This morning, as I pass a certain spot in the still-dark, I remember the spooky-wonderful encounter I had with the Hayden pair back in May of 2005. It was such a cool sighting; probably my favorite ever.
There is a lot less fog today. I find G & S already here. The fog is not as thick as it was yesterday but happens to be obscuring the very places we need to be clear. Still, we manage to see two bands of elk Ė one group in the river and another on the rolling hills to the south.
Lots of geese are honking so if any wolves were howling, I doubt we would hear it!
Around 6:30 the fog lifts just enough for Susan to glimpse a pup in the area between the two trees, but then it drifts back and it all turns white again.
Finally it burns off. But even now, our puppy sightings are few and far between. It is especially frustrating to try to convince visitors who are un-used to scopes that the tiny golden spot between the two sage bushes is a bedded gray pup!
A few pelicans fly in and offer some amusement for a while. Rick & Kathie arrive from the east and climb up the hill again. Around 10AM, after three hours of nothing but brief glimpses, G & S decide to go to breakfast. As it turns out, they were the ďsacrificeĒ that changes our luck.
I am by myself for a bit, showing wolves to people who pull in. Kathie and I stay in touch every now and again by radio. Finally two of the pups, one gray and one black, have traveled down to the river which makes for fairly close and good viewing. In fact, I can barely watch them myself for all the happy onlookers wanting to see.
The pups are nosing around the bank, near a noisy flock of geese, sniffing and exploring. A tall blue heron casts a wary eye in their direction. The black pup follows a marshy channel of the river, intently exploring all by his bold little self. The grass is so high, I can only see his ears!
The gray noses around in the opposite direction. Then a second gray appears on the hillside and comes down to join him. He finds a stick (or a bone) and proudly carries it uphill through the first sage level with his envious sibling following close behind.
Thanks to these active pups, lots of kids here get to see their first wolf. I follow the grays up the hill and back to their comfort zone. Somehow, along the way the stick is lost. Perhaps it got too heavy to carry.
The grays become too hard to see in the sage, so I turn my scope back down to the river bank trying to find the black pup. Ahh, here he is! I see his little ears poking out of the marshy grass. As I watch him, I hear someone call out ďheís going after the heronĒ. I move my scope to where Iíd last seen the heron and find a gray wolf at the riverís edge. Wait a minute. Thatís not a pup! Too large, and itís the wrong shade of gray and...itís collared! Itís 1091! Mom is back!
She wastes no time heading uphill from the water. Her intrepid black pup is now BELOW her! Suddenly she smells or hears him, wheels around and comes quickly right back down to the flat bank. Her pup sees her and both animals bee-line to each other. The crowd oohs and ahhs as they meet and greet. The black pup jumps wildly at its motherís muzzle. She lowers her head and he immediately gobbles up the treat she delivers. She wags her tail and licks the black pup as he eats. People are ecstatic!
Momís on a mission heading uphill. As soon as the black pup finishes his meal he goes bounding up behind her. She has her nose to the ground sniffing for her babes.
She passes the bison wallow, aiming for the two trees. She reaches the left tree and crosses quickly to the right. She passes the stump, heading towards the ďantlerĒ deadfall. I suddenly see streaks of gray as all the other pups rush to her from the left. She is mobbed.
Mom continues, with a string of pups behind her, past the lower deadfall and across the slope. When she reaches the fallen log she lowers her head again and the gray pups gobble. She walks past the log, turns around and comes back. The pups rush her again and she lowers her muzzle once more. All five pups mill around their meal, wagging tails, licking mom.
People watching are just thrilled!
Mom turns uphill, heading into the trees. The pups follow her but once she is out of sight, two of them come racing back to the spot by the fallen log, to make sure they didnít miss any tidbits. Once they clean their plates, they trot back through the ďfront doorĒ and into, I suspect, the cool shade. I bet Mom is enjoying a rest, there, too.
Itís just after 11AM and we congratulate ourselves on a great sighting.
Rick and Kathie come down the hill with big smiles on their faces. We chat in the pullout a bit, about Nateís book and the trail kerfuffle. Then a guide very graciously walks over to tell us the pups are visible again.
They are back at the fallen log, still looking for scraps. A little after this I head back east.
At the Mary Mountain Trail pullout, I see a huge RV that has driven off the road. I stop and, with no one behind me, I back up to ask the driver if he is ok. He says yes, the ranger has been called. He is at least 20 feet from the edge of the road and at such a tilt it is a miracle he didnít topple over. Poor guy.
The smoke haze I have been noticing returns as I reach Little America. I think there may been some fires burning north of the Park. But Lamar is still utterly gorgeous. Bison herds are all over the place, from Footbridge to SB East making the area look primeval.
I have a rest and a shower and check in with Laurie. Sheís now in Bozeman and will see me tonight. Iím heading out again, hoping to see more wolves. Rick thinks there is a good chance they may show up in the old Druid rendezvous area.
As I pass Silver Gate cabins I see they are hosting a ďShakespeare in the ParkĒ production. Hmm, looks like Twelfth Night to me.
As I pass Trout Lake and Soda Butte Valley opens up before me, I smile broadly. How beautiful it looks! And oh, how it brings back so many early Druid-watching memories. I come around the curve past Confluence and immediately see cars at both Trash Can and Picnic.
Yay! The Junctions are out in the fan.
I decide to try my luck climbing Trash Can Hill. I take my time and use both my sticks. Once Iím set up, the wolves are easy to see. All seven are here. 1047 is easy to recognize at the moment because he has injured his back leg. Itís very bad. The female yearling with her own limp seems fine in comparison.
A nice couple from Cody joins me up here on the hill, so I have very pleasant company and avoid the crowd in the pullout.
The wolves move across the old river bank slowly to the west. 969 is way out in front and the big un-collared black trots behind her. 907 looks good, and the other four blacks are behind.
They mosey past the cottonwoods. There are lots of bison in this area and they seem to test them, but in a fairly unfocused way. The un-collared black has already passed the herd. But he then turns around, coming at the bison from upslope. His behavior causes the bison to bunch up. Next we have a bit of haphazard action, with individual bison charging and individual wolves evading, but nothing gets too serious.
The wolves move on, spreading out, and the bison loosen up. Thatís when I notice a very young calf in their midst. Aha! Thatís probably what the black wolf was aiming for, and what the bison were protecting.
We hear coyotes barking. I never find the smaller dogs, but boy do they make their feelings known!
A large group of pronghorn several levels above the wolves begin racing along the ridge to the west, just to be safe.
The wolves continue towards Amethyst. I expect they are going to climb the hill but instead they stall out at the eastern end in deep sage. I find out later that there is an old bison carcass (from June) in that spot.
A very nice sunset begins, which adds to a pleasant evening. The couple eventually leaves to attend a Ranger-led star-gazing talk at Childrenís Fire trail.
I get a few more glimpses of the wolves on and off in the deep sage but soon I start my slow and careful journey down the hill and back to the car. Iím back in Silver Gate just at dark and decide to wait up for Laurie. She arrives at 11, after a full day of Bozeman shopping.
Today I saw: bison, elk, geese, a great blue heron, pronghorn, 13 wolves; 6 Wapitis (including 1091 and her five pups) and 7 Junctions (including 969F, 907F, 1047M, 1048M, 996M, the un-collared male and the Limping female yearling) and the spirits of Allison and Richard.