Today is my last full day in the Park. 8~(
At 5AM it is 31 degrees and I find frost on the windshield and no scraper in the car. I use the edge of a plastic cup which works fine.
All the meadows are frost-covered as I head down the valley. I slow down in the straight stretch where we saw the black bear yesterday - I wouldn't want him popping out in front of me!
I predict there will be fog in Lamar and when I get there, there is - not along the Soda Butte but in the main valley. There are odd pockets here and there - sometimes favoring areas you'd not expect, both high and low. And of course, a large group of bison decide to cross in a spot where the fog is the thickest!
By the time I get to the Institute, the area to the north is crystal clear, but the valley holds a wonderfully weird fog-cloud - long and low, about 20 feet off the ground, so you can see animals grazing the green grass below it, and the tops of the mountains above it, but nothing in the middle view. The bottom of the cloud is very straight as if a white ceiling has been built above the valley.
I pass a big bison bill with a frosty crown on his forehead.
Just as I arrive at Coyote Overlook, I see a black Slough wolf - one of the surviving pups from the 2005, the distemper year. She is now two years old and they call her "the dark female". She was trying to cross the road west of Fisherman's but the wall of people turned her back. I see her trotting through the sage-hill north of Fisherman's, heading east.
She continues to travel east and it sure looks like she wants to cross the road. Various cars continue to parallel her movements which effectively prevents her from crossing. I'm sure in my enthusiasm to see wolves, I have done this many times without realizing what I was doing. But I think it's worth noting that our driving behavior does sometimes prevent an animal from going where it wants or needs to go. It's always easier to see faults in others rather than in ourselves!
As the crowd thins out to follow the wolf, I set up Layla and find a big grizzly on the ski slope. I also get to watch another group of bison cows and calves cross the Lamar. I really like to watch animals cross the river.
I hear over the radio that the dark female has managed to get across the road somewhere between Dorothy's and the Institute. I swing my scope to the left and find her running fast across the flats, turning her head around every once in a while. Aha! I see why. She is pursued by two, no three, coyotes.
What an indignity!
She is headed toward the river. The coyotes are very determined. They take turns in the lead and do their best to nip at her heels. Her tail is tucked and she runs pretty fast, but not all out. Every once in a while she stops to turn and face her tormentors. Whenever she does this, the coyotes stop, too and the canids face off for a second or two, then she takes off again and they pursue her again. I figure she will lose them at the river, but instead she does not cross the water. She begins to parallel the river and she is now headed to Fishermans.
The coyotes finally give up and begin to trot back east. About a half hour later, she is seen crossing the road again, going north back toward Secret Passage, where she started from. Poor thing, looks like she has had a bad morning and nothing yet to eat.
I go back to watching the bison and their calves. I find the big grizzly in another part of the ski-slope hill - at least I think it is the same grizzly. Then someone spots a grizzly sow with three cubs if the year! This becomes my favorite sighting of the morning. At first the three tiny cubs are just black dots that seem to be attached to the mother by elastic string. Then I see two MORE bears, both adults, on a hill higher than the sow and further east. I think they might be the two black bears we saw last night. They are headed in the direction of the sow, although they don't look particularly aware of her.
Suddenly the sow picks up their scent - her nose is way in the air. She wheels and rises halfway up on her back legs, then dashes, pell mell, down a steep-looking cliff with some remnant snow patches. The little black balls snap to it and follow her - they actually slide down the snow patches as if they know that's the fastest way down!
Below the snow patches, Mom makes a sharp right turn and leads them into a very woodsy area. All three cubs stay close and disappear with mom. The black bears are probably a courting pair and I don't think they meant her any harm at all. But a grizzly mom with three is not going to take any chances!
Someone spots an antelope that has just given birth. In fact, she has just given birth to twins. We see the remnants of the placental sac still attached to her rear end. It is amazing how still the antelope can stand and how well camoflauged she is. And it's fascinating to see the tiny fawns react to her licks and nudges. She is so cautious and protective and supportive of them. She makes only very small movements, presumably to avoid attracting attention. After about 15 minutes one fawn manages to stand. The other tries but I never see it get on all fours. It gets halfway up and collapses again.
The other fawn nurses, while mom continues to encourage the other one.
I get a report that wolves are being seen at Hellroaring Overlook. So I leave the antelope mother and head west. I join Laurie and Gerry and Calvin and Lynette and get a nice sighting of some of the Oxbow wolves. I am particularly pleased that one of them is #536, the daughter of former Druid wolf #106F, matriarch of the Geode Pack, which later was sort of re-constituted as the Oxbow Creek pack. I saw her and two other grays, probably yearlings.
