Wolf Vocalization & Communication Research
Well! It has been a very taxing past two years, to say the least. Personal issues consumed much of it and research efforts had to be put on hold for a while. Although limited, field studies did occur. However, we’re back on track now and things are moving forward. So! Time for some update!
The 2016 season left a lot to be desired and once again seen us devote and exhaust much of our time attempting to locate individuals and packs within the Haliburton area, Algonquin Provincial Park (APP) and Parry Sound district. Although not quite withstanding of our usual numbers, we did have a couple of successful sessions. Originally, we had planned to explore more of the northern regions in Ontario during the 2016 period and yet, Algonquin Park proved to be our most prominent study area once again due to restraints and restrictions inflicted on to us by uncontrollable outside sources.
Back in January, we discussed in detail amongst ourselves and decided that a new direction would be more beneficial to the study. Collecting data, information and obtaining quality recordings suiting the ‘scientific level’, eats up enormous amounts of finance and valuable time. Following a lot of debate and consideration, we agreed that redirecting the project towards the educational and wolf awareness focal point would be a more suitable avenue to navigate given our resources and time availability. Therefore, the entire study/research project had to be revamped in order to accommodate an educational format. It became rather obvious, that this undertaking was not going to be a quick and easy task and remains still, a ‘work in progress’.
To kick-start the ‘new’ approach, we agreed to allow individuals and select groups to accompany us out in the field while we conducted locating attempts. We were vigilant in scrutinizing those who conveyed a true interest in wolves and possessed a genuine desire to learn more about the species, their behaviour and habitat. The plan is to implement these people as potential ‘spotters’ in coming years.
A ‘spotter’ would be strictly a volunteer position. They would join us on ‘field study outings’. As part of the team, they would be equipped with the necessary items required to assist in documenting a field session as it progressed. Great care would be taken to insure those selected are able to cope with the stress of being placed in what at times can be considered, very intimidating situations. Not everyone makes a good spotter, especially when you have a pack of wild wolves wandering around you in the black of night out in the middle of ‘nowhere’. That, in its self can be very ‘spooky’. Even for a trained and confident individual. Spotting can make one feel more like ‘bait’, rather than a team member.
However, judging from this 2016 season, I believe that those who did join us had a very rewarding and gratifying experience. Some got to see wild wolves up close and others even managed a photo or two. Hopefully, the future will grow to be even better and we will be able to give more people a truly wonderful and amazing ‘wilderness’ experience. Today, we anxiously look forward to tomorrow.
In this effort to redirect the focus of the study to a more ‘educational and awareness’ format, we did manage a couple of great outings with equally as great people during this season (2016). So! A big ‘Shout Out’ goes to Pierre and Sheila, the Sharpe family (Rick, Lois, Victoria and Christen), Lori and Brian (visiting from British Columbia) as well as Monica and Joanne (the butterfly ladies). We hope that they enjoyed the experience as much as we enjoyed their company. Most importantly, hopefully we have dispelled some myths associated to … the wolf.
We were in Algonquin Park, attempting to locate wolf packs with evening howls. After 15 minutes in several locations, it was decided to call it a night, after having a pack reply, which seemed too far to be located on the same territory as us. Upon leaving the location it was discovered, a lone wolf on the road, trotting towards our location.
We believe that the events that transpired on this particular evening is worthy of the time taken to write it and well worth the effort to read it. Unfortunately, we have no recording to accompany the event that took place on October 9th, 2015 at approximately 19:30 hrs. Even though we did have a recording device with us, we were unprepared for what took place and left it neatly tucked away in a knapsack located with our bikes which were parked approximately 35 metres from our position. Any attempt to retrieve the recorder may have resulted in disrupting the event completely, thus, jeopardizing our opportunity to interact vocally with the wolves and increasing the odds of us losing the session all together. Sometimes, memory is our only course of action to record an event as it unfolds.
We have had many encounters that would equal this event, but we must apologize for not capturing this particular one on audio. It turned out to be one of the more exciting sessions that we have had in quite some time and was filled with a variety of different calls used by wolves to communicate with one another. The night was calm, clear, without wind and the vocals were vivid and unmistakable. The event took place on an old railway line, now utilized as a recreational biking trail, in Algonquin Provincial Park, located in north central region of Ontario, Canada. We feel that it is only fitting that we share the event with you, through these writings, at this time. Enjoy.
