"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 idea how to go about collecting data or surviving the winter.

Saturday proved to be a very successful training day.  Monitoring for collared wolves using radio telemetry is one of our primary duties, and we devoted much of the day to getting comfortable using the equipment, listening for signals, and choosing appropriate signal-checking stops.  From a promontory called Porcupine Hill, I flipped through all the wolf collar frequencies...and suddenly, a faint "beep....beep....beep."  Dialing down the frequency (since collars sometimes fade off their original frequencies with age), the signal became crisper.  I turned down the gain, allowing me to obtain a specific direction from which the signal came.  The wolf must have been behind a hill across the valley due to some signal bounce (often hills, mountains, and other steep topography can reflect the signal, making it unclear exactly where the signal is coming from).  The wolf belonged to the Gibbon pack, boasting a membership of 15 to 20 wolves.  A pack this size needs to eat frequently, which means there is a good chance that there is a kill or two in the area.

To get a better location on the collared wolf, the signal needs to be checked at multiple places (called triangulation), so we left Porcupine Hill and continued down the road.  At several places, wolf tracks could be seen intersecting the road and traversing across the meadow.  This was indeed Gibbon pack by the amount of  tracks, for there are no other packs with this many individuals.  Looking back over the meadow, we spied two gray wolves marching away from Porcupine Hill, where we had just been, heading towards the collared wolf signal.  A faint howl was heard as they cleared the meadow and disappeared behind a hillside.

We finished training with river crossings...a potentially deadly thing to do in the middle of winter; however, with Claire's advice from years of experience, the shallowest and easiest river crossings were shown to us and practiced.  No worries mama!

And thus, my Yellowstone adventure commences...

Comments

  1. WOW, how exciting--getting a signal right away, seeing all those tracks, and then finding those two wolves were simultaneously monitoring you! Great start, AE, good luck!

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