Grey Wolves in Yellowstone National Park: The Ultimate Wildlife Encounter
Naturalist and wildlife photographer Stan Tekiela shares with us his encounter with a pack of Grey Wolves in Yellowstone National Park.
Late in the day, all of our searching and listening had finally paid off. Up on a low rolling, snow-covered ridge, just out of sight, a pack of wolves had made a kill earlier in the day. What the pack killed was unknown, but with all of the ravens flying around it was obvious what had transpired.
On another snowy ridgetop a short distance away were 14 wolves. Through my binoculars I could see they were just lying around, some of the wolves sleeping while others were chewing chunks of built-up ice out from between their toes. A few pack members where actually romping and playing. It was obvious they were happy and content, but they were also much too far away for me to capture a quality image.
I just returned from nearly 3 weeks in Yellowstone National Park, where I led several wildlife photo tours. After the first group of 10 photographers had arrived, I was busy taking them all around the area to search for wildlife. We were able to capture images of Bighorn Sheep, Elk, and Pronghorn in just the first couple of days. Next, we were lucky enough to locate this pack of wolves.
For anyone to come to Yellowstone in winter, the ultimate wildlife encounter is with wolves. This iconic apex predator is very secretive and hard to see, let alone photograph. My group was fortunate to see the pack up high on the ridge top, but we were hoping they would come down and return to the kill to feed again, so we walked a short distance to a location where we would be able to see the wolves coming down a ridge line, if they decided to return to the site.
We were standing in knee-deep snow with a cold wind to our backs. The air temperatures were in the low 20s, so it was relatively comfortable. The sun was near to sliding behind a distant mountain range. A wide flat valley bottom stretched out for many miles off to our right side. The valley was completely surrounded by a jagged top of snow-covered mountains. It was a picture-perfect late afternoon.
We stood around in the deep snow for an hour or more when suddenly a black wolf poked its head over the lower ridge right in front of us. Our cameras strained to focus on the head and short round ears of the black wolf who was looking down at us. A few minutes later the black wolf came closer to
the ridge and revealed himself. He sat up and stretched in the typical dog fashion and then stood there looking across the valley. What a magnificent animal.
The black wolf was joined by a second gray-colored wolf and then a third gray wolf. It seemed these three wolves were going to descend the ridge line, just as we had hoped. My group of photographers couldn’t believe we were getting so lucky. However, luck is just a small part of it. Knowing and understanding wildlife and their behavior is a big part of being a successful wildlife photographer.
We had positioned ourselves in just the right spot to capture some images of a short line of wolves walking down the ridge line. The sunshine and blue sky made the scene pop. While looking through the view finder of my camera I got a chill watching these magnificent animals. It is such an honor to be a witness to the inner workings of an intact ecosystem and its apex predators.
The four grey wolves walked down the ridge line and disappeared from sight. Within seconds a coyote and a red fox suddenly appeared over the ridge, running for their lives. Apparently, they didn’t see the wolves coming and when they did, they took off running through the snow away from the wolves. The much larger wolves don’t take kindly to other predators taking advantage of their hard work.
A flock of ravens sprang to flight as soon as the wolves arrived at the kill site. Wolves like to chase the ravens, but rarely do they catch one. Once the wolves were out of site, my group celebrated by looking at the images they had just captured on the backs of their cameras. Everyone had huge smiles as they basked in the glow of their accomplishment.
We waited another hour or so and the sun dropped behind the mountains. The sky turned red, and just before we were going to pack it up for the night a single wolf walked up on the ridge line. Its black silhouette against the orange sunset was the icing on the cake. Wow, what an adventure!
If you enjoyed Stan’s post, you may consider his amazing nature books: Majestic Eagles, Wild Birds, or Backyard Birds: Welcomed Guests at our Gardens and Feeders.
You can follow Stan on Facebook and Twitter, or contact him via his web page. Stan’s nationally syndicated NatureSmart Column appears in more than 25 cities spanning 5 states (Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, and Pennsylvania) and is circulated to more than 750,000 readers.
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