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 ridge top a short distance away, lay 14 wolves. Through my binoculars I could see they were just laying around, some of the wolves where sleeping while others chewing chunk of built-up ice out from between their toes. A few of the pack members where actually romping and playing. It was obvious they were happy and content, but they were also much too far away to capture a quality image.
I just returned from nearly 3 weeks in Yellowstone National Park leading several wildlife photo tours. The first group of 10 photographers had arrived and I was busy taking them all around the area searching for wildlife. We were able to capture images of Bighorn Sheep, Elk, and Pronghorn in just the first couple of days. Now 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 photographic. 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 kill site.
We were standing in knee deep snow with a cold wind to our backs. The air temperatures where in the low 20’s 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 jagged top, 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 where 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 witness to the inter-workings of an intact ecosystem and its apex predators.
The four 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. The wolves like to chase the ravens, but rarely do they catch one. Now that the wolves where out of site, my group was celebrating by looking at the images they just captured on the back of their cameras. Everyone had huge smiles and where now basking in the glow of 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. It’s black silhouette against the orange sunset was the icing on the cake. Wow, what an adventure. Until next time…
Stan Tekiela is an author / naturalist and wildlife photographer who travels the U.S. to study and capture images of wildlife. He can be followed on www.facebook.com and twitter.com. He can be contacted via his web page at www.naturesmart.com.