A Yellowstone Glimpse – Day 5 – Junctions to the Rescue

So yes, I did start my day out looking for the Lamar Canyon pack. Several other wolf watchers  were also, and everyone was coming up empty. It wasn’t surprising they weren’t around, as something spooked them off the carcass yesterday, and they may not have wanted to go back.

I heard the Junction Butte pack was spotted further east, so decision time – do I stay and see if I can find the Lamars (pretty much like looking for a needle in a haystack), or drive to see the Junction Butte pack (who I have not seen this year yet)? So I stayed looking for the Lamars who could be 20 miles away from where we had them yesterday.
After finally determining that I had a better chance of getting struck by lightning or winning the lottery than finding the Lamars, I decided to check out the Junction Butte pack. Went to the spot that the wolf crew figured they would show up, but they didn’t appear. They bedded somewhere out of sight from all of us.
I went back further east, as the Prospect Peak pack was seen, although at a great distance. Unfortunately, one would have had to climb a snow covered butte to see them, so only the wolf crew had them in sight.
Mid-afternoon I again went back to see if the Lamars were in town – still nothing  Hmmmm – was I to be skunked on seeing a wolf today? Did I miss my only chance of seeing the Junction Buttes this morning? Making my way back east, I decided to stop when I came the the Junction Butte wolf crew. The Junctions,I was told,  hadn’t moved since early morning and were still out of sight.
With daylight fading, one of the wolf crew spotted one of the Junctions, then another, and another, until all 8 were accounted for. They disappeared into the trees, but popped out further down and gathered for a group howl. They worked their way down the slope, briefly chased a bull elk, and then eventually dropped out of sight. I walked back to my car listening to their howl as the sun set.

A Yellowstone Glimpse – Day 4 – The Call of the Wild

Any day I am in Yellowstone is a good day, and some days are just incredible. Today was one of those incredible days!

Anyone who knows me knew I would start my day out where we had seen the Lamar Canyon Pack yesterday. Just as I was pulling in, a couple of wolf watcher friends were pulling out saying they had quickly scoped the area and hadn’t seen anything. I lingered in the area a bit hoping I would see something, but other than a couple of moose, nothing. I decided to make my way back to the west to see if anything was happening with any of the other wolf packs.
Not too far from where we saw the Lamars yesterday, two group guide vans were parked in a pullout with a couple of spotting scopes out. I pulled in behind them, and one of the guides came up to me and said they had the 3 Lamars in view – happy dance!
All 3 were bedded in plain view. After watching them for a while, someone spotted a carcass west of them just in the trees. They had probably been feeding on it overnight. They got up and slowly made their way through the deep snow back to the carcass. Several coyotes were in the area waiting their turn. Shortly after the Lamars got back to the carcass, something really scared them off – 926F bolted to the right, an Little T and Small Dot went left. We kept them in sight for a while, but eventually lost them in the trees.
They were eventually spotted again by someone at another pullout – 926F not with the other two. 926 crossed the road while Little T and Small Dot went the opposite way and back into the trees.
Then the symphony began. 926F bedded in plain sight high up on a hill and howled her heart out to her 2 pack mates. They would answer back. This went on for a couple of hours. It was incredible to hear so much howling for such a long time.
Eventually most people went home, but a few of us stayed figuring 926F might recross the road to join the others. She started down the hill and we lost her, but knew it best to let her cross the road with as little disturbance as possible. She popped up again on the other side of the road and slowly made her way back to Little T and Small Dot.
We stayed to watch the family reunion, and it was a beautiful sight to see – 926F and her daughter, Little T, have an incredibly strong bond.

Audio only – 926F howing for Little T

A Yellowstone Glimpse – Day 3 – The Waiting is the Hardest Part (but so worth it!)

Today’s drive into the park was certainly less harrowing than yesterday’s white knuckler – no cars off the road or stuck sideways on drifted over S-curve inclines.

