From the field:
encountering the pups of the Paradise Pack
By Maeve Tuley
'From the field' articles chronicle the adventures, difficulties, and hard-earned insights that come with doing fieldwork in the remote and wild Northwoods.
Even though the Voyageurs Wolf Project is focused on researching wolves, it's not very often that we get a glimpse of the very animals we study. Wolves are a notoriously elusive species, and avoid encounters with humans. The dense swamps and forests up here in Minnesota make it difficult to spot a wolf. When I’m in the field bushwhacking, I often find myself in situations where I can’t see a few feet in front of me or even my feet right below me. Nonetheless, precious encounters do happen.
I found myself in one of those particularly lucky situations not long ago. I had the night off, and took my dog out for some exercise. I decided to drive down a logging road in the middle of our study area since it was relatively close. I noticed some fresh UTV tracks leading down the road, and assumed there was a group of people not far ahead of me. I slowed down as I approached a pull off where people, typically hunters, park to get around a gate. As I rounded the bend in the road, I noticed movement up ahead.
Wolf V077, the breeding male of the Paradise Pack, and father of the Paradise Pack pups.
My gut feeling told me I was probably right about the people being ahead of me. It looked like they came to let their dogs run around as well because I saw three dogs chasing each other around the parking area. A few seconds later when I got a bit closer, I realized that the dogs I was looking at were actually wolf pups.
I immediately parked, shutting my car off along the side of the road. One of three wolf pups instinctively darted back into the safety of the woods bordering the road. Two of the pups were a bit more curious, and kept their eyes locked on my car while sniffing the air for any clues as to what I might be. I luckily had my camera with me, and reached for it. Wolves typically run off so fast that it leaves you questioning whether or not you actually saw one. But these wolf pups stood their ground for a few moments, and I luckily managed to capture a few pictures of them.
A rare in-person photograph of two of the Paradise Pack pups from this summer!
Shortly after I first spotted them, the remaining two wolf pups disappeared back into the thick forest. After they were gone, I sat there for a moment admiring the few pictures I took. Since it’s incredibly challenging to see wolves in this area, it’s just as challenging to photograph them, let alone get a decent picture. When I first started working for the VWP back in April of 2021, one of my personal goals was to get a picture of a wild wolf. This encounter allowed me to achieve that.
I continued down the logging road after that experience, letting my dog run around in a nice spot far from where any wolves would have pups. The place bordered two pack territories so I knew an additional run-in would be unlikely. We hung out there for an hour before heading back down the road towards home. When nearing the area I spotted the wolf pups, I slowed down just in case any were running around again as it was getting dark and I wanted to make sure I could see anything in front of me.
Two of the Paradise Pack pups observed during this encounter!
Just then, I noticed more movement. It was from something bigger this time. As I peered into the long grass on the side of the road, the breeding female of the Paradise pack—Wolf V085 who was collared in 2020— stepped out. Wolf V085 is the mother of the three pups I encountered earlier. At this point I really couldn’t believe my luck. I pulled out my phone and got a video of her passing in front of my car and sniffing around where her pups previously were on the road. She scent-marked a pile of grass bordering the road, and then simply vanished.
Again I found myself sitting there completely shocked. My windows were cracked and I was forced back to reality by the deafening noise coming from the buzzing mosquitoes and flies entering my car.
Two Paradise Pack pups sleeping outside of a den that was under an old-growth white cedar.
Just as I was about to leave, one low drawn-out howl erupted from the forest directly next to me. It was coming from an adult wolf, definitely V085. Another joined her, this time I knew it was a pup because of the high-pitched squeaky sound. Then another, and another… In this moment I noticed the night fell silent, and even the bugs stopped to listen to the wolves. Wolf V085 had found her pups, and she wanted to let everyone know.
About the author:
Maeve Tuley has worked as a field technician for the Voyageurs Wolf Project for the past two field seasons. She received her undergraduate degree in Fish and Wildlife Management and Ecology at Montana State University. Maeve is also planning on pursuing a Master’s degree at Northern Michigan University in collaboration with the project starting this winter. Other than collecting data on wolves, Maeve enjoys taking her dog on adventures, fishing, camping, and creating art.