Sep 13

Aerial Photos Aid Biologists

 Researchers get a “raven’s eye view” of Yellowstone.

Digital photography has changed the way most of us take pictures when we’re on vacation, and today it is also revolutionizing wildlife research. Observing wolves, bears, and other animals can be challenging because researchers do not want to get so close that they alter the animals’ natural behavior, and details are difficult to capture with the naked eye. But now Yellowstone is eliminating those challenges with a powerful, cutting-edge data collection method.

A Raven’s Eye View
For the past few years, Yellowstone biologists have been capturing close-up digital photographs of wildlife from an aircraft several hundred feet above the ground. They use high-powered Canon zoom lenses with image-stabilizing capabilities, which produce startlingly clear images.

For example, the aerial images have enabled wolf researchers to identify individual wolves in a pack, determine the presence and number of pups in a litter, and observe strategies that packs use to surround and kill prey. This technique has even identified mange affliction in a Yellowstone wolf.

In the process of photographing wildlife, the researchers have also taken some pretty stunning images of Yellowstone’s landscape, from an unusual perspective.

Canon, U.S.A. contributed the zoom lenses to Yellowstone Forever through the Eyes on Yellowstone program.

Here are a few of the many images Yellowstone biologists have captured from above:

Members of the Prospect Peak wolf pack pursue a group of antlerless elk, hoping to single one out to feed the pack. NPS Photo/M. Metz


Aerial surveys are used to document active beaver colonies throughout the park by counting willow caches tucked against the river banks and lodges. Beavers cut and pile up this food source beneath the surface of the water in the fall, in preparation for winter. NPS Photo/D. Stahler


“Cloud snakes” in the Pelican Valley. NPS Photo/D. Stahler


Members of the Lamar Canyon pack test bison during a fall hunt. NPS Photo/K. Cassidy


Grand Prismatic Spring. NPS Photo/D. Stahler


Two young bull moose spar during the breeding season in late September, in Bechler Meadows. NPS Photo/D. Stahler


Sunrise, Swan Lake Flat. NPS Photo/D. Stahler


Druid Pack pups on a ridge near Cache Creek off the Lamar River. The mother wolf in the photo was 286F. NPS Photo/D. Stahler

All photographs courtesy of the National Park Service.