Speaking before the Southold Town Board in August 2011, Fishers Island resident Charles Kadushin said his cat had been missing for months and he believed coyotes living on the island were to blame.
While Fishers Island is a part of Southold Town, its location 15 miles off the North Fork meant there was little danger of the coyote population spreading to the East End, where state Department of Environmental Conservation officials say the mammal hadn’t been spotted in more than a century.
Now, two years later, a photo depicting a coyote walking across a farm field on Blank Lane in Water Mill has erased that statistic. The New York State DEC confirmed last week the animal shown in the photograph is a coyote and that an investigation has since been launched.
“Investigators have gone out to tour the site,” said DEC spokesman Bill Fonda. “[They’re looking] for scat, paw marks or anything the coyote may have been eating.”
Mr. Fonda said the first attempt by DEC officials to track down the coyote and its possible pack was unsuccessful last Wednesday, and no paw marks were visible, though he said the search began one week after the photograph was taken and it had rained for several days in between. He added that investigators will continue to search the area for the animal periodically.
While the coyotes living on Fishers Island are believed to have arrived by swimming two miles from Connecticut, where state officials say coyotes have been a part of the ecosystem since the mid-1950s, it is unclear how a coyote might have found its way to the South Fork.
Mr. Kadushin said Monday that coyotes can still be heard howling at the sound of Fishers Island’s noon whistle each and every day, believes the Water Mill sighting is not connected to his hometown of 236 year-round residents.
“That would be impossible,” he said. “The current’s just too strong.”
Mr. Fonda said DEC officials also believe there is no way the coyote seen in Water Mill could have come from Fishers Island and while there have been sightings in Queens in recent years there have not been reports of the animal in Nassau County, making it unlikely the coyote traveled all the way from the city.
In order to swim from Connecticut to the North Fork, the coyote would have to swim close to 10 miles, also an unlikely feat for animals that experts say can typically swim about a half-mile at a time.
“Maybe it was somebody’s pet at some point and it escaped,” Mr. Fonda theorized.
Coyotes were one of the animals included on a furbearers survey released by the DEC in May, in which Suffolk residents were asked to report a physical description, location, habitat and to send a photograph when spotting an unusual mammal.
Mr. Fonda said the local DEC district has received many photographs of foxes but last week’s coyote photo was the first of its kind.
“Until now they had been seen on Fishers Island and Queens but that’s it,” he said.
In the two years since he approached the Town Board, Mr. Kadushin said no research has been conducted to determine the coyote population on Fishers Island, where they’ve been known to kill many household and feral cats.
“There’s no way to tell how many there are here,” he said. “They tag and track them in other places. That’s not being done here.”