This is a post about a coyote we saw in Yellowstone last fall. I originally posted part of this on my photography blog (that I don’t update very much) here. Anyway, on to the coyote and some wolf info in Yellowstone.
We were driving into the park and saw some elk. A ways in, near some hot springs we saw a bunch of cars stopped. We pulled over to a turn off where everyone else was watching a grazing buffalo and noticed this little guy in a field near our car:
We had our husky mix, Kailie, with us on the trip (who, incidentally, does look like a white coyote. A large white coyote. Because Kailie could easily be mistaken for a wold OR coyote, she gets a red vest or her red backpack on her while hiking in areas where coyote hunting is allowed) Don’t EVEN get me started on that poor malamute that got shot in Montana while WITH his owner and 2 other dogs. RIP Little Dave.
Anyway, his is our Kailie in Utah (at Golden Spike National Monument, no hunting there) this past January, looking rather majestic:
As soon as Kai caught scent (and sight) of that coyote she started howling. As in we had to ask our friends in the car if it was her or the coyote making the noise. They assured us it was coming from the back hatch of our Element (which is an awesome travel vehicle by the way!)
Despite Kailie’s attempts at friendship or whatever she wanted, the coyote ignored her and proceeded to hunt. While we watched he caught at least 3 mice in quick succession.
I never realized before that the coyotes I’m used to, eastern coyotes (at least as far east as Michigan) are much larger than western coyotes. I read that this is because eastern coyotes interbred with Canadian wolves and developed a larger subspecies. In fact most coyotes in Ontario (close to where we lived in Michigan) have been found to be hybrids with wolves genetically. The coyotes I saw in Michigan were roughly the size of our Kailie, about 40-50 lbs. The western ones I saw in Montana were much smaller, probably 30 lbs and looked more fox-like. Coyotes do not interbreed with foxes as they do with wolves and even domestic dogs and will actually kill foxes as they occupy the same ecological niche.
He was really interesting to watch, and looked gorgeous in the afternoon sun. He put on a great show of hunting, so much more interesting than watching a buffalo graze. We did see his bigger, shier cousin later that evening. I apologize for the picture, this guy was SO spooky.
We turned a corner near Yellowstone Lake and there he was. He looked at us for less than a minute then disappeared in the woods. I was hoping to see a wolf in Yellowstone, and after 2 disappointing evenings scoping out the Lamar Valley (where there are several active wolf packs) I was beginning to think it wasn’t going to happen. But, then, this wolf appeared when we weren’t looking! I believe he was a juvenile. I wasn’t actually sure he was a wolf, but we showed the picture to a ranger who confirmed. He was quite a bit bigger than the coyote we saw. We did hear several wolf and coyote packs at night in the mountains near our cabin outside West Yellowstone. An amazing sound for certain.
We did also see, later in the week, a wolf hunting elk. We spotted 2 elk herds running in circles and making horrible noises. They circled the juveniles and protected them at the center of the herd. 2 male elk then gathered at a tree line (it was rutting season and they weren’t sparring so we knew something serious was going on) and we saw, briefly, what appeared to be a large black canine circling them. These were large, probably at least 12-point male elk. The wolf (I am assuming here) was in and out of the tree line so he was hard to see. It was dusk and our binoculars didn’t help to see much. After about 20 minutes or so the males rejoined their herds and wandered off so I think the wolf gave up. This did happen in the Lamar Valley which is THE place to see wolves in Yellowstone. It was also near where we saw 3 grizzly bears (more info coming in a later post!)
Here is some info from the NPS on the Yellowstone wolf packs: http://www.nps.gov/yell/naturescience/wolves.htm. Our sighting was near the area of Mollie’s pack. Sadly, this winter I heard an alpha female was killed outside the park, the ’06 Female. I don’t understand myself why people hunt apex predators to the extent they do. OK, hunt an elk and use its meat so it didn’t die in vain. Kill a wolf, you get a pelt? What’s the point?