Coyote Woes


Afternoon Patrol. A coyote moves through the Sweetwater Wetlands Park in Tucson, Arizona.

Coyotes are common and widespread in and around Tucson, Arizona. Many washes (stream beds that are usually dry except right after storms) cross through Tucson, giving wildlife of all kinds relatively safe passage through even dense parts of the city. And once you get closer to the outskirts, for example the foothills of the Tucson Mountains to the west where I lived, there is lots of room for coyotes. It is not uncommon to see them running or walking through neighborhoods, whether alone or in small groups, or to hear them making an unholy yipping, howling racket in the evenings. I never lived in the middle of town, so perhaps it is different there, but generally speaking there is no such thing as an outdoor pet cat in Tucson—they are way too low on the food chain. In 29 years, I think I saw one or two domestic cats outdoors. Coyotes are part of the reason. One study from 2012 claimed that, in Tucson, domestic cats comprised up to 45 percent of a coyote’s diet.

I find coyotes very pretty and graceful animals, although they are definitely prettiest with a winter coat. I am certain that I have seen hundreds. One early memory from when we lived in Oro Valley in the northwest Tucson metro area was when about nine coyotes ran past our house in a pack. More recently, late last year my wife pointed out a coyote standing on a rise, silhouetted against the sunset. This blog may make it seem like I always have a camera with me, but it isn’t true: for as many times as I have seen a coyotes, I have precious few pictures of one. Unfortunately, the one I have the most pictures of is this pathetic creature that was a frequent visitor near our house for a week or two:

Gollum. A coyote, suffering from an advanced case of mange, wanders through a housing development on Tucson’s west side, Arizona.

When you hear the phrase “mangy coyote”, now you have a visual.

There is hope, however, that I can build up a little better portfolio of coyote pictures. A month ago my wife and I were on a walk a few miles from our new home south of Denver and I was able to grab a nice picture of this one:

Under Observation. An alert prairie dog watches a passing coyote and warns its fellows in Glendale Farms Open Space, Castle Pines, Colorado.

I do wish that the coyote was a little closer (this image is significantly cropped, only showing about 60% of the frame’s width) but I love the prairie dog on lookout. This coyote was probably being watched by a dozen others, too. Since we go on several long walks every week and I typically carry my 100-400mm zoom, I am hopeful to collect many more wildlife images-of-opportunity going forward. As it is, this image is my best coyote shot ever and it happened after only four months in Colorado. (It is also true that it happened after only about four months with the 100-400mm zoom…) Since Colorado is infested with prairie dogs, there should be plenty of opportunities to find coyotes and other things that like to eat them.

A quick comment about gear: one nice thing about the 100-400mm zoom is that it is a very flexible range of focal lengths; and I can take pictures of a lot of things, not just wildlife. While my 500mm has a little more reach, it is a bit of a one-trick pony if you take it out on a walk. Even though it is a really nice lens, I think it may well end up getting squeezed out of my kit: the two lenses are too big to ever bring both; 500mm is only a little longer than 400mm; and the 100-400mm usually covers 120mm-400mm for me (the next lens down is the 24-120mm). Perhaps the 24-120mm, the 300mm, and the 500mm would be a decent alternative, but I doubt that I would like it as much as the 24-120mm and the 100-400mm…it’s just a tough two-lens combo to beat. Time will tell.

Technical notes. The first photograph in this post was taken with a Nikon D800 and the AF-S Nikkor 300mm f/4E PF ED VR. The second and third photographs were taken with the Nikon Z7 using the AF-S Nikkor 500mm f/5.6E PF ED VR and the Nikkor Z 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 VR S, respectively. All were processed from RAW in Adobe Lightroom Classic.

If you would like to receive my weekly post as an email, please subscribe: