Wolf Serendipitous


Lamar Valley, May 17, 2021

Early this morning, the sun not yet up over the rim of Lamar Valley, two bison came galloping toward me right down the middle of the road. I slowed, they passed me, and then darted over the edge into the valley.

That’s when I saw the wolf trotting behind them, generally harassing the bison, albeit halfheartedly. I stopped. There were no cars that I could see anywhere ahead or behind me, but also, with steep drop-offs, no place to pull over.

The wolf – beautiful black, uncollared – followed on the heels of the bison and continued parallel to the road about 100 yards off to the side and in the opposite direction I was facing. I executed a precarious U-turn and rushed back ahead of her projected path to find a safe pullout.

(Strictly enforced rules state all four wheels of your car have to be off the road when you park.)

The comedy here is that it was still so early that I had not yet bothered to take my cameras out of their carrying cases. (An unforgiving amateur mistake!) I was driving with one hand – no other cars on the road, remember – while fiddling with a 500mm Nikon for long shots and a smaller Fuji for video. (I am consciously trying to transition from still photography to video but still shoot both when possible.) Even when I got to the pullout, I had both cameras simultaneously around my neck and was frantically adjusting exposure settings from two different menu systems, and respective muscle memories in my fingers were tripping over each other. Then the wolf materialized again and I started shooting, ready or not. Post-production of these images was going to be a nightmare, but I couldn’t wait any longer.

The bison made a move toward the wolf and she veered off with more important things on her mind. Her gait was quick and her head was close to the ground. She caught a small vole and ate it in one gulp.

She meandered purposefully, having what appeared to be a predetermined destination in mind, slowing occasionally to sniff. Another photographer materialized beside me and I heard him say a second wolf was visible a bit farther out. But I was too busy shooting to look. (You know the old adage, “a wolf in hand is worth two in the bush.”)

At least twice “Black Beauty” (she had a white blaze on her sternum) passed my location so I jumped in my car and raced ahead to intercept her path again for more video.

Tzuri barked at her and at first that didn’t seem to faze the wolf. But Tzuri is also in estrus and when Black Beauty caught a whiff I think she envisioned female competition and made a beeline toward my car. I clicked away with my long lens until her image was too close to fit into the frame. I desperately wanted some up-close once-in-a-lifetime video and fumbled with my second camera, but couldn’t manage the transition in time.

Black Beauty veered off, crossed the road behind me, and darted up a steep slope.

Just another wondrous before-sunrise encounter in Yellowstone National park!

10 Replies to “Wolf Serendipitous”

  1. Wow! Fabulous, John! May be once in a lifetime experience. Lucky you.

    Joy

    On Wed, May 19, 2021 at 6:19 PM Giblets & Flapdoodle wrote:

    > oopsjohn posted: ” Early this morning, the sun not yet up over the rim of > Lamar Valley, two bison came galloping toward me right down the middle of > the road. I slowed, they passed me, and then darted over the edge into the > valley. That’s when I saw the wolf tr” >

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  2. What an exciting adventure with Black Beauty! So happy you had this experience.
    “A wolf in the hand….
    Lucky you!

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  3. A very enjoyable read of a very exciting encounter! That first shot of the bison galloping down the road with Black Beauty behind them is really amazing! It was great to see the video too. I’ve never seen a wild wolf and to see how she moved … so bouncy and gravity defying, all lean muscle – it just makes you understand instantly that this is a wild animal. So marvelous! I can sympathize with your struggle with the technical complexities in the crucial moments, but I think you did very well and got plenty of thrilling material!
    Claudia (Blanca’s mom)

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    1. A magnificent wild animal, yes. And encountering them can be very addictive. There is a whole cadre of ‘wolf watchers’ who go out every day year round (in extreme weather) to spot and record their observations of Yellowstone wolves. Thanks to them we know their habits, pack structure, den areas, likely places where they can most easily be spotted, etc. I’ve been lucky a few times over the years photographing wolves – even had one picture published – but this was my best encounter. Thanks!

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