Tuesday, May 22, 2012

A Wolf Hunt

So, we're driving along in Yellowstone last weekend.  We'd started the day exploring the Norris Geyser Basin and then had been watching birds near Yellowstone Lake and in Yellowstone River.  We stopped to check out the Mud Volcano and were returning to the campground at Norris for some grub.  We're driving along and out of the corner of my eye I see animals running.  I look over and cannot--CANNOT- believe my eyes.  It is two wolves, one grey and one black, chasing an elk cow.   They are running through the meadow beside the road parallel to the car.  They are running with great intensity, yet at the same time seeming sluggish.  Much slower than I would have expected a run for your life to be.  I am supposing, and it is just supposing, that they had all been running for a while before they broke into the meadow where I saw them.  They seemed a little tired.  But you would tell they were running with every ounce.  It is strange to describe. 

Then the elk turned, the wolves naturally chasing after her, and the three of them ran right over the road not terribly far from our car.  Not like 10 feet or anything, but I bet I could have hit them with a rock easily (you know, if I wanted to).  We'd pulled off the road by this point, along with three other cars (well, actually one of them parked ON the road, but people do that in the park...) to watch as the trio ran in a zig-zag around the meadow on the other side of the road.  The black wolf closed in and took a lunge at the front of the elk.  I don't know if the wolf was going for neck or chest or leg or what because it all happened so fast.  But the elk avoided the lunge and the wolf tumbled off in a small barrel roll through the grass.  Without a moment of hesitation the wolf was up and running again, rejoining the grey wolf as they tailed the elk up the hillside and into the trees where we lost sight of them.  It was a few minutes of total INSANITY.  I wonder how many minutes, really.  Was it two minutes?  Three?  It sure felt longer, but it was probably only a few.
I did manage to snap one decent photo, taken right before the lunge by the black wolf.  I do NOT want to be one of those people who sees everything through my camera so in action packed situations like this I just hold it up and snap away, hoping for the best.  It is more important to really SEE the action live I think.  That said, I do like having a a photo to look at later.  So, this technique seems to cover both desires.
I really wonder who came out on top.  Who would be better off in the trees wolves or elk?  I can argue both ways, but don't know enough about either species to be sure.  Part of me is glad the wolf missed as I am sure it would have been gruesome to see and hear the death, especially from so close.  But, oh MAN!  It would have been FASCINATING, too.  So, an even larger part of me wishes the wolves had taken her down right there in the roadside meadow so I could see what would happen.  How would they go about it?   How long would it take?  Are there other wolves about?  What other critters would try to sneak some when the wolves were meat drunk and sleepy or gone?   It would have been quite the sight I am sure.  The food web in active demonstration.
Same photo, zoomed in a bit.
When the wolves and the elk were gone I just couldn't believe what we'd just seen.  It happened so fast and it was so intense.  I kept coming back to it in my mind (and still am) for the next several days, replaying it.  It was all so improbable.  I mean I felt lucky to witness a wolf in the park just napping in the sunshine (as the guests used to say at the zoo "not doing anything.") a few years ago and that was far, far away and through a spotting scope.  But to see them in action!  On the hunt!  With my naked eyeballs!  Oh, my lucky stars!  They were all amazing.  Not just the wolves either, the elk too.  She would throw out a hoof and kick the wolves on her heels.  She was making them work hard for it, turning this way and that in the meadow trying to lose them.  The energy the animals exuded was electrifying.   I was literally charged by the experience. 

And to think that the whole circle of life drama could have taken place just as magically out in the backcountry, but for whatever reason it happened right out in the open in a roadside meadow and I just happened to be there to witness it. What incredible timing.  I love feeling like I am exactly where I am supposed to be in this world.  It doesn't always happen, but when it does it is worth noting.   Thanks, Universe, for being so awesome.

2 comments:

  1. BLD,
    Oh, my! That was exciting! I understand your ambivalence about who would win this life or death contest.

    I also wonder about people who record every moment of their baby's life and see the child through a lens. When I watch videos on utube, the child looks at the camera, and I wonder what the child thinks about the camera-clad parent. And, I wish I had the same shots of my cuties...lol.

    It is evident you are still excited. I would be too. Often, I just hold the camera out and hope I get something good by repeatedly snapping shots so I can watch with my eyes.

    Maybe you can find out if the elk or wolves have an advantage. I am guessing the elk had the advantage in trees and on hills.

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  2. Wow, that sounds very exciting! How great to be there right at that moment. And I'm the same re photos, always prefer to 'capture the moment' in my mind, but yes it's also good to have a photo! Yours is very good for a snap and hope shot!

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