Day 4: Sunday, Sept. 30th: 6:30 AM. This was the morning we had waited for; the one we had spent so much time and effort trying to experience. We arrived in the dark to Round Prairie, a few miles upstream of the Lamar Valley and home to the confluence of Pebble and Soda Butte Creeks. Immediately, we knew something was going on. Rick, already there, hurried over to our truck and told us that the entire Lamar Valley Pack was just 150 yards away, barely visible with binoculars, howling loudly in the dark. I leapt out of the car and clumsily readied my camera equipment. After lots of activity in minimal light, I was able to capture some noisy, low quality photos of several individuals wrestling and marking territory around their perimeter. 6:55 am: After a tremendous exchange of howling between the adults and the pups, a lone adult wolf leaves the others to bed down the pups stationed to the north. "Middle Gray", a female of 2.5 years, is a member of the Lamar Vally Pack. She is one of seven adults and daughter of the alpha female. We learned that this wolf often does the leg work for her mother, the Alpha Female, who has lost the use of her right hind leg. We watched her calmly calculate how she could avoid the growing crowd while still getting across the highway to the pups. She cautiously ran within 50 yards of us, crossed the creek and sprinted across the highway into the trees. The light was still low, but I managed to get a few photographs of her. As the other 6 adults took off on their hunting trip, Middle Gray returned about 40 minutes later, using the same route as when she crossed the first time and ran to join the others on their hunt. We could hardly contain our excitement. I will let the photos speak for themselves.
Day 3: Saturday September 29th. 5:30 PM. On this fine evening, so little happened that it is hardly worthy of being included in this blog...we embarked upon the same routine of driving into the Lamar and investigating the possible location of any wolf that may be in the area. This evening, there were none. Only Bison. We decided to head home early, satisfied with the usual beautiful sunset vistas and the Ravens that basked in the warm light...
Day 3: Saturday, Sept. 29th 7:30 AM. Though we got off to a relatively late start on this particularly cold morning (23 Degrees), we immediately located Rick's yellow Nissan X-terra and an exponentially increasing number of wolfwatchers near the Lamar Valley Trailhead. Using radio telemetry, Rick told us that he was receiving strong signal from the Lamar Pack to the north of the highway, and could only guess if anybody would get to see them or not. With this information we climbed to the top of the hill overlooking the highway and set up my tripod in a spot where I could see several openings near the tree about 500 yards away in the opposite direction. We dared not venture closer, as the wolves could truly be anywhere and a surprise encounter in not something one should risk. We sat and watched the openings in the timber and scanned the rolling hills leading up to them; searching the sagebrush for any sign of wolf activity. Then it happened: not five minutes after we posted up did I see a figure, barely taller than the grass, trotting straight toward me through the opening in the trees I had trained my camera on. I leapt up and began frantically making adjustments to my camera, which was still off. By the time I had focused on the spot where I spotted the small, gray colored wolf, she had turned and gone. Thirty seconds later, a second wolf came into view; a small black individual, about the size of a coyote, trotted hurriedly across the field and into the trees to join the other pup(s) near their den. The light was low, and the wolf pup was far away, but I managed to at least get photographic evidence of his/her existence. Three low quality photographs are all I have to show for this particular sighting. Despite this, we were ecstatic to be the only humans to have see those pups that day, and were even more excited to be able to share the location, time, appearance, and behavior of those two wolves with the Wolf Project's lead biological technician and his nifty voice recorder. Few things are more gratifying than contributing to science, except maybe a breakfast of scrambled eggs and elk sausage.
