I see a little fox on the side of the road this AM, just east of Soda Butte Picnic. Hmm, that’s usually a good omen.
Nothing in Lamar so I continue west. I stop at Coyote and check in with Rick. He has a strong signal for 969F (Junction) but doesn’t have a visual, so he heads to Slough in case she might be seen on the other side of Divide Ridge. Most people go with him.
I stay here, though, with Larry & Linda. We talk and scope together. It’s still not what I call light yet, and there is a light fog wafting there and there to the south.
We are just about to give up when Linda says she thinks she has something. “Lumps” she says. Larry and I look where she is looking and I see the lumps but I think they are rocks. Then Linda says “yep, I’m sure”. I look again and this time I see two lumps move but, are they wolves? We concentrate and finally agree: those are wolves.
Linda returns to her truck to call it in and just then Rick comes on the radio giving a long instruction to Doug. Finally she gets through and tells them to come back here. Rick asks her how long we have had them and she says “for a minute” but the way her words come out it sounds like “four minutes”, and I worry that people will think we were sluggish in reporting the sighting.
Then they howl. I see 5 blacks and 3 grays. These are not Junctions, but Prospects.
They are on the western end of Jasper. I see a gray and a black walk downslope toward the cliff face. They sniff around, then come back up. They move west a bit and bed down in the rocks. There are four separate howling sessions. A gray pup howls a lot.
One large male, black with some silver markings underneath, is dominant. This is not the Prospect alpha but another wolf. I see him stand over 964M (gray). 964 is completely submissive. The Prospects have not been seen steadily enough for Laurie to know who this black wolf is, but we can tell he wants to be alpha!
After he lets 964 go, this wolf does a raised leg on a sage bush. A black female with some white on her belly scent marks over him. Looks like she wants to be alpha female!
Other members in this group are 996M, a dark black male and another black yearling. There is also a gray “dark throated” female yearling and a gray pup. They all look full so they must have a carcass somewhere.
The bold female with white on her belly takes a walk downhill all by herself. There are magpies in this spot, so maybe she cached something there. But soon she comes back up, and when she does, she stops to flirt with 964M. He does not respond to her (he probably does not want to draw attention of the bold black and be humbled again). So she moves higher on the rocks and beds by herself.
The “dark throated” yearling and the howling gray pup seem bonded. They move higher on the rocky hill and bed close to each other. Coyotes howl in defiance from down in the flats. The wolves do not react. Coyotes do not bother them!
Laurie and Rick believe all the males in this group are Prospects, but it’s a bit of a mystery as to who the two females are. It’s possible the bold black female is a former Junction that the males have already enticed from that pack.
The plane is flying and tells Rick that the Junctions are on a slope of Mt. Washburn and very likely in view from the road. Larry and Linda decide to stay here with the bedded Prospects, but most of the rest of us drive south.
We gather again at one of the high lots with a great view of the big ski slope of Washburn. Doug got here first and has already found them, bedded very high up. This explains why Rick got their signals from Coyote but no visuals!
I count nine lumps but some see ten. These wolves are sacked out, just like the Prospects were. We don’t even see any of them lift a head. But it’s a beautiful day and we are among friends. Annie is here with her window mount, just like old times.
Laurie calls to check in with Larry & Linda. They say their wolves got up and moved west out of sight. So we stay here.
I tell Laurie that as soon as the sun comes out nice and full on those wolves they will move. And sure enough, a moment later, a gray yearling gets up and starts to explore. She seems antsy and travels this way and that, sniffing in various spots. She looks back up the hill and notices a raised head or two, so she bounds back to them, encouraging them to move. One by one they start to stretch and stand. Yay!
Now 969 and 907 (who seem to be getting along very well for once) head down slope and the others follow. I notice a black female yearling because she carries her tail high, like she’s an alpha. Laurie says she has been doing this for a while.
The pack moves all the way down the long wide slope, giving us great views, then the leaders hook a right and continue into a lightly forested slope and we lose them temporarily. I look back to the ski slope several times to make sure none have been left behind and each time I do I find a straggler. I lose count and start over but still end up with 9.
The collared wolves are 969F, 907F and 994M. Laurie can tell the difference between pups and yearlings. She says there are three yearlings, two grays and a black. She thinks the other black yearling, a male, has probably dispersed. There are at least five pups (maybe six) with this group which sadly means 2 of the 8 pups we watched in the spring are gone.
The leaders reappear at the bottom of the slope and start across the flats, heading towards the “S” trees. One stops to roll on something, then two more do the same. I see the leaders scent mark several times, then they set off across the open meadow at a brisk trot. It’s just wonderful to watch. We are all reminiscing of times past, watching Agate wolves in this area.
