Me & My Gal

Spitfire was chowing down on a bison that had tumbled over and died of natural causes.


Big Gray, with a full belly, was not far away.

big gray

He is the new alpha male of this splintered pack.

[See the postscript below if you are interested in the evolving dynamics of the Lamar Canyon wolves in the wake of some recent tragic events.]

On a hunch I separated myself from the ‘feeding frenzy’ of the wolf paparazzi and drove down the road a ways to a spot I hoped Spitfire might wander by on her way back up to the den area.

Patience is a virtue, they say; sure enough, in due time she came trotting toward me.


She was on an angle to skirt my presence by a reasonable distance. But I sensed a change in her demeanor as soon as she hopped up onto the road.


Her eyes locked on my camera lens and would not let go.


The angle between us shrunk a few degrees and Spitfire lowered her head. I was still under the impression that she was just slinking past me on her way up over the ridge.


And then suddenly…


“Oh my God!” a lady’s voice behind me exclaimed. “What should we do?”

spitfire“Don’t run,” I said, “wolves don’t attack people.”

I kept my eye glued to the viewfinder of my camera and continued firing away at 7-8 shots a second as she got closer and closer.

The irony did occur to me that I could have just uttered words that would be chiseled on my tombstone.

Ten yards in front of me Spitfire stopped beside a bush and in a universal language communicated loudly & clearly.


In the wild, scent marking with a raised leg is reserved for alpha wolves. In the male that is called, appropriately enough, a “raised leg urination” (RLU). Sub-dominant males squat to urinate.

Similarly, only the alpha female usually raises her leg to urinate. In her case, like Spitfire’s above, it is called a “flexed leg urination” (FLU).

The importance of noting this posturing in wolves is that from a distance one can begin to discern pack structure. In this case, with the Lamar Canyons, there are two females who are still working out their dominance relationship, although it is generally thought that Spitfire’s sister, Middle Gray (who recently gave birth to pups), has the upper hand.

middle gray

At any rate, this is one feisty gal who has indeed captured my heart.  I think she was just happy to see me!


I hate to leave my wolf friends here in Yellowstone but I am on my way to Miami to pick up my own little “wolf pup.” An 8-week old black & red German Shepherd with internationally titled WORLD-CLASS champions on both sides of her family tree.

Think I should name her ‘Spitfire’?

The Lamar Canyon Pack: A Brief Retrospective

The Lamar Canyon Pack was decimated last year by hunters.

Two male brothers, alpha 755M & beta 754M, dominated the pack along with the world-famous “rock star” female, alpha 832F (aka F-06).

alpha female 832 returning to den

754M, the 2nd-in-charge male, ventured outside the Park and was legally shot in Wyoming. Shortly thereafter, 832F, not known to wander but who may have been looking for the ‘lost’ 754M, was similarly gunned down in the same general area outside the Park.

Subsequently, alpha male 755 left the pack so as not to mate with his daughters. He has apparently hooked up with an unknown female and currently they travel in and out of the Park.

The deceased 832F’s two daughters, Middle Gray and The Black Lamar Female (aka, Spitfire) now form the nucleus of the once-thriving Lamar Canyon Pack. A male from outside the pack, known only as Big Gray, has taken over the alpha role. Middle Gray is pregnant but not by Big Gray.

Just recently another brother (859M) to the two Lamar females has returned to join the pack and seems to be tolerated by Big Gray. A few ‘dope slaps’ by his sisters and some intimidating looks from Big Gray, and the pecking order was instantly worked out, with 859 at the bottom.

Actually, it is never as simple as it sounds. First, this group of four does not rise to the level of a “Pack” anymore, since technically a wolf pack requires some of the members to be offspring of a breeding pair, and no one has seen the litter yet. Right now they are simply referred to by wolf biologists as the “Lamar Canyons.” That designation may change in short order.

No one even knows for sure who the sire is. Although, they know that it is not Big Gray. The location of the den – the same one used over and over again – is known from plane overflights, and many wolf watchers, including myself, have seen the sisters lugging chunks of food back to the den area.

UPDATE: two black wolf pups have just been sighted! It is still not clear who their sire is but we now know proof positive that it is not Big Gray, as two grays cannot produce black pups. The mystery continues…

🙂 🙂 🙂

The Death of 822F

🙂 😦 🙂

Rival gangs & neighborhood disputes, murder & revenge, attempted genocide – no, this is not a portrait of the inner city, of kids gone astray, or man at his worst.

This is a story of life in the wild where the only goal is survival, and the prevailing ethic is ‘might makes right’.

Wrong Time, Wrong Place

two bison sparring

Two days ago a bison carcass was spotted lying undisturbed on Amethyst Bench, just across the Lamar River, about a mile or so from a popular vantage point alongside a busy road in the Northeast sector of Yellowstone National Park. There were no eyewitnesses but the bison, according to general consensus by those in-the-know, had most likely been gored while challenging a more established male for breeding rights, and bled to death.

bison fighting

Yesterday some coyotes nipped at the massive hulk but were unable to break through the thick hide, and left.

