Today starts out a bit warmer at 28. It’s still snowing heavily, and I brush another 2 inches off the car.
For the second day in a row, the plow comes through. Maybe the Park hired some new people?
There are fox tracks in the driveway again. I suppose Mr. or Mrs. Fox has a morning routine, just like I do.
I stop in the quiet at Footbridge this morning and listen for howling, or any early morning sound. What I hear is softly falling snow. I find it magical to be all alone in a place like this in the dark.
I arrive at Slough where the snowfall is just as heavy. I see Bob L and Rick M here, talking quietly together. It reminds me of the “old days” of my wolf watching adventures, when they each had telemetry; Rick coming from the east and Bob from the west.
I wait until they finish their chat, then hop out to say hi to Bob. I tell him I look forward to his Audubon Zoom presentation tonight in Bozeman. He is glad I will be listening but is a tad concerned it might be snowed out.
He heads east, despite the questionable viewing conditions. Lord knows he’s seen much worse!
I check in with Rick and as we are talking, Laurie radios me to say “come back to Lamar”.
Rick and I join Laurie & Dan and the crew at Fisherman’s. Visibility is dreadful, but the crew says 1048’s signal is “booming” from here. I set up next to Laurie as the heavy snow falls on our scopes, our hoods and our gloves. We commiserate over the dreadful conditions, brushing snow off each other’s shoulders, worrying that our efforts are in vain. But then…
“I have them” Laurie says, in her calm, quiet voice.
I look where she looks and can just make out several ghost-like shapes moving from right to left just above the river – or I should say just above the place where I know the river is, since I can’t really see it!
Thank goodness for black wolves. I see a steady line of them, moving slowly east, coming out of the trees at the eastern edge of Lamar Canyon.
Laurie calls other units, taking care to ask those in Little America to relay to anyone further west. Not all radios reach the Blacktail from here, and I always admire how conscientious Laurie is in spreading the word. After all, we depend on each other.
Soon the pullout is jammed with happy people, including the crew.
Luckily for us all, the snow begins to lessen, improving visibility immensely. The pack’s behavior suggests they have been feeding on a fresh carcass, likely somewhere out of sight in the canyon.
At least two black wolves carry pieces of fresh meat in their jaws as they travel and another carries a leg. They all move slowly upslope, higher and higher.
Jeff can’t find room for his camper at Fisherman’s so he goes on to Dorothy’s. Luckily the snow has let up enough to give him a good view from that angle. He radios that he sees a single black in the flats north of the river. I hear a howl coming from that direction and follow the sound.
It’s 1276F. I guess she took a different route. She howls several times but gets no response from her pack mates. She pauses a while, then begins to travel towards them.
More and more wolves come out from the Canyon trees, traveling across the open slope above the big boulders. The leaders have bedded at the western end of Jasper Bench and watch as the rest of the pack arrives to join them.
No one seems in a hurry and all their bellies look full. 1276 crosses the mostly frozen river and heads up the slope to join her pack. She goes right to the alpha female to pay her respects and then finds a spot in which to bed down.
Laurie ID’s 907F as she comes up from below. She carefully beds on the edge of the group, probably avoiding another pinning!
Once the majority of wolves reaches this spot, the alpha female gets up and moves the group a bit higher. She leads them to the top of Jasper Bench, then goes a little further, going completely out of view.
We pack up and move up to Dorothy’s. This higher elevation allows us to find them again, in front of a line of snow-covered fir trees. To my delight, the younger wolves begin to play. While several siblings chase each other one black youngster flops in the snow and gnaws on the prize he carried all the way up here. He proves adept at protecting it from several of his rambunctious pack mates.
Another pup spends a lot of energy chasing birds left and right, leaping in the air several times.
The snow has stopped completely, and a clear blue sky breaks overhead. Very welcome sun warms our shoulders, evaporating the snow that once rested there. My high count is 16, which is a full count, not including 1228F who the crew tells us has tarried at Hellroaring. We hope the Wapiti male is still there with her.
I see several bull elk in the trees behind the wolves. They seem to know they are safe from the wolves for the day.
Although most of the day features sleeping wolves, there are still enough youngsters in this pack who remain restless and thus, entertaining.
Many visitors stop for a look, and we share our scopes, happily answering wolf-related questions.
Two intrepid coyotes arrive, drawn to the carcass. Initially, some of the Junction youngsters keep them on their toes but eventually the wolves go back uphill and bed down, giving the smaller canids a chance to fill their bellies.
A bald eagle arrives, laying his claim to a portion of the meal.
The day warms to 37.
The crew decides the wolves are far enough away for them to hike to the carcass to process it. Taylor is understandably trepidatious, knowing they will have to cross the Lamar. We watch them hike towards the river from Fisherman’s.
When they return, we learn it was an elk calf they caught. Jeremy says that almost nothing is left of it. Usually, the crew brings back a leg with a hoof, but at this carcass, the remains were so spread out, they couldn’t find a single one.
However, on their trek back, some river ice gave way and both Jeremy’s feet were momentarily submerged. He’s not hurt but his socks and boots are soaked.
Luckily he has an extra dry pair to change into.
Around 3:30 more snow arrives, and the bedded wolves get up. They move to the back of the bench into thick trees, disappearing one by one. When I lose sight of the last one, it feels like time to leave.
I take one more look around in case any of the pups went off exploring on their own. Instead, I find a fox on an open slope above Jasper, giving me a three-dog day.
After we have dinner in Silver Gate, I connect to the Audubon Zoom event in Bozeman via my laptop. Doug Smith makes a fine presentation of studies conducted on four of Yellowstone’s birds and Bob’s photography (and narration) is outstanding.
Today I saw: bison, 4 coyotes, a bald eagle, elk, a fox, 16 Junctions (all except 1228F) and the spirits
of Allison and Richard.