Field Notes: Coyote Hour on San Bruno Mountain
Coyotes are normally wary of humans and my first experience with one on San Bruno Mountain proved this point. It was an early morning, before 7 a.m., in March. The coyote sounded like an injured beagle and I initially started to look for a hurt dog, until I saw the animal just below the Ridge Trail in a mixed stand of coyote brush (Baccharis pilularis); how appropriate! On Monday, however, my experience with this animal of legend and cartoon proved quite different.
I was standing in a scrubby coyote brush area quietly trying to find a bird on my new bird identification app when I heard a “dog” coming towards me. We looked up, locked eyes and quietly studied each other. After a couple of minutes I gave up on my app and continued hiking and the coyote seemed to blend into the background. After about 10 minutes I found another unknown songbird to ID and again pulled my phone out to try to discern what species I was hearing. A minute later the young coyote popped up on the trail about 20 feet from me. Again we quietly exchanged glances trying not to alarm each other and then, again, I went on my way. This continued for an hour - I would move on, find something cool, stop and then look up at a curious pair of brown eyes.
The young male was a health at about 30 pounds and very handsome, as far as coyotes go; but to be honest I haven’t been that close to one before. He had intelligent eyes, a healthy coat mixed with brown, tan and white fur with black guard hairs, long legs and a long narrow nose with a mouthful of beautiful white teeth. He seemed to alternate between curious and cautious and was alert and ready to split whenever I fiddled with my phone or notepad.
While my experience was benign, coyotes are wild animals and should be treated with respect and a healthy fear. In suburban areas some coyotes are becoming increasingly acclimated to people and may become less and less wary. Coyotes often become emboldened and can present risks to small pets and children in suburban areas where human food sources are abundant. For your safety, and his, it is important to not encourage interactions by calling to them or offering them food. It is also important to remember to pack out all your garbage, especially food so that they do not associate humans as food sources.
I invite you to take a quiet walk on San Bruno sometime and keep your eyes and ears open- you’ll be surprised by what you see and by what sees you!
San Bruno Mountain State and County Park is the northern most extent of the Santa Cruz Mountain range, is eight miles from downtown, and provides a unique assemblage of plants and habitats that have all but disappeared in San Francisco County due to urbanization. The park provides a glimpse of the ecological diversity that once was common on the peninsula and is a haven for wildlife and rare plants that once occupied the now urban San Francisco area.