Wildlife photographers understand there are times when you come home empty-handed despite spending hours looking for great subjects to photograph.
It can be disappointing especially if the streak lasts for some time. Still, you have a much greater chance of having a wildlife encounter if you are out there looking than if you are sitting on the couch watching Netflix.
Last Thursday I had one of the best days of photography I have had in ages. It was a welcome change of luck. Most importantly I also learned I have been wrong about the coyote pups I have been following.
Two of the three pups I first encountered in July are still alive!
To recap: I had found one dead at the side of the road near what I believe is a den site. That was July 23rd. Across the fields, about two kilometres away, I found another dead pup two weeks later. I had wrongly assumed that the second pup was from this same family given that a coyote territory can be upwards of ten square kilometres.
Last week I changed my routine and went out in mid day – just to see what I might find. Now, the light can be quite harsh at mid day and many wildlife photographers avoid shooting at that time. But I can tell you that the National Geographic photographers I have met don’t go home for lunch. If predators are hungry they will be active at all hours and you want to be prepared in case of a special encounter. Besides, the appearance of some clouds can suddenly improve conditions.
It was midday Thursday when I spotted the two pups come out of hiding and run to the middle of an opening in a wooded area. One lay down behind some brush and was munching away on something yellow. The landowner would later confirm that pears had dropped on the ground from a tree.
The second one came running over and grabbed a pear then ran into the bushes to eat. Back and forth they went for half an hour feeding on the fruit.
They could hear my camera snapping away and occasionally they looked at me. But I was sitting in my car forty metres away with the passenger side window open. So they weren’t bothered.
In that time I fired off more than 400 shots before the pair ran across the road only ten metres in front of my car straight into a corn field. Delighted, I headed home to finish up a sports article I was writing and vowed to come back later in the day.
It was very late in the afternoon when one of the pups came out of hiding and ran across the road fairly close to my car. And, in my rear view mirror, the second pup appeared a few hundred metres behind me. With a couple of hours of good light remaining I hoped I might witness something special.
Many times I’ve seen the pups at the corner of a corn field and I gambled that they might appear close. I drove my car to a spot where I might have a vantage point and parked. Then I waited.
A pup walked out onto the road sniffed around then stared at my car. It was fifty or sixty metres away. Then it went into the corn field again. Another half hour had passed when I looked in my rear view mirror to see the pup was now standing on the road about fifteen metres studying me and my car. That’s when the magic happened.
This pup slowly walked along the ditch away from me. Apparently I was a distant memory now as it concentrated on movement in the bushes alongside the road. As if my day couldn’t get better the pup saw something moving in the grass. It crouched down like I have seen dogs do countless times before they leap to catch a ball or a frisbee. I braced for action. Suddenly the coyote leaped high in the air before crashing down into the bush. I never saw its prey.
After a couple of seconds the pup came back onto the road and looked at me again. When another vehicle came around the corner this coyote darted back into the cornfield.
That one event, something I have never before witnessed, instantly made up for the countless hours of coming home without a single image.
Coyotes, as I have said before, are a much maligned species which makes them a target of hunters throughout the year. As I hope you will see from this story they will eat fruit, bugs, rodents and on occasion larger prey like deer. Yes, they are the leading cause of livestock predation too.
I will continue to spend time observing these coyotes and watching them grow.If I come home without an image, well that’s fine. These memorable encounters will surely continue.
Another gentle reminder: On Thursday October 26 I will be presenting “When Wildlife Needs Our Help” at Idea Exchange (12 Water St. S, Cambridge) from 7:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. I will be talking about both wildlife conservation and rehabilitation using dozens of photographs to illustrate my points.
Admission is free but registration is necessary in order to set up adequate seating. Please copy and paste this link to your browser:
I hope to see many of you there!