04 November 2016


This trip to Yellowstone had held two objectives for me; to see a swathe of North American mammals, many of which I had not yet seen, and to try and find a Great Grey Owl. On both fronts the trip had been an unquestionable success. I had thought there was a good chance we could miss the owl – the Internet is flooded with people whod experienced this as a foreboding warning, and so I was well aware that was not a given. However, we had accomplished arguably our most challenging task, and I had seen almost all of the mammals in the park that I had not yet seen before (i.e. Black and Grizzly Bears, and Bison). However, there was one glaring omission on our mammal list, and one that Yellowstone is especially famed for: Wolf. In spite of travel to various continents, I was still wolfless, (I have never managed to catch up with the Tibetan one on my travels to the Far East). Seeing Wolves in Yellowstone is said to be not that difficult with the aid of a good scope (check, I had my trusty Swarovski along for this reason), and being observant of human behavior. For in the park there is a pack of people, lets call them Wolfers or the Wolf Pack, who have dedicated their time to tracking the wolves, and know the individual groups and animals. By observing the wolfers, you have a good chance of finding the wolves themselves. The known park hotspots for the wolves are the Lamar Valley and the Hayden Valley. The day before we had arrived at the Lamar a little tardy – we fancied a hot breakfast after all – only to find out a wolf pack had crossed the road shortly before our arrival! Thus, on this day we skipped breakfast and were in the Lamar Valley early. However, we were not alone, the Wolfers and their followers were out in force too, and this could only be good news. If the Wolfers are absent, the chances are, so are the Wolves, as this subgroup of animal watchers are connected by high tech radio, and are rarely far from their mammalian muse. Like us, they came armed with top end scopes for the job, and they were clearly trained on something as we arrived. Soon enough, we were able to watch a pack of 8 Wolves lolling about on the hillside. They were a quarter of a mile away, but fantastic to see howling with the scope trained on them. The group consisted of 5 black animals and 3 grey ones. I would dearly loved to have photographed them, but all the same, I had my wolf.

Having put another mammal to bed, the day was more relaxed from then on. We tried to track down a Moose, but in spite of checking known hotspots, which even included the yard of a small town church, this beast proved elusive, in spite of its considerable size. In the afternoon, as our time in Yellowstone was slowly drawing to a close, we finally came upon a Pronghorn, which did not display its usual speedy prowess, and calmly foraged by the road, making for a great chance to photograph a lone male. I lingered a little longer than was probably healthy with this animal, and was made to pay, when we re-met with Jim Chagares, who had just seen a Black Bear moments before. 
Our check of this area, did yield the same ram Bighorn Sheep from a few days before (photos were taken then), but no Black Bear, which appeared to be undergoing a particularly elusive spell during our time in Yellowstone. When leaving a place that has left indelible memories and brought great times, (like this Coyote from a few days before there), you always wish for a finale, a curtain call, something to leave you heading home with a feeling of ultimate fulfillment. And so it was with Yellowstone; as we neared leaving the park, there on the road verge was a magnificent male Elk, with the widest load available. Its rack must have measured six feet across, which made it in the upper realms for the species. This was the end we craved, and we left soon after, knowing full well we had left somewhere very special behind us. 

As we left Gardiner, Montana, the next day for Bozeman airport, we stopped in on the local Grizzly Bear cubs, which were not feeding as close to the road as they had been a few days before, when this photo was taken...