Happy New Year!
Well, 2016 starts back to bitter cold again; minus 18 when I leave at 6:55AM. But no new snow.
My first stop is at Footbridge with Dora and Rhonda while Laurie & Dan go on to Hitching Post where Rick is. We set up our scopes aimed toward the cottonwoods and the Middle Flats, where we had the Lamars yesterday. We also scope the north-slope den area as well.
We see birds and a lone coyote but no wolves. There is something small moving in the flats south of the rendezvous. The usual river mist makes it hard to see for sure. I think itís probably a coyote but it could be a fox.
No one else is having any luck either. Itís really hard to scope when itís this cold and you are just going on hope. I stand it as long as I can but soon I need to move just to warm up.
We all head to Confluence East.
Itís now 8:30 and even colder at minus 22. Finally Rick confirms signals for 926F in the area by the cottonwoods. She is not visible but probably in a gully, feeding on the carcass from yesterday. Dark Black, 993M has been seen intermittently up on the north hill but heís not visible at the moment. I should also mention that both 992M and 993M have special GPS collars that work differently than older collars and are not meant to be detected with normal telemetry.
Laurie goes back to Soda Butte East but Kathie and I decide to head west to check on the Junctions.
We spread out from Coyote to Longs but none of us can find them. I need gas so I drive to Tower with the intention of coming right back. But at 9:15, Doug calls from Elk Creek. He and Melba have found wolves on Junction Lake. I skip getting gas and head straight there.
I reach Elk creek before anyone else and begin a very nice 3 hour wolf viewing. Itís the Junction pack and they have another carcass. The day has warmed already (to minus 7!) but with the sun out it feels quite tolerable.
When I get set up I find only one wolf, right at the edge of the snow-covered, frozen lake. The carcass is semi-visible, but covered with birds. The wolf Iím watching tugs off a chunk and moves away to the right. Once I see him walk I know itís 911M because of his distinctive limp.
When he reaches the bottom of a rocky slope, I see two blacks come down to greet him. 911 then disappears behind the slope and I follow the two blacks as they move to the left towards the carcass. Alas, they move behind a ridge that blocks my view. I pan back to the carcass and see two coyotes already on it.
Then suddenly there are wolves everywhere. Some appear in the foreground of the lake shore Ė running west, chasing the coyotes. Others seem to emerge from where they were likely bedded behind ridges that blocked my view of them. The coyotes race away to safety and the wolves converge at the carcass. I get a high count of 13; five blacks and eight grays.
I settle in for a nice viewing and share my scope with lots of visitors who stop to ask what weíre seeing.
Just like yesterday, the pups become playful, delighting us with their antics. Several times, their play takes them out across the frozen lake. They chase birds, each other, and sometimes run so fast they slip and slide, and their pack mates tumble after them.
I observe numerous friendly greetings between individuals and a lot of tugging and chewing. Eventually the wolves move off to bed on a tree-covered rocky knob.
The coyotes come back out quite quickly. There seem to be two family groups and they challenge each other in that aggressive, hunched-back, open-mouthed stance. There are four total.
Laurie reports that there is ongoing activity in the Lamar. So, when the Junctions finally move to the west again and start to disappear into bedding spots on the rocky knob, I decide to head back east.
Laurie says people were seeing Big T, Dark Black and Mottled above the eyebrow hill to the north and that she caught glimpses of wolves now and again out by the cottonwoods, coming and going from yesterdayís carcass. She says sheís heading in.
When I get to Tower, I pull in and finally get gas, then when I near Slough I decide to stop here to walk out the campground road once more to look for the radio.
Next to me a couple is gathering items from their pick-up, prepping for a snow shoe hike. I head out along the snow-packed path, enjoying the bright day and being temporarily alone. I get to the cut-off for Bobís Knob and begin to hear a sound over the crunch of the snow.
I stop and realize Iím hearing wolves howl. Lots and lots of voices. Wow! I turn around because itís coming from the south. I just stand still listening for a while because it is so incredibly gorgeous a sound to hear, especially when Iím out here all by myself. The whole mountainside echoes with it.
But wait? Who are they? A dozen voices for sure. Itís gorgeous and long and wonderful. I am momentarily stunned and donít even raise my binocs. Finally I do, and try to pin-point the area where the howling is coming from. I abandon my plan for the radio and head back to the lot to put up my scope. Prospects, maybe? As I walk back I call out over the radio. ďAny unit at Slough. Howling, many voices, south of SloughĒ. Because my radio is so unreliable, I am pretty sure no one will hear but I try anyway.
