Iím out a 5AM in a very pleasant 50 degrees. I see the usual mulies on the way in today.
My first stop is at Trash Can Hill, which is getting to be routine!
There is another grizzly on the carcass this morning and three wolves. The individuals are 1047M, 969F and 996M, who, it seems, simply cannot get enough of this bison carcass.
I also notice three elk in the area, who wander around, alert but relaxed, as if they know they have nothing to fear from the wolves with so much free food available. They all look healthy and strong, and itís nice to see such elegant animals in the rendezvous again.
Bear #1 eventually leaves, heading west, and the wolves move in quickly. But soon a second bear arrives from the east. The wolves do their best to ward off this newcomer, but the bruin is persistent and they give ground.
So now, Bear #2 begins to feed while the wolves bed impatiently nearby. Before Bear #2 is finished, however, a third grizzly (smaller, perhaps younger, or maybe a female?) appears from the east. Bear #3 heads straight for the wolves, bypassing the carcass. The wolves get up and have a bit of a tussle with Bear #3 which includes snapping, charging, avoiding and swiping. But all remain unscathed.
Now Bear #2 leaves and Bear #3 heads straight to the carcass, having put up enough of a fight to convince the wolves to back off. 969 beds a bit to the west while the two males stay closer to the food.
After a while, the males get up and move towards 969. She stands and they have a nice, waggly-tail, flirtatious greeting with her, then they all re-bed.
Finally, Bear #3 moves off and the wolves get the carcass back. But they are not on it long before a group of bison move into the area, displacing the wolves once more. The wolves try to return a few times but a couple of these bison are quite ornery and insist on charging them. This time the wolves give up and head to the foothills. They look properly stuffed, so they must have been feeding before the bears arrived.
969 is the first to seek shade; the other two follow, one by one. They take their time which draws out the sighting a nice long while, allowing many, many people to get their first-time-ever glimpse a wolf.
They move into the gap between the foothills and into the cool of the forest, where each remains visible for a short while, walking in between the trunks of trees.
During this sighting, I become vaguely aware of radio calls. It seems that something may be going on further east in the Lamar, so I pack up and head down the hill to my car.
Once I get east of the Cone, I see several cars parked or stopped in the road, suggesting to me that a wolf may have recently been seen. I ask a man who I see looking to the north through binoculars. He says he saw a wolf earlier but it is no longer in view.
I thank him and continue driving east. I see Rick and a few others scoping to the south from the big lot. He says 926 crossed to the south just west of Trout Lake and should be showing up any minute. Apparently, the Lamars killed an elk in Pebble Creek last night or early this morning. The carcass is visible from the bridge, and the Rangers are planning to move it soon.
I find a place to park in the small lot. There is a lady here, sitting in her car having lunch. She suddenly spots the wolf! Thanks to her, I see dear old 926F, trotting happy-snappy through a wide meadow carpeted in yellow flowers. She goes straight towards a bend in the river and I lose her in thick brush.
After about 15 minutes, she re-appears south of the brushy spot. Dorothy and Kevin join me for what turns out to be a nice, half-hour sighting. Rick explains that the Rangers will move the carcass a little bit, so that it is no longer in sight from the bridge. Unfortunately, such a situation creates a serious danger for people and cars.
We watch her, noticing how much more gray she has now than before. She is looking more and more like her father every day. She begins to meander back west, moving gradually into the cool of the forest. I think she is very sensibly going to take a nap in the shade. I am very happy to see her looking so healthy and confident.
Once 926 is out of sight, a coyote appears from the east, drawn by the carcass. It trots quickly across the road and into the brush.
I decide to take my cue from 926 and head to my own nap in the shade. But I know where Iíll be this evening! Right here!
We have a bit of a downpour while Iím in Silver Gate. And as I drive in I notice small puddles in the road.
By 6:20, I am again set up across the road from Round Prairie. Kevin, Dorothy and Rick are all here. Turns out I am a little late; they had 926 just a little while ago in the carcass area but she has now gone west and has already crossed the road to the north. Sheís such a good mom.
The carcass has been moved in such a way that the body itself cannot be seen, which is good for the wolves, but itís in a place that affords good viewing of the pack members coming and going, and still far enough away that they are not disturbed. The Rangers have temporarily forbidden fishing in the immediate area, more out of concern that bears might be drawn to the carcass than any danger from or interference with wolves.
In our lot is a nice, hippie grampa with his grand-child; a sweet, smart young girl, maybe 10, sitting in chairs as they wait. A few more visitors join us and we fill them in on what we know. I am scoping to the right when a woman standing behind me calls out ďblack wolf!Ē I look where she points and see the wolf Ė itís our handsome Small Dot, across the meadow in clear view, heading west towards the berm. He has an elk leg in his mouth.
We have him for maybe 5 minutes, right along the edge of the meadow, but then he reaches the trees and goes out of sight.
It starts to rain, light at first, then it becomes quite heavy and drives us to our cars. I head west, following Rick, and stop at SBE. We find Small Dot from here and notice he no longer has the leg in his mouth. He must have cached it somewhere along the way. We have him for another 5-10 minutes but he is clearly on a mission back to the pups. Itís still drizzling a bit.
Once we lose him, we drive further west and stop at SB midpoint, where we find him again, quite quickly. The slopes are more open here, so itís easier. He remains above the river, moving in and out of the scattered trees.
I radio Dorothy who stayed at Round Prairie, to let her and Kevin know Small Dot is visible again. They arrive in time to see him, then he moves into thicker forest.
We talk about stopping at Eastern Curve but change our minds and head further west to our old stand-by, Trash Can hill.
On the 5-day-old bison carcass is one grizzly, with two black Junction wolves bedded nearby: 1047 and 996. We do not see 969 tonight so she may already have headed home.
The bear starts to leave the carcass so the wolves get up and head for a snack. Well, this perturbs the bear and he decides to return, charging the wolves, making them run. The bear decides he is not finished after all.
1047 moves away and re-beds, while 996 sneaks in, grabs a chunk and carries it several yards away to eat it in peace.
We watch these two wolves and the bear for the next hour. Around 9PM I decide to head back east in case Little T decides to visit the Round Prairie carcass. But as I approach Footbridge, I see a pickup has wedged itself between the cones that protect the gravel pile. A couple stands in front of the truck, binocs pressed to their eyes.
I roll down my window and Iím about to ask if they are seeing a wolf, when the man says ďblack wolf!Ē So I wedge my own car between the cones and join them.
Itís Small Dot. Heís made it this far. Heís close, just on the other side of the creek, looking longingly to the north, wanting to cross. He really could, too. We are just 3 people, two cars, traffic is quiet and there is nothing blocking him. But Small Dot has road demons in this head, and perhaps will live longer because of it.
We stay at the edge of the pullout and watch him a while. He really is a handsome wolf. I learn that this couple lives in Silver Gate and that they are the owners of the rental house just west of the Grizzly Lodge. I tell them how inviting the campfire was last night!
But we donít stay long, because we can tell Small Dot just wants to get home. We cross our fingers for him and leave.
By the time I get to Round Prairie, the light is just about gone. I do see a few people with scopes set up near the Pebble Creek lot, looking in the direction of the Lamarís carcass. So I don't stop after all.
I do see well enough to note three mulies on my way in.
Today I saw: 4 grizzlies, bison, coyotes, cranes, mule deer, elk, pronghorn, 5 wolves from two packs: Junction wolves 969, 996 and 1047 and Lamars 926 & Small Dot, and
the spirits of Allison and Richard.