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