Last month, we traveled to Yellowstone National Park with a small group from Denver, a trip offered in coordination with Audubon Society of Greater Denver. Dates were chosen to correspond with several fall highlights at Yellowstone including elk rut, bird migration, bear hyperphagy (a state of overeating prior to winter hibernation), cooler temperatures, and smaller crowds. Everyone in the group was also hoping for a chance to see wolves in the wild.
From 1995 to 1997, 41 wild wolves from Canada and northwest Montana were released in Yellowstone after decades of absence. Today, approximately 100 wolves live in the park spread throughout the northern range and the interior. Lamar and Hayden Valleys tend to be the go-to areas in Yellowstone for wolf sightings. We spent our first two guided days in the park searching the valleys for wolves to no avail. We did spot plenty of bison as well as black bears gorging on whitebark pine cones, elk in Mammoth, and a variety of birds including highlights like ruffed grouse, harlequin duck, and Clark’s nutcrackers (also gorging on whitebark pine seeds).
Wolf reports were not promising as we started out on our third guided day in the park. Members of the Junction Butte pack had been spotted near Buffalo Ranch in Lamar Valley feeding on a two week old bison carcass, but for short periods of time. On day three in the park, we headed to Buffalo Ranch hoping we’d have better luck.
With wildlife viewing, it’s all about right place, right time. We found both our final full day in Yellowstone. We spent a couple of hours observing seven members of the Junction Butte pack feeding on the same bison carcass as reported earlier in the week. In addition to the seven wolves we saw feed on the carcass, we believe several other members of the pack were close by with all the howling we heard, too. What a way to end our fall wildlife expedition to Yellowstone!