A friend and fellow camper was witness to the event as it occurred. We had found a moose carcass and hoped to use the information that it provided for an upcoming article involving “scavengers, scavenging and the decomposition process under natural conditions”. We had taken the necessary photos and documented the required information and were now standing quietly observing the surrounding area, searching for “critters” coming in to snack on some carrion. Our friend had a light attached to the front wheel of her bike that was rather bright, but since we were not conducting any fieldwork at the time, we were not concern with the bright blue glow emitting from the direction of the parked bikes.
We observed four sets of wolf tracks imprinted in the mud near the moose carcass earlier in the week. However, no wolves had yet come to feed. Though, one wolf had left a “location scent-marking” in the way of a “scat” deposited neatly on the side of the trail, opposite the carcass. We were aware of a rather large pack of wolves that has called this particular area “home” for many years now and we had already included them within our study. Currently, we elect not to bother them anymore since they are continuously and relentlessly howled to/at by the patrons of the nearby campgrounds. However, as we were readying ourselves to depart, I stated my urge to “give a howl, just to see what would happen”.
As I repositioned myself in order to get a better advantage in a direction more favourable to project a “social call”, we were surprised when a “caution call” sounded from within the forest hills directly south of our position and from a distance of only about 100 metres away. Past experience dictates that the vocal was one of a juvenile wolf. Perhaps, a yearling curiously focussed on the blue glow emitting from the light illuminating from the bike wheel and then, having been startled by my abrupt movement as I repositioned. Non-the-less, the surprise to us and close proximity of the animal, forced me to rethink my options and caused me to postpone a reply. Not wanting to “spook” our host, we waited silently, listening intently for a second call or reply.
Several moments passed with no response. Finally, I decided to attempt a “greeting call” in order to initiate a reply from the youngster or perhaps, elicit a response from other nearby wolves. I believe that the animal that made the call must have been aware of our presence and was actually watching us because as soon as I made the call, it responded with another “caution call”. This was immediately answered with a “locator call” from a second wolf further south and deeper into the forest. Again, we chose to wait and listen before trying a “locator call” of my own.
After a few moments, I sounded the call. The wolf furthest to the south answered and was joined by a third wolf farther to the east of the other two. I followed with a “social call” and received a reply from three more adults calling from the thick forest areas to the west, at an estimated distance of 1.5 kilometres away. I returned a “summoning call” which was reciprocated from the west wolves. My second “summoning call” was answered with “locator calls” from all three south wolves as well as the three western animals. A moment later, “locator calls” could be heard by two or three more arrivals vocalizing from the open land in the north. About nine wolves were now engaged in exchanging vocals.
A “summoning call” was executed by the west wolves that prompted the three south wolves to move. Made evident by their boisterous sounding vocals as they began to gravitate towards the three west animals, these wolves were travelling quickly across the southern hillsides. We took advantage of their departure and seized the opportunity to turn off the brightly glowing light of the bike without causing any disruption to the session. I regret having missed this opportunity for retrieving our recorders, because what followed next was nothing short of “phenomenal”.
Soon, the evening air became a sounding-board for a constant entanglement of both “summoning and locator calls” as the two groups began to gather in the west. Perhaps, the dominant pack leader was located at that position? By this point, the animals originating to the north also began to travel south west towards the site where we believed the pack was hold up. We were sure that we heard a “greeting call” coming from the west group, indicating the arrival of members, but without a recording, we cannot confirm this for certain. However, it did prompt me to attempt another series of “locator calls”. Each duplicated and responded to from the animals situated there.
We suspect that the wolves were “regrouping” their pack to the west. This was confirmed by the vocalizations projecting from the animals in that direction. Theirs calls were combinations of individual and group howls consisting of a barrage of different calls. We tried to count the “over-lapping vocals”, and estimated at least eight to ten animals were now gathered together at one site. Yet again, without a recording, confirmation of their numbers is near impossible to obtain with any accuracy.
