When I arrive at Trash Can, Rick is already up on the hill. As I climb up he says “there’s a bear on the carcass, and wolves, lots of wolves”. He starts back down, suggesting that Exclosure hill is likely a better spot. Since I’m up here, I set up anyway and take a quick look for myself – wow, I count at least 6 wolves!
It’s the Junctions again.
I follow Rick to Exclosure and pack up for the climb. He goes quite high, to a favorite spot of his, but I stop about 1/3 of the way to take another look.
It is a slightly closer look from here. The wolves are in a pile, rallying when I get my scope on them again.
I count five blacks and a gray but there could be more. They mill around making it hard to count. They are not on the carcass at the moment because the grizzly is claiming it.
I notice two deer way out near the tree line. I guess they feel safe with so much available food in the neighborhood!
Rick sees all 8 Junctions, so I climb a bit further and set up again. A black wolf that looks smaller than most of the others, is moving quickly towards the carcass. The bear is leaving. Now all the wolves join the smaller black and begin to “escort” the bear away. It sort of looks to me like they want to take credit for “making” the bear move.
The bear doesn’t take kindly to that and wheels around, charging and swiping at the wolves. Dust flies and the wolves each take a turn lunging and nipping at the bear. The bear gives as good as it gets but I do think the wolves land a few bites. Finally the bear concedes and lumbers off to the tree line.
The wolves celebrate with a rally. Oh, they are so proud of themselves! I now count all 8 and recognize both collared grays (907 & 969). There are two smaller blacks, both female; one is 1109 and the other is un-collared.
They all turn their attention back to the carcass, well almost all of them. I see some flirtatious behavior between 969 and 1048. That’s nice.
I recognize both 907 and 1047, the alphas. They are both feeding on the carcass. The others get their turns, too but 969 waits to have a solo turn, a nice, long feeding. They bed in various spots. 907 howls a bit.
Ranger Bill has come up. He scopes with me a while, then heads further up to join Rick. Missy and Andy come up, too and set up near me. Dorothy has opted to watch from Trash Can.
Missy and I notice one unusual moment. All the wolves Junctions suddenly look intently to the east – towards the confluence. Either they see, hear or smell something that interests them – likely another wolf. It could be the Lamars are nearby. We pan that direction but don’t find anything, so it’s a little wolf mystery.
We think we hear a lone howl coming from the confluence area. Shortly after this, the un-collared female begins to trot deliberately to the east. Uh oh, I think to myself. If that was a Lamar wolf who howled, I hope she is not planning to mess with them.
The terrain here is mostly sage flat, but at a certain point, the land drops abruptly down another level, an ancient flood plain of the Lamar. The black female continues east and stops on a promontory right at the edge of the old riverbank. She poses there for a moment, overlooking the lower terrain that includes the river bottoms. She smells or sees something that interests her.
Uh oh. The rest of the pack is now following her. They are at a distance, but are heading her way. She descends into the flats and continues into an area with cottonwoods in the background. The rest of the pack stops on the promontory, where she posed before, and I am relieved when most of them bed down.
The female stops and beds. I scan the area, trying hard to find what it is that interests her so much. I find two adult pronghorn, each with a calf, wary of the wolves, trotting west, giving them a wide berth. I also find three coyotes, further east, aware of both the pronghorn AND the wolves. But the black wolf does not seem to notice these critters.
In fact, none of the wolves seem to react to the presence of either the pronghorn or the coyotes. But then 907 gets up and turns back west. One by one, the rest of the pack follows her, heading away from trouble.
Finally, when all the pack has moved back towards the carcass, the black female abandons her quest and re-joins her pack mates.
There is another rally around the carcass and a few more bites for all. Then one by one they choose new bedding sites. I watch 969 move away from the group and bed in the eroded area by herself.
It’s now after 8AM; I have been watching these animals for 2 and a half hours! I need a break, and so do Andy and Missy. We make our way back to the cars and eventually move over to Trash Can Hill, so much easier to climb.
It’s time for the wolves to move from their morning sun-beds to a cooler spot in the shade. One by one they get up and head slowly towards the foothills. They take a general route between the middle and western foothills, entering the cool of the forest.
We track some of them between the tree trunks for a while but finally lose the last one. I suspect they are bedding in this area, rather than going back to Little America. People wonder about the pups when the whole pack is here but I believe the pups are now old enough to be on their own for a day or two.
Before we leave the hill, I take a quick look at the carcass again and see a coyote heading that way for his turn at the bison feast.
Dorothy reminds me that we talked about visiting the Crystal Creek beaver ponds, so we ask Missy and Andy to join us and they agree.
We park just past the Lamar River Bridge and head south, hoping there are no bears or bison to bother us.
We have no trouble at all and this turns out to be a very good hike. We see lots of wildflowers and I finally find the hillside with the beaver-gnawed aspen that I could not find in June when V & K were here with me. Little did I know that what made it so to find was the lush spring growth! It’s so rich and wild it has hidden most of them.
We have great views of the ponds but I think perhaps they are not as active as they were in October. I don’t see fresh sign anywhere, but of course, the area is large and I can’t see the other side.
The water still crosses the trail but it is much lower than in June and easy to hop across if you don’t want to get wet. I DO want to cool my feet, though, so I step into the deeper pools in my sandals. Oh! It feels so good!
I soak my bandana and cool my face, too.
