By Ellen Frankman
Rick Wesnofske was working in his potato field just after 7 a.m. on Monday, June 24 when he spotted something crossing through his fields. Wesnofske has seen a lot of wildlife in his 30 years as a farmer, but this animal was different.
“It didn’t really look like a dog, and it was too big to be a fox,” said Wesnofske. “It looked sort of shepherd-like.”
The animal spotted in Water Mill that morning was, in fact, confirmed to be a coyote.
Bill Fonda, a spokesman for the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), received a photo of the animal last week from Wesnofske.
“Having lived out west myself, even I without any wildlife training could say that is a coyote in the picture,” said Fonda. According to Fonda, most of the photographs individuals send in that they believe to be of coyotes are in fact of red foxes. Coyotes are larger than red fox, weighing about 35 to 45 pounds and generally spanning about four to five feet in length. Red fox are typically half the size.
The image was sent to DEC staff in Washington D.C. who officially confirmed the animal’s species, said Fonda.
Though the eastern coyote is typically found in more rural regions in upstate New York, coyotes are recognized for readily adapting to live within close proximity to people. Coyotes primarily feed on insects, berries, rodents and other small mammals, but they will hunt white-tailed deer if food becomes scarce. The animals are also known for traveling long distances, and young coyotes can journey up to 100 miles in search of a vacant territory to claim as their own.
“Most people ask how it got there, and it’s purely speculation at this point,” said Fonda. “We probably wouldn’t expect to see a coyote in Water Mill, but there have been reports of coyotes sightings on Fishers Island which we haven’t verified but believe to be accurate.”
Some experts even believe it is possible that the Water Mill coyote may have swam across the Long Island Sound to reach the East End.
Fonda also confirmed that this is the furthest east a coyote sighting has been confirmed. In recent years, and on only a few occasions a lone coyote was spotted in Queens and in Manhattan.
“Coyotes are very abundant in New York State, so in some ways they may be expanding their range,” said Fonda.
The coyote population in New York State is estimated to be around 20,000 to 30,000 during the summer months, according to the DEC.
Fonda and the DEC traveled out to Wesnofske’s farm last Wednesday to talk to the farmer and set up motion detector cameras in the hopes of catching the animal on tape.
“I’ve heard people say in the past that they have seen a coyote around,” said Wesnofske. “But it’s not going to bother anything that we do.”
Though coyotes are generally fearful of human beings, increased contact with humans particularly in suburban areas may diminish this natural fear, which is detrimental to both the animal and the individual. The Environmental Conservation Law permits the killing of nuisance coyotes “at anytime in any manner” if the animals are believed to be “injuring private property.”
Though the DEC has no intention of killing the animal, it is trying to track it down, if only to more fully confirm that it is a coyote and to get a better sense of whether or not there may be more. Any management decisions made by the DEC going forward would be dependent on whether more coyotes are found, said Fonda.
And many share the sentiment of farmer Rick Wesnofske.
“I haven’t seen it since,” said Wesnofske. “And I might never see it again.”