I find a half-inch of new snow when I head out this morning. Itís much colder; only 10 degrees. The sky is clear so first light will come early today.
I drive through Lamar in the gorgeous early dawn. I stop here and there to listen for howling but hear nothing but distant geese.
Rick checks in as I pass Boulder. Nothing yet, so he makes his practical suggestion that we spread out. I see the same small elk herd hanging out near Junction Pond. They look calm.
My next stop is Rickís pullout, where I set up and start to scan. I find no wolves; only elk and bison. After about an hour I continue west to Lower Hellroaring.
Floating Island Lake looks especially pretty today, with a fresh rim of snow around the edges.
I find the crew at Lower Hellroaring. Since the Junctions are not around, the crew will hike out to process the elk carcass from Monday.
Laurie & Dan and I watch Jeremy, Taylor, Hannah and Cameron set off through the snow dusted sage. Cameron is here doing bird work, but he wanted to go and itís safer if there are four. Although no one has seen any bears for a while, you never know what might be found at a carcass.
After a while, we move to Upper Hellroaring to see if we can spot the crew as they arrive in the flats below. I find them first, crossing the suspension bridge; after I lose them, Dan finds them again further west. We lose them and find them, just like we do with wolves.
We watch them arrive at Hellroaring Creek but they are far east of where the carcass was on Monday. We donít see them for a while and presume they are following the creek until they find whatís left of the slow cow elk.
Seeing a group of humans in the same areas I so often see wolves makes me appreciate how fast wolves travel without getting winded.
While we are here, a visitor named Ed tells us he noticed a bison carcass in Lamar south of Dorothyís with two coyotes feeding on it. Itís always good to know where a fresh carcass is, so we pack up and head there.
Laurie & Dan stop to make a phone call, so I get to Dorothyís first. I find the carcass easily, exactly where Ed said it was. There two coyotes on it, perhaps the very same ones Ed saw this morning. They squabble a bit even though there is clearly enough for 20 coyotes!
I suggest to Laurie & Dan that this might be the animal that collided with Jim and Elizabethís car on Monday. My speculation is confirmed when a ranger stops by to visit. He confirms that this bison was hit Monday morning and that although it looked ok initially, by Tuesday night the animal was unable to keep up with the herd. So the ranger put it out of its misery.
Iím sure Jim & Elizabeth will be sad to hear of this, but really, there are enough bison in Lamar, and it makes a happy day for these coyotes. For once there are no wolves or bears around for the coyotes to avoid. This lucky pair is gobbling up every bite they can, and already look stuffed to the gills.
We watch them for about an hour as the day grows warmer, sharing the sighting with a revolving door of happy visitors. Besides the song dogs, we see dozens of birds, including a golden eagle each grabbing their share.
Itís a gorgeous Yellowstone day with bright sun and blue sky.
After a break in Silver Gate, we head out again. We drive all the way to Hellroaring where we meet Jeff and Michael. Shortly after our arrival, Jeff finds a single black walking about on the wide-open slope. While we are wondering if this wolf is a lost Junction or perhaps a straggler from another pack, Michael answers the question by finding the rest of the Junctions.
They are all here, bedded just to the left of the first black on a small knob.
We watch them for a while, without much movement from any of them, until about 4:15 when the alpha female decides itís time to go. She leads them east, taking a route upslope through the scattered trees left of Little Buffalo drainage. We have very good views of them as they travel.
Once we lose them in thick trees, we pack up and move east. Rick finds them again from Elk Creek, on their usual high route. Our delight at finding them again turns to dismay when we realize they are heading straight for the ďTroughĒ. Itís a large area behind a high ridge famous for hiding wolf packs. The area is often full of elk but once they go in, there are no pullouts that offer a view.
At the moment, though, they are visible, traveling in a nice long single line. I count 19 (missing 4); others see 23. I can identify the alphas, 907F, 1048M. 1228F, 1229F, 1276F and four gray pups, plus at least 8 uncollared blacks.
The crew arrives just in time to see them, and we are all happy that none are missing after their trek yesterday.
Once they go out of sight we move on to Boulder, hoping they will bypass the Trough and continue to Slough. There is enough light left to see them, but they do not appear. Instead, I enjoy a bright full moon rising over Druid peak.
At 5PM my eyes donít work anymore, so I pack up, leaving those with younger eyes to keep trying.
The moonlight on the freshly snow-trimmed mountains is beautiful!
Today I saw: bison, coyotes, elk, a gray squirrel, 19 Junction wolves and the spirits of Allison and Richard.