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Run for the River!!!

The snows of the night had covered the blood trail.  It was hard enough following tracks that left no imprint in the fluffy snow; wolf and elk tracks all looked alike.  The wolf tracks I found the day before led me down to the river, where they ran along the bank, turned around, and headed back where they came from.  By brushing away fresh snow in another set of tracks, I was able to find frozen blood drops.  These would certainly lead me to a kill, but they appeared to dead-end at the riverbank.  I slipped on my waders and slogged across the river, where, after considerable searching, picked up the tracks again.  Only occasional hints of blood were present in the tracks, just enough to confirm that I was still on the right trail even after other tracks entered the scene.  I trudged on through dog fur stands of trees, tracing the trail as it paralleled the river.  Every hundred feet or so, the elk had rested, leaving patches of blood stained snow.  I passed a dozen of these rest spots…

Fee fi fo fum...

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(borrowed from http://media.photobucket.com/image/christmas%20wolf/meimeibai/Xmas2copy.jpg)

Happy Christmas and Merry New Year!  I hope that everyone had as good of a Christmas as I!  Fortunately, I was able to whip home for two days, leaving Megan alone with the wolves (she got two days off after I returned).  Our family (Luke included) enjoyed a wonderful dinner with the entire Youderian clan on the eve of Christmas, a very slow and agreeable Christmas morning opening presents, and a delicious Christmas dinner inclusive of the annual Risk competition (which resulted in a Madeline and Jesse victory! Woohoo!) at the Magnuson’s.  It was probably the best Christmas yet…and I know at least one other in my family agrees.  And I didn’t even miss any exciting wolf activity back in Yellowstone.

My return to Yellowstone was heralded by -20 degree morning temperatures, delaying the normal departure time to check wolf signals.  Each morning, I disappear into six layers of clothing including the “…

Snowy Signatures

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**(For those who are interested [because I know I have readers who love to know what I’m reading], I have added a new list to the right-hand side of my blog called “Books Read Thus Far (this winter).” You must go to aspiringecologist.com to view because it will not come up in posts sent via email)** 


I’m scrutinizing every step I take.  Hissing and bubbling can be heard from either side of me.  Boiling pools of water liberate white steam into the air.  I hesitate momentarily to cross the shallow stream twenty feet wide, but following Claire is reassuring.  There is a reason the area we are hiking through is known as Porcelain Basin (in Norris Geyser Basin).  A misstep could boil a foot, a leg, or the human body in its entirety.  Snow-free, warm to the touch, and composed of a myriad of colors, the landscape here is surreal and mesmerizing; more like a Martian planet than anything.  It could be a setting for the land of Mordor in the Lord of the Rings.  Or it could be a picture of hell…

Skiing, Switching, and Seeking

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There is almost nothing quite so terrifying as going on a night ski alone…during a new moon… in a place with one of the highest concentrations of large mammals roaming about.  Gaining speed on my skis, headed down from Terrace Springs, I begin to think, “huh…wolves like to take down their prey from behind when they are running away.”  I take a quick glance over my shoulder, just to make sure there are no black blobs bearing down upon me.  I lose my balance slightly, causing me to throw one leg high into the air, barely staying upright…and then I think, “huh…wolves like to take down prey that show some kind of weakness…like being clumsy.”  I find being terrified out of my mind sort of soul cleansing.

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At 9 am this morning, we were notified that the 24-hour switch-over period is in effect.  This means that we have until 9 am tomorrow (which will be today by the time most of you read this) …

Silence of the Wolves

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The trails of wolf tracks have ceased to be imprinted across the meadows and mountainsides.  I have gotten my wish…the wolves have gone to greener pastures in other areas of the park, allowing us to take a deep breath for the first time.  Having masses of wolves is very overwhelming (as I mentioned in my previous post).  But now, without the wolves…it’s kind of, well, boring…!  The grass is always greener and lusher on the other side I guess!  (Unfortunately for Luke, he arrived the day that most of the wolves left the study area…our first guest to not have visually seen wolves.  However, Luke did find a killsite, which was very exciting!  Thanks for coming bro!).


This mass influx of wolves in early winter is apparently fairly typical (this from my well-respected boss and biologist role-model, Robert Garrott).  The wolf packs, in preparation for the winter months, make large movements across their territories to secure boundaries and take stock of the amount of available elk and bison …

No wolves for me...

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Driving to Yellowstone is always full of rich nostalgia due to numerous family trips when I was younger. On Thursday December 3, I (Luke DeVoe) drove up to the locked Yellowstone park gate at the west entrance, hopped out of my car and started fiddling with the lock. Trying to act as if I had done this a hundred times, I excitedly entered the code and opened the gate. I drove through feeling like a VIP with rare privileges. Here in front of me lay a wintry Yellowstone National Park free of snow-machines.

