Among those of us who spend our lives looking for wildlife to photograph, there is something called a “Three Dog Day” – that means finding, and with any luck photographing, red foxes, coyotes, and wolves all in the same day.
In a place like Yellowstone National Park, where the animals are more accustomed to people, three dog days are noteworthy, but not that unusual.
What is unusual is having that same experience in Wisconsin.
Much of the northwest part of the state is heavily forested; most of the rest is rolling scrub oak and pine barrens. In both terrain types you’re lucky if you can see 50 yards. And predators are much more skittish.
But one day last week the wildlife gods looked down on me and smiled.
It began with a lovely male Red fox prowling around the house early in the morning. He was undoubtedly searching for one of the many deer mice perpetually trying to find a way in.
Personally, I have nothing against the mice, but I hope the fox succeeded anyway.
After a few minutes of watching, I left the fox to his business while I poked around to see what else I might see on that cool August morning.
The local badgers have been busy lately and I thought I might find a family group to photograph.
That’s when the unusual happened.
Gray wolves are ever-present here in this part of the state, but they are rarely seen for more than a moment.
Rarely seen does not equate to rare, though. There are lots of wolves around here.
In fact, I’ve caught glimpses of five wolves in the past month; long enough to ID them, but far too brief to photograph them.
But for some reason, on this day a pair from a local pack decided to do a territorial perimeter check in broad daylight.
I watched them for about a mile. Each time they would come out to the road, urinate on everything in sight, and then melt back into the roadside cover. With one eye on me, and the other on the road, they performed this scent marking six times while I watched.
In August, Wisconsin wolves are not at their prettiest; with thin coats, thin bodies, and gangly legs like only the wolf has.
But still, wild wolves are fascinating, and they’re really hard to photograph in the middle of a Wisconsin summer. It’s much easier to find them in the winter.
Based on their urination techniques, one was male and the other female, and the male was a head taller. As tall as he was, and in his summer coat, he almost looked like he was on stilts.
Eventually they left the road altogether and I went on my way.
That wonderful, unexpected photo op sent me on a mission to complete a wild dog trifecta.
A gray fox den about thirty miles away has been relatively inactive since the vixen started letting her three kits tag along on her hunts, but I had to check it anyway.
But another adult Gray fox has been seen recently in the same area, so I staked out the most likely place to see it.
15 minutes later the gray came up out of a ditch and stood looking at me.
Unbelievable! A three dog day in Wisconsin – in August.
Of course I immediately started making plans to accomplish the impossible; a four dog day.
All I needed was a coyote, the most common of all the wild canids in the state. But try as I might, I never found one.
Not a bad day, though, considering I started out looking for badgers.
Keith R. Crowley is a writer and photographer who splits his time between the Upper Midwest, the Central Plains, and the Rocky Mountain West.
You can see his work at www.LodgeTrail.com
©2015 Keith R. Crowley – All rights reserved.