After a good nightís sleep Iím up at 5:15 out by 6:30. Itís 7 degrees.
The morning is still pitch black, with no stars and no moon. I have frost on my windows but no snow. My windows are frozen!
Snow starts falling just past the entrance gate. Again I have elk grazing close to the road at Phantom Lake. Itís still very dark. For the first hour of the drive I pass no cars coming towards me.
At Tower I notice the temperature gauge reads minus 8! Whew!
Iím nearly through Little America before I get first light. I drive all the way through Lamar and see a moose at the Confluence. There is snow-fog all over Lamar. I figure out from radio chatter that I somehow missed both Laurie and Rick; I passed them at Slough. I turn around and head there. The temp gauge now reads minus 12.
As the light grows, I can see the new snow has made everything look gorgeous. And itís still coming down.
I join my friends at Slough and watch the newly-reconstituted Junction Butte pack. There has been a bloodless coup in this pack. The former alphas, 890M (black) and 870F (injured gray) have been displaced by 911M (gray) and 970F (black). The new alpha female is none other than the former ďBlack FemaleĒ whom I first noticed this past summer. She had been traveling with 755 but seems to have left him for 911. I predicted she would be an alpha someday, and that day came sooner than I expected. I forget when she was collared, but it was recent.
Anyway, I see 7 wolves here today and they are close enough for me to see some interesting behavior. I watch 870 submit to the new alpha female, who seems quite aggressive. I suppose I should be glad 870 is allowed to stay in the pack at all. Often the displaced alpha is either killed outright or run off quite rudely.
890M is also allowed to stay, although his style is to simply stay separate from the pack. We hear the pack howl a lot this morning. We speculate that the younger wolves are not quite settled yet with the new regime, and having their parents made so unwelcome.
Itís a nice long sighting. Most of the wolves are bedded on the hills east of the old den area. At one point 2 grays and a black start to chase something but I never see what it is, maybe a snowshoe hare?
They are here because they have a carcass in the gully, as evidenced by several nearby trees full of birds. 890M and 870F are each bedded alone and not very close to each other. While I am distracted by the other wolves I lose both former alphas. Shortly after this most of them emerge from the gully and have a rally. While the rally is going on I hear a voice answer from further east.
While the adults bed down, some yearlings head down to the frozen river. I enjoy watching one of the blacks walk on the ice near an open patch of water. There are also 3 bull elk bedded above the bank, but they stand and move off when the wolves approach.
Eventually other pack members follow the bold black and venture closer to the area where we last saw the deposed alphas. There is more howling, then the whole pack moves off in the direction of the Trailhead bathroom. Eventually we lose all of them.
Itís now 11AM and I decide to head back east. We have finally reached 0 degrees and then we climb all the way up toÖ3. Itís cold! But the air smells great, so clear and fresh.
As I pass Fishermanís I see a big Suburban has gone off the road just west of Coyote. Thanks to a pick-up truck with a tow rope, they get it out and save the driver the cost of a tow.
Itís still snowing but at least there is no wind. I head back out to Bobís and join Laurie. She stayed and saw 870 appear and come to the carcass. She ate a very short while. Poor thing. She still has her neck injury and if sheís on the outs with her pack it could spell trouble for her.
870 heads east but instead of following the pack, she angles more towards Secret Passage. We hear the pack howl again. They seem to be just beyond the end of the campground road.
I notice that 870 does not howl back.
Rick is eager for someone to go to Hellroaring to check on the Prospects. Kathie and I volunteer. We stay nearly an hour but find nothing. We head back east just before 2PM. There are still lots of people scoping from Slough when we return. I head out to the Knob where Rick is and just miss seeing 870F.
There is a report of an old bison carcass at Blacktail Ponds which has drawn many coyotes. There are reports of a wolf having visited it, too. I tell myself to stop there on my way back tonight.
At 3:20 itís still snowing! I start my drive west and stop for a very pretty mule deer buck grazing on the hillside west of Yellowstone Bridge.
I pull in to Hellroaring, joining Steve, Richard, Becky & Chloe. Visibility is great but there is nothing to see. Poor Steve is in a cast.
He had a foot operation on Halloween that did not go well. He wears socks and plastic around his cast so he can still stay outside and scope.
When I get to the ponds, a bison funeral is going on for their long-dead comrade. And there are five coyotes. It must be at least two packs as they fight a lot. Not vicious, fighting, but they seem very annoyed with each other. I see them leap at each other, jaws agape, battering with forepaws. Eventually each of them gets a turn at the carcass. Only the head is visible; the rest is below the icy water. Itís quite common for bison to drown here over the winter.
On my way down to Gardiner I see a pair of bighorn sheep in the Canyon.
Today I saw: bison, 5 coyotes, 1 mule deer buck, 3 bull elk, 2 bighorn sheep, 9 wolves (all from the Junction Butte pack: 911M, 970F, 870F, 890M plus 907, Swoosh, and two gray yearlings and a black pup) and the spirit of Allison