Day 2: Friday, Sept 28th. 5:30 PM. This evening was especially uneventful, aside from a couple far off howls, probably emanating from either the Lamar Valley Pack or perhaps the Agate Pack. These howls were punctuated intermittently by the screams of bull elk who tried in vain to keep track of their harems. Our successful viewing of the 7 adults of the Lamar pack earlier in the day had satiated us enough to be content with an especially serene evening in the upper Lamar Valley, which as usual, was teeming with bison and pronghorn. As the sun began to set, we listened for a while to Rick McIntyre speak more on his observations and various theories on predator behavior. This gave us a chance to mingle with a number of wolf/wildlife enthusiasts from around the world, including a young woman currently living in Kenya, where she studies the relationships between native peoples and their conflict with predators such as lions and cheetahs. We drove home with the view of a nearly full moon filling our windshield.
Day 2: Friday, Sept 28th. 6:45 AM
On this particular morning, we were optimistic that we would get to see some wolves. The previous evening, we had been told that they were bedded down on the other side of the valley across the river, and planned accordingly. We drove to spot we where we were told they had been, and found a place among the other early risers hoping to catch a glimpse of the Lamar Valley Pack, or the Agate Pack, which were also in the area. Once there, I rigged up the tripod and set my camera out. The temperature was 28 F at 7:00 AM, so I sat in the car drinking coffee for a good portion of the next hour and waited for it to get light out. Nearly two hours had passed and no wolves had been spotted by anybody in the entire Lamar Valley area; at least none that we were aware of. We took a drive around the valley and to the south, looking for others who might have spotted something. This morning, a low, thick fog hugged the valley floor as the sun rose over Saddle Mountain to the northeast, burning it slowly away. Finally, after an hour or so, we had heard there was some activity at the north end of the valley. We made the 15 minute drive and came upon a horde of nearly 30 vehicles dangling off the shoulder of the highway. The Lamar Valley Pack had been spotted. Though I made several attempts to make a good photograph, the wolves were nearly 600 yards away, with no hope of getting closer. We watched them interact and mill around on and off for about 2 hours, and as the sun reached its peak in the sky, they disappeared into the pines and we drove home for lunch.
Day 1: Thursday Sept. 27. 5:30 PM
After our encouraging outing earlier in the day, mom, dad, and myself made the 30 minute drive to the Lamar Valley in Yellowstone National Park's Northern Range. There, we met up with Rick McIntyre, The Yellowstone Wolf Project's most experienced biological technician who has logged over 5,000 consecutive days observing wolves in the wild. Using radio telemetry to track various collared wolves in the park, Rick tells us and a number of other wolfwatchers that the Lamar Valley Pack is likely bedded down approximately 1/2 mile away across the valley on the opposite side of the Lamar River. We know that they could appear anytime, or never, as was often the case. As we wait with binoculars and spotting scopes trained on the timberline, Rick tells us the these particular wolves had been spotted in this location earlier in the day and the evening before. That night however, we had to settle for the spectacular views that unfolded as the sun dipped below the peaks. Somewhere to the southeast, a lone wolf howls in the wind.
Day 1: Thursday, Sept. 27. 1:30 PM
Having arrived at my childhood home in Silver Gate, MT the night before, I found it necessary to sleep in for my first full day of re-discovering my old stomping grounds. The prime directive for my journey to the greater yellowstone area was to capture photographs of wolves, bears, and any other wildlife that I could come across, which typically present themselves in the early morning hours and sometimes in the evening. Of course, in this area, amazing vistas are also part of the package. Our (my mother and I) first outing took place on thursday afternoon a few miles northeast of Cooke City, MT halfway between Daisy and Lulu passes. Both passes are situated above the headwaters of the Stillwater River and nestled in between huge swaths of incredible wilderness to the north and Yellowstone to the southwest. Interestingly, our first animal sighting, besides some mule deer in our back yard, was a large Gray Wolf. It appeared only for a moment as we drove over a small rise, disappearing the moment we slammed on the brakes into the timber above the meadows of Abundance Basin. From here, I exited the car and hiked down 200 yards from the rough dirt road to try and get a better glimpse. This venture did not prove fruitful with regards to the wolf, but did give me an opportunity to test out my gear on another unsuspecting member of the high country community...