I never imagined the sight of poo would excite me so much, but the segments of scat in the middle of the road definitely came from a wolf. My friend Simon and I discussed it at length – the location made sense; the consistency and shape was right; it was too small for a bear, too big for a coyote. A stringy, pointy, hair-like protrusion at the end of one of the pieces, Simon informed me, was also a tell-tale sign.
‘YES!’ I said, ‘I’m getting closer!’
I knew seeing wolf feces meant I was getting closer to seeing an actual wolf. And indeed, the scat was the last of a long set of signs that finally led me to a dream wildlife encounter, resulting in the opportunity to photograph a beautiful grey wolf.
The encounter itself only lasted a couple of minutes. I was out for a drive through Banff/Kananaskis with my friend Simon Jackson, Ghost Bear Photography. It was 2pm, not exactly prime wildlife viewing time, so Simon and I were both caught off guard when we saw the large canine approaching the road. We both exploded from the vehicle in a desperate attempt to grab a photo on the open road, but the wolf was on the other side and in the trees within seconds.
I could still see the wolf walking through the trees but could not get a clear view.
‘#@#$%@! What should we do?’ I asked Simon.
‘He’s headed that way so let’s drive up a bit.’
We pulled forward about 20 meters.
‘Wait, stop!,’ Simon said, ‘roll down your back window – this is your chance.’
(Note: I’m paraphrasing a bit for simplicity – Simon is not a bossy person)
I looked behind and sure enough, the wolf was making his way towards a narrow clearing in the trees. We captured a few images before he was once again obstructed by trees and bushes. Then, the wolf reappeared in another small clearing, allowing just enough time to grab some shots at a closer range, then the large canine disappeared into the depths of the forest.
‘Our time with this wolf is not over yet,’ an optimistic Simon proclaimed. We drove on in the direction the wolf was headed, stopped numerous times to scan the landscape, waited at cut line through the trees that seemed like a good path, but the wolf did not reappear. Simon was a bit disappointed; I was (and still am) ridiculously ecstatic!
My SD card revealed at least one decent image – yes! Mother nature had orchestrated quite an elaborate wolf scavenger hunt for me, riddled with near-misses and strong signs, since the beginning of January. I was so happy to have reached the end.
January 1st, 2016. Wolves had been seen on Vermilion Lakes in Banff a day or two before, so Jamie (CrzyCnuk Photography) and I added this to our list of locations for our New Year’s day drive. My heart skipped a beat when we saw dog-like figures out on the ice. We snowshoed in as far as the lake would allow, and discovered they were only coyotes, working on what was likely the remains of a wolf kill/carcas from the day before. Near miss number 1. Plus, later in the day, we found fresh wolf tracks on highway 93, towards Jasper, but no wolves.
January 23, 2016. Jamie, Tim and I were out NW of Water Valley looking for wild horses and we came across several sets of tracks. As we were examining them, some people drove by and informed us that there was indeed a wolf pack out there – they had just seen them last weekend. We followed the tracks for a good kilometer, but never found the wolves they belonged to. At one point we even found a set of lone wolf tracks on one side of the road and coyote tracks on the other.
January 28, 2016. I took a day off work to head out to wild horse country again. I tried to convince myself that my goal was to see more wild horses, but who was I kidding? I could not stop thinking about the tracks and the wolf pack. I saw more tracks (of course), but no wolves.
March 16 2016. Simon and Jill (Jill Cooper is the other half of the amazing Ghost Bear Photography duo) were in Banff and we arranged to meet for a drive. The day before, I discovered there was a possibility of northern lights that night. I have always wanted to capture the lights in the mountains, so I booked a cheap motel in Banff and decided to drive up the night before. I pondered leaving right after work, giving myself some time to do an evening wildlife run, but opted to leave closer to dark to keep an eye on sky. Big mistake. ‘We are watching the wolves right now’ was the basic jist of a text I got from Simon, just after sunset. I stood about an hour from Banff, staring at the pale sky with no sign of color. 🙁
May 10, 2016 – 8:30am. The aforementioned wolf scat taunted me from the middle of the road.
May 10, 2016 – 2pm. An actual wolf appeared on the side of the road.
What a great encounter, and great day in general! We also saw a grizzly bear, our target species for the day, and a beautiful black bear. The fact that these are side notes at the end of this post shows you just how overwhelming the wolf encounter was for me (I still love the bears though of course!)
Until next time, continue loving life and all things wild! 🙂
Author’s note: I’ve been questioned about describing our actions as ‘exploding from the car’ when we saw the wolf. I just wanted to clarify – we did not run after the wolf and were a safe distance away. We got out of the car, somewhat excitedly, just to get a better view, but did not put ourselves in danger or stress out the wolf.