A Walk in the Park…Yellowstone, that is!
April 24, 2011
OUR FIRST DAY IN YELLOWSTONE: FRIDAY APRIL 15, 2011
We anxiously started our first day into the park at 5am. As you enter through the Arch on the North Entrance you can’t help from being excited beyond words. It was great to be int eh company of two fun people who also shared the deep passion for wolves and wildlife and do I.. This was going to be FUN!
My personal goal for today was to make sure Marc and Mark see their first wolf in the wild. I needed to make this happen.
The morning was chilly and at one point in the Park hit 10 above. Still not too bad. We spotted a young moose alone in Lamar Valley and wondered how he would survive the day, but somehow, happy to report he sure did. I had never seen a moose in the openness of Lamar before, normally finding them in Pebble Creek quite a bit east of here.
We spotted and watched elk, big horn sheep, and a variety of other animals, and of course the mighty bison, but no wolves as of yet. I found it strange that I didn’t see the usual suspects, being Rick McIntyre and Laurie Lyman and crew, but later found out they were looking for the Lamar Canyon pack further to the northeast as Rick picked up their signal, but they never spotted them.
We took a break at 2pm and headed back into the park at 3. Wolves on the mind of course. As we were ten minutes in we located a lone coyote and got some fantastic photos of him pouncing, and catching and eating, a vole. great aerial abilities this one! Time is so short here but I will post them asap. Its basically Park, sleep, Park!
After driving the entire north range we stopped at the Hartmans, and met with Cindy. She was most gracious as always and we browsed their awesome wildlife gallery. Awesome photography rivaled by none.
A good sign…. Finally Ridk McIntyre. Rick is the Wolfman of Yellowstone and has watched wolves every single day for over fifteen years as part of his job as it relates to the Yellowstone Wolf Project. This is what he does, and little does he know he has MY job!
It was great to see Rick again and he told me right where we were in Lamar Valley at the Hitching Post pullout was across from the Lamar Canyon Pack territory.
Rick asked for out help and gave me a two way radio and said he had the signal of the pack and to watch for them where we were. He moved to another location and we set up scopes, two of which were so graciously loaned to me from my good friend Nathan Varley of the Wild Side.
Marc spotted them first. A light gray wolf, and Mark spotted a darker gray wolf thought to be black at first, but determined to be a real dark gray. these were two of the year old pups born last April to 06, forming the Lamar Canyon Pack, now totaling seven. The Marc(k) were so excited and I was beyond happy for them, and of course thrilled to see this pack again. They are my favorite and it was extra special for the first wolves of the trip to be them.
Rick was happy for our assistance and had us keep the radio as we are going to help him spot and study wolves for the rest of our trip. Pretty exciting stuff. Our call number from her on in would be Unit 4.
A DAY OF WOLVES…YELLOWSTONE DAY TWO APRIL 16th
The Agate Creek Pack…A day of Wolf Watching at its Best!
We went into the park very early and I decided to head directly to Specimen Ridge on the northern range where the Agate Creek Pack live. As we approached I turned the vehicle lights off and traveled very slowly with windows down and stopped at the pullout nearest the ridge. We immediately heard the wolf pack so very close to us and we walked closer to them but it was still too dark to observe them, but I could tell they were heading east.
We returned to our vehicle and I drove with Marc Cooke and Mark Dinkel directly to Slough Creek to try to get ahead of the pack. We pulled into the Campground road at Slough and because of heavy snow we had to trek quite a distance with our scopes. Parts of the path would find us sinking up to our knees, but we made it out to Bob’s Knob, a preferred viewing spot in Slough.
Again, setting up scopes Marc spotted a gray wolf moving our way and I also spotted a black wolf. Neither were collared but I knew they were Agates. I still had the two way radio given to me by Rick McIntyre and I tried to raise him with no luck so i asked for any available unit and Kathie Lynch(Kathie reports wolf activity for Ralph Maughns blog site) I asked her to reach Rick and let him know we had activity and that the wolves were now headed in a southerly direction toward the road, and a short time later I could hear them howling in a frenzy in that very direction, indicating to me that they had most likely made a kill.
