My day begins at 5:20. There is a bit of frost on the car which I am scraping off as I see Rick leaving. I canít find the temperature gauge on this car but it feels around 40.
Itís a clear sky and stars are visible. I stop at Round Prairie for a bit to enjoy the starlight. I stop again at Confluence trying to figure out what Rick is doing. He is driving back and forth. I finally join him at Picnic and he tells me he saw two wolves out in Chalcedony fan and thinks they are Mollies. I set up and find them very briefly, two dark shapes moving west past the eroded area. Then they just disappear. I think one is gray and one is black.
Then he heads towards Slough and I follow.
I pack up and hike out to the ďLower DaveísĒ area, joining Doug M. I end up spending the next 3 and a half hours watching Junction Butte wolves. My first sighting is a gray. It moves from the den hill down past the bow log and disappears into the gully which forms behind a low hill. Then various individual wolves move between the gully and the eastern trees. 907F, one of the moms, is identified several times, as well as two un-collared grays. One of these arrived from the west, carrying a leg from some kill. 907 makes a beeline for that gray, grabs the leg and disappears with it into the western trees.
Dozens and dozens of visitors come and go, joining us for a half hour, an hour, or more. We make sure that when wolves are visible, the visitors get to see, especially the kids. Not a lot happens for long periods; mostly they are milling around, disappearing, and reappearing again. We see a black yearling climb up the den slope and charmingly stick his head in the den opening. He further delights us by wagging his tail profusely. He is just fascinated by whatís inside. Then his whole body disappears inside the hole, only to inch back out again. He repeats this activity several times, it is sweet and comical.
His behavior makes it crystal clear that there are live pups inside the den. How many is still a mystery. Eventually he comes back out and heads down the hill. For a long time the few wolves that remain visible are bedded and quiet, so we look around for other animals.
There are several bighorn sheep on the hill to the west of the burnt stump, and in the wide and beautiful Slough flats we see elk, sandhills, pronghorn and a golden eagle. At one point, two swans fly right over us. There are also bison with calves, 2 hawks, a bald eagle and a hovering kestrel. The sun comes up over the hill and we start dropping layers.
Laurie says that both females denned in the same place, and that there is likely a double litter. Both females mated with both 890 and 911, so either could be the father. r. If any of the pups are black, though, it means 890. Two grays cannot create a black pup.
I take a break to get coffee, and leave some of my hot layers in the car. I think about driving west to try to see some black bears but instead I head back. When I get there, Doug has found the Crystal griz again. She is much closer (relatively) today and I get to see her a long time. She often leaves her cubs in one spot to graze the hillside and look for forbs and roots. Whenever she does this, the cubs do not seem to play much, they just stay put. But when she returns to them and they begin romping about.
Somebody finds a grizzly in a different spot Ė a good ways east of the den, grazing by the zig zag creek. So I split my time watching wolves and two different bears.
Dan says he got a quick glimpse of a black wolf by the mixed conifer forest heading east. He had something in his mouth. We wait for that wolf to show up closer to the den but no one ever finds him. Then 907F emerges from the den to head downhill to the spring for a drink. She looks very skinny but not healthy. Itís nice to see her lapping up cool water.
Things slow down and we get to talking about one thing or another. Then around 11:30 Dan calls out ďgrizzly in the lion meadow!Ē and we all snap back to attention. This is likely the solo bear we had seen earlier near the zig zag creek. I find him walking up the little trail that leads to the eastern trees. Once he gets that far, several wolf heads pop up from their various bedding spots. I see several sit up on their haunches, as if not sure what to do. They watch as the bear comes closer. Then suddenly four of them rush the bear, three grays and a black. They quickly surround it and although we cannot hear it, I suspect they are growling and barking up a storm. The bear wheels defensively, facing them and snarling himself. One wolf behind him lunges in to nip his butt.
The bear wheels, this way and that and the wolves are excited. Itís a really cool face-off; four against one. But the bear is not stupid and soon moves on, passing behind eastern trees. I lose it for a while but can tell where it is by watching the wolves. Suddenly the bear emerges behind the gully area and then starts up the hill directly towards the den!
The four wolves have inadvertently shooed it in the wrong direction!
