I scrape another inch of snow off Blanca this morning, although the road to Mammoth is dry. It is still mighty cold; only 3 degrees at Lava Creek. By the time I reach Tower it is snowing again!
It's minus one at Slough Creek where I stop and walk out to look for the Sloughs. It is gorgeous under another four inches of snow. No wolves on the carcass but I do see two coyotes, including one carrying off a foreleg. There are also lots of bison; more than yesterday.
I hear howling behind me. I seems to be one animal but I honestly can't tell if it's a wolf or a coyote. It's just a straight howl - kind of high, but no yipping or barking. I never see the animal, so I'll never know.
I head east into the Lamar and notice not a single car. The sun comes out, transforming the landscape and forms a rainbow over Druid Peak. When I get to Footbridge I can barely find a parking spot! Apparently I missed the main action - at about 7:30 the Druids brought down a bull elk in view of everyone from the pullout. The entire pack has fed and most of them are already sleeping it off up on DPH.
I'm not at all sorry I missed the kill, and I bet some of it will show up in one of Bob's films in the future. This is the first fresh meat for the Druids in four days. There are three wolves still on the carcass, which is just out of sight in a bit of a gully. One huge antler sticks up and the snow in the area is stained red. Two grays and a black still tug on choice morsels. Birds are everywhere, including one magpie perched boldly on the highest antler tine.
I watch the various groups of bedded Druids, trying to tell High Sides from Low Sides, Dull Bar from Bright Bar, with little success. However, I do see 569 being still affectionate towards 302 even within sight of 480. I also notice that for the third day now, I've seen 571 bedded very close to 569 and wonder if this is any indication of her rank?
After a while I head west and overhear a report that someone is seeing the Sloughs. People are stopped in the road between Coyote and Fisherman's, looking north. I get a brief glimpse out my window but I'm not comfortable stopping in the road so I drive east, determined to find a spot to park and look back in that direction.
Eventually I stop at Mid Point and train my scope to the north west. Finally I see wolves, but they are NOT the Sloughs. It's three grays and a black, way up high - one gray sits on a boulder. (The Sloughs have only two grays). These wolves then start to come downslope and I lose them. I never do find out which wolves they are, but they were most likely Druids with one of the gray Suitors.
I wouldn't know any of this, of course, were it not for the fact that Rick has arrived in this pullout, and I learn it from him. Then I finally DO see the Sloughs. It is quite thrilling to see them suddenly appear like an army in black uniforms on the skyline above the spot that the other wolves had been. The Slough army looks down in the direction where the other wolves have gone. Then six Sloughs start down hill, as if in pursuit, but they stop and head back up to skyline. They have a boistrous greeting and then head downhill as a group. The snow is very deep and the going is slow, with lots of spraying snow as they go.
Once they are gone I start to realize I am quite hungry so I'm glad when someone suggests lunch at the Grizzly Pad. Becky rides with me and we have a nice time with Colleen and Dez and Marlene. On our way back, we decide to forego our usual stop at Baronnette to look for goats, because it's WAY TOO COLD!
We convene again at the Footbridge, in time to see the next act in the Druid play. While the pack is peacefully bedded in the snow in three separate spots, the Dark Gray Suitor slinks in from the east, approaching the carcass. His tail is tucked so far I think it's touching his chin. He reaches the spot and eats for about 10 minutes, stopping for many furtive looks. Very soon, the Druid troops are roused. I'm not sure if they can see him or smell him, but soon we see several pups on the move, heading downhill towards him and the chase is on. The DGS clearly has anticipated the situation and is able to escape easily.
The DGS slinks west with tail tucked, until he realizes these are just pups and they like him. So he stops and the pups greet him happily. The DGS wags his tail, but keeps looking over his shoulder. He knows what's coming. And here is comes. 302 has gotten wind of things and he is not pleased!
The DGS gets a look at his nemesis and heads off. The pups see 302 coming and run back to greet their hero. It's a 302 love-fest. Another pup has followed him down and now 302 and the four pups run after the DGS. He bolts away but again, he stops as soon as it's safe.
While this is going on, I notice several coyotes in the area try to work up the courage or the chutzpah to venture over to the carcass for a bite while they sense the Druids are distracted. One intrepid coyote gets very close but eventually chickens out. Smart coyote, I say.
Now 480 comes down the hill and begins to run at the Gray, passing 302 and the pups. The DGS takes off for a serious run and makes it up the old river bank and into the flats beyond. Moments later, 480 comes back, joins up with 302 and a bunch of other Druids and they have a huge, happy rally. After this, 480 and 302 walk slowly back up the hill to make sure 569 is proud of them. She yawns and lowers her head.
The pups decide they are entitled to another nibble at their carcass and after that three of them head to the river for a drink. One by one they take turns lapping from the Soda Butte Creek. Another pup at the carcass begins to chew on an antler. In the middle of this drama with the DGS, our friends Calvin and Lynette show up. They are tickled to have such a great sighting on their first day. We pass around the Christmas Cookie tins again.
The light starts to fade and we hear a report that someone has seen the Jasper male over on Jasper Bench. I say goodnight to the Druids and head west, hooking up with the gang again at Dorothy's. I am too late to see the wolf but I do enjoy being in this spot. I find elk up on the hills and watch the river turn to gold in the sunset.
We caravan back to Gardiner with plans for dinner at the Mine. Alas, I am forced by a work issue to miss it, but at least I end up getting to bed early and manage a full 8 hours sleep!
Today I saw: bison, 6 coyotes, elk, 29 wolves (12 Sloughs, 16 Druids, 1 DGS) and the spirit of Allison.