We collected our scopes and walked back toward the lot near the road and met with Rick and also a fellow wolf watcher named Bill. Bill had already located the Agates on an elk predation about a mile or more into the tree line, but very visible. This would turn out to be our day.
We watched as five wolves from the Agates feed on the carcass, including two gray collared males, The gray and black wolves we observed were also there I will give a more detailed account including the Agate Creek Pack dynamics when I return and post it to wolfwatcher.org
This was quite an experience to observe wolves in their natural environment doing what they do.I had the opportunity to talk in depth about this pack and others with Laurie Lyman, who also reports wolf activity for us on Yellowstone Reports(linked from my website). She watches wolves every day along with Rick and knows the packs along the northern range very well. one disturbing fact she related was all of the breeding pack females currently have mange, including 06 of the Lamar Canyon Pack. Laurie did say that if the packs can continue to hunt and supply food then in most cases these infected wolves can overcome the disease on their own, and 06 has had a touch of mange over the past three years, and recovered each time.
We watched the wolves for quite some time, and talked to others gathering there about the many wolf issues we are all advocating for. It was refreshing to see Marc and Mark naturally engage with so many people and allow them to observe the activity through their scopes. They both know what they are talking about and were obviously eager and excited to share some positive wolf information to others. This made the day complete for me.
After the pack had its fill, we watched for awhile longer as so many other species were benefiting from the wolves predation. There were several birds on the carcass, including ravens, magpies and golden eagles. Eventually we watched as coyotes moved onto the carcass, and with that we were confident the wolf pack had moved away, and most likely back to their dens. Right now is the time for new life among the wolf packs, and that is incredibly exiting. We returned to Gardiner, with a deep satisfaction of watching this magnificent apex predator, and being allowed to share in this circle of life moment. This is a memory we will keep with us forever, and are so happy to share it with everyone. The location was at a distance making it difficult to get good photographs, but I did d manage to get photos with my camera /scope setup designed for such great distances. The melting snow creating some low fog cover made it a bit more difficult but I will post the photos when I return. I am as anxious as everyone to see them too, but as i type this at 4am I just dont have the time to go through the near thousand photos I have and edit them just now. But I certainly will in a couple days.
We did return to the Park in the afternoon and traveled all the way to Silver Gate past the northeast entrance and I believe we were one of the only vehicles in the Park . There was no wolf activity being reported on the two way so I drove out to Dan and Cindy Hartman’s place. Dan is quite the wildlife man, more so than anyone you might see, on say, Nat Geo, . We visited with the Hartmans, bought some items from their amazing gallery, and talked to Dan about everything from bears, owls, wolves, and photography. And not to forget about our deep discussion about the Boston Red Sox ! Check out their website linked from my website(links page…Wildlifealongtherockies). Marc and Mark bought for me a beautiful photo of my favorite wolf, 06, and the title was “Making Tracks.” Way too nice of them, and this will be a treasured memory that will occupy a special place in my home, and in my heart. Thanks you two!
TODAY WAS A GOOD DAY, THANKS TO THE AGATE CREEK PACK.
(And also a thanks go out to Dan and Cindy Hartman for their hospitality!)
Yellowstone Day 3 April 17th
Indeed a Wolfy Day!
Thinking about the Day 2 events and not sure that day could be topped. Boy was I mistaken. Marc and Mark were anxious to get the day started and as I expected them to show up at 6am, they arrived at 5:20am. I sure didn’t mind for I too was ready to get going into the park. It was lightly raining as we started out and I was a bit concerned this might deter wildlife viewing. The snow on the ground melts and creates fog, making viewing and photography challenging to say the least.
I gave the two Marc(k)s a choice of where to head today, and we decided to check out the mountains to the south and headed up toward the canyon and hopefully, the lower falls. We climbed to altitudes over 8600 feet and the roads were somewhat plowed. It seemed we were one of a very few cars venturing up these roads.
