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Outfoxing them all

by David Scott

Foxes

For three hours, he sat on the edge of Hudson Bay. And even as temperatures dipped below minus-30 degrees Celsius, Don Gutoski waited for his shot. And then the moment arrived.

The photograph borne of that patience – A Tale of Two Foxes – earned Gutoski, MD’79, the title of Wildlife Photographer of the Year, in an international competition sponsored by the Natural History Museum of London, England.

Gutoski, a physician in the Urgent Care Centre of St. Joseph’s Hospital in London, Ont., has entered the competition for the past seven years.

Plucked from 42,000 entries from 96 countries, his award-winning photo wasn’t even a shot he planned to get. Gutoski headed to Wapusk National Park in Churchill, Man., in November 2014, with the intention of photographing polar bears.

“That’s when they’re on the edge of Hudson Bay and waiting for the ice to form to go out and hunt seals. That’s basically what they live on. So, they’ve been starving – literally – for four or five months. They come off the ice in June or July and really eat very little on land.”

What he unexpectedly captured was a rare moment in the eyes of his fellow photographers, as well as an insightful one for judges.

Don_in_field

“It appears as if the red fox is slipping out of its winter coat,” said Kathy Moran, Senior Editor for Natural History Projects at and a member of the competition jury. “What might simply be a straightforward interaction between predator and prey struck the jury as a stark example of climate change, with red foxes encroaching on Arctic fox territory.”

After being tapped as the overall winner, from among 16 finalists, in October, Gutoski’s photograph appeared in publications on four continents, including USA Today and Time magazine. Originally opening at the Natural History Museum in October, the Photographer of the Year Exhibition runs at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) in Toronto until March 20.

Closer to home, his photos are displayed in the Urgent Care waiting room at St. Joseph’s. “I often get patients who recognize my photos,” Gutoski said. “They obviously talk to me about it quite often. People really seem to enjoy them there.”

Gutoski has been taking photographs since he was in high school. The solitude of nature and hours of waiting for a perfect shot balances well with the stressful pace of an emergency room.

“My job in the ER is hectic. You’re going all the time. Wildlife photography often is just sitting and waiting and observing and planning. It’s completely different, but it’s something I really love,” he said.

He transitioned from film to digital about a decade ago. In previous wildlife photography adventures, he shot 2,000 pictures on fil in a week. Now, he might shoot that many in an afternoon with his Canon 1DX and telephoto lenses.

“I like to take pictures of predators – the top-of-the-food-chain-type species,” he said, mentioning lions, leopards and cheetahs in Africa, tigers in India and jaguars in Brazil, among his visual conquests.

He’s never armed with more than a camera and some insect repellent. From jungles in Brazil sneaking up on jaguars at their feeding spots, to 50-degree temperatures in India waiting for tigers, the soft-spoken Gutoski isn’t worried about dangers in the field.

“The most dangerous part is probably getting to the airport here and getting out of the airport where I go,” he said with a laugh.

Giraffe

On many of his trips, his wife Mary Jane, BEd’83, is often at his side.

“She’s been pretty much everywhere. We’re off to Madagascar in a few weeks. It’s a destination I’ve always wanted to go,” Gutoski said, mentioning hopeful subjects including lemurs, birds, chameleons and insects. “As my wife refers to our trips, they’re ‘fur and feather trips.’ I’m not big into landscapes. But anything that moves under its own power, I’m anxious to take pictures of."


This article appeared in the Winter 2016 edition of Alumni Gazette
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