Morning sure comes early in the spring!
I am out before 5AM in 38 degrees.
The road is wet from overnight rain. Whisps of fog here and there.
At the western end of Round Prairie branches of a fallen tree are still in the road. Someone moved most of it enough for one lane to pass. Thank you!
I see a maintenance truck stopped at Hitching Post so I pull in to tell the worker about the tree. She smiles and says, yes, it’s been called in.
I arrive at Slough around 5:30. As I get set up on the hill, Frank tells me he watched 9 Junction adults heading off to the southwest. They are already out of sight. Rick finds a gray near the boulder below the natal den. We assume it’s 907 as this has become her current favorite bedding spot.
The Junction hunting party re-appears in the flats, traveling past the Marge S tree. We follow them past the Southern Round tree until they disappear again.
We hear howling. Ah, the alpha female has stopped on the bench in front of the Marge S tree. Looks like she is not going on the hunt after all. She howls again, then heads back uphill to the pups.
An hour later we see a running wolf in the lower lion meadow. This single wolf turns out to be three wolves. They do not climb the hill to the den meadow, though. Instead, they cut across and re-appear between the diagonal and horizontal forests. We eventually count 9 wolves in this group: seven blacks plus 907F and 1228F.
They cross behind the Horizontal forest and continue east through the yellow grass meadow. They make a half-hearted attempt to test some bison there. But nothing develops and they continue east and out of sight.
The wind has picked up and it looks like we’re in for some snow. Just as we start to pack up, several puppies emerge from the natal den. So, I re-set my scope and see one black, then two, then two grays. But now the snow starts falling in earnest so we pack up for good and retreat to our cars.
For a while I use my window mount as corn snow is falling, making soft ticking sounds. It’s thick enough to obscure the view. Around 9AM, the snow turns to rain and visibility drops to zero. I wait it out a few more minutes but then big wet splotches of sleet begin to slap against my windshield.
OK, time to give up!
I leave the lot and drive west to Curve to watch some bison and their newborn calves. They are always entertaining.
But an hour later, the sleet has not let up, so I head to Silver Gate. By the time I reach Baronette the sleet has become snow and it’s sticking to the road. I try to never complain about precipitation: it’s always good for the Park!
We have a nice long break up at Northeast and I get a 2 hour nap! We debate whether to go out this evening because it’s still quite rainy and cloudy here. But we know from experience that the weather in Silver Gate is often radically different from Lamar Valley.
We decide to go and boy, am glad we did.
We find it overcast at Slough with a bit of wind. But no rain!
Kathie L and Mark are here. I set up my scope and find a black yearling near the big boulder. He comes down hill. I scan the den porch to look for pups but find none. I notice the black yearling has stopped. He sits on his haunches below the Western Trees, looking down towards the gully. He gets up and trots further downhill.
I hear Kathie call “Pups at the sage den!”
Sure enough, the yearling was watching these pups below him. I see several tiny pups, at least 5 (2 black and 3 gray) who have obviously managed to get down the steep hill below the den and travel across the den meadow to the sage den. They are wandering and romping about on their short little legs.
Perhaps some pups are still in the natal den but these are bold explorers! We watch, enthralled, as the yearling tries to wrangle them back up the slope to the natal den.
To his credit, the yearling manages to get them all back safely to the natal den. A bit later, 907 is spotted above the cliff. She moves purposefully towards the opening, then stops on the porch. Several pups come out and begin to nurse.
The alpha female appears and takes a turn nursing the pups. Again, we are pleased to see no pinning of 907 by the alpha. There are now at least five adults near the entrance to the den.
Then suddenly all the adult wolves rush uphill and slightly to the right. There’s a grizzly up there! The bear stops, surroun ded by wolves. Several lunge in and nip at the bear, causing him to wheel around and swat at them.
Wow, that bear is close to the den. It’s hard to tell whether he just happened by or was going there on purpose. The wolves seem to have been caught a bit flat-footed but are making up for it now with a fierce defense.
They convince the bear to move along. He continues east, and we are blocked from seeing further drama by the branches of the eastern trees. I see 907 leave the group and go back to the den. Again she pauses on the porch to nurse her babies.
The bear emerges to the east, prodded by 1048M who keeps him moving.
Things calm down again, except for the wind. It grows and the sky threatens rain once more.
So, we pack up and head east, with Laurie & Dan driving ahead of me. I pull over at the Soda Cone to let two antsy cars, a big one and a little one, go on by. I drive on and a moment or two later, I see the a car suddenly leave the road to the right, bouncing wildly through uneven ground, tearing up the sage.
For a second my heart is in my throat, thinking Laurie & Dan have gone off the road. But as I get closer I see it’s the small car that passed me. Laurie & Dan have turned around and are coming back.
The small car is stopped, wedged firmly against a boulder, it’s motor still running. The driver gets out and seems ok but is quite shaken up. The big car has stopped and several burly guys get out, offering help.
They manage to turn off the motor and talk with the driver to make sure he is ok. Laurie & Dan offer to drive on and notify the ranger. We make sure he has warm clothes, water & food.
I tell the driver that it could be an hour before help comes, even though I think it will be sooner. The burly guys are going to wait with him, so I wish him well and continue east.
As I reach Warm Creek I am relieved to see the ranger on his way.
It’s an upsetting end to a good evening.
Today I saw: 1 grizzly bear, bison, elk, pronghorn, 15 Junction wolves including the alphas, 907F, 1048M, 1228F, plus 5 other adults and 5 pups 2 black & 3 gray) and the spirits of Allison and Richard.