We came across a pullout to an open field and I observed something moving . It was at a distance and was either a wolf or coyote pouncing for a snack in the deep wet snow. As it turned out it was indeed a coyote but we enjoyed him all the same. Marc photographed him, and at one point two sand hill cranes flew directly over the coyote and we both captured them on film in a single frame.
Thinking the coyote was the highlight of this stop we were pleasantly mistaken. A curious raven landed within several feet of us and he was most amusing and provided us with some great shots. Sometimes the things that seem most simple turn out to be the most appreciated, and this was certainly the case with our raven friend. He was a most photogenic subject that all three of us thoroughly enjoyed. I think I will name him Clyde. Why I’m not sure, but he just looked like a Clyde!
We decided to try to make it to the Canyon as it was snowing harder the closer we got. We were so lucky to have Mark keeping us abreast of not only how many miles every tenth we moved closer to our destination, but also let us know our altitude in either direction, constantly. Yes, like very singe foot either way. That was so funny and I realized this Mark from Missouri shared our dry sense of humor. Alas, there is little hope for him either. We have bonded marvelously.
We finally arrived at the Canyon despite the white out conditions, only to find that access to our destination was not accessible. We quickly returned the way we came at that was the only way out of here. Again, thankfully our altitude was closely monitored by Mark, and I do mean closely!!!
We made our way back down the mountain and were determined to head deeper into the park as we drove back easterly across the High Bridge just east of Mammoth. As we were crossing the very high bridge we saw three pockets of elk on the run heading the other way. They were on a ridge to our right, several hundred yard away. And then there he was!!!!
The black alpha male of the Canyon Pack was in pursuit, chasing the elk with a purpose. I snapped a few shots of him on my hand held camera as this happened out of nowhere. Times like this justify why I drive through Yellowstone with my camera at arms reach.
We set up scopes and located an elk kill behind some trees beneath the ridge. The wolf disappeared for a short time, only to reappear with the alpha female, a very light, if not white wolf. We watched as they fed from the carcass for a short time, and then both left back over the ridge. The usual suspects, consisting or ravens, magpies, eagles and a lone coyote moved in to battle for the carcass. I was able to finally report this great wolf activity of the Canyon Pack back to Rick McIntyre as we met up with him in Lamar Valley.
Rick had the signals of the two black wolves of the Lamar Canyon Pack, and directed us to location after location as the signal from his telemetry was getting stronger when we finally ended up in Soda Butte Creek. There Mark D spotted a dark gray male wolf, which is a member of the Lamars. A short time later was spotted another light gray wolf, also a member. Both are a year old this month.
This was truly a great and memorable morning in Yellowstone. We left the park around 2:30pm as we had plans to meet Nathan Varley and Linda Thurston of the Wild Side. We met at one of the only two restaurants open in Gardiner. The food was excellent, the conversation even better!
I do believe the three of us went away with a good feeling today as we shared in , once again, a day of unforgettable moments. Wolf sightings all three days. Pretty amazing, and only here in Yellowstone.
Tomorrow we travel north to Bozeman, MT to meet with Mike Leahy of Defenders of Wildlife, followed by a meet with Doug Hunnold of Earthjustice. And then..what else? Of course we are racing back to Yellowstone. Not sure how the wolves can do this without us!!! And for the record, yes I have a Wolf Project ID..Unit 4, my two way radio number.
Tomorrow our mission includes the Canyons once again. Linda told me the beta wolf of this pack is most dynamic and possibly her new favorite. He is a striking wolf with the nickname of “Big Sexy!”
Day 4 in Yellowstone April 18th, 2011 NEW LIFE!
Bozeman Meetings with Defenders and Earthjustice
This day, as usual, started out very early, but our agenda was a bit different this day. We have meetings set up with Mike Leahy, Regional Director for Defenders of Wildlife in the Northern Rockies, and Doug Honnold, Attorney for Earthjustice specializing in wolf and bear issues.
