western red cedar and douglas fir. The coyote did not seem especially large. I wondered if it might be fairly young.

Up until last year, I had never seen a coyote around Union Bay. My family, friends and acquaintances had all seen them - but not me. I saw my first one in late Spring in the Union Bay Natural Area. Sadly, I was on my way to a meeting and I wasn't carrying a camera. During the Christmas Bird Count this winter, my fellow bird counters and I saw another beautiful specimen. This time I had my scope and binoculars so I got a good look - but once again - I was not carrying a camera. This third sighting was the charm. Coyote karma finally smiled on me. I had my camera.

It also seemed fitting that this encounter came just two days after I published my first and only road runner post. You can see the photos by clicking on the following link, Beep, Beep.

The coyote seemed to get a bit braver the longer we both observed each other. Ginger noticed nothing.

In Ginger's defence she is used to me stopping to take pictures of birds. She most likely thought I was photographing the crow or possibly another red-breasted sapsucker. 

The coyote began to move forward. For a moment, its behavior almost looked like a preliminary to pouncing. I suspect it was more instinctual.

Ultimately, the coyote came out of the brush.

After a step or two it sat down to observe.

I was using my longest lens so it really wasn't quite as close as it appears in these photos.

Soon it was distracted by the movement of a branch or a bird.

It even allowed itself to blink.

Getting completely bored it began to stretch and yawn.

Sometimes I wonder about the coyotes' karma. What did they do in their past lives to end up on the far side of the canine ravine? What small genetic differences separate coyotes from man's best friend. At the end of this wikipedia post it does mention that hundreds of years ago coyotes may have been partially domesticated by Native Americans.

Finally, the coyote turned and disappeared into the trees. A moment later the wind must have shifted. Ginger was suddenly shaking, shivering and whining. She was totally scared once she caught the scent of the coyote. Clearly, Ginger felt danger at the thought of being consumed by a coyote. We headed towards home and she quickly settled down.

There are times when it would be convenient for me to let Ginger off her leash, so she could run. I am sure Ginger would enjoy the freedom. However, if a coyote caught her when she was running free it would not be Ginger's fault, or the coyote's fault, it would be my fault. Coyotes consuming pets is one of the major justifications for destroying coyotes in the city. (Although I suspect rats, rabbits, squirrels and ducks are the majority of their local diet.) 

Keeping Ginger on her leash not only keeps her safe, it also helps to protect the coyotes from being hunted and destroyed. Attempting to live in harmony with nature may not always be the easiest option, but it sure feels like it is worth the effort to me. 

Have a safe day on Union Bay...where nature lives in the city!


ps: In another instance of Coyote Karma my friend Dan, from Whidbey Island, also published a piece on coyotes this morning. Click on the following link to read his wonderful writing, Did You Hear Those Coyotes? 

Going Native:

Without a functional Environmental Protection Agency, it falls to each of us to be ever more vigilant in protecting our local environments. Native plants and trees encourage the largest diversity of lifeforms because of their long intertwined history with local, native creatures. I have been told that even the microbes in the soil are native to each local landscape. My hope is that we can inspire ourselves, our neighbors and local businesses to plant native flora and to support native wildlife at every opportunity. My intention is to include at least one photo each week and visually challenge us to know the difference between native and non-native lifeforms. 

Which of the following birds are native to Union Bay?





Scroll down for the answers


a) Red-winged Blackbird - female
b) European Starling
c) Northern Flicker - male

The name gives it away. european starlings are not native to Union Bay. This Wikipedia Link states that Eugene Scheiffelin released the first 60 starlings in New York in 1890. In the book, "Union Bay - The Life of a City Marsh", which was published in 1951. At that point the authors stated that the starlings had reached Bellevue, but not yet Seattle. Today, there are over 200 million starlings displacing native birds all across the North American continent.

The other two birds are native to Union Bay. The northern flickers are woodpeckers which make their own nests. Often they excavate nest sites in the dead cottonwood trees on or near the south end of Foster Island. The next year, after the nest has been used just once, it is not uncommon to see a flock of the smaller starlings drive the a pair of flickers away from their nest and take it for themselves.


  1. Great photojournalism! Your philosophy is right on.

    1. Thank you! I am always happy to find others who share nature-focused values.

  2. I have to agree with Alan Roedell's comment above. The photojournalism is first class and your philosophy is right on. What a coincidence that we both wrote about coyotes today, though your images are vastly more beautiful than mine. Well done, as always.

    1. Thank you! I was sure surprised to find we both had picked the same species to write about. As always I love your posts! I hope the coyotes on Whidbey can find away to peacefully co-exist in the midst of a shrinking forest.

  3. Thank you, again, for the fond memories from the land of the "Beep Beeps" and "Yip Yips". Love my little, woolly, song dog brothers. One of the regrets of getting old, or older, is losing the ability to hit those high notes, to have a sing along with them. So many delightful memories thereof! From WA to AZ. Such great photos, catching their character, including the yawn, so delightfully. Thanks again, I would say, both to you and your so cooperative subject. Perfection!

  4. I love your posts so much! Always makes me feel more at home in my neighborhood. Your pictures of the coyote are majestic...I'd almost forgive it for snatching one our chickens, if she was clever enough. And I would certainly thank her for any rats she takes.

    1. We all think rats are their top choice but if they have young this Spring they could get a bit more pressed for food. I hope they leave your chickens alone! :-)

  5. Great blog post, Larry, and thank you for mentioning the importance of keeping our dogs on leash in parks and wildlife areas. I love both my pets AND the wild animals that live in my neighborhood and want them both to survive and thrive!

    1. Thank you. It is always great to hear from others who share my love for nature.

  6. Superb Coyote photos -- of award-winning caliber -- and a timely and excellent conservation and dog management message at the same time. Keep up the great work!

    1. Woody, Thank you! You are very kind and the coyote was kind to stop for photos, too. Have a great weekend!

  7. Excellent photos of a very healthy looking specimen. Thanks for reminding folks about keeping dogs leashed.

  8. What great photos! This was so fun to see. Thank you for sharing them!

    1. Your are welcome! Thank you for following along. :-)

  9. Beautiful pictures that capture the coyote spirit. One note is that the coyote was not bored, but instead yawning, stretching and shaking are calming techniques that canines use to relax when under stress. I see my dog do this al the time. Also, check out WDFW Crossing Path blog for my perspective on coyotes in the wild. Jamie

    1. Jamie, Thank you! I had no idea stretching was a stress reliever. I might have to try that myself. I really enjoyed your Crossing Paths write up about coyotes. I added the link in my favorites under Crossing Paths. (Links includes here in the comments area never seem to function.) Thanks for the kind words and the opportunity to learn!

      Here is the link in case someone wants to cut and paste in their browser.

  10. Great work, Larry. I always appreciate your sharp-eyed observations. Not many of us would have looked carefully to spot the coyote as you did.