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Capturing the Story of the New Wolves, New Packs, New Families

Drew Rush, National Geographic wildlife photographer/videographer, is partnering with NPLSF and Isle Royale to capture the sights and sounds of Isle Royale. Below is Drew’s account of his August 2020 trip, with the amazing footage he captured.

Dave Miller picks up Drew and Drew’s 250 pounds of gear in Duluth for the drive and passage to Isle Royale. Drew’s anticipation is high: he is hoping to capture wolf activity and behaviors on cameras he left behind on the island in March. He had many questions: Did the batteries last? Did the camera function or fog up? And more importantly did the cameras capture wolf images helpful to the park and the production of the educational film?

Dave Miller, a long time NPLSF board member provided all the transportation and logistical support from Duluth to the island. Being lost in the fog on his first trip to the island at age 10, and having to listen for the rock of ages lighthouse foghorn to guide the ad and captain, Dave has since spent an extensive amount of time learning how to boat the waters of Isle Royale. Dave’s knowledge of the reefs, rocks, and shoreline were invaluable in getting Drew to remote parts of the island where he had secured his cameras in March.

Drew’s Isle Royale Adventure – Drew was ready to retrieve his cameras and photos on May 1st, but the park was closed until June. As soon as he got the green light from the Park, Drew was on the road from Wyoming, and this time weather and wind were favorable. The seas were zero to two feet, the days were mainly sunny, with one set of storm clouds rolling through on his 4th day.

Drew’s finally on the island – The first set of memory cards are removed from the cameras and the process of scanning images begins. The cameras did fog up when a curious moose snuffled the site and were activated thousands of times when hyper squirrels explored them.

Day 3 of Drew’s trip – Drew knows that some researchers have speculated that wolf presence and activity cause moose to change their movements in a significant way, perhaps even leaving some areas to avoid wolves. So far, the locations Drew is focused on are showing intermittent use by both wolves and moose! Will their paths cross at a fateful time? Drew is hopeful the camera will record a wolf and moose at the same location and then show a chase - and with the best luck, potentially a kill sequence. The park will use some of his images to support research that’s compiling data from multiple sites - to explore avoidance and site utilization where wolves and moose interact on the island.

Day 4 of Drew’s trip – Under the dark of night, the wildlife of Isle Royale is active. Some behaviors seem natural and some seem quite odd! We know beaver like to eat aspen and other hardwood species but this beaver appears to be spicing up his diet with spruce.

Day 5 of Drew’s trip – GPS collars allowed for a surprising discovery! The park knew wolves were using the main island in the winter, but learned they were crossing the ice and even swimming open water to visit nearby outer islands! With over 250 islands as part of the Isle Royale archipelago was this a winter phenomenon, or would it continue? Drew tracked wolves to fill in the blank between GPS readings and made his best guess as to where to deploy his cameras. He was able to confirm that wolves are continuing to use outer islands - swimming open expanses of harbors to end up in what appears to be a cat and mouse game with moose! Both animals are using the same territory at different times. The next trip hopes to catch wolves swimming from island to island.

Day 6 of Drew’s trip – No pups appeared on camera during this deployment, but capturing pup behavior will be the next new collaboration with the park while working on cataloging wolf and wildlife behaviors.

Drew left the park a little anxious that the cameras will remain undisturbed by forces of nature (or people), to let them do their work - opening a window into the world of wolves. We hope his equipment remains undisturbed! Although the animals are well aware of the camera locations, once acclimated, they act natural, providing us with insights into their world.


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