I wake up to snow on our cars. There is a good 3-4 inches of icy stuff. And we have snow on the Gardiner Canyon road. Lots more snow has fallen overnight and Blacktail is particularly gorgeous to see through car headlights.
The falling snow has pretty much stopped at Elk Creek. The snow plow has not touched the left lane yet.
Elk and bison at Floating Island Lake. Beautiful sunrise colors break through the clouds in various spots. 3 elk cross the road at Elk Creek, appropriately enough. Tower bathroom is either locked or stuck. Lynette tells me later that if I give it a good kick it usually opens! I try that trick later in the day and it works. I also find that although there is no toilet paper here, some kind soul has left a package of white dinner napkins. I have learned to always bring my own but thanks to whoever it did that!
Obvious new snow cover in Little America & Lamar. Gorgeous dusting of snow on rocks in Lamar Canyon. It is finally getting to look like winter!
I stop at Dorothy’s where other wolfers already have a wolf in sight on Jasper Bench. It is the Un-collared gray of the Agates. He and 383 were howling back and forth at the 7 Slough females last night. He is the only wolf up here and we hear no other howling. The UCG walks, stands, howls. Not agitated but not content. Once he trots over the back of the bench and we think he is gone but Calvin soon finds him again, a little to the east of where he had been. He seems to be expecting something,
He faces each direction as if looking (perhaps sniffing the air?) for clues. Then he beds under an aspen tree, whose branches are beautifully etched with snow. We look for other wildlife while the UCG takes a snooze. We find many bull elk up high in forest and a largish herd of cows and calves (over 50) near the river among the cottonwoods. A coyote trots up road right behind us as if hoping for handouts. We yell at him and wave our arms to discourage him, and it makes me concerned when his only reaction is to stop. However, he does not come closer and eventually moves on down the road west.
The day is extremely windy and much colder than yesterday so it is a sore trial to stand watch at one’s scope. Then the UCG commands our attention again . He howls from his bedding spot, turns his head every which way as if listening. We begin to wonder if he hears howling that we don’t. Then suddenly he gets up and just takes off, as if he made a decision, or maybe he finally heard the response he was hoping for? His demeanor is all business as he trots straight across the bench right for us!
He crosses the bench, heads down the steep, forested face of Jasper Bench, crosses the Lamar, and lopes easily across the snowy flats. He aims for the draw to our right (between Dorothy’s and B & B pullout). He travels up the draw and crosses the road with barely any hesitation then moves up the slope through the snow and sage.
The other wolfers remind me that this Agate wolf has always seemed extra comfortable around the road, unlike most other members of his pack. Not interested in it, just unafraid.
I head off to see what else I might find and end up driving up to Round Prairie. The extra snow up here makes this mountain-framed meadow SO gorgeous and I enjoy seeing the mix of bison and elk feeding here.
I head back west and the sun comes out, making the snow sparkle. This, in turn makes me a tad sleepy so I head off in search of a nice napping spot and see a snowshoe hare hopping out of the trees just below the trail to Trout Lake. He stops, turns and hops right back into the cover of trees.
Next I spot a small, young-looking coyote at the Soda Butte Cone. I stop to watch him explore and mouse a bit, then he crosses the road behind me and I lose him. I pull off the road at Mid point North, lower my seat and take a cat-nap. The ice on my roof melts in the sun and trickles down my windshield.
When I wake up I see a line of seven coming down the hill ahead of me. I realize they are attempting to cross the road. They are very cautious. The leader looks like a calf to me. The calf looks up, down, right and left. Steps into the road, slips a little on the ice, gets half-way across walks a little faster then bounds into the sage and snow on the other side, making the snow fly from her hooves. Each elk behind the leader stops - most of them ON the road. Eventually they all cross safely and run across the flats toward the other elk browsing near the cottonwoods. Once these six are across, seven more appear. And when these all across one more cow appears on the same hill, crossing alone.
I drive down to Slough and take a walk down the campground road, intending to explore the river. But I have to stop short of my goal due to a large bison herd resting in the wind-protected hollows on both sides of the road. Several bulls look a bit mean and I feel quite vulnerable, being alone and without to ability to move fast, due to the snow.
So I head off away from them, intending to go towards Bob’s Knob. The wind is fierce along this ridge and has sculpted the snow in all sorts of interesting ways. I keep my eye on the bison and watch a brave coyotes trot right past them, mere feet away from those curved horns. I wish I had that coyote’s courage but no way would I dare getting that close!
I see another group of bison heading in a long line up the slope behind Dave’s Hill.
I meet up with Chloe and Becky and we scope the Crystal drainage trying to find a wolf that Betsy just glimpsed going over the ridge top from her vantage point at Dorothy’s. We are not successful but I do run into my Loon friend, Gulo Gulo. He says he is expecting Ball Park Frank to show up any minute - they are going to scout the skiing conditions near Barronette Peak.
Around 3PM I join the other wolfers back at Dorothy’s, looking for Agates. A long, cold, and wind-blown hour and a half later we are rewarded. First we hear a long and robust howl from the whole pack, but none of us, including Rick, can find them. Finally Calvin gets the spot - he has running wolves on the back edge of Jasper Bench, to the east. I see first one gray, then two, then 472, then finally more and more and more.
Our frozen hands are forgotten as soon as we have the wolves in view. They travel in a line and I say it sure looks like they are going hunting. I see 12 wolves - so the UCG is still missing. Ballpark Frank returns with uncanny timing and it's fun to be watching wolves together again.
Although the leaders seem serious, the pups cannot resist playing. They jump and whirl around with great joy. Their path took them past a large snow-covered boulder, and I see one gray pup cross in front of it while his black sibling crosses behind it. The two pups then meet each other on the far side and bound at each other as if ambushing each other!
The pack follows the Amethyst drainage about 2/3rd of the way down. They seem headed for the elk herd I was watching there earlier today, but when I scan that direction I see two interesting things. First, the main herd is up and walking in a line towards the road, as if getting out of harms way. The other thing I see is a smaller group of grazing elk, perhaps the ones that crossed the road when I woke from my nap. These elk seem utterly oblivious of the wolves approaching from above.
We hear a report over the radio from someone at the Institute that some of the pups coming down the drainage are chasing a few bull elk. In another moment those elk appear in our view, but seem only to be walking out of the way. The Agates show up en masse a bit further to the east on the snowy slope.
One of the Agates goes out pretty far in front of the pack and stops. I think it is 113. The rest of the pack waits behind, sitting on their haunches, as if instructed to hold their position until some signal is given. The light is beginning to go and I strain to count them. 6 grays, 5 blacks and the alpha female. The gray leader sits down and eventually beds in the snow. At one point a black wolf moves out in front of the waiting group towards the leader but then stops and eventually returns to the group. The pack seems to be waiting for cover of darkness before they made their move.
Those of us staying on the west side drive back in caravan and meet up again for pizza at Outlaws. Another great day in Yellowstone!
Today I saw: bison, 6 coyotes, elk, 13 wolves (all Agates) 2 Loons, 9 wolfers and
the spirit of Allison.