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Dingo Dreams

by Chontelle Burns 2 months ago in photography

Encounter of a Lifetime

Five dingoes amongst the sand dunes, NSW, Australia

I watched with bated breath; my shoes heavy with sand. A light breeze occasionally interrupting the otherwise silent and still landscape, and I delighted that it was still warm enough to wear a singlet without shivering. I crouched down low in the sand, eyes scanning along the shore of the body of water that was framed lightly by foliage and spindly young eucalypts, all the while taking note of how quiet this morning was. I had not heard any yips or howls this morning, giving me a feeling that maybe this morning was not going to be what I had hoped it would be. I shifted, swapping which knee was going to be my tripod if the time came, still holding my camera tightly in anticipation of their arrival.

Then all at once, a sandy, lithe, and relaxed creature loped into view, followed closely behind by another four of varying markings and shades—several the embodiment of the classic dingo in their desert yellow coats with one sporting a black muzzle, while all but one sported ankle or mid-length white socks and stomachs.

I grinned with utter excitement as I brought my camera up and peered through the view finder.

From that moment of sand and dingoes, I abruptly awoke, still grinning and wild with excitement. I knew by the instant and electrifying feeling of excitement that still coursed through every inch of me, that I needed to gather my gear and head out into the sand dunes over an hour north.

And I needed to do it now!

Although the world outside was still pitch black as it was only 4:30am, I did not hesitate to spring out of bed and throw my clothes on, kiss my partner goodbye and whisper in his ear, “I’ll be back soon.”

Within no time at all I was throwing my gear into the back of the car and pulling out on the almost completely abandoned highway, the traffic lights green all the way out of the city, almost as if they were ushering me along with their green ambience.

Once outside of the city, the road dipped in and out of patches of fog that luckily did not settle too thickly and did not therefore obscure my vision of kangaroos and wombats grazing beside the road, the two prime species that are usually flighty and unpredictable.

I don’t like dodging Skippy’s, I think to myself.

The hour drive north seemed to fly by, and as I neared the outskirts of the small town, the golf course greens and houses fell away, replaced by a mix of eucalypts and dense low scrub occasionally broken by the driveways of the numerous campgrounds that dot the road throughout the national park. At several points I slow down as the canopy has grown so high and thick that it encompasses the road on all sides as if it is a living tunnel, causing everything to darken yet even more so that it is pitch black again. I half expect to see the red glint of wallaby eyes shining back at me as they graze along the fringes of the road, but the tunnel is completely bare of wildlife.

Pulling into the car park, the world was awash in a grayed twilight that my eyes struggled with at first. Almost dancing with excitement, I quickly donned my jacket, checked my laces, and settled my camera around my neck before setting off along the short sandy track framed by thick scrub.

As I walked, I tried to contain my excitement as I knew that I could very well come up empty handed as I was simply following a feeling brought about by a dream, as I reminded myself also that dingoes are wild animals and have large home ranges. But my excitement was persistent, like all my internal organs were awash with hot embers, and I squinted down at the sand through the lightening twilight, scrutinizing it for any tracks, however partial they were.

It did not take long for the track to merge with the base of a short, albeit steep sand dune that would open out into an expanse of sand dunes that lead all the way down to the beach, some of the dunes reaching over 10 meters tall. As I had done many times before, I began the slow climb up the dune, making sure to try to balance my weight evenly to avoid sinking further into the sand. I always told myself that taking the dunes slower was better as I could take in more of my environment and observe all the tracks littering the sand. Within a minute or so I reached the top, and took a slow, deep breath.

Here I am, I thought, trying not to bite my lip as I turned to looking around me for tracks in the sand. I had regularly seen their tracks leading along the top of the dunes and the length of the western stretch of bush, before disappearing again. This time was different though, as I could see no discernible tracks, only remnants that looked to be a few days old, as they were faded and filled in by the blowing sand and wind.

Every time I arrive, I look for tracks, and each time previously I had despairingly missed them by several hours or even moments, even when arriving just before dawn, the pack having started their day in the early hours of the morning. On one occasion I had followed their tracks for up to three hours in and around the dunes along the coast, hoping to catch them sifting through the sand for discarded fish guts, feasting on washed up marine mammals or sharks, or actively hunting one of the small mammals whose tracks I also saw in abundance, but I was yet to be that lucky.

