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Thursday, December 27, 2012

Wolves at Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center

There is a haunting, wild, beauty about the face of a wolf. 

Leopold - High Country Pack

The more I learn of wolves’ complex social structure the more I am in awe of these magnificent predators, beautiful and fearsome at the same time, amazing hunters able to bring down elk, moose, or bison. To see them in the wild inspires awe. To hear them howl is to experience an indescribably wild sound.

A special treat on our last visit to the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center in West Yellowstone was watching the alpha pair of their High Country Pack, McKinley and Adara, play and roughhouse. Adara, the light colored wolf in the next five shots, is the alpha female of her pack and is displaying characteristic submissive behavior to her mate, the alpha male.

McKinley & Adara - alpha pair of High Country Pack

McKinley (standing) & Adara

McKinley & Adara

McKinley & Adara

McKinley & Adara

The four wolves of the High Country Pack are McKinley and Leopold, brothers born in 2006, and Adara and Takoda, sister and brother born in 2009.

Adara & Takoda

Leopold (left) & Takoda

Adara & Takoda

The wolves are especially active around the time they are fed, and periodically in winter they get a carcass.

McKinley feeding

Adara with remains of a carcass

The Gray Wolf (canis lupus) can range in color from white to tan or grizzled gray, to black.  The Gray Wolf was once common throughout North America, but was hunted almost to extinction up to the 1930s. Then wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park in 1995. Their recovery in the northern Rockies is one of the great successes of the Endangered Species Act, yet they are also the subject of deep and vehement controversy.  

I will not comment here on the intense political controversy over wolves but will simply say that to me, wolves symbolize power and strength, wilderness and wildness. 

Leopold & Takoda

I am drawn to the beautiful Lamar Valley of Yellowstone to observe wild wolves, and there is nothing more awesome than watching these amazing animals in the wild. At the same time, the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center is one of my favorite places and a perfect place to observe wolves, as well as grizzlies.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Trumpeter Swans on Henry's Fork

There is a special magic in observing the graceful Trumpeter Swan. This week we photographed these birds on the Henry's Fork of the Snake River, at Last Chance in Island Park, Idaho - part of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.

It was about an hour before sunset when we arrived at Last Chance and set up our photography equipment. More than a hundred birds were visible on the river, with the late afternoon light catching the pure white of the mature adults beautifully. 

The birds seemed wary when we walked down towards the bank, and moved off in another direction, some swimming, and some taking flight. But if we walked along the road they seemed tolerant of our presence, no doubt having seen plenty of humans and cars in that location.

Periodically some of the birds would seem to stand up on the water, stretching and flapping their wings, or would take off, fly a short distance, and land with another group of birds.

As sunset approached, the swans became more active, with more birds flying up and down the river to land in different locations.

Yellowstone National Park reported this year that "Participants in the West Yellowstone Christmas Bird Count tallied 190 trumpeter swans on the Madison River and nearby open waters adjacent to Yellowstone National Park on December 16th. The Madison and Yellowstone rivers within the park also provide favorable wintering habitat for trumpeters, most of which nest in northern Canada.

A few thousand swans are reported to winter throughout the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Most of them are birds that nest and spend their summers in Canada. Read more about wintering Trumpeter Swans in Greater Yellowstone in my blog post of last January.