After exploring a good while, we head back to the cars. Missy and Andy head east. I follow Dorothy for a drive down the Slough campground road. She shows me a different place to view the golden eagle nest. We see two chicks, one quite large, flapping its wings. Boy, it looks nearly ready to fledge.
We also see several bighorn sheep up on the rocky hills and watch a horse pack trip going out from the barn. There are 3 wagons with several passengers under the canopy, each drawn by a pair of big draft horses. Once they disappear up the trail, we see a 10 mule pack plus 3 three cowboys carrying supplies.
They take a different trail than the wagons. I would like to explore that trail someday because it seems to parallel the yellow-grass meadow where we so often see wolves.
On the way back to the road I stop to watch a few yellow-headed black birds, perched on tall reeds in the marshes. I just love the sound they make.
Now we drive back east. The day has grown quite warm. 86!
After a rest and dinner, I head back out at 6:45. It’s cooled to 75 and will drop a bit more.
Missy and Andy and Kevin are already up on Trash Can Hill. They’re watching a bear on the carcass, but no wolves.
It’s a nice big grizzly; different from the one this morning. He’s tearing into the carcass. Missy says he’s been there for over a half hour. Dorothy radios that she’s on her way but currently stuck in a bison jam. We can see her car up the road near Exclosure, where numerous bison are dilly-dallying on the road as they cross.
Dorothy and Bill arrive and set up but alas, the bear decides to leave. We watch him amble slowly across the sage flat. He eventually travels through the very same gap where the wolves disappeared this morning.
This is prime viewing time so we start looking around for other critters. The crowd on the hill tonight numbers about 100, but less than 10 have scopes. Lots of people have cameras and a few have binoculars. Most have neither. We show people glimpses of the departing bear. But then someone in the crowd calls out that something else is moving out there.
We take a look and find another grizzly! This one appears in the east and heads straight for the carcass. This bear is quite dark (the first one had traditional grizzly coloring, brown with a nice silvery vest).
We watch this grizzly chow down a while. Then we see two coyotes sneaking in from the side. They stand there, as if evaluating their options, and wisely move off to the west.
We continue to look for other critters. I try to find bighorn up on the cliffs when Missy says “I think I have something”. We quickly train our scopes to the area in front of the western foothill. Something is moving in that high grass, but what is it? Then I see a tail, which looks more like a wolf than coyote.
Additional movement convinces us there is more than one animal in that grass. Excitement mounts.
Finally, the animal stands up and reveals himself to be 1047. Then one wolf becomes two, then four, then six wolves!
They are all up now and a waggly tail rally begins. We have 4 blacks and two grays. Maybe the other two went back west?
After the rally they head towards the carcass. We happily show the wolves to all the scopeless folk, including a lot of kids. Yay, Missy!
The bear is still feeding and shows no signs of being done. The wolves get closer and closer. The bear looks up and the wolves charge forward. But it’s more of a bluff. The bear does not give ground, so when they reach him, they veer off, circling and meandering. Some of them are more aggressive than others, looking for a chance to lunge in. We see several charges, but the bear swipes this way and that, determined to stay until he’s had his fill.
Some of the wolves bed down a few feet away, some move further off, and two persist in bothering the bear. The bear is tugging on something, perhaps trying to flip the carcass. It causes one of the bison’s legs to rise in air above his head and flop around a bit. Looks like there is still a whole lot of meat here.
The people without scopes each take turns looking through ours. They are very happy and grateful and ask many questions, which we are happy to answer. Bill lowers his scope for some kids so they get to see, too.
At one point the view through my scope includes a bear in the center and bedded wolves on either side. Then, in the foreground, a coyote trots through from right to left. Missy and I see the same thing and it cracks us up, because the coyote reminds us both of a cartoon thief, sneaking past the distracted cops.
The two persistent wolves finally give up and bed down. Then someone on the hill calls out “two more wolves!” And sure enough, the remaining two Junction pack members (two blacks) make a late arrival in the meadow between the foothills. They stare at the wolves on the carcass and start to trot that way.
The six wolves on the carcass get up and stare at the other two. It looks like the two groups do not recognize each other. Both groups stare at the other from a distance. Then suddenly the six start to run at the two as if they mean to do them harm, but at the last minute, they recognize their pack mates and have another rally, with lots of body slamming and tail wagging.
When the rally ends, all 8 Junctions head back to the carcass. We think they are going to mount a more-coordinated attack against the bear now that they are all together…but they don’t. When they reach the carcass they simply bed nearby, leaving the bear alone. He’s a pretty big bear and I have a feeling the wolves know there is plenty for everyone.
As if all this wonderful viewing weren’t enough, we now are treated to a beautiful sunset behind us. The wolves and the bear are lit beautifully and the sage looks golden. But then we lose the breeze that has kept us bug free all evening. After about 10 more minutes of swatting at skeeters, we decide to call it a slightly early night.
We bid adieu to the wolves and the bear and head down to our cars for the drive to Northeast.
Today I saw: 3 grizzly bears, bison, coyotes, cranes, 3 golden eagles (including 2 chicks), elk, pronghorn (including 2 fawns), bighorn sheep, 8 wolves (the full Junction pack, 907, 969, 1105 & the un-collared female, 1047, 1048, 996, and the un-collared male, both morning and evening) and
the spirits of Allison and Richard.