DAY SEVEN - Friday, June 21,

ELK CALF CROSSING

According to the calendar, today is the first day of summer, but someone apparently forgot to alert the weather. I awaken to 3 inches of new snow.

And itís still coming down! I have to say, itís REALLY pretty.

I do worry about all the baby animals; many of them seeing snow for the first time today (moose, elk, deer and pronghorn) but Iím sure it wonít last very long.

The snow continues to fall as I drive east. I join others at Dorothyís, including Jeremy with his trusty telemetry. Two wolves are already in view on Divide Ridge; 969F and a black. They are heading east. I see them for a split second before they disappear in the trees at the back of Jasper.

Jeremy finds another black further east in the flats. I find it for a split second but the snowfall thickens, veiling the wolf from sight. Dorothy and I decide to drive back to Mid-point. We set up and find the wolf again, but only for a few minutes before the snow closes in again. Dorothy tells me that on her way home last night a black wolf ran in front of her car near Soda Butte Picnic. She says when she told Jeremy this morning he was very happy to hear it, because it was likely one of the Lamars.

The Lamar wolves have become very secretive in the last year. They are thriving but almost never seen anymore.

Kathie arrives and joins us in the pullout, grinning and rolling her eyes at the odd weather. We scope through the falling snow and eventually find the black wolf again. Jeremy says we are seeing the black female yearling. She eventually beds on the river bank, in a spot we can see through the snow.

We also find a black bear south of the big fan.

Once the yearling beds we decide to move further east and climb Trash Can Hill. For the next hour, visibility waxes and wanes, but we manage to see a good deal of activity. A group of elk with calves (they could easily be the same group I saw earlier in the week) draw our attention. I count 6 calves and 8 adults. They are south of the road but still north of the river. It looks like the cows are trying to get the calves to swim the river to the south. The calves are mewling quite loudly, wanting no part of the cold water.

We can see the yearling wolf bedded on the bank. I estimate her to be about a half-mile west of the elk. We are surprised that she does not seem to hear the noise the elk calves are making. We can hear them clearly but perhaps from her location, the sound of the river muffles it.

The adults and calves move a bit east, milling around, still on our side of the river. Finally the snow starts to let up. Jeremy is on the hill with us and begins to gather a group of visitors around him for a talk. Kathie and I listen in. Heís very entertaining and of course, extremely informative. When he gets to the part where he shows them how his telemetry works, he gets 1048ís signal, so Kathie & I decide to try to find him.

And a minute later, I do! Heís further west of the yearling, in the flats, moving east, carrying something in his mouth. He stops and sits down to eat. The previously bedded yearling becomes aware of him and crosses the flats towards him. She tries to convince him to give her his food but he doesnít.

There is a bit more interaction between these two, then they both re-bed.

Meanwhile, one of the elk calves has finally found its courage and begins the river crossing. It seems odd to us that the cows are choosing to bring their vulnerable calves over to the same side of the river that the wolves are on, but I suppose the distance between them could be greater than it looks.

I notice a few bison moving towards the wolves from the east. They are bulls and walk right up to them, deliberately disturbing them. 1048 gets up and moves into the timber at the edge of Amethyst Bench.

The yearling flits here and there avoiding the bison and eventually moves closer to the elk. We think for a moment that she is finally aware of them but again she stops short of the river bank and beds again.

As the calves continue to cross, most of the cow elk are now on the river bank on the south side. One of the cows, the bravest or most experienced, begins to move away from the herd towards the wolf, as if to check out the surroundings and monitor the wolfís behavior.

The yearling definitely notices this guard elk and begins to approach her. The elk does not run but instead continues towards the wolf, challenging it, distracting it, keeping it at bay. Then the cow deliberately lunges at the yearling, who immediately tucks her tail and runs.

We are impressed with the elk and unimpressed with the yearling. She still seems totally unaware that 6 vulnerable calves are crossing the river. A more experienced wolf might deduce that the guard elk charging her is doing so for a purpose. But this yearling does not figure it out.

The drama of the calves crossing the river is very compelling. I see two calves reach the opposite bank at the same time. The still hesitant calves are mewling like mad and again we worry that their cries will draw the wolf.

The adult elk now move south east, parallel to the bank, in sight of the remaining calves. The two bravest calves follow them, and we surmise that the uncrossed calves can see the herd starting to leave.

This view seems to delivers the jolt of motivation needed by the remaining calves. One by one the rest of them finally plunge in. However, because they had moved east before crossing, the place they reach on the opposite bank is much steeper. Itís a water-gouged sandy-mud bank, about 8 feet high. So now, even though they are across and on terra firma, they cannot see their moms.

It is heartbreaking to watch their desperation as they each try and fail to get to the top of the bank. Then at last one makes it, then the other. Once at the top these two gallop to catch up with mom.

One little water-drenched calf runs back and forth and back and forth, and in the process, creates a trail for itself that finally leads it to the top. Somehow, each tiny calf makes it to safety, each taking an entirely different path than the one before it; each expending way too much energy.

Itís emotionally draining to watch this, but we get some relief when we see them reach their moms and immediately begin to nurse. None of us are sorry that the yearling wolf entirely missed her opportunity.

The day has been getting clearer and clearer as this drama played out, and there is finally blue sky above. The oblivious yearling begins to mouse in the short grass, then turns and trots into the forest. 1048 seems to have disappeared, too.

We hear coyotes howling behind us, including pup voices. It takes a while but we find two adults and notice they have very dark backs. I speculate that their den likely got wet from the snow, and that going in and out turned them muddy!

Then someone finds a grizzly up on K2, so we watch him a while. We also see a gull, which is a fairly unusual sighting in Lamar. Someone suggests that the snow storm blew it off course.

We head to Hitching Post for a break and find the K2 bear again from Footbridge. We show lots of people this bear and also find elk & pronghorn.

And then, a gorgeous fox appears on the north side of the road between Footbridge and HP. He saunters down the hill and trots right along the road. A dozen cameras come out, and many happy visitors! The fox crosses the pullout at the eastern end and heads down to the river.

Shortly after this the snow returns. In fact it starts to grapple. My buds and I make a plan to head east to have dinner together. Could be a pizza night.

While we are chowing down, the snow returns with a vengeance, so I never make it back out for the evening session!

Today I saw: 1 black bear, 1 grizzly, bison, 2 coyotes, mule deer, bald eagles, elk and calves, a fox, a gull, pronghorn, 4 wolves (Junctions 969F, 1048M, plus 2 un-collared blacks including the yearling female) and the spirits of Allison & Richard.

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