North by Northwest
Little Town on the Prairie
Head’em Up, Move’em Out
James River Valley, South Dakota
When visiting my favorite South Dakota ranch, I usually spend some time each evening out on the range photographing the night sky. In addition to the cattle residing at the ranch, the coyotes are constant companions. They start singing near sundown; some are heard only faintly, very far in the distance, while others are surprisingly near. In the darkness, I have no idea exactly where they are. Their howls make a fantastic soundtrack to the visual display overhead—one that provides a good degree of romance, and not a little tingling of the spine.
On this particular night of sky shooting, I brought along a digital recorder and a directional microphone. The result is a half-minute recording of the coyotes doing what they do.
Caution, pet owners: Your dog or cat may not like this recording. Proceed accordingly.
Speaking of the Song Dog: Whether you love coyotes, hate them, fear them, or know very little about them, I highly recommend the Dan Flores book Coyote America: A Natural and Supernatural History. Covering everything from biology to mythology, the book is a comprehensive coyote biography, illuminating such topics as the coyote’s role in the beliefs and culture of Native Americans, its “discovery” by European Americans, portrayals of the coyote in modern popular culture, and the lives of urban coyotes. (Unsure about the correct pronunciation of the word coyote? That’s covered as well.)
The book examines the evolution of these highly intelligent animals and their unusual reproductive adaptability. While wolves were being extirpated by humans, the coyote’s ability to function either as a pack member or as a solitary hunter allowed the species to survive and expand its range. The core of Coyote America is a detailed look at the long timeline of a misguided and utterly futile government campaign to exterminate one of the most resilient animals on the planet; 150 years of persecution, and the coyote has now colonized virtually all of North America and Central America.
You don’t have to be a biologist to appreciate the wealth of information in this book; Coyote America is not presented as a dry scientific monograph. Dan’s writing is accessible, well paced and provides a very enjoyable reading experience.
After the book’s release in 2016, Mr. Flores was interviewed by National Geographic. Take a few minutes to read that informative article on the NG website:
I discovered this book thanks to Ed Roberson’s Mountain & Prairie podcast. In a 75-minute conversation, available here, Ed and Dan discuss coyotes, wild horses, land management and other interesting topics. (Be sure to check out another great book by Dan, American Serengeti: The Last Big Animals of the Great Plains.)
Hey, you with the bushy tail: I’ve written of my fascination with owls, and I am similarly drawn to coyotes. I hear them quite often when I’m wandering through the Canadian wilderness and the American West, but I have never heard the coyote’s song here in the eastern part of the country. As for spotting a coyote with my own eyes, there have been just four such occurrences, and only twice was I able to photograph the encounter (both times from the driver’s seat with a pocket digital camera). First, there was this “prairie wolf” in western South Dakota…
And, not far from my home, this eastern cousin…
This may go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: Do not approach a coyote, do not attempt to feed a coyote, do not encourage coyotes to become comfortable around humans.
Further reading and resources: This link will direct you to Project Coyote, a non-profit organization “whose mission is to promote compassionate conservation and coexistence between people and wildlife through education, science and advocacy.” Read about their work toward ending wildlife killing contests that target coyotes and other predatory species.
(Posts about my library are archived through this link: ridingwithcarl.wordpress.com/tag/library.)
All of the digital infrared images taken during my first visit to the Buffalo Peaks Ranch have now been posted. Two years after that trip, I returned to the ranch with an assortment of long-expired rolls of 35mm film, just to see what they would do. One of those rolls—Kodak Infrared film—was as old as my car.
I wasn’t expecting much from the IR experiment, but the results were ghostly and surreal, with strange artifacts and black skies; looked as though the photos had been taken during the night. Only a few of the frames contained anything resembling a photograph. Here, you can barely make out the shadowy figure of Sarah (right below the sun) heading up the trail to the South Platte River.
South Park, Colorado
Kodak Infrared film (expired 1971)