The still, night air was alive with a bantering session of various calls going back and forth at rapid speed between myself and the wolves and continued for nearly ten more minutes. After exchanging numerous “warning, caution, locator, summoning calls” along with a couple of aggressive “challenge calls”, I decided to go all out and throw in my “make something happen” call and sounded the “trespass call”. I was rewarded with hearing a call sequence previously described on another page within this website. This sequence of vocals indicates the packs willingness and/or intention to proceed forward for the purpose of “confrontation” and perhaps, the “final showdown”. And, when they come, they come fast.
A battle of vocal exchanges between me and the approaching pack continued for what seemed like another ten minutes as they made their way from west to east. They moved at a quick and steady pace. Vocalizing with every inch of ground covered and within a more few minutes, the entire pack were positioned in full view, at a road crossing situated less than 35 metres on the trail in front of us. Moments like this serves only to enhance the excitement and can really get the blood pumping and the adrenalin flowing. We have always said “no matter how many times we do this, it never gets old”.
Caught up in the moment, I moved onto the trail, turned towards the pack and projected a “submissive greeting call” which we use in order to alleviate tension, lessen stress levels and bring a more relaxed ending to a session. Immediately, it became obvious that a dominant member of the group had “made me out” as an imposter. I had revealed myself into plain view and we heard the ever recognizable “whiny yip” type call that we have heard numerous time before. We perceive it to mean “shut-up!” and as also expected, the group obliged. All became absolutely silent and reluctant to respond.
It was agreed that this presented a good opportunity to end the session, so I made a “submissive social call” and waited. Shortly, the usual barks and yips which we are accustomed to hearing when ending all sessions in this manner began and finally, we were answered with a low “victory howl” by a couple of the wolves. This is the call that we hope to hear when de-escalating a session. Slowly the intensity began to lessen and the pack eventually began to settle. Soon, all was calm and peaceful as the animals faded back into the forests to continue with their nightly activities as if though nothing at all had happened.
Perhaps, we could have kept the session going longer? What would be the point though? After all, it was 75 minutes of pure “adrenalin rush”. Besides, we weren’t recording and we now had another exciting adventure to talk about at the campfire. That seemed sufficient enough for all of us. We gave gratitude in our customary way, showing respect, appreciation and admiration towards the wolves for so graciously allowing us a glimpse into their world on this calm, clear October night. We made our way back to the area where our bikes were parked, loaded our gear and rode out towards camp. We voiced our disappointment for not having gotten the recording. But that thought lasted only a moment.
We followed the road leading out and made our way to the bush-line. As we entered the mist covered area of meadows and blue-berry patches, we met a single wolf walking down the path towards us. We stood looking at one another for moment. No one moved. No one spoke. Finally the wolf turned to its right and totted off in silence, allowing us to proceed along our way. Another treasurable moment committed to memory.
It’s their theatre. It’s their stage. We are simply spectators in an audience, hoping to be entertained. And, if we are entertained, then once again, “all is right with the world”.
Wolftalkers © October, 2015
A Couple of Happy Happenings in 2016
In the summer of 2016, Wolftalkers resumed studies beginning with an eight day period in July and for another two weeks in August, completing the summer season with a three week duration for September and on into October. Although we did not get out as often as we wished during this timeframe (due to weather and/or other interruptive activity), we did experience some good sessions and obtained recordings that will be useful to the study.
A humorous thing occurred on one particular occasion in August. We had met a family of four and another couple who were camped in the same campground as ourselves. After having an in-depth conversation with these people and explaining our relationship with the resident pack of wolves, each person expressed an interest in wanting to learn more and to experience the excitement of a ‘wolf howl’ first hand. It was agreed that we’d escort them on a ‘calling session’ to see if we could elicit some calls back from any wolves that might in the area.
We arranged to meet at a specific time and place. From there, we would travel to an area where I would attempt to howl for wolves in order that they may hear the ‘call of a wolf in the wild’. Although we call anytime during the day or at night, I prefer the later hours when we take guests out simply for the convenience of eliminating or reducing the chance of any ambient noise interference. On this particular evening, we decided to call from an area that we could access easily from our campground. It was an area that we could all get to via our bicycles.
So, we all meet and ride our bikes through the dark to the chosen spot. Upon arriving and parking our bikes in a nice neat and tidy row, I began the ‘routine talk’ outlining the ‘do’s and don’ts’ of ‘wolf calling’. You know? Things like: ‘don’t shuffle your feet in the dirt’ or ‘don’t make any loud disturbing noise’ or ‘don’t shine your flashlight in their eyes’ or ‘don’t pull their tails’ etc. etc. …. Yeah! I’m kidding about ‘pulling their tails’ … but No! Don’t pull their tails!
