I find about an inch of snow has fallen on the car overnight. But once I have the defroster going, the snow brushes off easily.
I head east at 6:45. It's 31 degrees. The bright moon is out in a partially clear sky.
First light has begun as I arrive at Blacktail Ponds, but nothing is moving on the carcass so I head east. It gets colder as I go. By the time I get to Hellroaring it's down to 17!
I check in with Rick over the radio. He tells me the Junction Buttes are likely in the same spot as last night but they cannot be seen. He is about to climb the big hill opposite Tower Junction and walk out from there. I climbed up there once with Laurie & Dan several years ago. It's quite a journey, although the view is great. He says there are no Lamar signals.
So I decide to drive to Hayden Valley. As I pass Blacktail Ponds around 8:30 there are two coyotes on the dead bison.
I have not been in Hayden Valley in the fall in many years and I enjoy the drive as I go. I see coyote tracks in the road in various spots. The weather is good and clear, although it is cold and there is a good deal of snow in Swan Lake Flats and at Norris.
The Canyon area is quite deserted. Last time I was here it was so full of humanity I headed right back for the relative quiet of Lamar! But now I am one of maybe three cars on the road.
As I head south, I vividly remember my magical sighting of the Hayden pair one early May morning. They ran straight towards me from a distance, with a raven shadowing them overhead. I remember their amber eyes as they nailed me with a wild glance as they ran past my car window, I remember their musty smell, and their panting breath.
Just as I reach the Alum Creek pullouts I see Bob heading north. Lucky for me he has his radio on and answers when I call to him. We talk a bit and he shows me the "new rendezvous" area for the Canyon Pack. He also points out a guy scoping from the hill across from Grizzly Overlook.
As we talk a fat raven alights nearby. He hops onto the curb of the pullout, looking at us with cocked head. He is then joined by a friend. He looks fat because he has fluffed his feathers against the cold. I wonder outloud about a raven's feet, in fact, all birds's feet, how they manage to keep from freezing.
Alas, while Bob did see the Canyons yesterday, he has not seen them today. He did see some otters earlier but they have moved on.
I thank him and bid him adieu. I then drive up to Grizzly Overlook and find the man has just come down from the hill to warm up. His name is Alan, from Billings. He is a fan of the Canyon Pack.
I tell him I am going up on that hill to scope and he says he'll join me. He has lots of information about where the Canyons are often seen, but today they elude us. I update him with news from the Northern Range.
When we head back to the cars, I update Rick with a report. He tells me the Blacktail alphas were seen on the bison carcass at Blacktail Ponds, about a half hour after I passed by! And he did see the Junction Butte wolves from the hilltop overlook.
Well, I did not choose the right location today, but I cannot be upset about it because I am glad that wolves are being seen, and more importantly, that they are finding sustinance.
The day is absolutely gorgeous, clear bright sun and crisp cold air. Ahhhhh!
I stop at Blacktail Ponds and hear the story of the alpha visit. Apparently, after a nice long feed they moved off to the south. I scope for them a while from various locations, then head to Hellroaring. I see plenty of elk and bison. I go further east to Slough where I watch a coyote pair mousing for a while.
I go back to Blacktail Ponds. When I arrive there is great excitement. People are pointing and cameras are out. I look where they look and see a coyote wandering in the sage. But the people here think it's a wolf!
I watch the coyote arrive at the carcass and listen to the comments. A family near me knows it's a coyote but they are gracious and keep quiet.
But Lamar is calling me so I drive back east. I have to brake for a little gray squirrel who scampers across the road near Petrified Tree.
I stop at an empty Footbridge pullout and enjoy having the gorgeous views all to myself. I notice new wolf-themed interpretive signs at Footbridge. It's about time!
On my way back west I see the same grizzly I saw yesterday, out in a different part of the confluence area. I stop and watch him with my binoculars for a while, he's really too close for a scope! I still can't figure out what he's eating but he is very industrious.
I can't get over the fact that I have Lamar completely to myself. This time of year is usually pretty popular with fall color visitors, but the shut down has discouraged everyone and the cold weather seems to have kept even local folk away.
The light is growing low and turns the sage golden. The rough wildness of this valley still takes my breath away.
I make a plan to stop to scope at Rick's pullout. I arrive just after 6PM and turn off my car engine. As soon as I open my door I hear howling. Loud, close, many wolf voices! Just to the north of me.
My heart races as I lift my binoculars. I see them immediately. Wolves! Lots of them! I try to calm down until I am 100% sure they are wolves. Then I see a bear, too!
I rush to get my scope set up. I grab the radio, calling "any unit near Tower" Nothing. I try to wave down the few cars, that pass, but no one stops. I have this marvelous sighting all to myself.
I see three blacks - one with lightish sides, two darker. I watch two gray wolves being quite playfull with each other, having a tug of war with a piece of hide. The bear seems to be following them! I laugh out loud. This sighting is so great just for the wolves and the relative closeness, but the bear is an absurd bonus!
The group of wolves begins to move west. A gray is in the lead. I try my best to see collars, but mostly I just want to enjoy the sighting. All these wolves look healthy. I don't see any obvious mange.
The group seems in a great mood. There is much romping. They stop to howl again and some stragglers arrive, allowing me to witness several happy greetings.
After this, they set off a bit more determinedly to the west and move uphill. My count is now 5 grays and 3 blacks. I'm pretty sure they are the Junction Butte Pack, since Rick saw them earlier today just northeast of here.
The bear is a grizzly - but very black in color. Another car goes by, more slowly than the others. I wave frantically and they stop. It's five women, visiting one lady from Bozeman.
I tell them "wolves! And a grizzly!"
They pull in behind me and are as thrilled at the sighting as I am. I have to tell you, as much as it is fun to have a sighting like this to myself, it is ever so much more fun when there are people to share it with.
The ladies have many questions which I try hard to answer. The only bad thing is that we are rapidly losing the light.
We notice a bull elk on the hill above them, and although the wolves seem to be aware of him, they do not seem interested. The pack travels into a gully but comes up the other side and arrives on the next hill with large boulders.
But they are now heading west with purpose. I see a large herd of elk on the flat-topped hill that I recognize from the Elk Creek lot. One by one the wolves top out and disappear. The bear follows about a quarter-mile behind on their exact route.
After I lose them I suddenly see the bear further to the left. He is running - not being chased, but running towards something. I wonder if the wolves are chasing elk?
Just now the nearly full moon rises from behind the mountains. WOW!
I bit adieu to the ladies and head west to Elk Creek. The moon is hanging just above the mountain and I quickly find the elk herd on the flat top hill. They seem content, and I scope around, trying to catch movement of wolves, but do not see them.
I finally give in to the darkness and head west for the night, although I cant resist stopping at Blacktail Ponds once again. But there is no movement so I head in.
Today I saw: bison, coyotes, elk, geese, ravens, 8 wolves of the Junction Butte pack and the spirit of Allison.