As we drove out of Yellowstone National Park Tuesday evening, we saw our first wolf, a loner that crossed a meadow and disappeared into the trees. Our appetites were whetted. Sightings of Canis lupus, the Gray Wolf. This was our hoped for goal, to see wolves in the park. But, wolves are elusive so Wednesday morning had us visiting Gibbons Falls and the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone for landscape photographs of waterfalls.
At our first stop, Moose heard word of a bison kill by wolves earlier that morning and confirmed it while we were at the Grand Canyon when a snowmobiler shared some iPhone photos he’d taken earlier that morning while the wolves fed on their kill. The incredible thing is that the kill was only yards off the road in a large open area near Nymph Lake and Roaring Mountain. The Eight-mile Wolf Pack claims that area as its territory.
The kill area was a bit of a drive from our morning destination so we ate our lunches in the vehicle and drove to the site. There, in the snow not even 100 feet off the road, lay the remains of a bison carcass swarming with ravens. A hundred yards or so away, approaching the edge of the tree line beyond the kill, nine members of the Eight-mile Wolf Pack lay sprawled, bellies full and napping in the afternoon sun.
Two Bald Eagles and a single Golden Eagle soared overhead, their crops also full of bison. A pool to the left of the carcass spewed sulfur scented mists that wafted intermittently over the carcass obscuring the view and threatening our camera equipment. We thought the wolves were sated and would return to the seclusion of the forest following their naps so we contented ourselves with photographs of the pack in repose with an occasional wolf head popping above a snow drift only to flop down again and disappear from view. A couple of them disappeared into the thicket of trees in the distance.
After about 40 minutes, the black wolf, the one that is believed to be the alpha male, arose from his nap and slowly approached the carcass. We and our cameras were ready. And, one by one, all the wolves began to approach the carcass, at first letting the alpha male feed without disruption. To our delight, several of the wolves played in the snow and one pair loped playfully near the sulfuric mists waiting their turns to feed. We were on the roadway and we were not disturbing the wolves and the wolves seemed to take little notice of us after their initial perusal of us and our cameras as they approached the carcass.
What we witnessed was a once-in-a-lifetime event. Although it happens throughout the park on a daily basis, few humans ever witness what we had the privilege to watch for almost 90 minutes. Even Moose, who has visited Yellowstone National Park for more than thirty years, even working on wolf conservation projects, had never seen anything like what we saw, let alone photograph such a phenomenal event.
There is more of the Eight-mile Wolf Pack to come to In Focus Daily.