Itís slightly warmer today at minus 11. Who knew that could feel warm?
As expected, there is fog at the Confluence, and it hovers above the Lamar all through the valley. Willows are frosted with rime, looking very pretty.
I have to say, I am thoroughly enjoying these early morning drives through these beautiful snow-covered meadows. Not having this road for so many months has given me a deeper appreciation of it.
Itís minus 17 at the ranch. The snow sparkles, and the fog grows thickest above Fishermanís. I feel so lucky to be able to see this natural beauty day after day. This is why I live here. Whether I see wolves or not I am thrilled just to be in this gorgeous landscape. Even in the crazy cold.
My first stop this morning is at the big Ski Lot. The crew found their wolves this morning near the big basalt cliff to the north.
At first, I only see three. Then I spot other bedded wolves to the right and finally find the carcass area below that. One wolf is still feeding there.
I learn that they made this kill last night, about a half hour after we left. They missed the kill by about 10 minutes. Itís an elk, but not #1706!
The wolves begin to travel east past Junction Lake going towards Boulder. The pups are up to their usual playful antics. One black dashes away from the others at a run, and the rest chase him.
We head to Boulder and pick them up again in the ford. Thereís a bit of wind up here on the hill, and at minus 5, you can really feel it.
They travel through the flats of the ford but soon disappear into the river corridor. They start to howl which is ethereal and wonderful. The howling continues for over a half hour with only a few breaks in between. It sounds like two groups having a discussion.
Suddenly we notice wolves are crossing behind the pond. I see three but I think there are more ahead of these. They show up again near the exclosure fence; 6 wolves: four black and two gray. It looks like they want to cross.
People start driving that way. Ugh! I wish there was a way to stop them from doing that. Just let them cross, then watch them on the other side! But I guess people want close ups.
I see three wolves turn back and climb up the Peregrines.
In the meanwhile, the main pack starts to emerge north of the river corridor, climbing onto the rocky hills above the ford. They continue to howl at the ones who left.
They travel east a bit to where the thick rock ends and the snow-sage hillside begins. They stop, very spread out on the hill, sitting on their haunches, howling again. I count 18. With this group is 907F, lounging on her side like a pampered princess.
At some point we hear that the first group, four blacks and a gray, have safely crossed the road. They cleverly followed the land contours which gave them cover as they approached the road, then made a dash for it.
I turn back to the group on the north side. They howl once again, then start downslope back to the river, soon re-emerging in the hills just right of the pond.
How is this large group going to get across the road at this time of day?
Taylor and her crew have their hands full trying to block traffic.
We donít really want to be part of the problem when wolves are trying to cross, so instead we gather at Boulder Pond and turn our scopes south to Specimen. Rick has found the group of five that crossed first. They are on skyline, just west of ďthe cutĒ on brightly lit snow.
I see them, romping up there, an all-female group: 1229F, 1276F, 1341F and two uncollared blacks (New Mom and Thermal Girl) independent spirits, all of them.
These five wolves seem to be happy to be away from the pack, behaving in a playful way with each other. They sniff a lot, too. I wonder if they are following a scent trail in the snow, maybe 1048 or perhaps an unknown wolf that might be piquing their interest. We have them a good 20 minutes before they disappear to the south.
We hear from visitors that three wolves just crossed the road east of us and move a little bit east to a small lot on the south side. Laurie finds them in the flats, almost to the tree line. They are on a route that will take them up to ďthe cutĒ so it looks like they are following the five females.
We hear a howl to the north, very close. I find a collared gray at the bottom of the closest Peregrine, moving east. Itís 1339M. Next we hear howling from the three to the south. It sounds like they are half-way up Specimen, perhaps howling encouragement to the ones on the north side.
My gray at the bottom of Peregrine turns into three grays and a black. They trot silently east. From this lot we can see Taylor further east at Straightaway, keeping an eye on traffic, watching these same wolves.
10 minutes later, the wolves approach the road. The first gray (1339M) gets across, then a gray pup. A black pup is next, then another black which runs really fast, as if scared. The last gray pup chickens out and turns back.
But when no cars approach from either side (thank you, wolf crew) the pup finds its courage and bolts across. We track them through the sage flats as they aim for the trees.
Soon after this, we find the three that howled encouragement. They are just to the right of ďthe cutĒ (a divot in the skyline, a tree-less gap, usually full of snow). The three top out and walk west along the skyline a while, until they reach the spot where we saw the five females.
As 1339ís group disappears into the trees we compare notes and agree that 13 Junctions are now on the south side. Another 12 or 13 are still north with 907F.
It seems to take no time at all before we see 1339 and his pup group working their way up the cut.
We check a few areas in Little America but cannot seem to find 907ís group. I wonder if 1276 and 907 had a disagreement, and decided to just go their separate ways?
We go west to Elk Creek where we find Jeremy and his crew, newcomers Megan and Nicole. They had a brief look at their wolves today, but they are out of sight again.
We chat a while, but soon decide to head in for the day.
On the way back, we see a coyote cruising the confluence.
Today I saw: bison, coyote, elk, 26 Junction wolves including alpha male, 907, former alpha female,
1229, 1276, 1339, 1340, 1341 and the rest and the spirits of Allison, Richard and Jeff.