I arrived at my buddy's home just as the dashboard read 4:30. The consummate outdoorsmen, Brian is the one guy you want to be near when the shit hits the fan. Kind as the day is long, the man is as strong as an ox and knows how to survive when the weather turns nasty. A fellow biology teacher and former co-worker at the Bell Museum of Natural History, Brian shares my passion for wildlife and nature photography. Bound by similar experiences in academia, work and avocation, it is a love of the St. Croix River Valley and its secretive wildlife that brings out the "weekend warrior" in us both.
The call the previous night went something like this... "I think I saw coyote tracks near the otter hole... want to check it out?" "When," I asked... "give me the start time."
"Be here at 4:30 a.m.," he said.
I frowned at the time, but Brian knew that I could not resist the temptation to photograph a predator.
I was out of bed at 3:15am and in the car by 3:30. It was a dark and snowy drive as I made my way north along the river valley. The mix of adrenaline and caffeine were my companion for the next 40 minutes. After a bleary-eyed greeting, we did that man-hug thing, jumped in his Rav4 and headed north for another 30 miles.
The snowfall intensified with every mile, but we were awake and determined to scout the area. Pulling off along a quiet county road, I put on a head-sock, some camouflage and began the hike down a wooded hill towards the river. Stepping carefully, we traversed the shallow waters of the St. Croix as we made our way towards the peninsula. While the bay on which we walked was iced over, we could feel our boots push deep into the snow with every step. The sound of breaking ice was unnerving but not unusual. Thirty minutes after leaving the car we dug a snow shelter and waited.
Pulling a predator call from his pocket, Brian blew into the crude wooden whistle to make the sound of a struggling rabbit. Nothing happened and we waited some more. Snow now began to accumulate on my numb legs, the camera bag and on my lens. Just as we were thinking... "time to give up," the coyotes emerged at a distance. There were five running from Minnesota to Wisconsin across the St. Croix. Far, far away we could make out their form outlined by the falling snow... and we waited some more.
I took about 500 photographs on this day and deleted about 485. The ones presented here are among my favorite works in a catalog of images that include predators of Africa, exotics from Costa Rica and landscapes from around the world. Maybe it's the story in my own mind, but this shoot will likely be a treasured memory for me into the future.
Should you with to see some of Brian's photographs from this day visit hits blog "One Thousand Days in Nature."
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