There is a pretty crescent moon over my left shoulder as I drive. I meet up with Rick at Hitching Post. He has Lamar signals in the den area. I step out to set up my scope and hear a lone coyote howl.
Rick moves west but I stay here a while, enjoying the quiet and the beautiful sunrise. But no wolves appear, so as 8AM rolls around I continue west.
My next stop is at Coyote where Ralph has just found a gray wolf to the south. Itís 964M, a Prospect wolf. I see him running down the western end of Jasper bench above the rocks where the Junctions were yesterday.
Heís running from four coyotes! I see him wheel around, tail tucked, snapping at them. Although I cannot hear him, Iím sure heís growling. Poor wolf, he is surrounded by these feisty, smaller dogs. I wonder what he did to deserve their wrath? He charges a few times but they are quick to bolt out of the way.
As the wolf continues downhill, two more coyotes arrive. Wow, six against one, thatís not good odds for a single wolf. Of course coyotes often take a beating from wolves, sometimes lose their lives, so I guess this is payback.
This end of the valley has always been a popular spot for coyotes, so I suppose itís likely these are defending a den, whether the wolf is guilty of raiding it or not.
964 defends himself very well but several coyotes get in a few nasty nips on his tail or his butt. Eventually they run him off into the river corridor. I see him reappear in the relative safety of the forest on the steep slope above the canyon.
Now my attention is drawn to the north Ė the slope behind us has suddenly come alive with Junction wolves.
My count this morning is 7 again but this time I have 5 blacks and only 2 gray. Rick and Laurie go back and forth trying to correctly ID 1048 and 996 Ė they are both collared black males with very similar markings. I hope Iím seeing 1048 because he is one I did NOT see yesterday.
At one point all three collared black males are together (996, 1047, 1048) surrounding 969 with lots of body slamming and flirting. She does not really look pregnant but Laurie says not all of them show the same way. Her sister, 907 has not been seen for a while and her GPS collar has been located in the Antelope Valley, so perhaps she has pups and these wolves are hunting to feed them?
The wolves are just wandering around the slope, sniffing here and there. Some bison come in from the west and pretty quickly displace them. The Limper maneuvers around the bison and heads to a pile of old bones and hide. She tugs a while but then more bison arrive and move her off.
One by one the wolves start meandering up hill to the west. I follow them a while and lose them behind the fold of a hill. Shortly after this I notice a herd of elk and a single pronghorn up on skyline. Hmm, they are all looking in the same direction. I think they are looking at the wolves.
The elk are in two groups with the lone pronghorn between them. Suddenly the elk start to run andÖyep, the wolves are after them. The herd splits and a single elk leaves the group, heading downhill. She stops while others above her are still being chased. But a single black wolf has followed this lone cow. The wolf circles it, lunges at its legs.
Now a second black joins the first; they both circle the cow, lunging at her legs without making contact. The elk moves further downhill, then angles across, and breaks from a trot into a run, head still high, not looking particularly nervous. Some elk have stopped again at skyline, ready to bolt if necessary.
The single cow has drawn the attention of a third black wolf and now 969 appears running full out towards the elk. The elk runs. This seems to excite the three blacks and they run faster. The elk disappears behind a fold of the hill and the wolves follow. None of them come back out.
While I am watching this, others are watching the rest of the pack chase the skyline herd toward the shale forest. They all disappear and now none of us have any elk nor any wolves. Laurie and I believe they got the single cow because they were gaining on her when we last saw them and we should have seen the elk escape over the next hill if she did escape. The fact that we see none of the wolves is also telling.
Then we get a radio call that wolves are in view from Confluence.
This is likely the Lamars so I pack up and head there. I join several watchers on Geriatric Hill. The wolves are out in the Chalcedony fan, roaming right at the tree line, travelling west. They seem to be testing bison herds, looking for calves.
Itís all four of them: 926F and Little T, 949M and Small Dot. They move through the old R-V, past the foothills. Seeing them here brings back so many wonderful Druid memories for the old-timers amongst us.
