I find a light, wet snow on the car this morning at almost 6AM. The car thermometer says 32 degrees.
There is a good deal of fog in the valley and a beautiful fresh dusting of snow on everything. There is a light fog on both sides of the river. Itís beautiful but the fog might hamper viewing a bit.
Nothing on the bison carcass this morning either.
I find Rick at Slough, already climbing Daveís Hill. He encourages me to join him, so I do. Another wolf watcher is already in position and has already seen two gray wolves.
Once I finish huffing and puffing and get myself set up, I see a single collared gray in the flats (964M). Rick helps me find the other gray, an un-collared pregnant female. Sheís digging at the sage den, the very same spot where I watched the Junctions raise their pups last year.
To my surprise and delight, she goes right into the sage den. Yes, into it! She comes back out and stands on the porch, lifts her head and howls to the collared gray below her. He is scavenging an old carcass in the flats.
A grizzly wanders by on the hill near the eastern trees. As soon as she sees the bear, the pregnant female takes off after it, chasing the poor thing out of the area. Looks like she feels protective of the place already.
I ask Rick who is this female? He is not sure if she is part of the Prospect pack who is somehow unrelated to 964, or if these two connected during mating season. She certainly wants his attention and he is a very handsome wolf. She clearly wants him to come up to the den to feed her. When he doesnít, she starts down towards him. He sees her and they end up meeting half way. He is friendly to her but not overly affectionate. He does not feed her.
But he follows her the rest of the way back to the sage den. There, they both dig a while. They separate, then howl some more, and eventually come back together. They behave as a pair, these two, just not particularly affectionate. Eventually he heads to the southwest and she follows.
Both wolves have these odd white stripes down their backs Ė could this be from shedding? I mention it to Laurie and she says some of the Mollie wolves have this, too (the Mollies were in the valley for several days before I arrived).
Other critters that I notice in this beautiful area while scoping from Daveís are a red tail hawk in a tree, various elk, including some bouncy yearlings (not calves) and lots of cranes. They are very noisy, but not as noisy as the geese!
Bob Landis is below us, scoping too, and he finds four wolves on the south side hill behind us: two blacks & two grays. I wheel my scope around but only see 3 of the 4 (2 blacks and 1 gray). These wolves disappear over Divide Ridge. Rick is pretty sure they are Junctions. Then I hear Calvinís voice on the radio Ė he is at Coyote and sees the Junctions arrive. He tells us he has all 9, so they are definitely Junctions.
I pack up and head downhill to my car in hopes of seeing them.
I join the crowd at Fishermanís and end up seeing five of the nine Junction. 3 blacks and 2 gray. The blacks are 996M (same wolf I saw yesterday); 1047M (the current alpha male - a mottled black & brown wolf formerly called Black Bar); the other black I see is a female yearling currently called ďThe LimperĒ. She was injured over a month ago but seems to do fine. The two grays are 969F (the alpha female), and a yearling that Laurie calls ďdrab grayĒ. Both these yearlings were born last April and are two of the pups we watched last summer.
The wolves are bedded and roaming around the rocks at the western end of Jasper. Wolves love these rocks. I canít tell you how many packs I have seen hang out here.
They seem to be interested in something below them, probably an old carcass. 969 is chewing on a bone. While Iím watching her 1047 comes over and steals it from her! And instead of snapping at him, she wags her tail & bounces around with him. Just like some women do with their bad boyfriends!
Someone calls over the radio that Lamar alpha female 926 is visible in the Soda Cone area, heading east, probably going to the old bison carcass again. I canít resist the urge to see her so soon I am in my car driving east.
I get to Round Prairie in time, stopping at the larger lot west of the usual one. For the next hour I happily watch the daughter of The 06 chew on the old carcass, moving this way and that, tugging on the hide. She looks good, not bothered by the people, and her mange seems greatly improved from when I saw her at Christmas time. The head and horns of the bison can be seen as she tries to find something worth eating.
The other pack members are here, too; not visible to me, but seen every once in a while by watchers in the more eastern pullout, partially hidden in the trees. The new alpha male is 949M. (Alas, ďHusky BlackĒ has not been seen for a while, and is presumed dead). I see 949 very briefly as he walks between tree trunks to a new bedding spot. The other two members that others see are Small Dot (male) and Little T (926ís daughter).
Watchers in the other lot also see a grizzly in the area, but I do not.
Eventually 926 moves off the carcass and into the trees. I wait a while but then head back west. I find the grizzly I had not seen before, on the far side of the creek, walking with its nose in the air.
But by the time I get to Coyote I find Iím too late: the Junctions have moved out of sight.
I hear what I missed from some others still here. A collared black male (1048) left the group, crossed the river and the road and eventually fed for a while on an old carcass the north side hill. Then he disappeared further to the north while the other group moved off to the west.
A man and his two sons pull in and excitedly tell me about a fresh bison carcass near the road in Little America. They think it is road kill and talk about drag marks, so they think Rangers know about it and moved it on purpose.
They describe the pullout just east of Junction Butte.
So I drive there and as soon as I get out I can smell it. It has been dragged out about 50 feet from the pullout, just north of the line of tall fir trees.
I decide to head in for the day and spend some time with Laurie.
We come back out around 6:00 and stop at Dorothyís. The Junctions are visible again!
This time I see 7 of them (4 blacks; 3 grays) traveling east on Jasper Bench. They go out of sight but then we find them again at the eastern end, traveling in a line, but they disappear once again.
Someone else finds a grizzly mom with a yearling cub up on Divide Ridge. I watch them as they move towards Lamar Canyon. These bears have been seen on Junction Butte several times in the last few weeks.
With the Junctions out of sight, Laurie and I head back east in hope of seeing Lamars. There are only two cars at Round Prairie so it does not seem too promising.
I find a moose coming into the clearing in the general area where the wolves had been, so we are pretty sure they are not here anymore. Rick says the signal is still strong but after a while he leaves.
A few minutes later we hear howling. Itís all four voices, although it sounds like 40 (!) They are well back in the trees, maybe half way up on the forested hill. Oh, itís a GORGEOUS sound, echoing again and again. So lovely.
Finally the chorus stops and I hear the lowest voice howl by itself once more, then a few singles, then silence. We almost want to clap, itís such a wonderful performance!
As I drive the rest of the way home I have a strange thing happen in my car. The rear view camera which usually kicks on just when Iím in reverse, is stuck ďonĒ so while Iím driving forward I have a live video of the road behind me. Itís very weird.
Today I saw: 3 grizzlies (including a yearling cub), bison, cranes, elk, geese, a red-tailed hawk, a moose, 11 wolves from three different packs: 2 Prospects (including 964 and the pregnant female), 7 of the 9 Junctions (996M, 1047M, 969F, two more grays and two more blacks) and 2 of the 4 Lamars (926F and 949M) and the spirit of Alison.