Famous Yellowstone National Park Wolf Shot and Left to Die

The alpha female of the Canyon Pack

I was saddened to hear a month ago that the alpha female of the Canyon Pack had died.  She was a very popular wolf and one of only a few with white coats.  In the photo above, she was only three years old.  The little bit of dark fur you see in this photo was replaced by white fur as she matured.

It was reported that she had lived twelve years.  That’s a long life for a wolf.  The average life span for a wolf in the park is six years.  I assumed then that she had died of old age/natural causes.

I first got to know her in October of 2008.  She and her three pack mates had killed a bull elk at the north end of North Twin Lake the day before I happened on the scene.  When I arrived there was a large male grizzly protecting the carcass from the wolves.  I was told he took the carcass from them shortly after they had killed it.  That is very common.  Some grizzlies in Yellowstone have learned to follow wolf packs for days until the wolves make a kill and then they take over.

I learned yesterday that she had not died of natural causes.  She had been shot and was found by some hikers.  She was alive, but in bad shape.  The hikers contacted the National Park Service which examined her and determined that she could not be saved.  She was euthanized.  I went from being sad to being angry.

NPS has posted a reward for $5,000 leading to the arrest and conviction of the person responsible.  That amount was matched by a conservation organization, Wolves of the Rockies.  I was told by a friend that the reward has since climbed to $20,000.  You can read more about the story here.

In spite of many suits by conservation organizations to keep wolves protected under the Endangered Species Act, I believe they are no longer under its protection.  However, the wolf was found inside the boundaries of Yellowstone National Park.  NPS has regulations against discharging firearms and killing wildlife in the national parks.  Hopefully, the culprit will be found and successfully prosecuted.

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California Quail, Point Reyes National Seashore

A male California quail perches on an old post.

Bad Hair Day

I was in the Seashore several days ago. It was nice most of the day, but later the wind came up and then the fog rolled in.  Nearby Inverness was predicted to have sunny weather all day and when I left Inverness it was still sunny.  Memo to self:  Don’t rely on the Inverness weather report for what it’s like inside the Seashore.

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Elk Calf; Point Reyes National Seashore

This elk calf spent over an hour by itself exploring a stock pond near Pierce Point Ranch.

A young elk calf wades into a stock pond near Pierce Point Ranch.

I was out at Point Reyes yesterday and it was the first time this year I saw elk calves in the elk reserve/enclosure at Tomales Point.   I saw elk calves at Drakes Beach about a month ago.  The elk in the reserve seem to be about a month behind the Drakes Beach herd in mating and giving birth.

It seemed like there were more cows with calves than I’ve seen in years.  If true,  it could be because of the heavy winter rains.  I’ll be interested in seeing if the elk count shows more calves this year.

I saw this little guy wade into the pond.  I watched him for about an hour and I finally left.  His mom came to the pond a few times.  She called and seemed to want him to follow her, but he ignored her.  He roamed all over the pond; drinking water occasionally.

If you look closely you can see a lump on the bridge of his nose.  A cyst?  I don’t know.  Hopefully, it’s nothing serious.

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Song Dogs; Point Reyes National Seashore

A pair of coyotes sing a song understood only by coyotes.

Song Dog Serenade

Hearing a howl or two from coyotes is usually all you get.  But in this case I was treated to several minutes of singing.  Hearing coyotes howl is one of the best sounds in nature.   Other favorites of mine include the calls of wolves; the bugling of bull elk during the rut; the call of a loon on a lake; and the honking of Canada geese as they fly in formation  overhead.

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Cooper’s Hawk; Petaluma, California

A Cooper's hawk stands by its kill.

Avian Predator

I looked out our dining room window the other morning and saw this cooper’s hawk eating a mourning dove.  I grabbed my big lens and tripod and stationed myself about 10 feet back from a sliding door.  The hawk was about 30 feet from the door on a fence.  First, I shot a few images through the side of the door that has no screen.  Once I had a few of those shots, I kept my body hidden as I made my way to the sliding door and, exposing my arm only, I slowly slid open the glass door and then the screen door.  It was dark and raining on and off.  The light was very poor.  I started shooting at 1/200 second at ISO 10,000.  By the time I took this shot the light was good enough to get the ISO down to 1,000.

It’s hard to tell a cooper’s hawk from a sharp-shinned hawk because their markings are basically identical.  They both prey mainly on smaller birds.  They often occur in residential areas and have the same habit of keeping an eye on bird feeders.  We don’t have feeders, but some of our neighbors may.  In any event, we have birds in our yard regularly.

How have I concluded it’s a cooper’s hawk and not a sharp-shin?  I’m not a bird ID expert.  According to my Sibley bird guide, the cooper is 16.5 inches in length and the sharpie is 11 inches in length.  A mourning dove is also 11 inches in length.  This bird was much longer and larger than a mourning dove so I concluded it was a cooper’s hawk.

Some crows found the cooper and started pestering it, hoping to steal a meal.  The cooper finally tired of the harassment and took off with its meal.  Fortunately, it spent an hour on our fence before the crows drove it off.

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Elk Calves; Point Reyes National Seashore

Elk calves spotted near Drakes Beach.

I’m biased in favor of predators. That’s why when I’m at Point Reyes I’m always looking for bobcats and coyotes.  If I’m lucky, maybe I’ll spot a badger.  If I’m super lucky, maybe some day I”ll spot a mountain lion.  (I keep looking, but they’re not likely to be in the open areas I frequent.)

Anyway, on the last few drives to Point Reyes I’ve thought to myself that it’s that time of year that I ought to look for elk calves and deer fawns.  By the time I get there though, I have forgotten about them because of my obsession with predators.   Yesterday, I decided I’d better remember to look for them before it’s too late to see them when they are still small.  Luckily, there were some along Drakes Beach Road.  I also saw two cow elk away from the herd which made me think they may have very young calves hidden nearby.  I didn’t see any fawns.  Maybe next time.

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Handicapped Badger, Point Reyes National Seashore

I was out at Point Reyes yesterday and it was kind of slow.  I saw a couple of coyotes, but wasn’t able to get a good photo of either of them.  I didn’t see any bobcats.  I did see a mature bald eagle, but it was flying  too far away for a good photo.  Things picked up in the mid-afternoon, however, when I spotted this badger.  It was actively hunting gophers.  The light was OK, but not great, because of strong side-lighting.  I opened up the shadow on its left side (right side for viewer) to bring out detail in its fur.

American Badger Digging Up Gophers in Point Reyes National Seashore

What you see is the full image.  However, as I was working on the photo in Photoshop I cropped it a bit to remove some of the little hillock in front of the badger.  Then I needed to remove some of the photo on the other three sides for a better composition.  As I was doing that I thought the animal’s right eye (left eye from viewer’s standpoint) looked odd.  So, I magnified the photo.  It then became clear that the badger had a serious eye problem.  I assume it’s completely blind in its right eye.

To make the eye visible at the relatively small image size required by my blog, I had to do a severe crop.

Badger at Point Reyes National Seashore

One-eyed Badger

I’m always touched by animals that have injuries or handicaps.  I hope this badger manages to live a normal life span.  I don’t know how its eye came to be the way it is.  It reminds me that I saw another badger at Point Reyes six years ago that looked completely blind in the same eye.  It was a female with two cubs.  Her eye was completely white, but not recessed looking like this eye.  I suppose it could be the same badger, but it could also be another.  I’ve started to wonder if eye problems are not that rare for badgers for some reason.

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