Coyotes, first sighted last year in Rock Creek Park near the Maryland line, have been moving farther south into the city's embassy district.
Park naturalist Ken Ferebee saw one earlier this month running across the Rock Creek Parkway, near the northbound exit for Waterside Drive that leads to Massachusetts Avenue NW. He was on his way to work at 6:30 a.m., just before dawn.
"It ran in front of me, and I got it in the headlights," Ferebee said. "It was going full speed across there."
Two other coyote sightings near that location were called in to the National Park Service this month. Both callers reported seeing a coyote at night, Ferebee said.
Ferebee believes the three sightings may have been of the same animal. He said the one he saw may have been a young coyote born in the park last spring that was exploring new territory. It was not as big as other coyotes spotted in the park.
Park Superintendent Adrienne Coleman and other park officials will discuss the coyotes at a town hall meeting on Rock Creek Park wildlife issues tonight in the park's Nature Center, 5200 Glover Rd. NW. The meeting is co-sponsored by Coleman and D.C. Council member Adrian M. Fenty (D-Ward 4).
Ferebee and two colleagues officially identified coyotes in the park for the first time Sept. 19, when they saw an animal near the intersection of Beach and Bingham drives in Northwest. The newer sightings are several miles south of that.
Before those confirmed sightings, park officials had been hearing unconfirmed reports of coyote sightings for months. Twice in August, dogs running off-leash in the park were attacked by animals thought to be coyotes.
Animal control officials urge people who see a coyote to behave as they would around any wild animal, to keep their distance and to report any problems with them. Coyotes attack humans very rarely, and generally only when people feed them, experts say. The animals can carry rabies, though they usually do not.
Ferebee said there have been no recent reports of fights between dogs and coyotes.
"I think we are going to have more of that this spring and summer," he said, if people let their dogs run off-leash in the park, which is not allowed but often done.
Park naturalists do not know how many coyotes are in the park, but they have seen at least three chewing on a deer carcass. They have set up a camera aimed at an area where they sometimes dump road-killed deer. Photographs of that site include one showing two coyotes, and the reflection of the eyes of a third animal, Ferebee said.
Coyotes have been present in the D.C. suburbs for years. They will eat just about anything, from trash to small pets. They are most active at dusk and dawn but can be seen anytime. Because they are so adaptable, wildlife experts say, it is impossible to get rid of them, although individual nuisance animals can be removed.