I leave Bozeman a little after 9AM. There was a heavy, wet snow overnight and all the trees are glazed. Very pretty. The streets are find, though. The temperature is 34 and the sky looks bright in the west. Hopefully, that means better weather is coming.
For once Bozeman Pass is an easy drive. As I come down the other side, I am surprised to see the hills free of snow. The Crazies and Absarokas have thick snow caps, though. Pyramid is wreathed in cloud.
I see a good-sized herd of elk near Tom Miner and lots of mulies along the way. I have snow flurries at Yankee Jim. Bison are visiting the not-yet-open cabins at the Lighthouse.
I drive through the gate at 11AM. No one is manning it! I love the shoulder season!
After my visit with Allison I head to the northern range. Roads are dry and I am happy to see many standing-water melt-ponds in Mammoth. I get an email from Laurie that the Junctions are visible at Slough so I head directly there.
I see both elk and bison at Blacktail ponds. There is still a lot of ice on the main ponds and I see the eastern pond is quite wide. That one sometimes dries up completely in the summer.
Floating Island Lake is still frozen and totally covered with fairly fresh snow. Only a few tracks.
I see a few cars stopped right before Yellowstone Picnic so I stop too. Just below the picnic tables I see a cinnamon black bear. This is a young adult, not a cub.
There is another mini-jam further on, in the forested section across from Junction Butte. A black bear mom and cub. Hard to see so I donít stay long.
I see lots of melt-ponds all over Little America. The heavier-snow-than-usual winter has been good for the Park. Itís very beautiful and there is hardly anyone here.
I stop at Slough, park just off the road and join Laurie & Dan and Rick (who have been here since early this morning) watching the den area. 5 of the Junctions are here, localized around three dens. (I only see 4 of them)
We watch for over an hour. 969 and 907 are both here. Before I arrived, Laurie says 969 grabbed a hold of 907 by the collar and shook her. 907 does not appear to be hurt but she is now showing very submissive posture and the other wolves seem to be shunning her. These two females have never gotten along, and perhaps there is added stress at the moment. 907 has been just as rough with 969 in the past.
Both these females are visibly pregnant and due to whelp any day now. Two males are here, 1047 (alpha) and 1048. 1047ís limp is much better.
907 leaves the others and moves back and uphill to the natal den. (There are three dens, the natal den in the side of the cliff above the bow log, the sage den, in the open below the eastern trees, and a second den in the center of the cliff, blocked from our view by the tops of the eastern trees.)
All four Junction females are pregnant this year, including 969, 907 and both black females (now 2 years old). One of these has since been collared Ė 1109F. She has not been seen with the pack for a week or so. Information from her GPS collar shows she has localized on Specimen (Antelope Creek).
I ask Rick how things have been since he retired and no longer has telemetry. He says itís pretty much the same with less pressure. Heís been out pretty much every morning, has seen wolves almost every day and has been making great progress writing the first of his three books.
After about an hour, a snow squall moves in and ruins visibility so we head east.
I stop at Dorothyís just to enjoy the view and find 2 pair of sandhills in the flats. The bottom of the valley remains snow-covered and nearly empty of wildlife. This valley will be teeming with bison when I visit in June but for now itís empty.
The first bison calf was noticed yesterday. I hope to see a few on this trip.
The squall has let up. I notice a big bulldozer at YES. Laurie says itís been there since February.
I scope from Midpoint, Confluence and Footbridge, finding ducks, geese and one golden eagle.
I see whatís left of the winter-kill bison carcass south of the road a little east of the SB Cone, which the Lamars have been frequenting. She saw 926 on it this morning. She says others saw all three later, while she was watching Sloughs. The word is they headed east and disappeared into the forest.
While I am watching a magpie perches on the tilted horn. A coyote comes by.
The sun comes out again, making everything gorgeous, especially Round Prairie.
I unload my stuff in Silver Gate and chat with my dear friends. I am so delighted when they both express interest in going back out for an evening session. It starts snowing lightly.
A very pretty fox hops across the snow berm, dashes across the road and up the other side, giving me a 3 dog day!
The snow turns to hail, or grapple (Dan calls it corn snow). It only lasts a minute but makes a funny sound on the car.
I see a crane in the creek at Round Prairie. We see some birds on the bison carcass. Including a goose, who gets quite close. Hmmm, a carnivorous goose?
We park in the same area at Slough and sure enough, the Junctions are still around. Tonightís cast features 907F, 996M, the un-collared female, the un-collared male, and 1047M.
907 takes a walkabout from the eastern trees to the natal den. Laurie thinks 969 is inside that den. 1047 follows her. They both howl, then 907 goes towards den but not in.
The un-collared female goes into the sage den. All the wolves do a lot of howling tonight, which surprises me. I guess they are calling for the others who are not here, but I would have thought they should not advertise where their den is. But what do I know. These wolves are a strong pack. I suppose they are confident in their ability to defend their territory.
After the howling, the black female comes back out and joins the two males, bedding down near the eastern trees. 907 comes down, passes through the bow log area and heads toward the others. But before she arrives, the black female rushes her, making 907 sprint to the left to avoid her. Laurie wonders if 969 left instruction for 907 to be shunned in her absence.
Keep in mind that the black female is either 907ís daughter or her niece. Although we have long noticed alpha tendencies in this younger female, it still seems a bit presumptuous. Itís also kinda sad for 907, who has been a stalwart member of the pack, a good mother and provider. More unsolved wolf mysteries.
We hear coyotes howling in the area but donít find them. I suspect they are mourning the fact that wolves will soon be feeding pups in their neighborhood.
On that note, we pack up and head home.
Today I saw: 3 black bears (one cinnamon), bison, coyotes, cranes, mule deer, ducks, golden eagle, elk, a fox, geese and 7 of 8 Junction wolves (969, 907, 1048, 1047, 996, one un-collared female & one un-collared male) and the spirits of Allison and Richard