The New Year starts out just like the old year Ė itís minus 13!
Again we easterners cruise through the Soda Butte Valley with no wolves in sight until we get to Slough. Our stalwart friend Steve is the one to spot them again.
I hike out to Bobís Knob for another day of watching the Prospect Peak Pack. They are still in the Slough area instead of on the Blacktail, where they ďbelongĒ.
Steve thinks they had a bison carcass, a calf, low on the hill where we had them yesterday. Itís the whole pack today, not just the male group. And they are howling. The surrounding mountain tops amplify and echo the wolf jazz in a glorious way. What wonderful sounds to hear in the early morning!
The high count today is 14, although I see a total of 12. They are all over the place, some on the rocky hill and many more spread out from the flanks of Daveís Hill to the campground road.
Eventually the pack decides to head uphill and we have a bit of a repeat of yesterday, but with more of them. They take three distinct routes up the rocky knob, heading east/northeast. About half way the three routes converge to one and the pack lines up nicely, making it far easier to count.
I always love to see wolves moving past the trunks of trees. Not sure why; itís just really cool to see.
They emerge into a sunlit section just below the actual summit, gathering on snow-covered rocks. Wow, thatís a really nice sight to see, too, and there are so many people out here to see them. It makes us all happy. Wolf watching has really increased in popularity over my years here. They are not all die-hards like us, but certainly willing to get up early, hike out and brave these temperatures. Itís nice to see people with a wolf-made smile on their faces.
The pack has a rally up top, which is even more cool to see. I recognize the alphas, 763M and 821F, but I donít see much affection between them as I always saw with 21 and 42. But they are great looking, healthy wolves and thatís the most important thing.
Some of the others are pointed out to me Ė third sister and the male called ďTwinĒ because he looks like a younger version of 763M. After the rally they start to disappear in ones and twos over the other side.
We know the Junction Butte wolves are to the south of here, at least according to signals. Most of us pack up and head to Long Pullout to see if we can find them. Steve and I both see a lone gray canid on skyline. I really think itís a wolf but it turns out to be a coyote.
We see sheep up at the top but never find the Junctions. I head further west and find Doug, Becky & Chloe, Des and Colleen at the S curves.
They report that Larry and Linda saw a gray wolf feeding on the old, frozen bison carcass at Blacktail ponds and they got video. We hear another report from visitors that two wolves crossed the road down at the skierís bathroom.
Hmm. As we are chatting here, Doug moved up to the Nature Trail. He calls to say he has something from up there. We join him and eventually I see a single black pretty far out there. While we are watching him/her, a second black appears, a little bit closer, and then a gray. We have these three in view for a while, trying to figure out who they are, and if they are together. The gray could actually be 755 (a formerly black wolf who has turned silvery gray) but we all agree this wolf doesnít really look like him.
The wolves are not very close to each other, so itís hard to tell size differences accurately, but the gray seems considerably smaller than at least one of the blacks. 755 has always be slim but heís pretty tall, soÖ
Doug thinks the biggest black has a collar. One theory is that the collared black could be 890M (former Junction alpha male) and the gray could be a Junction pup. This leaves us guessing about the other black.
While we are watching these three we hear pretty much non-stop howling for about two hours. Far away, but audible.
We end up having a sort of New Yearís Day party here in this lot. Kirsty and Alan serve warm mulled wine and Christmas cake and we each pass around whatever goodies we have. Marlene gives everyone home-made wolf-pattern scarves.
The wolves we are watching move off and disappear and soon we see why. A group of cross-country skiers is headed their way. I think the skiers may have been following wolf tracks, because they are on the very same hill.
When the collared black moves off, the gray follows, from a distance. The other black does not, so that argues for the second black being from a separate pack.
Then some visitors tell us that the howling is very clear from the skierís bathroom. So I drive down there and find a group of snow-shoers just returning from a hike. They tell me they saw the howling wolf and got a picture. When I see the photo, I am convinced that Iím looking at the Canyon alpha female. I ask if they will stop at the big lot and show their photo to the people in the lot to see if they can ID the wolf.
They say yes.
When Laurie sees the photo she is sure itís the Canyon female. Aha! So perhaps the other wolves were members of her pack. Which means the collared black could be 712. We know there is at least one gray female and a black male in this pack. So perhaps the black male remained because he knew mom was still to the west.
Now another gray is spotted, this one is limping. Some of us think this is 755. His coat is so silvery now he looks like a gray. He is too far away to tell if he has a collar. This wolf is scent-trailing the black and the small gray. Hmm, a picture is forming. Perhaps 755 is interested in joining the Canyons or in one of their daughters?
Then Story spots a fox! She helps me see it, too so I have a three dog day.
This is a really nice way to start the New Year. But itís almost 3:45 and time for me to head back east. I have heard that a weakened bison near the Soda Cone has died and the rangers moved it away from the road, closer to the river. Welp, the Lamars will have a feast tonight!
As I drive back through the Blacktail, I enjoy the gorgeous light. Even when there are no wolves to see, the beauty of Yellowstone still amazes me.
I get to the Soda Cone at 4:45 and see the bison carcass. Nothing is on it yet, but I will stop here in the morning. Rick confirms that the Lamars are still in the vicinity of the Institute, so they donít know about this feast yet. In fact, they may have another carcass back there, keeping them out of sight.
I finish my day with two gorgeous bull moose in Round Prairie
Today I saw: bison, coyotes, elk, 1 fox, 2 moose, bighorn sheep, 16 wolves including 12 Prospects and 4 additional, un-confirmed wolves Ė possibly from the Canyon Pack and possibly 755) and the spirit of Allison.