At 6:15 I walk out to a snowfall in progress. Another half inch has settled already but it’s kind of warm at 29 degrees.
My drive begins in slush. The snow stops at Trout Lake, but the sky remains overcast.
I figure the carcass at Dorothy’s is finished so I don’t stop.
The radio is silent through Little America but as I approach Boulder, I see lots of people on the hill. Looks like a sighting is in progress but suddenly they all start to pack up their scopes. I have just pulled in when everyone gets in their cars and takes off.
Some drive east, some west. Hmmm.
Laurie and Dan are still at their car so I walk over to get the scoop. The crew has signals for 1048M in the dreaded trough but not for 1228M, so it’s time to spread out.
I suppose I should mention that the Junction pack has only two working collars. Of the two, 1048M is the most reliable in finding the whole pack, because he tends to stick close to the alphas. 1228F has shown herself to be a very independent female, so, although she is often with the pack, she tends to wander. There are three more collared wolves in the pack (907F, 1229F and 1276F) but alas, their collars are useless.
Laurie, Dan and Rick decide to stay here at Boulder; Jeff goes to Slough to climb Dave’s Hill. I decide to follow the crew to the east.
I stop at Crystal and scope both north and south.
Then Laurie radios to say “come to Boulder”
The logical assumption, of course, is that the Junctions have been found. But once I join the group on Boulder Hill, I see scopes pointing southwest instead of north.
Rick has found wolves way over on the backside of the Blacktail Plateau. It’s not Junction but the Rescue Creek pack! He helps me find the spot and I remember Calvin once found the Prospect Peak Pack in this area once upon a time.
Lucky for us, the Rescue Pack wolves are on skyline and once you get the right hill, they are easy to see. They are chasing some bull elk up there.
I see 13, including the alphas. They have the elk cornered at the left end of the hill, but the bulls are all healthy and simply face the wolves without fear. It takes only a few minutes for the wolves to change their minds.
They turn and move back across skyline. Several begin to run in a playful way, then all of them do. It’s so lovely to see carefree wolves!
The wolves come to a gentle, snow-covered slope and start down, really romping now, sliding and wrestling. There are no pups in this pack; the youngest wolves are nearly two years old which makes their behavior even more delightful to see. It suggests the Pack is healthy and well-bonded.
They reach the bottom of the slope and disappear into a forest.
It’s a very nice sighting, but over much too quickly.
The Rescue Creek pack recently lost one of their members, 1274M. He was killed by 8 Mile wolves on the Blacktail a few days ago. It makes me sad because I was just getting to “know” him. He was one of the yearlings who divided his time between the two packs, Junction and Rescue. He was born a Junction but followed his older brother, Gray Male when he formed his own pack with two 8 Mile females last mating season.
I remember seeing 1274M quite frequently this summer at the Junction den while watching the pups. He was a very good wolf, bringing food regularly to the little ones during May and June, while still spending time with his older brother’s off-shoot family.
It’s just past 8:30 and we have no wolves in view, so we spread out again trying to find the Junctions.
Laurie suggests we try Wrecker. One the way there I see the same small herd of elk that has been hanging out in this area.
No luck at Wrecker, so I continue west, aiming for Elk Creek. Just as I pull in an unfamiliar voice radios the magic words from Lamar. “Wolves on the western end of Jasper!”
So, I turn around and head that way.
I arrive at Dorothy’s in plenty of time. It’s Junction, a group of ten uncollared wolves. Somewhat surprisingly, neither 1048M nor 1228F is with them, which explains why the crew didn’t find them.
I count four gray and 6 black. The group includes the alphas, 907F and 1276F (whose collars don’t work). In addition, I see two beautiful black yearlings, a drab gray and a pretty gray plus two pups, one gray and one black.
It could be that 1048M is nursing an injury and decided to stay near the Trough. 1228F could be out looking for a boyfriend.
The group of ten travels with purpose to the east, proceeding briskly at their usual ground-eating clip. If I want to keep them in view it’s time to relocate further east.
I drive to Hubbard Hill and set up again, finding the wolves easily as they come down Amethyst bench in a long, strung-out line. The two beautiful black yearlings are out front, eagerly practicing for the future. They come down into the flats, moving quite deliberately without much play so far.
