DAY FOUR - Tuesday, June 18

JUNCTION DRAMA


Iím out a little late, around 5:15AM. There is a beautiful full moon to light the way.

When I reach Confluence I hear from Rick. He is up on Exclosure with Junctions in sight. Barb and I meet at Trash Can and climb the hill. Missy and Andy join us. This is getting to be a nice habit!

We find the Junctions easily south of the Institute, moving east, just above the river bank.

Todayís group of three includes 1048, the un-collared male and a black yearling. We have them for about an hour and a half, so I am very happy!

As they get closer to the R-V we see a herd of bison with many calves, spread all over that area, including some on the western foothills. The wolves aim for the group on the foothills and it looks to me as if they are testing them. There is a short chase but the cows and yearlings in this group prove alert and aggressive, protecting their vulnerable calves.

The wolves give up fairly quickly and continue east, threading their way through the next bison herd, avoiding a few charges and eventually reaching the apex of Chalcedony fan where they disappear into the treeline.

We continue scoping, hoping to re-acquire them, scanning for bears, etc. Missy finds a pronghorn fawn (my first this year).

Then a guide named Taylor runs half-way up Trash Can hill to tell us there is more wolf action in Little America. We had no idea! There was nothing on the radio so I am very grateful to her for telling us this, since she could so easily have kept it to herself.

We journey west and join a very large crowd at Straightaway, looking north. Lucky for us late arrivals, this location has plenty of safe parking spots!

It takes a while to get the full story, but here it is: apparently, at first light, 5 Junction wolves were found surrounding a bison cow with a dead calf. No one knows whether the calf was a still-born or whether wolves killed it.

Jeremy thinks they came upon a stillborn. He confirms that the individuals were the alphas, plus 996M, 907F and a black yearling. He says 907 has already left the area, moving back east towards Slough. The cow has successfully kept the wolves at bay for several hours.

The remaining wolves four wolves are taking a break, bedded in the sage half way up Peregrine hill. I see each of them up there, and wonder if the action is over already. The bison still guards her dead calf, standing pitiably over its limp form.

An intrepid coyote appears on the western side of the hill, observing the scene, wisely deciding to bide its time. After about a half hour the cow seems to finally give up her vigil and begins walking slowly towards the road.

Almost immediately several wolf heads on the hill perk up. Soon all four wolves stand up, then trot, then lope down the slope to the carcass. They arrive en masse and begin to tug at the remains, but the movement draws the attention of the cow. She wheels and charges back quickly, scattering the wolves. One black avoids her by running quite far to the east. The other three turn and challenge the poor cow.

They lunge and snap at her; she wheels and charges them. This amazing back and forth goes on a good 10 minutes. Sometimes the cow is distracted by one wolf long enough for another to rush forward. The wolf grabs and drags the calf a few feet north but that only draws the cowís wrath. She wheels and charges again, causing the wolf to drop it and dash out of the way. I never see any of the wolves succeed in getting a single morsel to swallow.

Eventually the wolves tire again and bed right there in the flat. Shortly after this, the tired cow beds, too, right by her lifeless calf.

At a certain point, the wolves seem to understand that the cow is just not giving up. The alphas head east towards Slough, leaving 996 and the yearling. They get up, climb the hill, and bed again.

Ravens arrive and start stealing a peck here and there. The competition seems to prompt the wolves to sneak back down once again. Then two bison bulls wander in. Once they get close, they charge the wolves, who avoid them easily.

Lest anyone think that the bulls might be acting heroically, please note they pause to sniff the cowís rear end in their rude way.

But the bullsí arrival seems to be the last straw for the remaining wolves.

996 sets off dejectedly to the east. The yearling sticks around a little longer, wandering here and there as if considering and rejecting a series of moves.

Then, even the yearling gives up and heads east at a trot.

I mention to Barb that the Junctions look skinny and hungry to me today.

With the wolves gone and sad mom still bedded by her deceased offspring, we decide to leave.

Itís still early (9:30) so we decide to try Blacktail again to have a crack at seeing the Eight Mile pups once more. On our way we hear a radio report of a black collared wolf crossing the road from north to south near Crystal.

When we get to the Fire Trail we find Susan & Reve. They had some action earlier but nothing at the moment. We try mightily but see nothing moving.

Barb decides to head south to Hayden so we say goodbye. Itís a long time since we got to wolf watch together and Iím glad we had some luck.

I scope for pups a while longer then head back to Straightaway.

On my way, I thread through a massive bear jam (black sow and 2 cubs) at Phantom Lake. And I see the badger and kits again across from Petrified Tree.

Around noon Iím back at Straitaway and find the situation much the same.

The poor sad mom maintains her vigil. No wolves in sight but I notice the coyote has moved a bit closer. And a bald eagle is perched on a nearby rock, considering his options.

There is a radio report from a guide at Slough: two black wolves are heading west. Hmm, it could be Junction wolves coming back for another try at the calf carcass.

But as I am scanning for them, I see two people out there, hiking along the eastern slope of Peregrine, following the path the wolves took when they exited earlier. Although there is nothing illegal about their taking such a hike, it is very ill-advised, because it pretty much nixes any chance that the Junctions will be returning in the next hour or so.

Oh well. I pack up and head east, believing the drama will likely continue this evening.

I stop at Slough and hike out to Bobs. From here I see a single black coming up from the river. He beds under a willow. Iím pretty sure this is 1047M.

Then I head back east for my shower and nap. I find I cannot continue these long days without napping and Iím extra grateful to Laurie for providing me a place to do so!

Around 7 PM I am heading back in. I see a nice black bear at Soda Butte Picnic.

Just west of Dorothyís I come upon a huge bison jam that takes longer than usual to get through. People just love taking bison photos! When I arrive at Straightaway I catch up with Barb. She says the cow finally left the calf at 5:50. Soon afterwards, an un-collared black arrived from the north to feed on it. It was probably the yearling.

I am happy to say he is still here, feeding at long last on the dead calf. I am glad he is finally getting a meal. But I soon overhear people talking about another wolf Ė this one visible to the south. I lift my binoculars and see it. Heís collared. Everyone is talking in whispers because he is quite close to the road.

I bring my scope to the other side of the road and set up. I can see he is a male and I notice some gray on his face, but not enough for 1047. I guess this is either 996 or 1048. He likely wants a bite of that fresh food, but with all these people thereís no way for him to get there.

The yearling continues feeding on the calf carcass, eating ravenously. The collared wolf moves further and further west, looking in vain for a crossing spot, offering a great photo ops to dozens of visitors.

As the sun sinks and the golden light dims, the yearling picks up the head, neck and front leg of the calf, all still attached, and sets off to the east, the way he had gone earlier.

As the wolf disappears behind a hill, to my dismay, I see a dozen people, including kids, rush out from their cars on the road, and charge up the sage hill that the wolf just disappeared behind.

A bunch of us yell at them, entreating them to return to the road. Some come back but most stay on the crest of the hill, while others continue further north, chasing after the wolf.

Grrr! Of course there is no Ranger in sight. Alas, this is summer in Yellowstone.

I pack up and head east. I have three bison jams on the way. This, too, is summer in Yellowstone!

Today I saw: 2 black bears, bison, coyotes, a bald eagle, elk, pronghorn (including one fawn), 7 Junction wolves including 1047, alpha female, 1048, 996, un-collared black male, both black yearlings and the spirits of Allison & Richard.

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