An aerial view of a wolf in Wisconsin. / Photo courtesy of DNR pilot Beverly Paulan
As it happens so many times for me, a photograph often spurs a thought or an interest-it shouldn’t be a surprise, I tend to be a visual person. That was the case when I was treated to the image taken by Wisconsin DNR pilot Beverly Paulan during a recent wildlife survey flight. Before I even closely identified what was in the image, I was struck by the composition, the color and patterns in the winter scene (the photographer in me I suppose). The vantage point of a photograph taken from the air is a rare treat for most of us and a very unique perspective. The fact that the picture also has a wolf in it as the main subject, just made the photograph all the more interesting to me.
As I wrote in my favorite photographs of 2012 post, one of my highlights was tagging along with wildlife biologists to photograph a summer wolf monitoring project (see the link on the left side of this post). That experience involved tracking, recording sign, trapping and radio collaring. Exciting stuff for anyone who loves the outdoors!
At first, the aerial photo was thought to be “Seca” or wolf #795, that was collared during my visit. It would have been exciting knowing he was still doing well and there was an actual image of him seven months later. “He” was a 85 lbs. male at the time of capture. As it turned out, it was a different wolf (#785) from a pack twenty miles or so away. Beverly reported that it’s rather difficult to actually get photographs of wolves, for they tend to stay in deep cover while she flies her weekly radio collar monitoring flights. Winter, of course, is the best time, when they can be seen against a snowy background and the fact that they like to lie in the warming sun.
It’s a dream job perhaps-flying a plane while hanging out a window with a long lens, looking for wildlife. I’m not a pilot, but I can imagine it would be quite a rush to photograph from the air. Beverly agreed, “The fact that I get paid to a) fly and b) look for wildlife makes it absolutely the best job I could imagine. I have a degree in biology to go along with the aviation background.” She has flown commercially for 20 years and three years for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.
My hope is that I can connect on a flight this winter, and be lucky enough to get some images like she has captured. Her schedule depends on the season. For wolves, pilots fly once a week. Other flights include waterfowl surveys in the fall, otter surveys (weather allowing---very strict protocols for seeing tracks); whooping crane nest and general population surveys, (up to several times a week in the spring); eagle/osprey nest surveys in the spring; trumpeter swan surveys throughout the summer.
Overall, Beverly enjoys an intriguing career to say the least. Although she doesn’t do any ground tracking, the services of a wildlife pilot are invaluable. Seca’s movements have been monitored since his collaring last summer, and there were concerns about his health (he had a probable wolf to wolf injury). For the first few week or two, flights recorded he hadn’t moved far from the capture site, but later, he roamed his packs territory and seemed to be doing well. From my perspective, I was also glad he made it thru the wolf hunt.
Scientific monitoring efforts the biologists and pilots pursue contribute greatly in our understanding of this magnificent animal and other wildlife in our region. Their work hopefully can be used to make smart educated decisions about this priceless resource and give us a continued unique perspective on the outdoor world around us.
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Steve Meurett lives, works and plays in West Central Wisconsin and spends about every free moment outdoors where his passions lie. His outdoor interests take him on and off trail, pursuing mountain biking and skinny skiing, photography and hunting, while keeping an eye on wild mushrooms and the next fruit for craft wine. Steve is the Trail Director at The Levis Mound Trail System and member of the Clark County Trails Advisory Committee. He resides, teaches and is a photographer in Neillsville. Steve can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.