After miraculously avoiding multiple car accidents due to rubber-necking at wild life, I arrived at Jesse’s cabin to see Christmas lights and Jesse dancing in the driveway. Cornish Game Hens for dinner and then cross-country skied out his front door. We skied a meadow adjacent to the confluence of the Firehole and Gibbon Rivers. This combination creates the famous Madison River. The skies were clear, fog emanated from the river and the full moon illuminated our landscape. It was a beau…

Really?!

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I never thought I would be saying this…but…I wish the wolves would just go away for a while!There’s too many of them all at once all the time.We’re supposed to be figuring out how many wolves are in our study area, and finding their kills; both of these are priorities for the study, but neither of which we are doing effectively.Two people alone cannot determine this due to the massive influx of wolves we have every week.It seems that every day we are picking up signals from at least three different packs in various parts of the study area.To determine wolf numbers and to find kills, we have to hike in on any tracks and our triangulations (which I will describe in more detail in another post) obtained via radio telemetry.

There are 17 collared wolves that we monitor daily for presence or absence in the study area…but these collared wolves represent only a few individuals of the entire pack; thus we have approximately 45 wolves that could potentially be in our study area that we need to …

Mary's First Wolf

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This past weekend, I had the privilege of taking my mother and Mary Youderian (a lifelong friend) on an all-expenses paid (including lodging) guided tour of Central Yellowstone.  I, as the guide, do not guarantee the sighting of wolves on such trips, but as my ma and Mary found out, it can happen.  The morning started out regular enough.  On my way out of the park to pick up the two mothers, I checked wolf signals, as I do every day.  Nothing was heard, but just as I was about to exit the park, I saw a gray moving blob in the distance (this is usually what wolves look like...big gray moving blobs).  Out of the woods trotted an uncollared, unknown pack...three gray wolves and four black.  In the front, the grays bounded ahead, leading the pack across an opening near the Madison River.  Trailing in the back, the three blacks followed, with a smaller pup and a gray muzzled older wolf picking up the rear (both of which looked weary of traveling).  Although my ma and Mary did not see these…

the First Necropsy

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The horror that the elk calf must have felt, dodging in and out of thick dog-hair stands of young lodgepole pines.  Snow showering down upon her as she frantically runs through the small trees, looking for some sort of escape.  None would present itself; they were right on her heels, there was nothing she could do.

The only remains of the calf’s carcass were the hide, a front leg, and the frozen rumen contents of mulched grass.  It had been picked clean, and there was not even a curious raven in the area.  The previous day, I had spied an abnormally large amount eagles (golden and bald) and ravens in the young forest near Harlequin Lake; this was a sure sign of wolf activity indicating a recent kill.  We had known the wolves were in the area that day.  A collared wolf from the Cougar pack had testified to their presence.  By that evening, the kill had been made.  Booming signals from the collared wolf could be heard and scavenger activity was high.  The next day, after assuring that th…
"If you're running from an elk, just make sure you're not running into a thermal pool."  Such was the wisdom provided by Claire Gower, a biologist for Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks who completed her PhD on this same research project 2 years prior.  With 10 years of experience working on the project, we listened intently to every word she said.

We had arrived in Yellowstone late last Friday night.  The darkness made the drive up the Madison River unfamiliar (even though I had driven that section dozens of times), but I could feel the excitement rising within me as we continued on.  The locals (i.e. the maintenance folks) at Madison Junction had turned the heat on prior to our arrival, making the unpacking and settling-in process quite comfortable.  There was much to do over the next two days; Claire had sacrificed her weekend to train this season's two person research crew (Megan and myself), which otherwise would have had no training and, concurrently, no id…

The Silent Encroachment of Winter

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Winter is coming, but it is hard to tell.  Bozeman nearly reached the 60's today, and I played frisbee golf comfortably with a T-shirt on.  But I am wary, for soon, the cold winter days and nights will be forcibly made real in my life.  In approximately 10 days, I will be entering Yellowstone National Park, not as a casual observer, but as a research technician.  I suspect that my entry into the park will have the familiar feelings of arriving "home," for I have spent much time within the park and am quite familiar with it.  But it will be quite different as well.  As clearly stated in the research manual, "doing research in the world’s first national park is by no means a right, rather it is an incredible privilege—one that could quickly be revoked.  We are dealing with extremely high-profile, controversial, and sensitive resource issues with a variety of stakeholders, and thus we are held to much higher standards of conduct than researchers might be elsewhere.&quo…

Dust to dust

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Sorry for the lack of posting...I intend to get back to blogging again...but for now (and I don't know why I didn't post these earlier), here are the photos from the subaru scandal of '08...