This morning a motley collection of five wolves known as “777’s Group” sniffed out the tantalizing flesh and ripped into it for a feeding frenzy. For one of the five, three year-old Mollie’s female 822F, this would be her last meal.

[Two-year-old males 777M and his brother “Puff” are ‘dispersers’ from the neighboring Blacktail Pack in search of breeding partners. The other three in this group of five were eligible females from the Mollies’ Pack. Dangerous Romeo & Juliet type liaisons occur frequently in the wild. In fact, one week later 777M, the “Romeo” interloper from the Blacktail Pack, would be killed by the disapproving older brothers of these very same flirtatious Mollies’ females.]

The Mollies are mortal enemies of the Lamar Canyon pack, and the Lamars had both a territory to protect and a score to settle.

Not In My Backyard

The Lamar Pack, when they got wind of this incursion into their territory, was not amused, and eight of them led by their alpha female (832F) came running tails-up from more than a mile away. The two Blacktails and the three Mollies, caught unaware while stuffing their bellies, bolted and sprinted for their lives. In the ensuing chase Mollies’ collared female 822F was quickly singled out, the 8-1 odds against her suddenly not good.

mollie wolf

In desperation 822F plunged into the Lamar River, paddled across, emerged, raced several hundred yards to the road lined with spectators, sprinted across the asphalt and up a slight ridge. That’s where the eight Lamar’s tripped her up. 822F’s thick radio collar may have protected her somewhat, but not enough. She was mortally wounded in a matter of seconds.

wolf radio collarThe Lamar Pack raced back across the river toward what was now “their” carcass, while 822F, not quite dead yet, lay gasping for breath less than a hundred yards behind me on the slope of a ridge.

I watched as she tried several times to rise but could only manage to drag herself a few feet along the trail. After a few minutes she tumbled into the sage brush and dropped out of sight.

Grizzly & Cub Discover the Carcass

Across the river, meanwhile, the Lamar Eight were alternately feeding and high-fivin’, but their jubilation was interrupted by a Grizzly sow with a cub heading straight toward the carcass.

Another brief chase ensued, wolves vs. bears. The cub of course was the most vulnerable, but made it back to the safety of a tree just in time.

wolves chasing grizzly with cub

On full stomachs the Lamars stretched out a short ways from the carcass to rest and keep an eye on their bounty.

A Mollie Returns

mollie wolf

Incredibly, a lone Gray (uncollared) Mollie from the five who had just been chased off tried to sneak back up on the still-hefty carcass! But she was immediately spotted and with tails up the Lamars raced into action, once again the Mollie running for her life. S/he stumbled and tumbled down the steep Lamar River bank but quickly regained her footing. Two Lamars made contact, down went the Mollie into the sage, but it is not clear what happened next. Most think that she escaped.

The ‘Mort Signal’

Ranger Rick

When a collared wolf dies there is a protocol. It consists of waiting for the so-called ‘mort mode’ to kick in.  After no movement on the part of the wolf for four hours the radio signal suddenly shifts into 8/4 time and the ‘beep-beep-beep-beep’ doubles in intensity. Then the biologists with directional signals bombarding the antennae held high over their heads find and retrieve the body.

In the case of 822F, of course, she was only a few yards away, but the four-hour “mortality” wait before she was approached was still observed.

dead mollie's wolf 822– 3-yr-old Black Mollies’ Female 822F, Dying –

Once recovered, 822F was laid out in the back of a Ranger’s truck for a viewing. I, unfortunately, had left by then. Ranger Rick McIntyre, a well-known wolf-project expert and enthusiast, pictured above, is said to have given a moving eulogy.

Below is Ranger Bill Wengeler recounting the story of the death of 822F a few days later to a rapt (off camera) audience of Yellowstone tourists.  I was privileged to encounter Bill numerous times over the three months I was a regular in Lamar Canyon.  A biology teacher from Santa Monica, Bill is remarkably gifted in both sorting through traffic jams and in sparking the imagination of listeners with tales of the great outdoors.  I took the liberty of “enhancing” this image of Bill to so-called ‘heroic’ proportions.

🙂 🙂 🙂

ranger bill with wolf pelt

Who Rang The Dinner Bell?

But the day was not over yet for the Lamar wolves. While still on the scene I suddenly spotted a grizzly boar running full speed nose-up left to right across the valley, five to six hundred yards away, directly toward the bison carcass. The Lamars were quickly up and running to meet the challenge head-on. What an unimaginable thrill to watch a clash of National Geographic/Animal Planet proportions play out in front of your eyes! A hundred or so lucky onlookers were glued breathlessly to their scopes. One or two photographers with the big-boy 500-600mm lenses may have gotten some good images, but the action was too far away for me to even try.

The grizzly was not intimidated or deterred. The charging wolves parted like the Red Sea and the single-minded bear, pausing just long enough to rise up to full height and pirouette once in a menacing 360 degrees, continued non-stop to the carcass.