I drove to where we had seen wolves the last 2 days – hmmmm – no wolf crew or regular wolf watchers. I hadn’t passed anyone with spotting scopes or telemetry on the way in, so I figured any action must be further on down the road.
After driving for a while, I finally saw cars parked and spotting scopes being set up at one of the pullouts. There was still some room to park, although with all the snow, the pullouts are getting quite a bit smaller. I quickly pulled in and was told that one of the Lamar Canyon pack was in view. The Lamars! My favorites!
The alpha male (Small Dot) was bedded in the snow between a couple of trees. The 2 females (926F and Little T) were not in sight and unsure if they were in the near vicinity. I knew that I would be waiting all day, if necessary, to see if either of the Lamar Canyon females would make an appearance.
After watching the alpha male sleep for about 4 hours, we finally hit the jackpot. Both females came into view from below and to the left of the alpha male. All 3 look good. They stayed in sight for around 30 minutes, climbing a ridge, rolling a bit in the snow, and greeting each other. They then dropped down the back side of the ridge. We were hoping they would reappear a bit further east, but the Lamars had their own agenda, and making a second appearance for us was not on it.
While watching the Lamars, we were also entertained by a coyote and 2 moose.
On my drive back to Gardiner I got stuck in a 15-minute 25 buffalo traffic jam. They rule the road in Yellowstone. I am not about to test my SUV rental against them – I am sure they would come out the winner. I also spotted a lone moose bedded in some willows not far from the road. I was able to get off a couple of quick photos.
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A Yellowstone Glimpse – Day 2 – Winter Wonderland

Snow, blowing snow, and poor visibility was the name of the game today – especially this morning. Even though it made wildlife viewing challenging at best, everywhere you turn, Yellowstone is a winter wonderland picture postcard view right now.

I took a late start into the park, as there wouldn’t have been a wolf or other animal to be seen unless it walked right in front of your car. So, that means I saw lots of bison today, as they will often take the easier route of the road, than have to plow through the deep snow.
The wolf crew was out and had one of the same black wolves we saw yesterday. I took a quick peak through someone’s spotting scope before visibility was lost – at least I saw a wolf today – wouldn’t be skunked – at least not today.
I realized heading further east would be futile unless one was looking for even more snow. So, I meandered my way back west, taking in the views of Yellowstone.
Around lunchtime I decided to head back east and see if the wolf crew had anymore wolves. Bingo! One of the black males and the gray female we saw yesterday were in view. Someone helped me get my spotting scope on them, and for the next 2-1/2 hours I got to watch sleeping wolves – head up, head down, stand up, stretch, lay down. The gray female wolf is beautiful – I think she will make a wonderful alpha – time will tell.

A Yellowstone Glimpse Day 1: Dueling Howling

Fifty weeks since my last trip to Yellowstone – way too long! The drive into the Park from Gardiner had low clouds and on and off snow showers – not ideal wolf and wildlife viewing conditions but temperatures were in the 20s and the wind was pretty calm, and I was back in Yellowstone!

I drove quite a way into the Park before I spotted anyone looking for wolves. When I got out of my vehicle I was greeted by hearing wolves howling and another pack returning their call – music to my ears! I was told it was the Eight Mile pack subgroup and the Junction Butte Pack. No one had visuals yet, but everyone got out their scopes and started looking.
Someone spotted two blacks and one gray wolf. I, as usual, waited for someone to help me get my spotting scope aimed to the right place. They were 3 of the Eight Mile subgroup – two collared blacks and an uncollared gray female.
Find the 2 wolves in this photo – yes there really are 2 wolves – 1 gray, 1 black – now you can understand why I often need help with my spotting scope!
We had them in sight for a good portion of the morning, but visibility was often poor, with the snow making seeing the wolves impossible at times. The 3 wolves eventually moved west out of sight. The wolf crew was getting signals, but no visuals. I am not sure if they got any more sightings the rest of the day.
I ventured east to the Lamar Valley even though no one had any word on the Lamar Canyon pack. Coyotes were the only canid I saw in the Lamar Valley. I was hoping to see a fox to make it a 3-dog day, but struck out there.
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Memories of My First Wild Wolf Sighting

With so much depressing news about wolves these last few weeks – from the relentless anti-wolf legislation in Congress, to the dreadful Montana and Wyoming wolf hunts – I so desperately need some positive wolf thoughts running through my head right now. So, I take myself back to the first time I ever saw a wolf in the wild.

Believe it or not, for something that had such an emotional effect on me, I cannot for the life of me remember the exact place or year –  I think it might have been in 2004 and possibly near Cache Creek. I was on a week-long backpacking trip in the northern portion of Yellowstone. On my backpacking trips I have always gone with a guide so I can just enjoy being in the moment and soak up the grandeur of all the sights and sounds around me. That being said, my topographic map-reading and triangulation skills are pretty much non-existent.

We had good weather for most of the trip, and our group of about 8 people was a fun one. We saw numerous birds, eagles, elk, coyotes, a cinnamon black bear, and buffalo, but as always, on any backpacking trips I had taken in Yellowstone, no wolves – not even a howl. What I would give to hear or see a wild wolf, but alas, I thought this trip would be like all the others – devoid of wolves.

