It’s a bit colder today at 15 degrees. A light snow is falling.
Looks like today could be a repeat of yesterday. Round Prairie is socked in with snow and fog.
I catch up with Rick at Trash Can, as he gets ready to climb the hill. Visibility is definitely better than yesterday, but it’s not great. However Rick convinces me that if a black wolf were in the rendezvous he would see it.
Alas, none are.
We leave the hill and continue west. My next stop is Dorothy’s. The light has improved so I scan for about a half hour. I find a nice bull elk above Jasper Bench but nothing else.
I hear radio reports of “nothing” so far from other watchers.
My next stop is Crystal. I find more elk from here, above the conifer-aspen forest. But they are relaxed.
I try again at Elk Creek but can only see the closer areas. It’s still a white curtain up on Specimen Ridge.
I go as far west as the Nature Trail where I scope for a while by myself. I have decent visibility here but find no wolves. Instead I see lots of elk, on Prospect Peak, on Everts and pretty much everywhere in between.
But no wolves.
At 10:30 I leave Blacktail and head back east. I stop at Hellroaring when I see Jeff’s camper. We visit and scope together for about a half hour.
He and I move on to Elk Creek again, eager to get a glimpse up on Specimen, but it remains shrouded in snow.
At 11:30 I am discouraged and decide to head in. I stop to check on the black bear once again and talk to some nice people from Virginia for a while.
I get my hopes up as I head downhill to Tower when I see two cars stopped in the road. They think they see a wolf to the north, but it turns out to be a coyote.
When I reach Lamar, I find improved visibility. I stop at Picnic and notice an empty tour van. The people have walked out towards the river. I suspect they may have seen otters, so I decide to follow.
But first, I scope the rendezvous, where I find a lone coyote sitting on its haunches.
The people return to the lot. They did see otters but the guide says they have moved upstream, that they are likely still visible if I want to walk out.
I thank him and drive east, passing Nick’s yellow car parked at Trash Can. Aha! I bet he’s out there with his camera!
I park at Exclosure and follow the trail through the snow-covered sage-flats, straight out to the river’s edge. Once at the water, I follow the bank downstream about 200 yards.
Nick is sitting on the north bank with his camera and waves hello. There are about a dozen people here, in two guided groups, being very quiet and respectful.
The Lamar is wider here than I expected, and the otters are holding forth in the water on the far side. I can see them with my naked eye, but I’m glad I brought my binocs for enhanced viewing.
For the first 5 minutes, I see only two animals, porpoise-diving over and over with tails straight up in the air as they go down. Then I see a third whiskered head. From the slight size difference, I surmise this is a mom with two nearly full-grown pups, likely the same three Laurie & Dan saw a few days ago from the Ranch. They spin about in the cold water so effortlessly, making for a wonderful sighting.
Several times they pop up with fish in their mouths and gobble them down.
Then mom hops up on the bank and gallumps across the flat in her hunchbacked way. She gets to a spot where she stops and turns to face the water. She wiggles her butt, and I realize she is…pooping. Soon after, one pup and then the other leaves the water and follows her to the very same spot. Each of them poops in the same butt-wiggle way, then all three return and slip back into the water.
I am treated to more spinning and porpoise-diving. They continue to be successful fishers, raising their heads above water just enough to gobble them down. Sometimes they press up against the bank to brace themselves and sometimes one will try to steal the other’s catch.
Mom leads them to a part of the river that is re-frozen slush and very bumpy like a rutted road. They launch themselves onto this uneven surface, wiping and rubbing their whiskers and chins, which I suppose is the way they get clean, or maybe it just feels good.
Anything mom does, the pups mimic exactly.
Another snow squall arrives, and I figure it’s time to head back to my car and the warm comfort of Silver Gate.
As 4PM approaches, Laurie and I begin to discuss dinner plans. The phone rings and it’s John W, calling from Slough! He says Jeff found two wolves to the south in Lamar moving east!
Well, you have never seen three people over 65 put on warm clothes and boots so fast in your life! Laurie remembers to alert Rick to the news.
I’m in my car, heading west in about five minutes. When I get past Trout Lake I radio for an update. Jeff replies that the two wolves are now in the southeastern rendezvous, passing a bison herd. He is up on Confluence hill; John is on Trash Can. Although I suspect Jeff has the better view, I decide to join John because it’s an easier climb.
Rick is already on the hill with John. As I set up my scope, huffing and puffing, I am told the pair has gone out of sight!
But once Laurie sets up she finds them again.
There is a bison herd at the edge of the middle flats, which you can see through the bare branches of cottonwoods growing along the river. There is a steep section of old riverbank visible below the bison and in a gap between the trees I finally find a wolf. It’s the black one, moving up towards the bison. I soon see the gray following the same route.
We all have them in view again, now, so we breathe a collective sigh of relief.
When John and Jeff first found these wolves, they were at Dorothy’s. They could see a collar on the black but never saw the gray clearly enough to know it’s collar status, so we don’t really know who these wolves are.
Laurie says she bets the gray is 1228F. The black could be the Wapiti male, or perhaps another Junction.
But the most amazing thing to me is that our fellow wolf-watcher, John W LEFT this sighting in order to drive to Slough just so he could call us in Silver Gate!
It is just such a generous, good-friend thing to do; I just can’t express how grateful I am. Of course, I thank him over and over.
The gray reaches the level where the bison are. The black appears up there, too, emerging a bit further east. The gray walks towards the herd but soon disappears into a gully. Aarghh! The black runs towards that spot and disappears into the same gully.
Ack! Can’t they please stay in sight a while?
We try to locate them again but have no luck. For me, the light started out dim and has only gotten worse. Despite my scope, my eyes are just not good enough.
I thank John three more times, then pack up and start my slow, careful climb down the freshly-snowed-upon hill. Laurie & Dan start down, too. I have almost reached the road when John calls out “I’ve got six wolves!”
I re-set my scope right where I am and strain my eyes through it. OMG!
I see wolves too! Six, seven, maybe eight wolves, mostly black, running joyfully across the snow from the low shoulder of Norris straight towards the gully where the pair of wolves disappeared.
John is beside himself, calling out more and more wolves. His count is up to 12 now. Laurie & Dan have set up again and they see them, too. Their count grows.
I see several wolves running left, back towards the new growth and more wolves running right. I can’t get any kind of accurate count but I hear Laurie say 16! It’s got to be the whole Junction pack.
I am thrilled at the sighting but just can’t make out shapes anymore.
I call out another “thank you” to John and also to Jeff.
John is still up on the hill with his scope as darkness closes in.
It’s such a good feeling to have seen the Junctions back in Lamar after trying so hard to find them all morning. And to know we have such good friends in Jeff and John.
As I reach the Northeast Gate, I smile to see brightly colored Christmas lights on the ranger’s house.
Thank you, John W! You are the best!
Today I saw: 1 black bear, bison, 2 coyotes, elk, 3 otters, 8 Junction wolves and the spirits of Allison and Richard.