Mostly, the talk is ‘short and sweet’. There aren’t many rules aside from respect and common sense to be enforced. After all, if you are truly interested in having the experience, most people will be very obliging and behave appropriately.
Anyways, I get to the part where I tell them that “Do not react with fear should a wolf come really close.” and “definitely do not scream out or make any fast movement that the animal may interpret as hostility”. Go figure. Just as I finished that statement, eight bicycles that were parked side by side, fell down in a ‘domino effect’ with a loud crash. … Yep! Everybody jumped, screamed and ran in four different directions. Once the terror ceased and the humor arose from the dilemma, I calmly stated …. “ Yeah. That’s it. Don’t do that”. We all had a good laugh from the event and ended the evening with a fine response from a pack of wolves. On that warm summer night under the August moon, both adults and pups serenaded us for about thirty minutes with their song. We all stood in silence, enjoying the sounds of the choir.
Even though we have in the past enticed entire packs of wolves and/or individual animals to venture in extremely close to our ‘call position’, we never attempt this when we take people out to ‘howl’. We will position the group in a natural setting among trees and/or scrub-brush, but for the most part, we are pretty much ‘out in the open’ where the wolves can clearly see us. Because we do not use scent, bait, mask, blinds, camouflage or any other form of attractant to ‘lure the wolves in’, only the sound of (my) voice accurately duplicating each call and placing them in the right sequence along with correct replies to incoming responses, will cause a wolfs natural instinct of ‘territorial defense’ to over-ride its natural ‘fear of humans’. Their focus is zeroed-in on finding the perceived ‘intruder’.
A ‘reply howl’ from wild wolves is usually enough to suffice any guest or group. However, visual contact of the animal from a safe distance is always anticipated and a welcomed bonus. But! Photos are always the ‘ultimate’! … Such an evening took place on October 4th, 2016.
We had invited two guests to accompany us to a spot where we had called two nights previous. It was approximately 7:00 o’clock when we arrived. At about 7:30, we made the first call which was answered by a single howl emitting from a stand of white pines near to our position. A moment later, the packed howled from a stand of trees about 200 metres away. We knew they were close, so not wanting to spoil our good fortune, we stood silently. Listening and watching.
We stood quietly, observing the area for about fifteen minutes more when I noticed a movement in the treeline from where the first reply came. Then, at about 7:50, six adult wolves emerged from the forest to the south west of where we were positioned. By now, it was beginning to get rather dark and we had to resort to using our night vision in order to continue viewing the animals. As we watched, the wolves moved in closer and closer. Even though we knew from the group howl that they were nearby, the pups remained out of our sight.
The six adults walked to within 120 meters from where we stood under a growth of white pine trees. Two animals approached and calmly bedded down in front of us as the others followed the trail north. Suddenly a dominant wolf (identified by the ‘cocking of the leg’) appeared 30 paces to the south of where we stood and urinated on a small pine sapling. This was done either in defiance or in protest of/to our presence. No matter though, our guests were extremely excited to be that close to a pack of wild wolves and this act of fearlessness was an added ‘bonus’. The expression on each of their faces told us that this was ‘a first’ for them.
We continued observing for several more minutes before losing ‘battery power’ in one of our night vision units which brought an end to the evening event. In all, we were able to view six adult wolves and suspect that there may possibly have been four pups (estimated during the groups howl). A great evening in anybody’s books! Like I have always said, “This stuff never gets old! The adrenalin rush is the same every time we do it”. So! I guess we’ll just keep on doing it!
We returned for a locating howl early in the evening, with a great pack response. Upon returning approximately 3 hours later, we began the session with social calls and waited for the pack to return to the rendezvous site. After approximately 30 minutes the dominant member started to return calls, then was joined with other adults, and then joined with the pups. The pack began to communicate to each other and began to organize their locations.
This quieted the pack for approximately 10 minutes, then they started into a full communicating and moving session, to which an individual wolf trotted around the back of us. At this point we decided to close the session as it was in close proximity to the road.