Seriously, could this trip be ANY better?!?!?!
We took a break from skiing today (thank the good lord above) and headed to Yellowstone. Originally we were going to hit up Yellowstone yesterday, but we got a fair dosage of powder and decided to ski instead. So off we went to Yellowstone today.
Let me say now, I'm kickin' myself for not having my zoom lens. I have NEVER really used it to any justice and due to that didn't even contemplate bringing it on the trip. Mistake - or maybe karma because I"m sure if I'd had it we wouldn't have had the day we did.
We entered through the north entrance. Our ultimate destination was Lamar Valley. This trek would take us through the territories of the Blacktail, Agate, and Lamar Canyon packs. Our hopes were minimal if existent at ALL to see wolves. Lo and behold, the first place we come along we see ravens and a bald eagle on what we hoped was a kill. We stop, get out to investigate with a TON of folks with spotting scopes etc. This should have been our clue that something big was going down. One of our group wanders over to one of the spotting scope groups, chats briefly, looks through the scope, and beckons me over. He knew that my biggest goal for this Yellowstone trip was to see a wolf.
|Kill at center with bald eagle and ravens.|
I look through the scope.
I see not one, but FIVE wolves lounging in the grass with full bellies - seemingly not a care in the world. Two black and three greys/browns. I nearly cried. Seriously - tears came to my eyes because I could not believe this was happening. I wanted to see ONE wolf. Maybe from a distance of 2 - 3 miles, and here were FIVE less than a mile off.
These were the Blacktail pack. We ended up seeing eight of them. And the kill? A drowned bison that two grizzlies had drug out of the lake a few days prior. Ridiculous!
Growing tired - and cold - of standing and watching these wolves (only after witnessing multiple socializations among pack members including the stereotypical submissive gesture from betas & below to the alphas [the female was a beautifully marked brown/grey]) we headed down the road to the Agate territory with promising news of a kill in both their territory and the Lamar's.
|Coyote along road on the way to the Agate pack territory|
We enter the Agate's to see a single truck with a spotting scope out (we learned quick) on a pull-out. We stop. We inquire. Its NPS watching the Agate pack at a recent kill. SERIOUSLY?! We bum off of their spotting scopes and our own. We watch one of them chase a coyote, two of them eating at the kill (a cow bison from a day or two ago - they hadn't had a kill for 2 weeks before this), and we watch the alphas lounging with other members on the hill. The alpha female was a beautiful white, the male, black. Beautiful, healthy individuals. (Mange and distemper are really hurting the population here in the park.)
We chat with the rangers for awhile learning the history of this pack and others. The black that was chasing the coyote and the two that were eating return to the alphas. They rally (this is the proper term per the park ranger, for when a pack gets together to celebrate something). They all stand for a few minutes, greeting and socializing with one another and break into excited yips, barks, and howls. Too. Freaking. Phenomenal.
At this point I'm happier than a pig in shit.
We move on - yet again.
We arrive in the Lamar Canyon pack territory where we were told the recent kill was. We were the only car. Within a minute we spot a black wolf < 100 yards away. We spot two more greys, as well. One of the greys takes off upon the arrival of more people who let their appearance be distinguished from their car silhouettes (which the wolves are habituated to). Chatting with a photographer and others we decide to head down the road to see if we can intersect or meet back up with the grey who'd taken off.
Less than a mile down the road it crosses in front of us. We score amazing shots. Uncertain whether this was the original splitter from the pack or a different wolf as this one seemed to have mange and was rather skinny. We watch it for several minutes nonetheless.
Losing site of this one, we head back the way we came only to see ANOTHER grey crossing the road from the opposite side. A wolf project gentlemen is on scene by this point and instructs us to please park and stay put until the wolf moves on. We oblige.
The big female (<100 yards) crossed the road ahead of us (only after defecating in the middle of it). She then borders us closely for awhile and we score several shots. After a time the biologist allows us to proceed down the road (opposite direction) provided we do not stop. We drive at an absurd 1 mph. We score more photos of this female, watch her relieve herself a second time, and finally decide to proceed onward.
|Doing some buisness during her road crossing. Yes, not super magestic, but SO COOL.|
|Same female post-road crossing.|
|Business again further down the roadside.|
This brings us to a sum total of 19 wolves from 3 packs (Blacktail, Agate, Lamar Canyon (formerly the Druids)). UNHEARD OF! Absolutely ridiculous and beyond phenomenal. My day has been made. My trip has been made. And my patience for viewing wildlife may be forever ruined because of this brilliant experience - haha. Oh, and safe to say this 30 before 30 challenge has been accomplished!!!
Other animals we saw: bald and golden eagles, pronghorn antelope, bison, elk, big horn sheep, coyotes, sandhill cranes, numerous waterfowl, bluebirds.
**All photos by Liz Stout, please DO NOT COPY WITHOUT PERMISSION, seriously, I'm trying to share with y'all in the heat o the excitement, don't be a dick and take my photos because I haven't had time to watermark them yet.**