I am up in the dark and as quietly as possible I begin my routine. I warm up some water for washing. It's 31 degrees but I still dump the warm water over my head as it feels so good!
I head east and find thick clouds over Junction Butte. I drive on towards Lamar, thinking that I might light to hang out at the confluence. At Dorothy's I run into Gerry who has heard a report that the Agates are being seen at Antelope. I head back that direction. The meadows are covered in frost and I am surprised to find that it's been lightly snowing.
Then, just as I near the top, fog rolls in, obscuring the views. The only animal I see is a bull elk who seems to be eating frosted grass. I tag along with Annie who is headed to Hayden. As I near Canyon Junction a coyote enters the road ahead of me. I slow down and he lopes to the side, finally leaving the road altogether.
At the intersection I see Laurie's car. She and Annie have turned right towards Norris and soon pull over next to Bob Landis. Apparently he has been seeing the Alpha male of the Hayden pack. He thinks it may have gotten an elk calf because he is watching an elk mother acting strangely.
I wait and watch and suddenly see a shape moving. It's an elk cow, and she is chasing...a wolf! I stand on a little knoll to the left of my car and watch as the big, light gray wolf moves nonchalantly towards the road and our little group. The cow elk carries her head very high and I hear her bark an alarm! Wow, what a cool sound!
The alpha male trots right across the road, right behind my car (which I am no longer in) and wanders through the meadow to the east. I watch him a long time - he is so close he fills my scope and I switch to binoculars. He walks over to some trees, does several raised legs on various park signs (!) and wanders as he pleases very close to the road. Cars coming from Norris down the hill to Canyon stop in the road, astonished to see such a large wolf so close as this. He has a white spot in the middle of his tail, and a black tip.
This is the wolf I saw in May two years ago - he and his mate ran right by me in my car and they both nailed me with a glance. He was collared last year and assigned a number - 541M. He crosses the road again further uphill and approaches two more cow elk at the edge of a burn. They stand their ground and he passes them by, disappearing into the mix of deadfall and trees.
I learn from Anne and Laurie that Bob thinks he might be headed back to the den. So we drive towards Hayden Valley. His usual route is to cross the Chittenden Bridge and then follow a trail on the far side of the river for a while. Therefore, I stop at a pullout just south of the Bridge and sure enough, I see him just as he leaves the far side of the bridge and trots along the trail just above the river.
He is quite visible - his light gray coat shows up clearly against the dark trunks. He trots happy as you please, heading home. I watch him all by myself, feeling like I've been let in on a great secret. I lose him around a bend and then hop in the car to head to the next vantage point. I pull over about a half mile later and pick him up again, very easily. Aha! He has something in his mouth, a stick, or maybe a leg bone, and I am reminded of dear old 21. How often I saw him carrying a treat for his pups. It occurs to me that this may be a trait common to all wolf fathers, or even wolf mothers, too.
I watch him a nice long time, wondering where my friends are, hoping they have been able to see him from wherever they are. I don't yet have a radio, so I can't alert them. Gerry pulls in just as 541 disappears around another bend. We head on to the Otter Creek picnic area and find Laurie and Annie already set up here. They both saw 541 approach and cross the Chittenden bridge, but have lost him for the time being.
A rather large crowd is now assembled, talking in hushed tones. The Hayden pups have not yet been seen and everyone is anxious for a first glimpse. But we do not see them today.
After a while, Laurie heads back to Antelope while Gerry, Anne and I head further south into Hayden Valley. We set up near Alum Creek and scope and eat lunch and talk. It is great fun to spend time here but we learn later that while we were here, the Druids were seen in Lamar!
There are plenty of bison here, with their calves, and a group of geese, with one oddly colored goose - a black head on a white body. We meet a Ranger named Greg, who tells us tales of the Hayden wolves and how their relationship to the road differs from other packs.
We also talk a lot about the recent mauling of the photographer Jim Coles here in Hayden Valley by a grizzly sow earlier in May. There is a lot of conflicting information as to whether it happened while he was taking photos or before he had a chance to take photos. The man lost one eye and might lose the other: in any case it looks as though his days as a wildlife photographer may be over.
We see a hawk in the air, with something in his talons. The hawk lands on the ground right next to another hawk. and they share the meal.
Eventually we head back to Lamar. We look for Agates but find nothing on our way over the pass, but the snow from the morning is gone. At the Yellowstone picnic area we see several bighorn sheep putting on a show for some tourists, posing on a boulder. And I have a coyote dash across the road as I approach Slough.
We drive through the lush green of Lamar. Anne has told us of a coyote den east of Soda Butte Cone so we go there to see it. It's a great sighting, easy to see from the pullout. I seetwo adults and five little wee ones. So cute!
Gerry wants to hike to Trout Lake so I decide to go with him. I am pleased to say that the short uphill trail doesn't tax me as it has in the past. I still have to stop, but not as often and not as long. My training is working! The Lake is gorgeous as usual. We cross the little bridge and hike around to the left. To my delight we find the otter asleep on a grass-covered log. We sit on the ground and watch him, doing our best not to disturb him. He looks up every once in a while, but other than that he does not seem to mind our presence. The log is well away from the shore, so he is quite safe.
We continue our walk around the lake shore. It's too early for the trout spawn but we do see them in the water. As we are nearly back where we started we hear a splash. In the water below we see a long, thin tail and then the head of a muskrat.
He dives and then re-appears a few feet away, paddling into the cover of tall reeds. We also see (and hear) lots of birds and frogs and see several lovely wildflowers.
As we descend the trail we run into Mark R and his parents, Ruth & Carl. We gab a bit and then head west to show them the coyote den. We stay here watching the pups a good long time. I see all eight sleeping in a pile, then one stretches too much and they all tumble like dominoes into the den. One puppy head pops out, covered in sandy dirt, and shakes his head like "What just happened?" So cute!
Then we see the coyote mother come in. They all race to her and mob her. She stands, stoically, for their feeding. After a few minutes, she heads behind the den and the pups follow her out of sight. I notice to the left are 11 pronghorn, sitting in green grass, chewing their cud in the sun.
I hear that Tonya is working today so I head up to the gate to have a chat and to deliver some oreos. She seems in good spirits, but alas, does not have much hiking or wolfing time. I see several mule deer from the road both going and coming back.
The views up here are gorgeous as always, although Round Prairrie looks a bit dry. I meet up with Gerry again at Mid Point. He has heard of a sighting of 6 black wolves running east on the north side of the road. We set up and scan the hills but find no wolves. We do find some elk bunched up in a rocky area - something I have never seen before, but the elk don't behave as if predators are near; they just seem to be hanging out in that area.
A swan flies overhead and a spectacular pink sunset begins. The river turns pink and becomes a ribbon of light. The moon rises and the day is nearly over so I head west for the night. As I drive, the moon takes on a haunted look - gauzy and spooky.
I spend another pleasant night at Tower, snuggled in my sleeping bag.
Today I saw: antelope, bison, 11 coyotes (including 8 puppies), mule deer, elk, geese, 2
hawks, 1 muskrat, 1 otter, 1 swan, 4 bighorn sheep, 1 wolf (541 alpha male of the Hayden Pack)
3 Loons and the spirit of Allison