After spying the two wolves running along the Kawishiwi River a few Saturdays ago during a telemetry flight, (link to past post) we flew on to locate a wolf with a radio collar. We successfully located wolf 7107 of the Moose Lake Pack on a small lake off the Fernberg by using radio telemetry from the airplane.
After observing 7107 walk along the lakeshore and then find a spot on the lake to curl up and rest, we headed back to the airport for the next flight. Hoping 7107 was still on the lake and visible, we headed back for one last look. To our surprise, not only was 7107 still resting on the lake, three other wolves – presumably yearlings based on size and behavior – were chasing and wrestling with each other nearby!
As we circled above, the younger wolves disappeared into the woods and 7107 continued his nap on the lake. On our flight back to the airport, I made the decision to hike into that location with the group for our afternoon outing.
Thinking that the wolf would either be long-gone after two hours or at the very least that he would hear us coming a mile away – literally – and move on, I had expectations of seeing wolf tracks and scat on the lake and in the surrounding forest. An excellent opportunity to discuss wildlife tracking, wolf feeding behavior and habitat use.
We were not exactly a quiet group of seven stumbling through the forest, dodging low branches and tripping over snow-covered logs. The hike in was about a mile over uneven terrain and the temperature was a chilly 5°F (overnight temps had dropped to almost -30°F).
As we neared the boggy lowland that surrounded the lake, we stopped and took a moment to take out our cameras in the hopes we may see a wolf. Inside, I was certain that 7107 had heard us coming at least 20 minutes ago and did not expect to see any sign of life on the frozen lake. On the outside, I was enthusiastic that the group was so excited to have an opportunity to be on the same lake that a wolf had been sleeping on just a few hours ago.
Unbelievably, as we emerged from the thick balsam fir cover, a black spot on the lake was visible. Could it be? No…
7107 was STILL resting on the lake in the same spot! I was dumbfounded. I could not believe that we were able to get down to the lake without the wolf being disturbed. This never happens.
We all froze and stared across the lake. 7107 was about 400 yards away curled up in a furry ball facing the opposite direction. The wind had picked up and snow was falling, likely the reason why 7107 had not heard or smelled us coming as we were downwind.
Not wanting to disturb or harass the wolf, we quietly took pictures and video. Sharing a pair of binoculars we each watched as his chest rose and fell with each breath.
As we shifted in place, a stick snapped and 7107 lifted his head. As he scented the wind, his head turned toward us.
He slowly rose and stretched his long legs then stood and stared in our direction. He didn’t seem to be concerned with our presence. He walked forward a few yards toward the forest, stopped, stretched again and stared at us.
From there we hugged the opposite side of the lakeshore from where 7107 had disappeared into the woods investigating the tracks and scat left behind.
It is rare that one is able to see a wild wolf on the ground in Minnesota. Typically, it is all about being in the right place at the right time when a wolf crosses the road or travels across a frozen lake.
This day, we were lucky.