Wildlife Holiday News

An Entry to the Naturetrek 2018 Writing Competition. Rosemary Hill relays her memorable encounter with a wolf pack experienced on our 'Yellowstone in Winter' tour.

I have so many wonderful memories from our winter Yellowstone adventure: magnificent snow-covered mountains and forests, freezing dawns when the sun shone pink on the snow and created enchanted frost landscapes in the low-lying mist, and diamond dust, tiny glittering particles of frozen water-vapour dancing in the air.

Bison were everywhere, lumbering along the roads, using their massive heads as snow-ploughs to reach buried vegetation, and resting peacefully in the thermal areas, oblivious of the danger. Foxes hunted nearby, unconcerned at our presence. They have much thicker, redder coats than British foxes and fluffier tails, perfect blankets for small animals on bitter nights. Bighorn rams grazed on a bank, sizing each other up before clashing their huge horns together with an explosive sound.

We all agreed though, that the climax was hearing the Wolves sing. Our Wolves were the Wapiti Lake pack, a flourishing group of about 20 animals, and we spent most of one day watching them. Since their reintroduction to Yellowstone, starting in 1995, Wolves have been doing well there, and as they are now protected they have lost some of their terror of humans so, by staying in or near our vehicle, we were able to watch them going about their business undisturbed. 

The main pack was hidden among the pines above the road, and below us on the river flats was a fresh Bison kill so, throughout the day, Wolves were coming down from their hideout, crossing the road, and feeding in ones and twos, accompanied by Golden and Bald Eagles, buzzards and the ubiquitous ravens. Most of the animals were the usual brownish grey but a few were black, and there was one beautiful white one, the alpha female.

After taking their turn, they rejoined the pack on the hillside just above us. Then towards evening we saw them moving silently behind the trees. Suddenly the singing started. The sound is extraordinary, blood-chilling for a family on a remote homestead but for us, safely cocooned in our thermal layers, it brought different emotions: a wild magic, a folk memory of a time when we too were hunter-gatherers, something that few in our modern world have had the privilege of experiencing.

The singing went on for several minutes, and being so close we could pick out the individual voices, some gruff, some lighter, blending as the sound rose and fell. Then it finished as suddenly as it had begun; a breathtaking and moving experience, an intimate glimpse of much-maligned and persecuted animals, strengthening their pack bond by making music together, and sending out the message “We are the Wapiti Lake pack and this is our valley, don’t mess with us.”

Wolves have been driven to the wildest fringes of our world but are clinging on there through intelligence and teamwork; a glimpse of our deep past; maybe even a glimmer of hope for the future.

To learn more about our wolf-watching holidays, click here.