Sunday, December 23, 2012

First Wolf - Yellowstone Reflections

A gray wolf in Yellowstone National Park showing the wolf's broad face and white hairs around the mouth.
We arrived in Yellowstone National Park on the first of September in a thunderstorm and put our tents up in blowing rain. The first day was a good day for collecting information at the Visitor Centers and reacquainting ourselves with the lay of the land. By 7 pm, the Lion Hunter and I were leisurely driving the Grand Loop Road east of Madison discussing careers in biology when we saw signs of wildlife - a traffic jam.

The Lion Hunter said, "Wolf. Get out!" and without thinking, I obeyed. I grabbed my binoculars and camera and walked along the top of the river bank. I didn't see anything but studied where the crowd of people were looking between the pine branches. Then I saw movement on the other side of the river and suddenly I was looking at my first wolf ever. Its fur was streaked with white but somehow it looked young to me.

The whitish wolf was eating something. My hands were trembling with excitement to see a wolf on my first day in Yellowstone, so I leaned against a tree at the top of the bank to take photos and watch the lone wolf eat its dinner.

Lone wolf eating carcass above the Gibbon River.
It would be easy to mix up wolf and coyote except I've spent a lot of time watching coyotes at the Dipper Ranch. The Lion Hunter had brought Mech's book, and I had read that wolves have relatively shorter ears, shorter legs, a muzzle that is not as pointed, and huge feet. Definitely bigger than a coyote and I kept thinking "That's not a coyote's trim face." With winglike tufts of hair to each side its muzzle, this canine standing above the Gibbon River clearly showed the broader face of a wolf. It didn't seem quite as big as I expected but it could have been the evening light under a clouded sky and the wolf and all the trees were plastered down with the day's rain. It was also possible that given that time of year, this was a sole young wolf dispersing from its pack.

This wolf has an overall whitish cast.  Gray wolves are usually light tan or cream mixed with brown, black and white, although some wolves can be almost entirely white or black (Feldhamer).
After tearing away at the carcass (from the brief glimpses of a large ribcage, we think it was probably an elk or deer), the whitish wolf slipped away into the forest along the Gibbon River. Then we went to a ranger presentation at the Grant Village Visitor Center called "Wolves are Human Too" while a bat flew around the amphitheater.

This is part of a series of posts on wildlife observed in Yellowstone National Park in September 2012. To see more posts, select "Yellowstone" in the Sightings box in the right column.
Gray wolf, Canis lupus

L. David Mech, The Wolf: the Ecology and Behavior of an Endangered Species, University of Minnesota Press, 1981.

George A. Feldhamer, Bruce C. Thompson, Joseph A. Chapman, editors. Wild Mammals of North America: Biology, Management, and Conservation. 2nd edition. John Hopkins University Press. 2003.

1 comment:

  1. I already love this series of posts. Thank you so much for sharing your Yellowstone of my favorite places on earth.


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