April 23, 2012

Yellowstone, April 21 & 22, 2012

The Canyon Pack Alpha Female, Wolf, drinks from the Gardiner River after snacking on an Elk carcass in the China Garden of Yellowstone National Park. Captured with a Canon 5D III and 500/4.0L IS + 1.4TC III in aperture priority mode with an exposure bias of + 1 at ISO800, f/7.1, and 1/250th of a second. The camera was mounted on a Gitzo 3540XLS and Induro GHB2 gimbal head with a custom long lens support.


Warmest opening weekend I have ever experienced, the snow is MIA, but the wildlife activity made up for it all. One friend said; "best opening weekend ever," and he might be right. I had multiple, prolonged, close encounters with wolves. I spent a few hours nearby a grizzly bear, and that was all in the first morning.

Friday night I drove down to the park, so I could get an early start to opening weekend in the park. After a great night sleeping out under the stars I was ready to see what I could find in the park. I expected to have to drive quite a ways South before the shooting would heat up, but I only made it to the China Garden before I had to stop and watch an "unknown" grey wolf feeding on a carcass well within 100m of the road. At first it was only myself and a friend to sit an enjoy the time with a wolf that near, but soon the crowds grew and the wolf moved about 100m up a hill looking down on us all. A bald eagle also decided to give us a fly by at the same time.

I decided to head South and try my luck at finding a grizzly or two, but first I got to see the Canyon Pack head towards the unknown wolf and their hard earned meal. Lots of debate followed as to who the "unknown" wolf was...Limper, limper's son, the missing grey yearling, a member of the Eight Mile Pack, etc. I will say this...the wolf was older (had an old man's walk), he had a dark pack and looked very similar to Limper (one of my favorite wolves); if the wolf was Limper...great, but I would be easily convinced that it was a potential offspring of his from the Eight Mile Pack (from his many hiatuses from the Canyon pack). Later that day the Canyon Alpha female was seen following the "unknown" grey miles away from her pack and the carcass.

I drove South to find a group of photographers with a grizzly around dynamite curve; I spent the next few hours moving along with the bear. The photographic opportunities were not great, but it was a tolerant bear at close range...how could I not stay and click off some photos.

I decided to drive all the way to Old Faithful looking for bears, but I had no luck. Returning North I spent some time chatting with some friends about our plans for the evening I suggested; "we should head back and check on the Canyons then head out to Blacktail Lakes to see if anything has pulled that bison carcass out of the water." I did just that, while they went straight to Blacktail lakes. I was rewarded with the Canyon Alpha Female snacking on the carcass then drinking from the Gardiner River less than 50m from me, while they had a young wolf running around with a bone and some sandhill cranes come up and try to walk in their car (I'm not sure who won ;)

As the Alpha Female left the photographers around me commented; "my heart is racing," others said; "that was a once in a lifetime experience." I was reminded that I am extremely spoiled in that my heart was beating like normal and I had witnessed very similar events multiple times before. I mentioned that what we had encountered was something that happened a few times each year for the last few years...little did I know that less than 12 hours later I would be photographing it again.

I followed the Alpha Female a short while later only to catch her after she crossed the road to make her way back to the South again, the same area that others had seen and heard her pack in around the same time. I got a few shots as she walked along a ridge in the late afternoon light, but the conditions were producing heavy atmospheric distortion.

I headed out to where I was spending the night and planing on setting a camera for an attempt at shooting the nights meteor showers. I love to sleep out under the stars, open bivy, and it was another great night for that. Around midnight I awoke to start shooting the meteor shower, but a haze quickly rolled in and killed any hope I had of capturing the showers. Had I gone somewhere else I might have been able to see and photograph the showers, but I settled for a good nights sleep under the stars.

In the morning I told myself that there was no way that I would be lucky enough to find a wolf in the China Garden again, and I was right...I found five of the Canyon Wolves in the China Garden. With clear sky the dawn was bright enough that when pared with my Canon 5D III's great quality at high ISO I was able to photograph the Canyon Alpha Female eating and drinking again (two days in a row). The pack then let out a good morning howl, celebrated the new morning with hugs and kisses for all and began heading up and away from the crowd of photographers.

Before sunrise I had already gotten enough shots to keep me happy for a day, but I was greedy, so I headed South to see if I could find that grizzly again. I searched for about an hour, but decided that I should get some miles on my feet. During my search I stopped to snap a few shots of the sun rising over Roaring Mountain with the trees casting shadows in the steam.

I headed up above tower (emphasis on above) and ended up with over a dozen miles under my feet, lots of bird sightings, a few nest locations, and a very near encounter with a feeding cinnamon black bear, but no photos. I should explain the "near" and "no photos" with the bear. I was hiking back (not on a "people" trail) and as the game trail turned to go down hill I found the bear about 10m below me heading up the same game trail. I got to see the bear before he realized I was there, so as I stepped off the trail, removed my bear spray, and got my camera out of the way he spooked and ran off the other way...exactly what I wanted to happen. The velcro on my bear spray and a stick cracking was just enough to startle the young black bear. I took a different trail back towards my car and I am sure he had a lovely evening :)

I made a few stops to check around the park and on my way out I spotted a distant cinnamon black bear on the opposite side of a valley, but I decided that I would continue on towards home.

It was a really good trip in terms of photographs made, miles hiked, conversations had and weather enjoyed.

Make the jump to go through the online gallery, I ask that you leave comments/criticism or at least give your favorites a thumbs up...Thanks!

If you have questions, ask. I published the camera information with each image and have added full keywords to share just about anything you would want to know about the images.

Happy shooting

p.s. somehow my 7D was set an hour behind my 5DII and 5DIII, so some of the images are out of order...sorry.


  1. We camped at Mammoth campground Sunday night, and were awakened at dawn Monday morning to wolf howls all around. There was a blackish one on a little ridge visible toward the river from our campsite. After about a half hour of howling, he (she?) disappeared, only to surprise us all by calmly walking through the campground, and on up the hill toward Mammoth! What a thrill!

  2. The ranger said we witnessed a "fight" between the Canyon pack and the Blacktail pack over territory.

  3. Dave, how do those 3200 iso photos look at 100% ?