As the wolves continue west, we move around the corner to Trash Can. I set up on the hill. Itís a great view from here and lots of people join us. The wolves are clearly looking for calves; newborns or cows in trouble. Their line of travel is about half way between the river bank and the tree-line.
There are many bison in the valley but I donít see any calves. And the bison are wary. Some move away and others gather in a defensive group. The wolves continue past this group, aiming for a larger herd scattered on the flats west of Picnic Pullout. When they reach the cottonwoods, they spy a pair of bison mothers, each with a tiny calf by her side.
926 and 949 immediately draw a bead on them and begin to move in their direction. They get to the river and cross, emerging onto the sandy, gravely area but the bison mothers see them and move towards the road with their calves. The two wolves stop. The bison mothers are quite separate from the herd so itís a bit strange that the wolves do not press further, but I suppose they can tell that these mothers are vigilant.
The alphas turn around and go back across the river and then they all four of them bed for a while.
Next we see Little T and Small Dot mess with some pronghorn, chasing them a little, perhaps just for exercise. Itís too early for pronghorn fawns.
During this lull in the action I notice a red tail hawk on one of the cottonwood branches and find several sandhills on their spindly legs.
I am happy. This is my favorite wolf pack and Iíve just watched them out in the open for 3 straight hours.
After a bit of a nap, the Lamars get up and travel back easr to the R-V, where they bed again in a less visible area. I decide to abandon my post in favor of a quick drive to Tower for gas. I also stop at the Specimen Ridge trailhead on the way back to take a peek at the bison road-kill carcass. There is still nothing on it.
There is no one parked at Trash Can on my way back through but I stop at Hitching Post and walk out to one of the rolling hills to scope for them from there. Aha! I find them, still bedded in deep sage.
So now I head up to Silver Gate to hang out with Laurie a while.
We decide to venture out for the evening. It has warmed up enough that I leave my big clunky Sorels behind in favor of my hiking boots.
Laurie and I set up at Trash Can. We find the Lamars again but they are still bedded, flat out. Rick tells us he got a message that Calvin and Lynette were able to find a spot where they could view the Junctionís carcass from this morning. The message is garbled so we put our heads together and narrow down the options to the eastern end of Lamar Canyon.
Laurie & I drive there and park in the most likely spot and climb up the rocky butte with our scopes to the area where you can see ďSecret PassageĒ. This spot also offers a view of the area to the northeast of the Shale forest which is where both the Junctions and the elk disappeared after the chase this morning.
While Rick scopes the same area from Dorothyís, Laurie & I set up our scope on the hill. Sure enough, we see an area of disturbed earth and lots of birds, including a bald eagle. Laurie has better eyes (and a better scope) than I do; she sees bones & blood. Rick radios that he sees a single wolf but itís not there long.
Next Jort radios that the Lamars are up and moving west from the R-V, repeating their morning trek. Laurie & I start downhill while Jort keeps us updated. Itís treacherous up here and we cannot go fast.
Rick can see the Lamars from Dorothyís and soon we learn they have turned north. They cross the river and are likely to cross the road as well.
Rick has to deal with traffic in this sort of situation, so he heads east.
By the time Laurie and I get in our cars, we hear the Lamars are west of Mid-Point, aiming for one of their favorite road-crossing points, east of the Institute. We guess their route and pull in to the lot and park by the barn.
And there are the wolves, safely across the road, moving through the rolling hills behind the corral. I see all four, if only briefly, so Iím happy. I express some concern to Laurie that they are fairly close to the Junctions now. She says she believes all the Northern Range packs are aware of each other and have figured out how to stay out of each otherís way.
But the wolves are now out of sight and we are losing the light so we head home. It starts to drizzle but that doesnít stop us from seeing a moose in the creek at RP.
Today I saw: bison, a bald eagle, elk, a moose, pronghorn, 12 wolves from three packs: 1 Prospect (964), 7 of 9 Junctions (969, 1047, 1048, 996, the black limper, one other black and another gray) 4 Lamars (949, 926, Small Dot and Little T) and the spirit of Alison.