22 January - Wind, snow, and well below zero.
23 January - We woke to a thirty knot wind out of the north and –18F. By midday the wind subsided and the temperature warmed to minus four(-4) Fahrenheit. Rolf and Don took advantage and headed out for an afternoon flight.
They never saw Isabelle or the Chippewa Harbor Group, but they did see a new set of tracks from those wolves between McCargo Cove and Sargent Lake – just a mile east of where we’d last seen them. They’ve been in the same local area for about five days now. Something seems to keep them in this area. On subsequent flights, we’ll keep looking the area over for the carcass of a moose they might have killed.
About five days after killing it, the West-end Trio had left the carcass near Middle Point. Unable to detect a signal from the collared wolf in that group, Don took the Flagship up to four thousand feet for better range on any signal. South shore - that’s the direction from which the signal came. Right about the place Isabelle had been two days ago.
As Rolf and Don narrowed the source of the signal, they saw a wolf and then two, and then five! And then a sixth. Six wolves – mostly bedded, a couple milling around – all amongst the trees at the edge of the shoreline, just above the steaming waters of Lake Superior*.
The West-end trio has become a bonafide pack. The alpha pair has succeeded in doing what all wolves dream of, and what most never realize. They’ve become parents and their children have survived to see their first winter. Just nine months ago, when they were just days old, their pups would have been blind, deaf, and just a bit larger than your fist. Look at them now. They can walk farther, run faster, endure more cold, and eat more meat than you or I could ever imagine.
|West pack. Observations made during this flight suggest that the alpha pair are the second and third wolf (from left to right). The collared wolf, who is a brother to the alpha male, is far right. The other two or three wolves are likely pups.|
Last year, the West-end trio only had to feed and look out for themselves. Now there is order to maintain and mouths to feed. This afternoon, however, after a few days of feasting on the carcass of a large moose, the pack is well fed and content to rest.
The only other day on which we had a clear viewing of these wolves (17 Jan) there had been just three. They were the adults. The pups must have been instructed by their parents to wait somewhere while the adults had gone hunting. That’s not an uncommon circumstance. Determining whether there are two or three pups will require additional observations and genetic analyses of scats that we hope to collect from one of their kill sites. The sixth wolf could be a pup or it could be one of last year’s loners who has joined up with the pack.
*When very cold air passes over warmer water, it evaporates, even when that water is just a degree or two above freezing. On cold, winter days the open waters of Lake Superior look like a large simmering pot of water.