I head out in the dark at 6:15. It’s 34 degrees with about an inch of slushy snow that fell overnight.
By the time I reach Round Prairie, however, the snow has turned to rain. Well, that’s odd. Usually, the valley is colder but today it’s warmer.
Nothing seems to be happening in Lamar so I continue west through light rain. By the time I reach Boulder the squall has passed. No wolves have been seen yet, so we all spread out.
I scope from the top of Boulder Hill. From here I find elk, 2 bison herds and a bald eagle. There is a pond visible from here to the northeast, which hosts about 10 swans and some very noisy geese.
On the far shore of this pond, I notice an odd, rectangular man-made thing. Hmm, wonder what that might be?
After about an hour, I decide to join Laurie at Elk Creek. I am just passing Tower when I hear the magic words over the radio: “Wolves at Slough”.
About 15 minutes later, I am climbing up Dave’s Hill to join visitors Andy and Barb. They’ve found the Junctions!
I end up seeing about half the pack; 8 blacks and 4 grays.
The few wolf watchers in the park gather on the hill. I spend a good two hours up here, although the wolves are mostly bedded and motionless during this time. A few, mostly pups, mill around, exploring. One or two leave the bedded group and disappear to the north behind the Marge Simpson tree. Laurie suggests the rest of the pack is likely bedded out of sight in that area.
A few youngsters visit the southern round tree area. One finds something on the ground to roll in. A nearby gray lump turns out to be 907F, who seems quite content to sleep through the morning, with a slight change in her bedding spot now and then.
A black youngster chooses a bison wallow to bed in. 1276F gets up and walks past that wallow, moseying here and there. We think the black bedded there might get up and follow her, but it stays put.
I catch movement to the right, close to the creek. It’s a cow elk with a grown calf. The two move stealthily along the willows’ edge right by the water. The wolves never react to their presence at all. Clever elk!
The sun tries to come out but doesn’t quite succeed. But at least we are spared more rain.
The main thing I take away from this morning’s viewing is how exceedingly nice it is to be here, when so few others are here. It’s such a switch from the last 8 months!
Don’t get me wrong; I am always happy to share a wolf sighting with other visitors, but after the overflow crowds of summer lingered into fall, I admit it’s nice to not have to worry about where to park or how long the line is to the bathroom.
There is a serenity to the Park this time of year. The trees are bare, the grass is dry and golden. It’s the deep breath before the plunge into Winter.
We stay till about 11:30, then head east. A mule deer crosses the road at Round Prairie, going south.
After a bit of a break, we head back in around 3PM. I am always more eager to go out in the evening when the wolves are close.
We pass the limping coyote at Western Curve. Our first stop is Lamar Canyon west, where we find the Junctions in pretty much the same spot. So down we go to Slough and hike up Dave’s again.
This time, I am able to identify more individual wolves (with Laurie’s help). I see my two favorite girls, sisters 1228F and 1229F. 907F and 1276F are also here and I recognize the alphas.
We see many more than we did this morning for a high count of 18, with 9 blacks and 9 grays. The “normal” count, at the moment, is 22 or 23, so we are missing a gray and some blacks.
A visitor tells us she got video of the hibernating black bear when she and her cubs came out of the den for a bit of a walkabout. When they went back in, she said mom scooted in backwards and began to scrape up stuff near the entrance.
We leave the hill around 4:45. Jeff joins us for dinner tonight and brings a nice bottle of wine. We talk about the bear, and I learn some things I didn’t know before, namely that black bears are often quite casual blocking their den entrances, usually just letting snow cover it up.
Jeff says that hunters sometimes accidentally step on bears in winter because they sometimes don’t even enter a den, but just lay down near a log and let the snow cover them!
Today I saw: bison, mule deer, a bald eagle, elk, geese, swans, 18 Junction wolves (including AF, AM, 907F,
1228F, 1229F, 1276F and 12 others including 5 more blacks and 7 more grays) and the spirits of Allison and Richard.