WORTHINGTON — When a rural Worthington farmer reached out to John Galstad earlier this year with news that a litter of coyote pups were in a den on his property, Galstad grabbed his Canon 5D Mark 4 camera and his Canon 800 Prime lens and drove into the countryside with the hope of capturing the curious little critters.

“(Leonard Ruesch) has called me many times when he has seen something of interest, and I have attempted to capture these memories with my camera,” Galstad shared last week at the Nobles County Fair, where he earned a champion, two reserve champion, three blue and two red ribbons on photographs he entered in open class competition. “Over the last couple of years, photos of jackrabbits, pheasants, ducks, deer, a hawk and two bald eagles have been taken.”

Never before, though, did Galstad have an opportunity to photograph baby coyotes — and not just one, but a litter of six. Ruesch discovered them in early May on his farm.

“I was out planting and a little one came out of the trees — a really light colored one,” shared Ruesch. “She didn’t leave. I kept planting and she just stayed there.”

As a farmer, Ruesch was conflicted. On one hand, he wished he had his gun. On the other hand, the way the light was shining on the coyote as it stood in the green grass “would have just been a gorgeous picture,” he said.

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Ruesch couldn’t understand why the coyote was there, and then he noticed three coyote pups on the bank of the dredge ditch.

“The next morning, they were gone,” Ruesch said. “I thought I blew it. (John’s) chances of seeing coyotes are pretty slim — they don’t have their dens on the road.”

Days later, though, Ruesch rediscovered the coyotes near his pond. He called Galstad to come with his camera.

A hobby photographer — Galstad began photographing trains about 40 years ago, and turned his camera on wildlife 20 years ago — took a bunch of photos. The lighting wasn’t ideal, though, and he just wasn’t happy with them.

So, he returned home and waited for a better day. It came later that week when, on May 21, the sky was beautiful and the evening light couldn’t have been better. He loaded up his lawn chair, camera and tripod and returned to the Ruesch farm to watch and wait.

“I thought, ‘I’m just going to sit here,’” Galstad said. “Within about 10 minutes, the first one peeked its head out.”

Galstad remained quiet and unmoving, and as the one pup decided no harm would come from the guest, another pup crawled out of the hole. At one time, all six of them came out, two of them smaller and meeker — and quick to retreat back to the safety of the den. Galstad’s long camera lens was too limiting to get all of them in a single frame, even from 25 yards away.

He stayed and watched and clicked a variety of images — of a single pup looking skyward, of two pups looking curiously at him, and of three pups at play. By the time he was finished, he had 438 images on his camera.

“I probably had them downloaded within seven minutes after I got home,” Galstad admitted. “I knew it was good stuff.”

Of the 438, he decided 300 of them were worth keeping. He has since made prints for himself and Ruesch, and also made some to sell at Fancy That in downtown Worthington. He chose his favorite photo to exhibit at the county fair.

This was just the second time Galstad entered photography at the fair — the first was in 2019. In addition to sharing his photographs with the public, he has also started sharing stories about the photos he’s captured in nature. On July 31, he was the guest naturalist at Lake Shetek State Park.

“I tried to encourage people to expand their thinking,” he said. “If you can get past gossip, there’s a lot out there that’s exciting.”

In early October, Galstad will present a slide show of his nature photography during a Lutheran Women’s Missionary League (LWML) gathering at St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church in Worthington.