There is only a light dusting of snow this morning but it is much colder. The temp gauge reads 16 degrees.
The road is easier to drive today. The plow has widened both lanes to their proper size and there are clear berms on both sides. Itís still snowing byt much more lightly than yesterday.
I stop at Round Prairie to look for moose but do not find any. Iíve left a little earlier than usual and it is still dark.
Then as I continue east I get a radio call from Kara. She nearly hit a moose cow and calf as she was coming down the hill to Trout Lake. Her brakes worked but now the cow and calf are separated.
I put my flashers on and go slow.
When I come down the hill I see Karaís van stopped at Soda Butte East and then I see the mama moose on the south side and her calf on the north, just below the trailhead pullout.
I go slowly which warns two cars behind me. They go slow, too, and see the moose family. I meet up with Kara and thank her for the warning. We worry a little about the animals getting separated but I tell her I think the calf is old enough to figure it out.
We continue to the west.
I see Doug stopped at Trash Can, so I pull in to talk with him. He says Rick has good Lamar signals and thinks they are to the north. Then Rick calls and asks Kara and me to come to the Institute to try to find them.
As we are setting up we hear from someone at Slough that the Junctions are visible there again. Rick heads west but Kara and Dora and Rhonda and Doug and I stay here, looking diligently for Lamars. Rick calls from Lamar Canyon West to say he can see the Junctions from that location. I am tempted to drive there for a quick peek, but just then Dora calls out ďBlack wolf!Ē
Yay, Dora! Doug finds that wolf, then itís out of sight. Then Dora sees another wolf and Kara sees that one, too. I still havenít found the right spot.
Dora says it was hard to see Ė it was going in and out of view on the shaded side of a snowy slope, but after a frustrating couple of minutes, all three Lamars come into view on the rolling hills behind and slightly east of the Institute. We all see them now!
The first one I see is Little T, bounding down a snowy slope, kicking up a drift of snow in her wake. Very pretty. She disappears and a cloud of birds flushes from the area. Then a big grin spreads across my face as I recognize 926F herself, emerging from the woods, coming to a stop just below the crest of a rounded hill Ė the same hill Little T just bounded down.
Another black wolf, Small Dot, temporarily joins 926, then he moves downslope, too disappearing into the same spot as Little T did.
I notice a bald eagle sitting all alone on the next hill above the spot where the birds had flushed. It sure looks like the Lamars have a fresh carcass.
For the next 2 hours we watch the three Lamars. As the light improves, I notice several trails leading up from the carcass to the spot where they first appeared. They are well trod, and I suspect the wolves have traveled up and down several times in the last hour or so. And I see other trails leading through the forest from the east to that same spot.
The pack looks lighthearted and happy. They certainly are eating well.
At one point all three climb up the hill and stop on the crest, standing close together. Little T does some play-bowing with Small Dot. 926 shakes her fanny for him a little bit, too. Little T rolls on her back in the snow, looking so sweet and playful.
They bed a while but then Little T and Small Dot go back down for another snack. I watch 926 sitting on her haunches, watching them, or perhaps keeping an eye out for coyotes. Then she heads downhill for another bite herself.
We notice a pair of coyotes on another hill a bit to the west. They are clearly aware of the carcass and seem impatient for their turn.
There are now two bald eagles on the open slope. The impatient coyotes cross the road and trot across the flats behind us. Then 926 comes back up and stops on the rounded hill. Little T comes up next and body slams her mom in what I think is meant as an affectionate gesture. Next, Small Dot comes up and beds near them. Both females find ways to lavish their affection on Small Dot. He is a very handsome wolf.
After a short rest, all three set off back east a bit, through the forest, traveling through thick snow. Happily they reappear further east on another snowy hill. As they pause, Little T lies down on the snow as if scratching her back. Then to our delight, she lets herself slide down the hill, headfirst, legs in the air!
When she gets to the bottom, she rolls to her feet and gallops, like an excited little kid back up the hill. She lies down on her back and does the slide again, not quite so successfully this time - she goes a little bit sideways. When she comes back up it looks like she is trying to get the others to join her but they decline.
The trio sets off again, uphill through the trees. Eventually they end up on the same ridge where Dora first found them.
Now we have all three of them much higher, on the knife edge of the ridge, walking uphill. Two bull elk are a ways above them. They go past the spot where we first found them, then alas, go out of our sight.
I congratulate Dora on her spot, and we are all beaming from this sweet, satisfying sighting. The Lamars remain my favorite pack, and itís heartwarming to see them so well bonded and doing well.
Kathie and I drive back to Picnic to look for otters, but no luck. Kathie suggests we try to find the Lamars again from here, and sure enough, we do! Three bedded lumps of black in the snow. Steve and Robin arrive Ė they were with the group watching Junctions this morning, so they are happy to have a two-pack day.
We show a lot of people bedded wolves. I also find a bighorn ram on the cliff to the east of the Lamars, where I once saw 925 trap an elk.
We continue to check for otters but they donít show up today. Instead we notice a flock of magpies out on the ice, repeatedly pecking at something out there, walking along, pecking, like they are eating bugs. In fact they probably are Ė some sort of winter hatch seems to have attracted them.
One lucky visitor arrives just as the wolves get up. They stand and stretch and move to a different spot, making themselves beautifully visible for a short time.
The sun really comes out and stays out today, so despite the colder temps, itís very pleasant. And the valley looks spectacular under sun. Just beautiful!
But tonight is the annual New Yearís Eve party at Colleens, so I need to get back to Silver Gate to prep the snacks Iím planning to bring.
At Round Prairie I find what I think is the same single moose grazing the willows.
I get a ride with Laurie and Dan to the party. Itís lots of fun and Lynette has prepared some touching videos of our friend Richard. There is good food and wonderful company. We set the clock ahead and celebrate the turn of the New Year several hours early since we all intend to get up early the next day.
On the way back, I ride with Kara so weíll all have company on the long, dark drive. We have some bison on the Lamar Bridge, but we get through it with no trouble.
Today I saw: bison, coyotes, elk, 3 moose (including a calf), a bighorn ram, 3 wolves (all Lamars, 926, Small Dot and Little T) and the spirits of Allison and Richard