Winter Study

The Setting

Isle Royale is a remote, wilderness island located in Lake Superior. The island is inhabited by a population of wolves and moose. Isle Royale is also the site of the world’s longest continuous study of any predator-prey system in the world. Every winter, we spend 7 weeks at Isle Royale observing the lives of these wolves and moose. Rolf began working on the wolf-moose project in the early 1970s. I began working on the project in the early 1990s, and I record our adventures and discoveries here in Notes from the Field. Every three to four days, a new entry will be posted here with all the latest from Isle Royale.

Much of what we learn about Isle Royale’s wolves and moose is learned while looking out the windows of the “Flagship,” a small plane with room for a pilot and one observer. Don is the project’s pilot. He has been flying with the wolf-moose project for more than 30 years. His piloting skills are unparalleled and critical to our success. This winter, 2014, is the 56th year of Winter Study.

5 February - Low clouds cleared off and the wind calmed, allowing one flight in the afternoon.  I (Rolf) took off at 3:30PM and soon heard the signal from the collared wolf in the West Pack.  We followed it to a place I’d never seen wolves before – Bottle Island, which is the western-most islet of...
Sincere apologies to readers who closely follow the day-to-day activities of the Isle Royale wolves during Winter Study! John is truly swamped - underwater with work - and cannot continue to post new entries at this time. We do not make this announcement lightly and apologize for the delay. Your...
27 January – The wind shoved boiling clouds low across the sky. We envied them. Sailing over the forests and lakes of Isle Royale, they don’t even appreciate their privileged perspective. Who knows, maybe the clouds are grateful. No matter the weather, it is hard to keep a good pilot from his plane...
24 January - A new wind rose during the night, tearing through the forests and clawing on the bunkhouse. It was expected to continue on through the day. Yesterday, we had seen that the West Pack had abandoned the site where they had killed their last moose. That site is about six miles from the...
22 January - Wind, snow, and well below zero. 23 January -  We woke to a thirty knot wind out of the north and –18F. By midday the wind subsided and the temperature warmed to minus four(-4) Fahrenheit. Rolf and Don took advantage and headed out for an afternoon flight. They never saw Isabelle or...
19 Sunday – Snow fell throughout the day. The snow is deeper (for this early in the winter) than any living moose on Isle Royale has ever seen. Imagine for a moment, being a nine hundred pound moose, trudging through knee-deep snow to gather food – twigs and needles. Each step requires more energy...
13 Jan - We were poised and we waited. We will remain so until weather allows us passage across the twenty-four miles of Lake Superior that separates Isle Royale from the mainland. Today was not that day.     14 Jan - The morning’s forecast did not look promising. A series of fast-moving low...
12 January - The winter is full of anticipation: pup survival, especially deep snows, a rising moose population, the possibility of an ice bridge… Two winters ago, the two wolves of the West-end duo showed no signs of reproduction during their first year together.  Their failure is not surprising...