What the....?

Once again my girls alerted me to something interesting and worth observing.

Without them, I'd miss so much.

I was in my home office yesterday afternoon when I heard one of them huff outside in the yard. Being Malamutes, they rarely bark. When they see something interesting, unusual, or threatening, they'll huff at it - a sharp exhalation of breath, similar to what bears, deer, probably most large animals do to warn other animals away.

When I hear that huff, I instantly know it's worth paying attention and investigating.

I looked out a window at Maia, and following the direction of her gaze, observed something moving through the field above my house. It was traversing the hillside, just below neighboring houses. It was as tall as the field grasses still standing despite the couple of inches of fresh snow on the ground. It appeared to be as big as my girls. It's light brown, reddish coat allowed it to blend in well with the terrain.

Both Maia and Meadow sat in the snow, several feet inside the fence, watching intently, quietly.

It moved oddly. By that, I mean I didn't immediately think it was a dog, or dog-like. It seemed to almost waddle. It was far enough away, and my eye sight poor enough, that I was puzzled. Was it a dog, perhaps belonging to a member of one of several construction crews working in the neighborhood?

I quickly ran for my camera, and went outside. As I joined the girls, the animal had moved onto the northeast corner of my lot, probably 300 feet away. It stopped to look at me. It then moved down to the creek bed, out of sight.

At this point my girls looked at me, seemingly saying, "Cool, huh?" They seemed unconcerned, curious. I was afraid I'd scared it off.

I figured the two shots I had managed to take were going to be so poor I'd never identify the animal. But I waited. So did the girls. Our patience was rewarded, as eventually the animal came back up from the creek and proceeded to cross the northwest corner of my lot down onto and across the nearest neighbor's lot (was it going to investigate their chicken coop?) and eventually under the fence of the next neighbor's field. I took several photos as it made this traverse, not sure they'd show enough detail to allow identification. (Side rant: While I love my small Olympus FE-230 digital camera, it doesn't have a view finder, just the display window, and when you're in full telephoto mode trying to capture something moving a few hundred feet away, it's almost impossible to find it. I was lucky this animal stayed in view as long as it did, moving relatively slowly.)

I wondered - was I observing a wolf? It was big enough. But I couldn't believe a wolf would come through the development - with homes, construction crews, dogs - in the middle of the day, acting so at ease. Wolves in the forest above me, yes; but right here on my lot?

I didn't detect the characteristic long legs of a wolf.

After developing the photos and noting the big ears and long, pointy nose, comparing those with photos on web sites, I've concluded it was a very large coyote. It was as big and tall as my girls, who each weight just over 80 pounds. I've never seen a coyote so imposing.

It seemed to be taking a wide path around the girls and my fenced yard. The past two nights, usually around 2 or 3 AM, the girls have charged from one end of the yard to the other, huffing as they run, and I've seen some sort of canine tracks in the snow in my driveway. Likely this coyote has been patrolling the neighborhood, knows my girls' territory, and so respects their turf. It wouldn't surprise me if it has discovered that the construction crews in the area leave behind plenty of garbage to pick through.
Rebecca WallickcoyoteComment