Melissa Walsh

‘Ice dog’ on Lake St. Clair: Lone coyote using iced-over lake to travel

Grosse Pointe News | February 14th, 2019 | Features section

Screen shot 2019 02 18 at 8.06.29 am

‘Ice dog’ on Lake St. Clair: Lone coyote using iced-over lake to travel

By Melissa Walsh

Lakeshore traffic came to a stop near South Deeplands Friday, Jan. 25, as gawkers were drawn to what appeared to be a dog walking on frozen Lake St. Clair.

The animal was indeed a canine, but not the domesticated sort. He was a canis latrans, a coyote.

Director of Shores Public Safety John Schulte said a few reports have come in recently about a coyote seen near the shoreline during the week of January 20. However, a driver called the station at 8 a.m. Friday, Jan. 25, reporting “a dog walking on the ice.”

The responding officer noted in his report, not a dog, but a coyote traveling approximately 200 yards from shore.

“In past years, we’ve had many (coyote sightings) reported,” Schulte said. “They were bedding down in the meadow across from the Ford House.”

“It looked like a German shepherd, but I’ve seen them (coyotes) before,” said Ed DeWalls, who manages the grounds of a lake front estate in the 900 block of Lakeshore. “This one had some good size to him.”

According to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, coyotes average between 25 to 45 pounds.

DeWalls said he spotted the coyote from the estate during the week of January 20. While driving on Lakeshore Friday, Jan. 25, like the driver who reported seeing “a dog,” DeWalls spotted what he believed to be the same coyote lying on the ice south of Grosse Pointe Yacht Club.

He recognized the animal because of his size and healthy appearance.

“I’ve seen them on our property before and they were so scrawny,” DeWalls said.

“We call them ice dogs,” said Grosse Pointe Yacht Club Harbor Master Alex Turner.

The club’s assistant harbor master, John Graffius Jr., said Friday he had a close encounter earlier in the week with the coyote he noticed hanging out on the icy harbor Tuesday, Jan 22.

“I came into work, and we always look around, because we see eagles and all kinds of stuff. So I saw it laying on the ice sleeping,” he said.

Graffius said later that morning he stood about 10 to 15 feet from the coyote.

“He came right up the ramp in front of me,” he said. “Then he just kind of ran across the parking lot, jumped off the wall and went back out on the ice.”

Having seen the coyote traveling toward the club’s harbor from the north, Turner and Graffius believed it was coming from the wooded area near the Ford House.

However, a Ford House representative told the Grosse Pointe News their groundskeepers have not recently seen a coyote or coyote tracks.

“He spooked pretty easily,” Graffius said.

“He’s using the ice to travel,” said Turner. “He’s eating all the dead stuff on the ice — the fish, the birds.”

“They move at a pretty decent clip,” said Graffius. “When I saw him on Tuesday morning, the next thing I knew, he was all the way down by Farms pier.”

According to the University of Michigan’s Museum of Zoology, coyotes are capable of running more than 40 miles per hour and jumping more than 4 yards.

“They come and go,” Schulte said. “They are incredibly agile and they are very elusive. They’re tough to catch. They’re very smart.”

On its website, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources advises that if encountering a coyote in close proximity, the best response is making a loud noise to scare it away.

“Coyotes, like any wild animal, can act unpredictably and should be treated with respect and enjoyed from a distance,” the department warns, adding that residents should not attempt to feed or tame a coyote.

According to the DNR, coyotes are most likely seen during their breeding season of January to March and are most active at sunrise and sunset, as they search for their preferred foods of small mammals, such as mice, rabbits and squirrels, and also insects, berries, birds, frogs, plants and seeds.

If a coyote den is nearby, residents might see them during spring and summer as they care for their litter of four to seven pups.

A coyote’s natural fear of humans protects it and protects humans. If a coyote is known to be in the area, residents should remove bird feeders and exposed garbage and keep small pets on a leash when outdoors.

Hunting or trapping a coyote is prohibited in residential areas except by permitted licensed animal-control organizations.

According to reports of coyotes observed in the Pointes in the past, they were seen alone or with a mate, which is consistent with the fact that coyotes do not travel in packs, like wolves, but alone or in family units.

Graffius and Turner recalled seeing a pair of coyotes near the club harbor eight or nine years ago.

“That’s what’s great about this job,” said Turner, who’s worked in the club harbor 28 years. “You never know what you’re going to see out there.”