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Monday, June 13, 2011

Yellowstone & Grand Tetons: Who Let the Dogs Out

To see the wolves I learned one important thing... Go to Lamar Valley. It is a beautiful rolling valley in the northwest corner of the park.

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LAMAR VALLEY

To see the wolves I left early, the sky was still ink black when I left my cabin at 3:45 am and as I drove into the valley the sky let go of the night and periwinkle blue crept overhead. The sun was just beginning to peer over the mountains; this is the time to see wolves.

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DAWN IS SO PRETTY - LOOK MOM I'M UP BEFORE DAWN!!!!

Although most of my sightings of wolves resulted in terrible photos, either it was too early and no light or the wolves were too far away in order to get a good photo, I did have two incidents where the wolves came pretty close. One was an evening shoot with a ton of photographers. I was bundled to the hilt in warm clothing; the temperature had reached 32 degrees. Just when I was getting ready to pack up, the light was sinking too low for a good shot and I was cold and hungry, a lone wolf trotted over a bluff just behind us. I was able to snap only 15 photos. He literally sniffed and then took off at a fast lope. I was ecstatic for sure!

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There is a ton of controversy surrounding the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone national park. In 1995 31 Canadian Wolves were released to repopulate the park. The crux of the problem is that the hunters provide an important role in the delicate balance of life.

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In the early 20th century wolves were considered a menace and hunted aggressively until they were completely removed from the park. As a result the elk and bison population got out of control, in turn overeating of the plants in the park and killing most of the plants that the beaver thrived on. The beaver population plummeted as a result.

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The addition of wolves over the past years has gotten the populations of the elk and bison down which in turn allows more plants to grow and the beaver is making a comeback; however now people are wondering if the elk and bison populations are too low. Particularly the elk population whose calves fall easy prey. In total I saw 12 calves killed or who had just been killed. I think everyone would agree it is a delicate balance, one that is always shifting and the question is how much should man control that balance.

My second wolf sighting happened when I ran into biologist Rick McIntyre with the Yellowstone Wolf Project. There was a large group camped out on the side of the road and I had heard stories to always stop with a crowd that had a bright yellow Exterra. Rick McIntyre was sitting attentively as a group of people surrounded him. Rick has been observing the wolves every day since their reintroduction, he knows all there is to know. About 20% of the wolves in Yellowstone are collared. Rick pulled out his antenna and pointed it toward the valley. Based on the beeps and the frequency the radio is on they can tell each collared wolf apart. And he had a few wolves he was anticipating soon. I setup my gear along 20 or so others and waited content to listen to the groups conversation with Rick. Within a half hour he had spotted several wolves coming over a bluff WAY FAR OUT so I didn’t get good photos but it was fun to be close and learning from someone who was so knowledgeable about wolves. An hour later we were still watching the three wolves in the distance when suddenly the crowd stirred. A lone wolf, Rick confirmed it was one of the alpha males, trotted right in front of the group. It only lasted two minutes but it really made my day; excellent shots of a Yellowstone wolf.

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I don’t know why I was surprised but he spent quite a bit of time making sure everyone got to see the wolves, often lending out his scope for the ones who didn’t have their own. He was humble, helpful and so down to earth.

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RICK MCINTYRE AT THE FAR RIGHT WITH A GREEN HAT

Although the wolves are terrific I also got to spend quite some time with the wolves close cousins, the coyote. I was surprised at how large the Yellowstone’s coyotes were, I have seen the coyote around Los Angeles numerous times and I almost thought that my first Yellowstone sighting of a coyote was a wolf because it was MUCH larger than our lala coyotes. When I got home I found out that Yellowstone’s coyotes are among the largest coyotes in the US.

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COYOTE

I saw quite a few of the coyotes in the park, mostly off by itself and not in a pack. Many of the coyotes I saw were not wary of humans. Some were even trotting on the road and coming straight toward the people watching them.

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COYOTE ON THE ROAD

One day I was fantastically lucky. I had stopped near some cabins in the Grand Tetons admiring the bluebirds with another person who had stopped right behind me and then I saw a movement out of the corner of my eye. My camera was already set up so I swung it toward the movement I had seen at the base of the old cabin.

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Two little adorably cute coyote cub heads poked out from under the cabins beams, the mother had obviously made this into a den. I almost SQUEALED in delight.

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TWO LITTLE COYOTE PUPS

The cubs were about 8 weeks old and super inquisitive. They were so dang cute and literally made the crowd laugh. Yes did I mention if two people stop more will and then a whole crowd will surely form?

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HORSEY BACK RIDE ANYONE

The two cubs turned into four after a while and I literally took WAY TO MANY PHOTOS of these guys. I couldn’t help it; my trigger finger had a life of its own. They were just too adorable, who could resist these babies. I could have stood there for the rest of the daylight hours, but alas after their play time of about an hour they crawled back to the den for a nap.

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IS ANYONE TIRED YET BECAUSE NAP TIME DOES SOUND GOOD

The red fox I heard would be the hardest animal to spot. They are secretive, they don’t like people and they often are silent and will hide well before you see them. I however was determined and thankfully a little lucky. I found two separate foxes. One was on a hike with several people. We had stopped for a break, everyone was quiet resting and the fox trotted about a football feild away through some high grass. If we had been hiking I would have missed getting a photo, he was only there a moment. But because we were sitting down I had my tripod set up and the camera is always ready. I got three shots, two were blurry and this one was gloriously clear thank goodness.

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The second fox I saw was on my way out of the park. He was trotting on the road and I just stopped the car, put it in park, grabbed the camera and started shooting. He seemed to not see me at first, he was intently gazing out into a field.

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I hoped that no one would come behind me and scare him but then another car came up from the other way and startled him out of his daydream. He started trotting RIGHT TOWARD ME. I couldn’t believe my luck.

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LOVE THAT GRIN WHILE HE WAS RUNNING

But then wait he sees me down the road. Confused he darted across the road.

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And then past my car on the passenger side.

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Before he finally loped off back into the woods.

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All in all I got three minutes with him, but those three minutes were INCREDIBLE!! Yea for another terrific day in Yellowstone, what a great goodbye gift.

2 comments:

paul peggy zeus said...

I'm so glad you got the photos you were looking for, the wolves, the fox, elk, buffalo, moose and all the babies too. EXCELLENT TRIP.

lilmansworld said...

aww the fox gave you a quickie! wolves seriously are scary looking!

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