She ate undisturbed for a few minutes, then scampered off.

Several more bears made approaches over the next few hours, including the sow and her cub again. Each breathtaking encounter transformed me more and more into a lupophile.

Neighborhood Bullies

Yes, it had been a rough day for some of the Mollies. But the backstory is that the Mollies are the bad boyz in the ‘hood, and the fate of 822F was sweet revenge for the Lamar Canyon Pack.

molly wolf

The Mollie’s Pack, I am told, consists of some 16-19 wolves, typically among the biggest in Yellowstone, apparently because as a formidable group they are actually able to bring down a full grown bison. They are currently without an alpha male and hence there are no pups this year to tie them to a den location. Which may account for why they so often rove and encroach; they are fearless when it comes to wandering into neighboring territories, and have been chasing and killing rival wolves on sight – including the alpha female and a male of the Agate Pack, as well as a member of the Blacktail Pack. Sometimes they split into smaller groups, and it may be that such a large pack is in the process of reorganizing.

But all of them got together for a home-invasion on the Lamar Pack’s den just a few months earlier.

The Raid

Five days after the birth of the Lamar Canyon Pack’s pups 16 Mollies brazenly raided their den.

The Lamar pack is led by the famous 6-year-old gray alpha female, 832F. (Along with a 4-year-old black alpha male, 755M.) Formerly known as “The ’06 Female,” she is savvy and courageous with a reputation for quick and decisive action.

alpha female 832 returning to den– Lamar Canyon Alpha Female 832F –

832F immediately raced out of the den site to lure the 16 invading Mollies away from the pups. At her age she did not have the advantage of speed, but she knew the terrain, and she had a plan.

Some distance away 832F paused at the brink of a steep cliff. The Mollies with hackles raised closed in on her, sensing a kill. Suddenly 832F disappeared over the ledge and dropped out of sight. She took advantage of a treacherous but navigable route down the rocky slope and correctly calculated that the Mollies would be too intimidated to chance the unfamiliar terrain.

As the bewildered Mollies regrouped and turned back toward the den, 832F’s two-year-old daughter suddenly arrived on the scene. She bravely charged straight toward the 16 Mollies to get their attention, and then lured them further away on another chase.

lamar canyon wolf

Young and fit, in the prime of her life, the daughter easily outran the Mollies.

lamar canyon wolf

Thanks to a coordinated effort by 832F and her daughter, the 9 members of the Lamar Canyon Pack and their 4 pups, though heavily outnumbered by the invading Mollies, were safe and sound.

Alpha Female 832F, despite her age, or maybe because of it, is a consummate professional at what she does – which is to protect and guide the Lamar Canyon Pack from one generation to the next in a land wild and unforgiving.

Crafty and courageous, 832F has a dedicated cadre of enthusiasts who faithfully chronicle her every move, such as they can. Wolf-watching is addictive. I went to Yellowstone in June for a two-week visit and ended up staying three months. And while I was never part of the “inner circle” of lupophiles, I quickly found myself crawling out of bed day after day at 4am and driving an hour and a half in the dark to be on site at sunrise. All for the slim chance of spotting a wolf usually too far away for a decent photograph.

🙂 🙂 🙂

wolfers at sunrise

I’ll be back next summer, Yellowstone!

alpha female 832F crossing road– 832F returning to den with a bellyful of food to regurgitate to pups –


1. I was not privileged to personally witness each of the events chronicled above, having instead to rely on conversations with others to piece together the narratives. Factual errors are solely my responsibility; corrections welcome.

2. Should you be interested in learning more about wolves & wildlife in general, and Yellowstone wolves in particular, a good place to visit is:

3. By far the best Yellowstone wolf-reporter that I have encountered is Kathie Lynch. Her updates are informative, insightful, and – hey, I grade papers for a living, I notice these things – superbly written:

Yellowstone II: Vistas & Critters

For a nature-lover and wildlife enthusiast, each day in Yellowstone is another magic carpet ride.

The experience of my second week here has been just as wondrous as the first.  I can barely keep up with the processing of the thousands of images I take, but here are a handful.


paradise valleyParadise Valley

lake yellowstoneFire & Ice

mammoth hot springsHot Rocks

hot springsDesolation Lake


great horned owleyes wide shut

coyoteon the prowl

bird on sagebrushneighborhood watch

bull elk munching

the vegetarian

bighorn sheep

little bighorn



bison kneeling


Now I see the secret of making the best person: it is to grow in the open air and to eat and sleep with the earth.

 Walt Whitman

Baptized In The Yellowstone River

I first experienced Yellowstone National Park, Montana & Wyoming & the Grand Tetons, in 2008. It was love at first sight.

That 5-week summer road trip was to forever change my life. I was baptized in the Great Outdoors and knew then that my calling was to travel and take pictures.

Here are six short amateurish videos from that inaugural trip.  Total run time = @ 11 minutes.

Yellowstone Or Bust!

Le Grande Tetons

Bear Alert!

Buffalo Jam


Beartooth Mountain