The gaze of the wolf reaches into our soul.” ~Barry Lopez

Our last morning in the back country started with coffee and a breakfast of instant oatmeal, granola, and any food that was left over from the week – get rid of as much pack weight as possible before the day’s hike. Everyone was a bit introspective, trying to hang onto the tranquility of the wilderness, knowing that all too soon the worries of the real world would come crashing back. We were also faced with our longest trek of the trip – a 10+-mile hike over a mountain pass to get back to the trailhead.

Most of us lingered over a last cup of coffee, reluctant to finish packing up our tents and gear. Suddenly, our guide, Howie, pointed to the hiking trail about 100 yards away. Everyone’s head spun in that direction, and there they were – six wolves! They were walking single file along the same trail we had just hiked the day before. One wolf was collared, and the last wolf in line was limping and trailing behind the others. The wolf that was second to last in line would often wait for the limping wolf to catch up.

I remember thinking how much longer their legs seemed to be than a dog’s legs – tall and lanky, but just so beautiful – the epitome of true wilderness. No one had a camera at hand, and we passed a couple of pairs of binoculars among ourselves to watch them. My heart was pounding so hard at the thrill and excitement of finally seeing a wolf in the wild, that I could barely hold the binoculars still.

“Any glimpse into the life of an animal quickens our own and makes it so much the larger and better in every way.” ~John Muir

They didn’t hurry down the trail, even knowing full well we were there. I suspect they sensed that we were not a threat to them. When the wolves went out of sight, everyone was jumping up and down and high-fiving each other at our good fortune. The chances of seeing wolves on a backpacking trip are slim. Although they were in our view for only a couple of minutes, those fleeting moments are something I will treasure forever.

I do not know which wolf pack we saw, and I am not sure if our guide ever found out either. I do know that the sight of those wolves stirred something deep in my soul – something that keeps me yearning to see them again.

I feel a strong obligation to fight for wolves – perhaps the most wrongfully persecuted animal in the world. I will fight so others have the chance to experience that same heart-stopping thrill of seeing a wolf in the wild. I will fight so that people will see that we can coexist with wolves. I will fight so that wolves can live in peace and not be subject to the heartless cruelty of humans.


Wolves in Peril: The Hunt has Begun

Anger, disgust, fear – those are the emotions running through me right now.

The 6-month-long wolf hunting season in Montana begins today, September 15th and runs through March 15th – six long and stress-filled months. Montana has mapped the state into 18 Wolf Management Units (WMUs) which it opens to wolf hunting. Of these 18 WMUs, only 3 have quotas. The remaining 15 have no limits on how many wolves are killed.

What makes the Montana scheduled wolf hunt all that much worse is that many of the WMUs immediately surround Yellowstone, Teton, and Glacier National Parks, where wolves are protected, and which also serve as corridors for wolves dispersing into or out of these parks. The Yellowstone wolves, especially, are more used to and tolerant of human presence. If these wolves happen to take one step over the invisible park boundary, they can be shot and killed by trophy “hunters”. How “sporting” is it to sit with a loaded rifle just outside of a National Park waiting for a wolf to step over a human-drawn border of which the wolf has no knowledge?

How lonely is the night without the howl of a wolf. ~Unknown

I realize that Yellowstone wolves are no more or less important than any other wolves, but the Yellowstone wolves are the wolves I have come to know – I know their stories. I have watched them in person, I have photographed them, I read about their lives on a daily basis. I care deeply about these wolves because I know them. Each day between now and March 15th I dread that I will read that one of the Yellowstone wolves that I have come to know has fallen victim to the wolf hunt.

Yellowstone wolves are in even greater peril, as the first wolf hunting season since 2013 begins in Wyoming on October 1st and runs through December 31st. Wyoming has designated 12 wolf hunting units surrounding Yellowstone National Park where up to 44 wolves can be shot and killed. In the remainder of the state, wolves are considered predatory animals and can be shot and killed 24/7, 365 days a year.

When I was twelve, I went hunting with my father and we shot a bird. He was laying there and something struck me. Why do we call this fun to kill this creature [who] was as happy as I was when I woke up this morning. ~Marv Levy

It seems that wolves everywhere are under attack. In my home state of Wisconsin, wolves are being used as political pawns and may soon be hunted like Montana’s and Wyoming’s wolves. What’s worse, is that in Wisconsin it is legal to use dogs when hunting wolves – pitting dogs against wolves – it doesn’t get much lower than that.

With the ever-growing movement of protecting and preserving wolves and wildlife, it appears our politicians and state wildlife agencies are doing just the opposite and keeping the recovery and future of wolves in peril.