I refused to let my excitement dim as I readjusted my camera and turned my sights to the larger dunes, stopping every ten meters or so to look through my view finder at the lightening landscape, not trusting my eyes to be able to pick them out against the sand in the low light. It was on my second or third scan of the dunes that I pulled back from my viewfinder and rubbed my eyes, before peering through it again, heart instantly thundering like a sledgehammer against my rib cage. I snapped a couple of shots, zooming in to confirm what I had before me.

There, atop a dune and already watching me with curious and pointed gazes, were two dingoes. I stood there for a moment in disbelief before I managed to shake myself of it and started to trek towards them, moving in a wide arc to not be seen as a challenger or threat. It took me fifteen minutes to make it around, traipsing through the sand marred with several freshly discarded glasses of beer near human footprints that led to 4X4 tyre tracks. I briefly hoped that they had not drunkenly harassed the dingoes, especially since many people tend to hate them both needlessly and passionately. I shook my head and pushed the thoughts to the back of my mind as I came to the crest of the dune.

Only once standing there could I fully comprehend what I was seeing—there were six dingoes in total before me: three adults and three older pups. Two adults of which were sandy coloured elderly looking males, a female with a dark face dappled with age, one classic sandy and white female pup; while the other two, a male and female, had varying degrees of blackened muzzles and sandy coats.

Five continued to watch me intently as I watched them scale the next sand dune, happily interacting with each other, while the lead female laid down in the sand and began to doze. Almost as if she wanted her mother’s comfort, eventually the lighter classically sandy pup decided to lay down in the sand and doze beside her mother. Not long after, the other four settled back down and went to sleep, occasionally stirring to glance sleepily at me.

I slowly and very disinterestedly looked away as I scratched my bare lower thigh, just below my shorts line—

—and suddenly the situation dramatically changed as one of the older males heard my nails scratching my bare skin and leaped into life, his tail dipping as he came cantering over to me and sat almost on top of my feet, huffing and moaning almost like a dog would try and speak with its owner, while scratching himself. I stood there, my mind racing as I tried to think the situation through—he had just closed over thirty meters between us within a few seconds.

Keep your distance. Do not feed them. Make yourself look big and tall. Do not wave your arms around. Do not hastily retreat. But most importantly: Do not run. I ticked these all off in my head as I watched the male still sitting there about a meter away, scratching himself again. Again, he dipped his tail and continued to groan and wail but did not growl or bare his teeth. As I watched and observed him in every way that I could, I spoke to him as I would a dog—genuinely gentle and calm. He got up and stood there as I continued to speak to him, running through the idea that maybe they did get harassed last night by the 4x4 drivers or maybe he had suddenly and simply just decided that he needed to show that he could make the rules that I should follow and the noise I had made was a reminder for him to do so.

Two of the others watched his display towards me while the others were happy to remain either dozing or taking note of something moving deep in the scrub beyond the dunes. “Do you want me to back up?” I asked and again he moaned. “Okay.” I took three slow steps back and with a sneeze, he lifted his tail and trotted off happily. Okay, I thought, still going through the fact that there had been no aggression shown throughout the entire situation and that he just wanted to make sure I knew that he made the rules after the unexpected noise that I had made.

It was then that the classically sandy female casually loped passed, only glancing at me as she cut across the dunes, attention focused on the further recesses of the undergrowth that had long since grown into the dunes overlooking the beach.

Taking note that they would begin hunting soon, I began to slowly walk down through the sand to the beach and only five minutes later, the remaining five dingoes sprinted across the sand and up into the dunes, kicking up sand as they sprinted on by. I grinned as the darker faced female pup looked at me with her tongue hanging out of her mouth like a dog with its head out of the car, before vanishing in a small spit of sand. Within a moment they had all disappeared, lost amongst the undergrowth that had taken hold of the sand dunes.

The beach was deserted and the waves rough when I noticed a large and quite menacing storm front swiftly rolling in and instantly made the hasty decision to head back before I got drenched and risked water-logging my gear. As I began the trek back, I looked up to find the two older male dingoes casually observing me from a vantage point overlooking the beach. I smiled, still in disbelief of my encounter—never did I anticipate being part of such a moment!

My editing was quite simple and involved brightening the image due to it being taken quite early on a cloudy morning with extremely poor light, alongside a little noise removal to take out the graininess to really show the beauty of the moment.

photography
Chontelle Burns
Chontelle Burns
Read next: My Adventure in Greece Part II
Chontelle Burns

I am an avid wildlife lover and photographer who grew up on a hobby farm in the Australian bush with a multitude of animals while accumulating such experiences as raising orphaned kangaroos and caring for injured kookaburras.

See all posts by Chontelle Burns

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