We met Mike at a local coffee shop and spent a good two hours with him discussing the many issues going forward with wolves. I was very impressed with Mike and the knowledge and passion he has for wolves in this region. Marc and Mark asked some very direct questions, as did I , and I think I speak for the three of us when I say he, and Defenders of Wildlife are very important allies in our continued fight . I came away from that meeting very assured where Defenders stands on these issues and urge everyone to strongly support them as they are strong allies on our corner. Mike will be working with us on some ideas on information we exchanged and I will share that with all of you in the very near future once I return.
You will find that Marc and Mark and I are very close in what we believe in and how to move forward and that too is so very positive. This indeed has been a very good trip.
We then met with Doug Honnold, whose office is also in Bozeman. Doug is a very pleasant and intelligent man and his knowledge of wolf and bear issues is reassuring. We had a very good meeting with him as we exchanged ideas and information on the issues at hand. Doug stated that the most important thing to do right now is to organize a campaign, or Take Action, if you will, and write and/or call our representatives and express our anger and disappointment over the recent delisting of wolves by Congress in this very unprecedented manner by Congress. Doug stated that there is much outrage over this move and we totally agreed. We need to also let them know that this needs to be made right, and we will make our voices heard loud and clear until it is.
I suggested Earthjustice take similar action with a Take Action campaign and Doug totally agreed. He was going to immediately contact the person in charge of that area for Earthjustice to get it in motion.
It was reassuring as we were departing that Doug stated that he enjoyed the meeting and was walking away with positive energy and was revitalized after talking to us. So were we Doug.
Back to Yellowstone
We were excited with these meetings going forward , and the direction we now have for what is the best avenue for wolves. There is so much more to share and we will as soon as we are back and organized, and that will be in just a couple days.
We were also excited to have time to go into Yellowstone for the late afternoon and started our drive back to Gardiner. It was a reprieve for me to have Marc drive to and from Bozeman, and I was in control of the radio.
I will only say that we are a noisy threesome, and singing, yes I think they can almost call it that, to Psycho Killers on the way back. Not sure how much the bison along roadside cared for it, but Mark can certainly hit some notes!!!
Yellowstone: New Life
It didnt take us much time at all to get ready and go into the Park. It was like a ghost town as we had the park almost entirely to ourelves. I found out later that the usual wolf watchers bailed during the snow, having very little if any wolf activity to report. We certainly didnt mind and while we didnt have another dramatic wolf encounter this afternoon we did observe a lot of wildlife. What stood out for us this day was what we saw near the High Bridge just east of Mammoth Hot Springs.
Life in Yellowstone changes with new life, and the circle of life not only continues, but battles occur every single day as bison and pronghorn and elk have daily struggles to protect their young from predators like wolves, bears, and lions. A time for new life, and a time for survival. This is Wild Yellowstone, the way Mother Nature intended, and we are blessed to have the opportunity to watch at a distance without interfering.
Tomorrow will be our last day. But only until the next journey.
Yellowstone: Day 5 A WINTRY GOODBYE
We woke up to blowing snow on this winter like day in April. Snowing here meant really snowing inside the Park. Being out last day the weather was not going to deter us from one last day with wolves, and Yellowstone.
Marc and Mark loaded their gear and I let them know the conditions might be pretty bad but we would give it our best shot, despite what might some pretty poor visibility. I decided to travel as far as we could make it, and discovered at this early hour we wre one of only a few cars which made it easier. The plows were out after awhile and they do a good job on the the Grand Loop.
Aside from the snow covered bison, the first sign of what I thought was an encouraging sign was a lone coyote near the beginning of Lamar Valley. He was not a fan of our camera and tht is actually a very good sign. When some animals become too friendly, or habituated, they are sometimes relocated or worse.
