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The Movie Can Wait - The Coyote Pups

Tuesday night is cheap movie night in Banff and during the  long bright spring days of June, that means seeing a half-price late show while it's still light outside.

On a Tuesday in June 2001 I made plans to catch a flick and a burger with my friend Jason.  I left Canmore for Banff at 8 p.m. and as I pulled off the highway exit for Banff twenty minutes later, I noticed something small and furry race across the grass on my right and dive into a culvert at the road's edge.

I pulled over and walked cautiously up to the culvert, not really knowing what to expect inside.  I knelt down and peered into the darkness, but couldn't see a thing.  However, I could certainly smell what was in the culvert and the odour was an obvious one to me...coyotes!  And judging from the size of the bundle of fur I had seen racing in there, I realized that I'd stumbled upon some coyote pups.

Adult coyotes often leave their half-grown pups for hours or even days at a time while they go off and hunt, picking out an inconspicuous 'temporary den' to house the pups.  These adults had obviously picked this 'den' in the dead of night, since the location was anything but inconspicuous!

I hatched a new plan in seconds and it had nothing to do with seeing a movie.  I raced into Banff to Jason's place and gave him short and sweet instructions,

"Movie's off!!  I found a coyote den, throw on some grubby clothes and meet me at the car in two minutes!!"

By 9 p.m. we were on our hands and knees peering into the culvert again to see if the pups were still there.  Sure enough, we saw the faint silhouettes of a few pairs of little pointy ears sticking up halfway along, so we backed up and positioned ourselves downwind about fifty metres from the culvert and settled in, watching the culvert entrance like eagles.

But an hour later, with no pups in sight and the sky starting to darken, we called it a night.

I was up an hour before dawn the next morning, driving into Banff again with a new plan in mind.  I arrived on the scene and positioned my car off the road out of traffic, yet with a great view of the den.  I planned on sitting there in my car as long as it took for the pups to emerge, then using the car itself as a blind to photograph from.

The car-blind strategy worked perfectly for the first hour as the sun rose and lit the culvert entrance beautifully with a warm flood of light, there was just one small problem -- the pups were nowhere to be seen. Fantastic light and a photographer that's ready to shoot mean very little if the animals aren't ready to be photographed!

I decided to stick it out and finally, three hours after sunrise, a cute bundle of fur poked its head out of the den ever so briefly and took a few glimpes this way and that, then disappeared again just as swiftly.  Ten seconds later, the head reappeared, took a slightly longer look around, then withdrew again.

The third time, the pup popped right up out of the den and sat there staring curiously at the big white vehicle (my car) making all the funny noises (the motor drive of my camera was whirring away like a little engine as I snapped shot after shot).  In the first image on the top right, notice just how alert and upright those little ears are!

The pup walked towards me briefly, then slowly meandered back to the culvert and vanished inside yet again.  For the next thirty minutes nothing happened and I began to get antsy, wondering if the pup had gotten spooked and might not show up again.  Yet just when I started thinking about abandoning my post, the same pup suddenly popped back up out of the den just as quickly as it had appeared the first time.

Like a planned parade, several other pups followed in rapid succession.  I soon saw pup number two's ears, then eyes, then head, then whole body ease up out of the den to sit beside its sibling, who was still busy checking me out.

The third pup soon followed and before I knew it I had three of the cutest coyote pups imaginable inquisitively eyeing me up.  I thought that that might be it for the litter, but after ten minutes of photographing the three little pups, I noticed a tiny set of ear tips off to one side of the culvert hole.  Sure enough, seconds later, the shy one popped its head out and peered at me from between its siblings.

For the next twenty minutes, the pups checked out everything that moved.  When a car drove by on the highway, they all turned and watched it. When my camera was making noise, they all ogled me curiously.  And when a ground squirrel started chirping only fifty yards away they all appeared to nearly burst from excitement.

Without warning, the lead pup, the largest of the litter and the only one with emerald green eyes (one of the litter had crystal clear blue eyes, which is not uncommon for young pups), suddenly wandered away from the den and started up the roadside slope into a neighbouring patch of spruce and pine trees.

Before I could react, the three other pups followed suit and rushed off into the trees, where I could see them running about chasing each other. 

I decided to leave my car to guage whether or not I could approach the pups on foot.  I edged towards the clump of trees and slowly eased into a small clearing, only to be overrun almost instantly by tiny coyote pups as they raced in and around my feet completely oblivious to me!

I sat in the trees with the pups for two hours trying to get photographs of them racing around, but soon discovered that it was nearly impossible.  The combination of high energy little animals, dense shrubbery and grasses, and changing light conditions proved too much for my photographic skills, so I finally let photography take a back seat to the simple joy of watching the pups play.

As midday approached, hunger finally started to get the best of me and I left the pups alone.  

The next morning I returned to the scene, but noticed immediately that the 'coyote smell' was not as prevalent;  sure enough, when I looked into the culvert and explored the surrounding area I couldn't find the pups.  

I never did see the pups again, but did manage to find time to finally catch that movie with Jason.  And more importantly, I now have these great images as a reminder of a very special encounter.

The Coyote Pups
Photo Gallery

Click on thumbnail images to view larger photos

One Pup

Two Pups

Three Pups

Three Pups

Four Pups

Four Pups

Cute Look

Morning Kiss

Big Mouth


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