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I Didn't Get a Picture

Thursday, May 29, 2008

This post is for all the ivory-billed woodpecker seekers out there, whether they slog through bayous or dream from their chairs.

As you know, I carry my camera wherever I go, and I've gotten pretty fast on the draw, shooting marginally acceptable to OK to pretty good pictures of the jittery likes of warblers and wild turkeys as well as mushrooms, butterflies, blowfly larvae, and rainbows.

But there are some times when you can't get a picture. Naturally, they are the times when you'd most like to have one. Hence the dedication of this post.

On my last day in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, I was driving south on Route 123, just north of its intersection with Route 28, on my way from Paradise to Sault Ste. Marie. Several animals crossed the road, bounding and running, perhaps a quarter-mile up ahead. I didn't see much remarkable about the first two; I'm assuming, since they didn't catch my eye, that they were deer, but I couldn't swear to that, since my attention was focused like a laser on the third animal. The first two animals were darting and zigging erratically as they ran. The third was loping, a kind of rocking-horse gait, taking a more direct path, different from the other animals'. It was very long-legged, with a longish neck held erect, and pricked ears. A bushy tail, held low at a 45-degree angle, flowed behind it. It was solid, coal black. I believe it was chasing the first two animals. Whaaa?


Not my photo, though I wish it were. This is a National Park Service photo. But it's exactly what I saw. Aggggghhhh!

It was more than twice the size of any coyote I've ever seen, and entirely too dark. Good of it, to be a black morph animal; no confusing that with a little blonde songdog. Gasping, I realized that I had just seen my first timber wolf.

I slammed on the brakes as I whizzed by where it leapt up a small bank and disappeared in the yard of a deserted log cabin, backed by extensive woodland. I backed up, fishtailing wildly, and pulled into the driveway, looking all around me at the woodland edge, hoping hoping hoping to catch another glimpse of my life wolf. The woods were silent, giving nothing away. I am sure it wheeled around, panting, in dense cover and was watching me. I scanned with my binoculars, looking hardest where it's hardest to see. Nothing. That is how the wolf would have it.

Shaking, exhilarated, I drove on another half-mile when I saw a middle-aged couple with trash bags, picking up litter along the roadside. They looked kind and were dressed for the weather. I figured they lived there, to care that much, and I was right. I pulled over and rolled down the window.

"Excuse me. May I ask you a question?"


"Could I have just seen a wolf?"

"OHH, yeah!" the man replied, smiling broadly.  "They're here, even though the DNR will tell you they aren't. They don't want to admit it. But they've been killing our neighbors' dogs two roads over, and when they showed the DNR biologist the tracks he denied it. They (the biologists) don't want them here if they don't have radio collars on."

"So, do you hear them howling?"

"Oh, yes, and coyotes too. You can tell the difference!"

I described my sighting and they smiled and nodded. Yep. That was a wolf. It was really nice to have confirmation from people who live right where I saw the animal, people who know enough and care enough about nature to pick up others' refuse along the road.

A friend with extensive UP experience advises that there is an estimated population of 500 wolves there at present. He's seen them in Canada, but never on the UP, and he was just about as excited as I was to hear of it. That I was given to see one of the few, and a coal-black one at that, seemed like an extravagant gift, a surprise party for my soul.

Photo of a black Denali wolf by Ron Niebrugge, at Used by permission of the photographer. Thank you, Ron and Janine!

Thank you, Bob Pettit, college biology professor, WPBO board member and hardworking 20th Anniversary Spring Fling organizer, for inviting me to Michigan, for taking good care of me wherever I went, including feeding me pasties, and for arranging to have a wolf chase a couple of deer across my path as I left. I know you had something to do with it. You arranged everything else. Long live Bob, the Whitefish Point Bird Observatory, the Spring Fling, the little cedar in the waterfall, the ivory-billed woodpecker, and the coal-black wolf on Route 123.


That's a great story. Very, very lucky.
My wife and I were privileged to see some wolves at Yellowstone a few years ago. They were extremely far away, though, nothing like your sighting. But it was still fantastic, among our best experiences in that wonderful place, and akin to a sacred moment.
I can't believe there are those who do not want these animals around.

Beautiful story, and the way you offer it made me feel like I was with you off the side of the road, scanning for the black.

We're all familiar with, "I Didn't Get a Picture".


My post today was about not getting the picture too. You trumped me with STYLE! A wolf. WOW! Congrats!

I had a similar experience recently with a Badger! A friend and I were driving down the road on our way to Malheur NWR and there he was. We came to a quick halt on the highway, did a u-turn and went back to look, but couldn't find him. I guess you have watch out for those who "brake for wildlife"!!

What a gift indeed!

We saw wolves and heard them in Yellowstone a few years ago.
We went there knowing their reintroduction program would possibly mean we would be fortunate enough to see even one. I still get that knot in my throat recalling them walking as a pack, strung out across the field. As if no one was watching, as the cars streamed past, gawking.

I can't imagine seeing one in the wild--there of its own accord.
And thriving.

An indicator of what wild really means.

I had a similar experience with my life wolf this winter! Although, I did not see a dark morph--way cool.

I saw an animal with super long legs loping in front of our tour bus at Sax Zim Bog. I said, "That's a weird dog and HUGE!"

The naturalist with me said, "Um, that's a wolf."

Much the same as your wolf, it quickly disappeared into the surrounding vegetation, leaving me no time to fish out my camera, I was forced to just enjoy the moment.

Oooooo! I gots me the shivers!
I would love to have seen you backing up in a frenzy and fishtailing!

I give you joy!