I was happy to have 4WD and using it today. I decided to continue as far east as possible, ad at least through the Confluence ( a beautiful area where the Soda Butte Creek empties into the Lamar River). This is Lamar Canyon wolf territory and I really love this pack. 06, the mighty alpha female(granddaughter of the famous Druids 21M and 42F) rules this pack and I am certain she is in the den with newborns, but I would like to say goodbye to the Pack but watching them do what they do. Boy were we in for a real treat!
As we drove through the Confluence toward the Hitching Post turnout we saw an elk carcass partially submerged across from where we always see a group of Big Horn Sheep up on the ridge across the road on our left. There were ravens and eagles on the ground.I radioed Nathan Varley, who was also in the park on a small guided trip with a father and daughter from Seattle that had never observed wolves in the wild, until today.
I let Nathan know what we had and he was headed out way. Rick McIntyrre was at Hitching Post and we met him there. He told me that the predation was from last night and he had the signal for the pack indicating they were nearby.
It was really snowing hard and blowing into our face but we set up scopes and Marc set up his camera with hope of seeing something through this weather. Mark and I were scanning the hillside with binoculars and Mark shouted, “There’s a wolf, no two…no three!!!” Sure enough I saw three wolves moving down the hill and identified them as thre of the pups born to 06 and 755M this time last year, making them yearlings. They were all big and healthy!
They were on the move in the direction of the carcass and ran stright into the groups of Sheep, maybe eight strong. What we witnessed the was an amazing standoff with Big Horns holding thier ground in a tight knit formation, and three wolves above them . What an incredible scene pulled out of Nature that we were able to watch. Marc did more than watch as he was able, through this snow, to capture the entire ordeal, with some amazing footage.
After a very short time, the three pups thought better as they had a free breakfast waiting for them across the road and veered off the the right with intentions of making it to the carcass, which they eventually did.
With the carcass being so very close tot he road Rick notified the rangers to request them to move it well off the road to protect the wolves from traffic, and humans. I heard the ranger on the two way state that it would be too difficult bing in the water as it was, so they would deploy a ranger to the scene if need be.
Witt the wolves out of sight we decided to start our trek back through the Park to see what other packs might be visible, thoroughly content with the exciting visit by the Lamar Canyon Pack. It has been an incredible five days!
A HIKE BACK INTO TIME, AND AN ENCOUNTER WITH A FEARLESS SQUIRREL
I drove to Specimen Ridge where the Agates are , and we decided to hike out along the river. The weather had subsided here and the sun was out, making for a really good morning. It seemed we had been in the park for quite awhile and it was still only 8:30am. On this hike we saw an owl nest, several small dens for various animals and one especially caught our attention.
We were looking at very small tracks near one den and out popped a brave little ground squirrel. he was fearless and came out on top of the rock above his den, maybe curious, or maybe just letting us know, “Hey, this is my home!” He was an awesome sight for sure.
We left and as we drove out we could see a group of people along the rod up on a small hill with scopes. Nathan was there and this was a sign of wolf watching.
We joined them, and Nathan pointed out where there was an elk predation well to the north and not visible as it was below the tree we could see, but blocked by a ridge and the wolves were down below. Nathan stated there were four Agates on the carcass, and another three across the road wanting to cross but probably too nervous.
We didn’t see more than a few glimpses of this pack today, but maybe something even better. We were treated to the sweet music of their howls. It was a beautiful way to end out journey together in Yellowstone. The wolves were saying goodbye, or maybe they were thanking us for caring about them and asking us to visit them again. I would like to think the latter, as with everything wolves in the wild face today, it is a reminder of their wildness, and their desire to live without interference. The way it should be.
If one can ever be ready, we were ready now to close this journey in Yellowstone, and return to continue our fight with so may other compassionate and tireless wolf advocates to protect this incredibly wonderful apex predator, and their brothers and sister in the wild. The days, weeks, and moths ahead will be difficult but we will bring this new inspired energy to the front in our never ending battle for WOLVES.
Understand, Love, Protect
*Photo on story home post from Yellowstone Reports*