Lynette notices a black running fast down the ski slope. Aha! Here is the sixth pup. A black. When this straggler comes bursting out of the lightly forested slope some of the leaders look back and notice it. The black is not scent trailing – he can see the pack easily. Some of the pack members get excited and for a moment it seems as though they don’t know who this black, but when he finally reaches them there is a sweet, happy greeting. So now I am officially up to 10 wolves.
The pack continues traveling to the east. It turns into a wonderful sighting; they just keep going and going, crossing the entire valley from west to east. They follow Antelope Creek and disappear for a while, then they pop up in an area we call the Fox Ridge which is above the creek. At first we thought they were going to visit a carcass, but they just keep traveling.
They are out of sight for a while, then Pauline finds them on TOP of the Fox Ridge. They mill around all over that spot, sniffing everywhere. Then they go around the ridge and out of sight. Some of us think it’s over but suddenly there are elk running every which way with wolves right on their heels!
There are numerous calves in this elk herd and things become chaotic. No one knows where to look. Laurie believes she sees contact made with a cow; someone else thinks they got close to a calf. There are two wolves right on the heels of another elk and then they all disappear into a gully.
After this, they do not re-appear again. Most people think they got one.
Now we get a report from Slough. The Prospects were seen from there a short while ago but now they have gone back over Divide Ridge and are visible once more from the Lamar side.
Wow, what a morning!
Laurie & Pauline and I pack up and head down the hill, stopping briefly to watch a lone black bear just west of Calcite.
We continue through Little America without incident and head on through Lamar Canyon. Laurie pulls over in the dirt lot just east Lamar Canyon and I join her. We set up and begin to watch the same Prospects we had this morning.
We have six of them, bedded in good view on the rocky butte that overlooks a bend in the Lamar River. Mostly they are sleeping but we do see some quiet, interesting behavior. The dominant male is now being called “Black Bar”. He has graying sides and a distinctive dark bar across his graying chest. This is the one behaving like an alpha. There are two other black males in this group; one of those is collared, 996M. There is a third black male in the group, un-collared, very dark.
The fourth male is a collared gray 964M, who seems to be on the outs with the other males at the moment. He was being submissive before; Laurie believes he may have been recently demoted. You can see it in the way he walks. He moves hesitantly; it’s different than a limping walk because he’s not physically injured. He moves in a very timid & tentative way, as if he wants to be careful not to upset anyone, or doesn’t want to be misconstrued as aggressive.
The two females are the dominant black female and a gray female yearling. When the black female comes near the gray yearling, she crouches down and tucks her tail. The black gives her a good look over, as if ready to pounce on any sign of insurrection. But the gray knows her place. Satisfied, the black goes over to “Black Bar” and pokes him. He gets up and puts his head over her back. He licks her shoulder, which I guess is a form of wolf love.
While this is happening, 964M is moving uphill to change his bedding spot. He nearly “tip toes” past the dominant pair and finds a bedding spot well away from them. It’s so great to have Laurie here to explain this behavior. This group is sorting out its hierarchy.
Around 5PM, three of the males begin to head south to a flat ridge on the west end of the bench. I lose the two females and 964 but I think they have just bedded behind a hill out of sight.
We have two howling sessions and wonder if the other rest of the Prospect pack is near enough to hear them. Below us, a bison herd that has been grazing near the river decides to cross it. I just love to see animals walking in water so I pull out my phone and take a video. I also find a coyote happily mousing in the flats a ways beyond the herd, which gives me a three-dog day.
At around 6:30PM more wolves arrive from over Divide Ridge. These are other members of the Prospect Pack. 966M, the current alpha, is one of them. What is fascinating is how the tables turn, now that the actual alpha is here. Suddenly, the big dominant “Black Bar” is submissive to 966M as is 964.
Laurie & Rick speculate that Black Bar was not born into the Prospect Pack but came in from somewhere else (probably when he was younger and not a threat). Now that he has matured, and being unrelated to the Prospect females, he has attracted a following. They think he is trying to break from the Prospect wolves but has not completed that process yet.
I would love to report more on this fascinating development but we are losing the light, so we call it a night and head back east.
Today I saw: black bear, bison, cranes, a coyote, elk, a fox and 20 wolves from two packs; 10 Prospects (including 966M, 964M, 996M, Black Bar, dark black, black female and dark-throated gray yearling plus 3 more) and 10 Junctions (including 969, 907, 994, and 7 others) and the spirit of Allison.