Just then 907 bursts out of the den, and stands there, legs planted firmly, fiercely barking on the porch. We do hear this! The bear stops in its tracks. The four first-line-of- defense wolves (probably yearlings) are below the bear on the steep hill, doing no good at all, but then suddenly many more wolves rush in from the east behind the eastern trees. Four, maybe five more wolves that had been napping to the east, I guess. They come charging towards the bear. One of these is old, gimpy 911.
The bear sees itís in serious trouble. Between the angry mom and the multiple reinforcements, the bear gets harassed all the way up the den hill and up to the chalk cliff. He gets nipped several times. Some of the wolves really put themselves at risk and they keep after the bear until it tops the cliff. I eventually see it heading back east.
911 was impressively aggressive, even with his bad leg. Several times the bear turned and lunged, but each time 911 was fast enough to escape. Even though they were a bit late to the party, these wolves do a good job protecting the pups.
Once the bear leaves, I am not sure where the wolves are. I see 907 go back inside the den and I see one of the black yearlings (perhaps the same one) go into the den and sit there with its back end visible, tail a-wagginí. A little later, a gray (not 907) emerges from inside the den and stands on the porch, next to the black that is now sitting like a sphinx. And then!!!! We see this tiny black blob Ė not a shadow, not an adult, but a wiggly little thing that the black yearling is nosing and playing with. Itís a PUP!!!!!!!
There are not as many of us still on the hill as there were earlier, but our vigilance has truly paid off. Not only do we get a bear chase but now we have the first pup sighting of the spring.
We wait, excitedly, for a very long time, hoping to see more than one. While we are here, a ranger arrives and moves the road barricade down to the golden eagle lot, so we pack up and drive down there for a closer view.
We donít see any more pups this morning but a third adult grizzly is spotted, this one to the west, somewhat near the Southern round Tree. Things slow down and more layers come off. Then we notice a young woman walking up the campground road towards us. She is in distress and asks if we can help her. She says her boyfriend is stranded about 6 miles up the Slough Creek trail. He hurt his ankle and canít walk out.
We offer comfort and Laurie calls the Tower Ranger station. The girls talks to them on Laurieís phone and the ranger agrees to send someone. She is worried for him because he has no bear spray Ė because he insisted she take their single canister and walk out to get help.
We assure her that he will likely be fine, because it is now mid-day and quite hot and bears will be looking for shady areas to nap in (we donít tell her we were watching one just a half hour ago). We offer her food & water but she has both. She says they both work at Mammoth. That they backpacked to the second meadow yesterday and camped overnight.
After about a half hour, a ranger arrives and they talk a bit more before they finally head back to the trailhead. I thought they would bring a horse but they hiked in. I never did hear anything more about it, so Iím pretty sure they got him out ok.
Laurie & Kathie and I talk about the mystery of 970ís disappearance (she has been the alpha female of the Junction Buttes). She was pregnant and had localized in a different den in this general area, but now her collar is in mort mode. The wolf project has made several attempts to find her but cannot. My theory is that she is either underground or underwater.
We finally head in around 3PM. We have dinner and I decide to go back out again. There are LOTS of bison all over the roads in Lamar, causing jams galore but I reach Slough a little after 6:30. Kathie & Rick are already out on Dougís Hill.
There is one gray in view, bedded by the eastern trees. This wolf disappears fairly quickly. Then another gray appears at the den, then I see two grays there. One goes inside and the other heads downhill. Then some people join us who say they had been in Lamar east of the Canyon, where they saw a black and a gray on the north side of the road. That would likely be two of the Lamars unless they saw the same two Mollies that Rick glimpsed this morning.
Rick is determined to see more pups so he heads down to the golden eagle lot. After a little while he says he sees a gray pup there. So thatís two!
As we begin to lose the light I decide to head back east.
I stop at Picnic for a bit and while Iím here I hear a single coyote howl, followed by a chorus of coyotes, two packs I guess, howling to each other from both sides of the road.
It sounds great.
Today I saw: 6 grizzlies (including a mom with 3), bison, cranes, a bald eagle, a golden eagle, elk, geese, hawks, a kestrel, pronghorn, bighorn sheep, 2 swans, and at least 13 wolves: 2 Mollies and 10 Junctions (including 9 adults and ONE PUP!) and the spirit of Alison