Thursday, June 19, 2008

Yellowstone Wolf

On Monday, our second day in the Yellowstone, we decided to explore the south end of the park. The roads in Yellowstone form a rough figure eight, with roads going out from the eight to the different park entrances. Typically we spend most of our time on the north loop of the figure eight when we visit in the spring because that is where we tend to see the most wildlife. However I had read in the forums at that people had been photographing harlequin ducks at the mouth of the Yellowstone River the week before we arrived so I wanted to go down and check it out. Unfortunately the harlequins were not there, so after wading through knee deep snow to get to the river and getting some shots of some of the other animals we headed up to Tower and Lamar. When we got up to tower we found out that earlier in the morning there had been 3 wolves feeding on a carcass near the road near the endurance of the Lamar Valley.

We were crushed. In our 7 previous trips to Yellowstone we had never seen any wolves except as small dots in our binoculars and spotting scope. The only wolves that we had ever seen close up were in Denali National Park, when we went to Alaska. On that occasion we were on a tour and could only shoot from the bus windows and the wolves walked right along the side of the bus where it was impossible to get a shot. So we had never been able to take any wild wolf pics and now we had missed out on a good chance, from what we were told the wolves were on the carcass until around 11am and typically we made it out to Lamar before that time each day.

We shot around tower for a while, photographing Rosie and cubs helped to take away some of the sting from our missed opportunity, and then headed out to Lamar. Before we got to Lamar we saw a lot of cars parked on the side of the road and a lot of photographers with long lenses standing on the side of the road. This was between the area that we had seen big horned sheep and a grizzly bear on the day before so we decided to stop and check out what everyone was looking at. It turned out that this was the location of the carcass that the wolves had been feeding on and that everyone was waiting, hoping that the wolves would return. Since both Michelle and I really wanted to see the wolves and get our first descent wolf pics we decided to wait. Michelle decided to stay in the car and read a book while she waited while I went up and kept watch with all of the other photographers. Since I guessed that we might be there a while, I brought out a lawn chair and a soda to make waiting more comfortable. This became a big joke to everyone around where I was sitting particularly to the guys who were sitting on very uncomfortable looking rocks.

After a couple of hours a lone grey wolf came cautiously down the hill towards the carcass. We could hardly believe it, Michelle joined us when she saw the commotion of all the photographers focusing on the wolf. Unfortunately the wolf was leery and after sniffing the air a few times and looking at all the people lined up, it stopped about half way down the hill and then turned and went back the way that it had come. We were disappointed that it had not come all the way down to the kill but stoked that we had our first real wolf pics. Since I was having a lot of fun talking with many of the other people around I asked Michelle if we could stay a while longer, which she was OK with. After a couple more hours with out any wolves I was contemplating leaving, it was getting close to dusk and we had to drive back to our hotel on the other end of the park, when the lone grey wolf showed up at the top of the hill again. This time though the wolf came cautiously all the way down the hill.

It came down to the kill and grabbed a mouth full of intestines and took them a little way up the hill.

It kept a careful eye on all of the people and when no one made any aggressive moves it decided to go back to the kill to try and get a part that was a little bit more substantial.
The carcase was difficult to see in the sage, but from where I was standing I could see that it had been a pretty good sized elk.

I would have loved to have been there to photograph the kill but I was happy just getting these great shots.

The wolf continued to try and pull away pieces of meat from the neck and should area of the dead animal. Even though it appeared to be very hungry it also seemed distracted. A few minutes later we found out why when a coyote appeared coming down the hillside
The wolf eyed the coyote and we thought that we were in for a fight, but the wolf did not seem all that concerned until the coyote moved close to the intestines that the wolf had dropped up on the hill.
The wolf moved over to claim the intestines and ignored the smaller animal as it gobbled the meat down. The coyote moved with in a few feet of the eating wolf, which surprised many of us. The wolf continued to ignore the coyote until the coyote made the mistake of snarling at the wolf. The wolf then made a half hearted attempt to chase the coyote away. The smaller agile coyote easily out maneuvered the now well fed wolf and kept out of harms way. The chase did not last long, with both animals finding a spot to lay and face down the other. After a while the coyote decided that it was not going to be able to get a share of the meal and it made its way back up the hill. The wolf was hunkered down in the sage and with the sun setting and 16gb worth of wolf pics we decided to head back to the hotel. The sun set before we got too far and we ended up driving most of the way back in the dark. We were exhausted when we arrived at around 10:30 PM but it certainly was worth it to get some great wolf pics.


Anonymous said...

Those are amazing pictures. We are going to Yellowstone in September, and hope to see lots of wildlife.

Shelley said...

These wolf photos were truly magical for me! Your patience certainly paid off!

ivars krafts said...

I haven't been to Yellowstone since I was a kid. (I think Wyoming was a state then?) Your narrative and pictures make me want to go -- excellent work!

Dayna said...

We are rewarded by your patience. Thanks so much - those are incredible photos.

troutbirder said...

Patience Patience Patience. You got it. You get it. Awesome pictures.

wolf21m said...

Those are awesome photos. This appears to be the Agate wolf pack member known as half-tail. A year ago she lost half of her tail and broke her left rear leg. No one thought that she would survive. Apparently she is doing quite well. Your pictures are much better than the ones I took of her in this post: Grizzlies, Eagles, and Snow!.Patience usually always pays off in Yellowstone, especially when there is food around.

Ecobirder said...

Thanks everyone. It was very exciting to get some good wolf pics this year. Thanks for the info Wolf21m. I did know that the wolf was from the agate pack but it is cool to find out more info.

Stay tuned everyone the best wolf shots are still to come