I am reading Wolf Totem by Jiang Rong right now. If you haven't yet read it, grant yourself this heartbreaking gift.
I check your blog first thing every morning; it starts my day just right. Thank you! Yours from South Mountain on the other side of the Appalachians, in southern Pennsylvania.

And long live couples who pick up trash on the road. And especially gifted artists who capture pictures with their words as well as they do with their cameras.

Reading about your wolf brought back the afternoon I watched a coyote trot through my postage stamp-sized suburban Maryland yard. All I could do was gape and wish I was on the same floor as my camera.

I was hoping for Chet this morning but will happily settle for this big wild dog instead. The way you told this story, you don't even need the picture.

We will be traveling throught the UP this weekend on our way toND. We will keep an eye open for your friend.

Ooh, Julie, my heart was racing as I was (virtually) riding along with you in the car. I have twice seen a single wolf on the highway up north beyond Ely--a fleeting glimpse as it ducked into the woods alongside the road....too quickly to even stop and get the camera out. But yeah, it's one of those heart-stopping moments that will stay in your mind's photo memory card forever. Congratulations!

Looks like a hell hound! Scary.

Interesting how the DNR denies wolves in MI; here, they deny mountain lions, even though I found one dead on our road. Some kids were picking it up and putting it in their trunk (while on their way to prom, no less--so they're dressed and tuxed to the nines) to show people. At the time, I had no idea there was this whole "denial" conspiracy going, so I didn't think to ask them if they were going to call DNR. Dangit. But I know what I saw! (screamed like the UFO sighter)

I had no idea the UP would have an equal (perhaps greater) population to Montana. As the gray wolf has been reintroduced in Montana and Wyoming, we have had our share in conflict between land owners and the wolves. Most of the time, the land owner loses livestock, which can be costly for their living, but most ranchers in this area have a deep knowledge and respect for both nature and with any conflict, it is not an easy process. BTW, Julie, I have never seen a wolf either :)

Nut, a badger is on my most-wanted list, and not because it's a varmint. Delia. I do believe a dead mountain lion might trump a live wolf. Especially in Pennsylvania. Good GRIEF!
Birdchick--way to go on the canid ID! We need to toast our life wolves in ND, what say?
Susan from PA, I have one right back at ya: Shadow Mountain by my friend Renee Askins (The Wolf Fund).
I'll check yours out.
LOG, I know. Long overdue for a Chetfix, or Chexmix. He's here and just as sweet as always, just overwhelmed by all that's going on.
Grant and Sharon, do check out Shadow Mountain. Great read, and it helps elucidate just why people aren't thrilled to see them back. In the end, the wolves will do what they do. They have enormous reproductive potential, and they don't feel any compunction to stay where we'd like them to! I often wonder if they will colonize eastward like their coyote cousins have.
BTW the latest on genetic analysis of eastern coyotes shows a dose of wolf genes in their makeup, which might help explain their social structure.

I'll see your black wolf, and raise you one!

I got a call on 4/16 that my mom wasn't going to make it, this time.

I headed for FL on 4/17. Me and my sister got to spend a few days with my mom...she died on 4/20. Her memorial service was on 4/29, so we had some time to spend.

My dad (93 Years old) is always making comments about tomatoes, so I bought a bush tomato plant for him at the local wally-world.

brought it home, and as I was planting it in the side yard, I heard this great screeching of birds and squirrels coming from the woods to my west.

i looked up, and there was this big, white bird flying head on, straight for me...15 feet away from me it wheeled...and I saw my first swallow-tailed kite. I saw it very plainly, no mistaking! I saw the same bird three or four times during the rest of my stay, and I reported it's prescence to the Florida DNR, as it's a scarce bird in that area.

Still using the chinese a subdued manner, LOL! April

Mountain lions are spreading out...the d**ned chicago cops killed one in Chicago right before I left for FL.

It was from South Dakota. There are more here in NE IL. When I go out hiking, I have the pepper spray, LOL.

My heart started to race when I saw "ivory bill woodpecker" at the top of your post!

A black timber wolf from my home state is almost as good! Your trip made me homesick....

All I get is, alligators crossing the road as I leave my suburban neighborhood, now!

Oh, and April...I see swallow tailed kites almost every time I'm out birding around Florida this time of year....

We were at the Spring Fling at Whitefish Point and met you at your book signing:) We had a similar sighting on the road between Paradise and the Point. While driving the road in the middle of the day an animal ran (or loped) across the road about 100 feet in front of us. Ours was light tan, and much bigger than a coyote. It paused—oh so briefly—once it entered the forest and looked at us before it vanished. We stopped and scanned and found no sign of it. We were stunned. Having been to Yellowstone, we had seen a few wolves, but this was our first spontaneous sighting! Pure magic! Your post helped remove any lingering doubt. Thanks.

Great story! Great sighting! I'm jealous of your adventures. The coolest things I saw crossing the road today were a least sandpiper and a coyote. Not together. Didn't get a picture of either as I was trying hard not to get struck by lightning.

Pineyflatwoodsgirl...they are such awesome looking birds, those kites.

i have been going to FL. to visit my parents since 1979....and this was the first time I ever saw one! I would have noticed before!

The Chicago Police took a lot of grief for killing that cougar, thank goodness.

Hey Julie, great story but scary looking black wolf.......don't know if I would ever want to see one face to face!
I am hoping that I never see a cougar while out riding Gilly on the backwoods roads around here. They are here, I have heard one but never saw it. Hair raising sound!!!

The photo looks amazingly like the Belgian Sheepdog we had years ago. Around here (northern New England) it is the mountain lions also known as catamounts or panthers which are denied, though some people swear they have seen them.

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