There is a slight dusting of snow on the car at 6:45 this morning. But the snow has stopped and I see stars twinkling down in the velvety black sky. First light will be earlier than usual today.
It’s a warmish 32 and feels great.
Today is the last day of Winter Study so I hope we have good viewing.
I see the usual fox tracks in the driveway.
I join the crew and Rick at Coyote. Just as I hop out, I hear Jeremy say “I have a black”.
I set up and see a black too, but it’s a different wolf, further east than Jeremy’s. Soon we are looking at 9 Junctions on the eastern end of Jasper Bench. To the left of them I see a lone bison with a raised tail. The bull is quickly surrounded by wolves, but I think they are all youngsters, just practicing.
An uncollared black leads a line of wolves past the bison towards the Amethyst drainage. Soon the youngsters leave the bison alone and follow the others. Below the traveling wolves, a larger bison herd goes on alert, bunching up quickly. Several wolves stop to give them a once-over. But it’s clear that these bison are healthy and fierce, so the wolves move on.
Doug M calls from the Ranch, saying cheerily “the view is good from here”. Since the pack shows no sign of stopping, most of us pack up and move east, too.
Laurie & Dan stop at the barn, but I continue to Midpoint. For a few minutes I’m the only one here, watching the Junctions cross the Amethyst drainage. Boy, they are moving at a fast clip!
Had I stopped at the barn with Laurie, I would have seen not only the Junction wolves but three otters cavorting in the river. Oops!
A snow squall arrives, but visibility remains decent. I find it beautiful to see a pack of wolves traveling through falling snow. They move in a somewhat haphazard line across Amethyst bench, then down the slope to the old riverbank, following its edge. When they reach the gullies on the west side of the Big Fan, most of them turn uphill towards the trees. I lose about half the pack in that forest while the rest continue east, through thick, snow dusted sage.
The leaders reach the west end of the double foothills, I relocate again, this time to Trash Can hill. I make a wish that the pack will stop in the rendezvous for the day.
Several stop to bed at the edge of the “comma” fan treeline. There is a slight depression in that area that holds some sort of fascination for wolves. Perhaps an old coyote den or badger hole? Whatever it is, two wolves begin to dig, sticking their heads in the hole they’ve made. I presume they are youngsters.
Most of the other wolves proceed into the rendezvous using one route or another. Laurie asks if I have noticed 907F doing raised leg and back scratch behavior. I tell her yes, and that I know it usually denotes alpha status. She agrees but adds that when a pack is on a territory check (which it seems we are witnessing) it’s normal for other adult wolves to join the alphas in doing this sort of marking.
The youngster group continues to play in the depression while the leaders stall out, sniffing around the old Druid rendezvous.
Now the youngsters break into a run, racing into the flats of the rendezvous in unmistakable joy, as if calling out “We’re home! We’re home!”
It is pure delight to see them race and chase each other, tumbling and kicking up snow spray all over. They are so carefree and energetic. And it’s not just the pups. There are currently only 6 pups and I see at least 9 participants in this play session. So, there are at least some yearlings also letting loose and having a wonderful time.
The squall passes and the sun comes out again, which is extra nice.
The adults bed down for about a half hour. But a day-long rest does not seem to be the plan today.
All too soon, the pack is on its feet again, setting off southeast. The pups continue to play a while longer. I imagine they are remembering favorite spots from this past summer when the rendezvous was their family room and playpen.
The wolves travel southeast, skirting Chalcedony flats at the edge of the trees in a long, loose line. I watch them pass the top of Chalcedony fan, then head east on a route towards the Lamar River corridor.
I know there is a deep gully back there and sure enough we start to lose them.
I move again, this time to Geriatric, where I join Jeremy and a few others. With Jeremy’s help I see the last straggler heading off on their usual route to Cache Creek.
Ah well, I’m sorry to see them go, but that was a nice morning of wolf watching.
It’s only 10AM, so Laurie & Dan and I decide to go back west to see if we can find 1228F.
We run out of good weather as we approach Tower. Instead of warm sun, I see wisps of fog rising from the hollows, thick clouds overhead and a renewed threat of snow.
We gather again at Hellroaring, where Jeremy has signals for both 1228F and 1243M. 1228F is one of my current favorite wolves and I would be so happy for her to find a mate that is a match for her in independence and strength. Fingers crossed.
There are a lot of good eyes looking but we don’t find them.
After an hour or two the crew gets word that their Wolf Study has come to an end. We say our goodbyes and thanks and well wishes and off they go for some well-earned rest.
Around 12:30 I do the same. On my way back, I find John W at Dorothy’s so we visit a while. Laurie and Dan have gone in already so on my drive back I have the whole Lamar to myself!
Today I saw: bison, coyotes, elk, 16 Junction wolves (all except 1228F) and the spirits
of Allison and Richard.