I watch them move across the great big sage meadow to the right and begin to chase elk but only for a very short time. I lose them in the trees at the edge of a rocky area. Then we realize they are feeding on a carcass - but it seems they could not have caught and killed an elk that fast. We think they were heading to a carcass they knew was there. It is quite fresh, as we can see red meat being pulled on and blood on their faces.
After a while, these wolves become impossible to see, so Gerry and Betsy and I decide to head into Gardiner for a bite to eat. We pass a black bear jam at Elk Creek but we don't stop to watch as it looks a little out of hand. After a nice breakfast at the Town Cafe, we come out and I find it so warm I have to stop at the Mammoth ladies room to change into lighter, cooler clothes. Then as we leave Mammoth, we see a cottontail rabbit hop by.
At Floating Island Lake we stop to see if we can spot the Sandhill crane chicks. And there they are! Two little orange fuzzballs. It's so sweet to see how gentle the enormous parents are with them. There are all sorts of bugs popping up from the reeds and the swallows are skimming all over the place grabbing them up as soon as they hatch. Swallows are such aerial gymnasts!
Gerry and I head on towards Antelope, stopping at various tried and true scoping spots. We find peregrines on their nests, and the osprey, too. Then, for the first time, I see the two great-horned owlets waiting for mom to come back with dinner in a hollowed out tree, from a viewing spot in the Tower store parking lot.
We also see bighorn lambs all over this area, including two yearlings posed on a pillar of stone. We have three bear jams, huge affairs with cars on both sides of the road, stopped in the road with doors wide open. One ranger and four volunteers are about to run out of patience. There are bears crossing the road every which way! I never find a decent place to pull over so I just sit and watch. While I am stopped a hawk soars overhead and the sun strikes its tail feathers, making it glow a living red.
Once we make it to the top we find it REALLY windy. I am able to show Gerry where the fox den is, the one that Calvin and Lynette found. The wind makes it awfully hard to see, but at least Gerry now knows where it is. We head down again. It looks like the bear jams are played out but then suddenly two courting black bears cross the road four cars ahead of me. They run down into the creek drainage and I just smile and drive on.
Next stop is the coyote den. I see all 8 little cuties; Sleepy and Bold Pup and Bouncy and Biter and Tugger and several more. Annie is here, too, as well as Never Before Met Loon Joe - the guy from way back when who told us he went to India and saw a tiger! That was a great story. He is jovial and fun to talk to. The coyote pups are playing with an piece of bungy cord - an end piece with that plastic hook. They tug on it and toss it. Bold Pup jumps on Biter and knocks him into the den hole. It's hysterical to watch.
We stay here for about an hour, happily entertained by these little darlings. We see one adult in the area, most likely the babysitter, because it does not have any food for the pups.
Later we head further west to scope for wolves. I see mule deer at the mid-point north pullout and plenty of bison, bison calves and elk. I end up skunked for wolves this evening but we do find the antelope mother again. One of her fawns made it and apparenly the other did not. We watch her with the survivor and I smile to see how well he moves for being barely a half-day old. Mother and child are just to the east of a small band of pronghorn, and I assume it is the band to which she belongs. I don't know a lot about antelope behavior, but it could be that she needs to wait until her baby is strong enough before she rejoins the herd.
While the light begins to fade the songs of the meadowlarks begin again in earnest. I scan around until I find the closest warbler - and find one one each side of the road. They are such pretty things! We also have sandhill cranes across the river on Jasper Bench and then the Grizzly sow with three makes an appearance - pretty much in the same spot - the far eastern end of Lamar Canyon. And I meet Loon Camille and her husband Tim.
There is a beautiful sunset tonight and the temps are the warmest yet - it's 52 degrees as I start home for Silver Gate at 9:22.
Today I saw: antelope (with twin fawns), bison, 5 grizzly bears (including three cubs), 5 black bears, 12 coyotes (including 8 pups), mule deer, elk, a hawk, meadowlarks, an osprey, two great-horned owlets, a peregrine falcon, 1 cottontail rabbit, 6 sandhill cranes (including two chicks), bighorn sheep (including lambs), swallows, 4 wolves (1 Slough, the dark female, and 3 Oxbows, including 536F) 4 Loons and the spirit of Allison.