What and Where?
"The Coyote on White" was photographed during a NANPA sponsored photography outing in January, 2018. Enchanted by the graphic character of cold wintery landscapes, I could not pass up the chance to taste a bit of a Yellowstone winter. Having seen many striking snow-covered images from the park, my desire to experience it for myself became more of a need than a want.
While we lodged in West Yellowstone, we spent sunrise to sunset traveling the park via slowcoach (actually called "snow coach," but slowcoach might be a bit more apt description). With oversized wheels and a somewhat roomy interior, we effortlessly traversed plowed and unplowed roads as we made our way from snowy riparian lowlands to highland plateaus. The snow coach is a necessary evil if one intends to see more than an isolated region of the park. While a pair of snow shoes and tent would have allowed for a more deliberative photographic experience, time constraints eliminated this as an option.
Why it Works?
While we did manage to see a wolf making its way towards a herd of bison, this fleeting moment was the only time in which I actually laid my eyes on one. Were it not for an encounter with a fish-seeking coyote, I would not have seen any mammalian carnivores during our brief time in the park. Fortunately, as our first day was coming to a close, we found the coyote pictured here perched on a rock looking into the Madison River. To cut the distance between the animal and my lens, I hiked through hip high snow making my way to the bank of the river. Now, with 30 meters and a river between us, I watch the coyote staring into the water as it searched for a fish. With my finger poised on the shutter release, I waited as the snow fell and my digits froze. Ten minutes felt like an hour as I internally pleaded with the animal to jump into the river and retrieve a fish... but, it just was not meant to be. About fifteen minutes into the wait, my subject retreated towards the forest following its well worn path. Were it not for something in the distance that caused it to stop for a second or two, the "Coyote on White" would not have been made. While not a wolf, this is the type of photo I had hoped to make. I wanted to isolate a carnivore in a snowy landscape while preserving environmental elements that create a sense of place. Here the reddish coat of the coyote and the spruce to the upper right create a bit of tension in an otherwise field of white. The recognizable form of the animal and tree anchor our eyes and our minds as we wonder where the coyote is going.
Winter is an ideal time to photograph wildlife in the park, as the lack of vegetation and monotone landscape makes the otherwise invisible, visible. "The Coyote on White" was not the carnivore photo that I intended on making upon deciding to visit Yellowstone in January. Wolves are a keystone species in the park with their selective predation on elk and deer. By actively thinning the herds of these browsers, the wolves positively impact riparian and montane plant diversity which in turn increases the net biodiversity of the park. In fact, a number of studies have demonstrated that the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone has actually influenced the way the Yellowstone River meanders throughout the park. Armed with this knowledge of wolf ecology and the significance of keystone species, I arrived in the park with the intention of producing some kind of wolf-landscape.
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