The black pup proudly carries a bone in his jaws for quite a long while, until he finally tires of the burden, and caches it in the sage.
They approach a large bison herd in the big fan. The wolves test them a little, causing some raised bison tails. They are charged by a few young bulls but easily evade trouble, and continue on their way.
As they approach the rendezvous, I move to Trash Can Hill so I can enjoy a closer view.
The crew now has a bit of a dilemma. Their task is to follow the Junctions, but does that mean sticking with the alphas and this group of 10 or stay where they can hear the working collars? 1228F has not yet been detected anywhere today. We all know that she is ripe for dispersal from her natal pack, and mating season is coming soon. The crew decides to stay with the alphas for the time being.
However, alas, the pack does not spend much time in the rendezvous today but continues southeast. I watch them skirt the edge of Chalcedony fan, moving in and out of the line of trees, until they disappear into the gully at the southern end.
I move to Geriatric Hill but I’m unable to find them again.
There are several routes from here to Cache Creek, which is likely where they are headed. Only one route promises and chance of my seeing them and they are not there. The other two are hidden from the road unless I climb much higher on the hill.
I am considering that move but then a thick snow squall moves in, weakening my resolve.
So, I am once again wolfless, but since it’s still relatively early, I go back to my car and drive west.
I meet up with Jeff at the road. Laurie and Dan are heading in but Jeff and I are unwilling to call it a morning yet. He suggests it would be a good time to hike out to the pond northeast of Boulder to check out the “weird thing” I saw there a few days ago.
We park at Boulder east and I grab my one remaining hiking pole. Off we go.
As is so often the case, once you get away from the pavement, you realize there is so much more country than you can see from the road.
We take our time, especially when crossing a semi-frozen stream, pockmarked with holes made by bison hooves. It is a twisted-ankle waiting to happen, but we are careful. Soon we reach the edge of the pond, on which we see numerous ducks and two muskrat lodges.
We find the “weird thing” which turns out to be a kind of floatation device, made of white PVC. It’s large, about 5 feet square. We guess it is meant to float on the pond in warmer weather, serving as a sort of platform on which perhaps other data collection devices could be attached.
We take photos and leave it where we found it. We decide to take a different route back so we can examine the exclosure fence. That fence is at least nine feet high, and its gate is kept fastened by a simple lobster clasp, not locked.
We reach the road and, finding it empty, walk along it back to our cars. We notice the crew car parked behind Jeff’s. When we arrive, Jeremy is scoping to the north from his window mount. We begin to tell him about our adventure when he says “black wolf, buffalo ford”
For the third time today, a wolf has been found in an unexpected place.
We set up quickly and find what we suspect is the second black Junction pup, wandering on his own through the ford, heading east. Perhaps he got bored in the trough and set off to follow the alpha group?
He starts up slope at the bottom of the rocks of Mom’s Ridge and spies the courting pair of bighorns. This little guy has big ideas, suddenly racing up the slope after them. The sheep have an easy time evading the pup in the rocks. But I imagine the pup puffing himself up, telling his siblings that he scared the daylights out of them.
The pup gives up and continues east, following a route I have seen countless wolves use on their way to Slough. He does not seem to be scent trailing - his head is mostly up - but I suspect he has traveled this route often enough to know where it leads.
I notice he has some light gray colored fur on his belly and upper legs and looks very fluffy and healthy. We watch until he goes out of sight, then move to Lamar Canyon west in anticipation of his arrival at Slough.
A half hour later, when he still hasn’t turned up, I bid Jeff adieu and head in for the day.
I stop at Dorothy’s and find one last surprise. Looks like there is still enough “something” on the bison carcass to tempt one coyote.
As I reach Trout Lake, snow begins to fall once more, making for a very pretty drive.
Today I saw: bison, a coyote, mule deer, a bald eagle, elk, 2 bighorn sheep, 24 wolves (including 11 Junction
wolves (alphas, 907F, 1276F, 3 pups and four others plus all 13 Rescue Creek wolves) and the spirits of Allison and Richard.