When I get back to the lot, the snow-shoe couple already has their scopes up. Better yet, they have found them, directly south, one ridge below skyline. I see 11 blacks and 2 grays. But who are they?
The man asks me if I have Laurieís number and I say yes and I was about to call her. Turns out this couple is Ron Blanchard and his wife. He collars wolves in Wyoming and I realize we met here in the Park several years ago. I reach Laurie at home and tell her whatís going on. She says she and Dan will head back out. She also says she will call Rick.
This pack has too many members and too many blacks to be the 8 Miles or the Prospects. They are big and very healthy looking. Ron thinks they are Mollies. Chloe and Becky are the first watchers to arrive. I am tickled to learn from them that Kathie is the one who heard my call and relayed to others in Lamar. She was hiking to the Rose Creek pen with Story and Dave and had her radio on.
Dora and Rhonda arrive, then Kathie, Story & Dave and a whole slew of others.
Laurie & Dan decide to stop at Dorothyís. At first she speculates this might be the 8 Mile pack but once she sees them she confirms they are Mollies. She says the view is good from there and she has 16.
Ron tells us the Mollies wander into Wyoming sometimes. He also knows they have just had a new alpha male join them, a young black wolf from the Beartooth Pack with a brand new collar.
Chloe finds another gray so my count is now up to 14. They are big, fluffy wolves. I eventually head to Dorothyís and see all 16. We watch them a while but they are not doing much other than sleeping and re-bedding. We donít see a carcass, but there could be one where we canít see.
Then Laurie tells us the Lamars were being seen when she drove through but that she opted to continue west anyway to see the Mollies. But now Kathie, Becky & Chloe and I decide to head east to try for a three-pack day.
We stop at Confluence East. From here we can see handsome Dark Black on the eyebrow hill. He poses and moves around a bit, then finally heads uphill out of sight. I donít know where Mottled or Big T went, but we believe they are still on the north side.
The injured bull elk is still in the river bottom, grazing contentedly further to the west from his position the last two days. I remember Bob Landis commenting once that these animals are exceptionally hardy and are often able to heal from awful injuries. I recall the list of injured wolves I have known over the years who went on to live productive lives; 253 and 302 being the most obvious examples.
Now that we have our three pack day, we decide to head back to the Mollies. Chances are, they will likely move soon. By the time I am approaching Dorothyís, though, they are already on the move so Laurie suggests we head to Slough. She is nearly there already. Itís jammed but I manage to find a spot and get set up just in time.
The pack has moved downhill, but luckily they stalled out about half way down. I see at least 10, all over an open, snow-covered slope. I watch them set off again, running somewhat haphazardly in very deep snow Ė oh, itís gorgeous to see. They stall out again just above a thick forest, giving the late-arriving watchers, including Rick, a chance to see them, too.
Laurie points out the alpha female and the new Beartooth male. Oh lord, they are pretty wolves. I see 5 grays and 10 blacks which means Iím missing one black.
Dora and Rhonda are so thrilled Ė they tell me have never seen Mollies before. They have heard about them forever but this is their first actual glimpse. Now the wolves slowly disappear one by one behind a big hill next to the forest. Above them, the open slopes are dotted with single bull elk. So maybe there are more elk behind that hill.
Itís nearly 4:30 with maybe an hour of light left. Rick asks us to spread out to try to find them again, so some of us go to Lamar Bridge, some to Crystal, some to Longs, but none of us have any luck. The collar on the Beartooth male is putting out a really strong beep but itís deceiving. Apparently the new technology can be detected even when the animal is behind a hill. So it sounds like he is in view when he isnít.
I end up at with Laurie & Dan and Chloe & Becky at Longs, looking back at the hill where we lost them. We are all very happy with our sightings today but would love to be the ones who find them again. The temperature has dropped, though. Itís back to zero degrees.
At 5:15 I have to bag it. I just cannot see anymore. I pack up and head east. Once weíre all back in Silver Gate, Laurie and I chatter on about the Mollies like teenagers talking about the cute new guys at school.
Today I saw: bison, coyote, elk, 30 wolves from three packs (1 from Lamar Canyon-933M Dark Black); 13 from Junction Butte (including 911M, 890M, 970F and 10 others) and 16 Mollies (including the alpha female and 14 other members) and the spirit of Allison.