Thereís a bit of frost on the car when I set off at 5:45 in a chilly 23 degrees.
My heated steering wheel sure comes in handy this morning. This is the first time Iíve used it this fall!
I reach Boulder at 6:45, surprised to find it still dark. I set up my scope anyway. At 7:00 we hear the Junctions howl, which is very nice. The voices seem to come from an area a bit to the right of where the carcass is.
Itís Bill (of course) who finds the wolves first, even though he was looking for a bear! Theyíre moving east in front of the trees lining the river corridor. Some are angling towards the pond to the right.
I see seven or eight wolves just left of the pond. When I pan back to the carcass see birds flush from the area, indicating that something is feeding there.
Rick spots two blacks at the carcass. Bill thinks the carcass may have been dragged lower than it was yesterday. A bear could have done that.
I catch movement further east Ė wolves passing behind a line of conifers. I can see them through successive gaps between the trees. I count 10. They running as if trying to catch up to the leaders. Welp, looks like the Junctions are on the move.
A bison carcass doesnít last long in a pack of 25-30 wolves.
Rick suggests we head to Slough, which makes sense to me. We end up climbing Daveís Hill, while Frank and Paul hike out to Bobís Knob.
When I arrive at the top, I hear Rick counting. Heís up to 28! I set up and find them low in the creek corridor, just to the right of the Southern Round Tree.
They are nicely spread out, so itís fairly easy to count them. I get 15 blacks and 13 grays. The pack travels along the far bank towards the low end of the lion meadow, led by the alpha female.
As they continue east and higher I manage to ID both alphas, 907F, 1048M, 1229F, 1276F, 1339M, 1340M, 1341F, thermal girl, 4 more uncollared gray adults, 6 more uncollared black adults, at least 9 pups (5 gray and 4 black).
Whew! Thatís a lot of wolves!
They pass below the Diagonal Forest and the Horizontal Forest. When they approach the zig zag willows, 1229F splits off, leading a group of three blacks and a gray to the bottom of the willow line. The alpha female stays higher on the hill, leading the larger group. She pauses on the hill, assessing a bison herd. The bison bunch up in response.
The wolves sit on their haunches for a while, just watching. A few wolves (probably pups) to run uphill above the group, but soon come back.
Meanwhile, 1229 leads her group downslope to Slough Creek.
The alpha female sets off again through the bottom of the yellow grass meadow and the rest follow.
1229ís group reaches the creek and begins to explore among some big boulders. Perhaps there is an old carcass down here that they want to re-visit?
Both groups are aiming in the same direction, northeast and eventually disappear into thick trees.
I am packing up when a random visitor spots a lone black wolf higher on the next hill, sitting on his haunches. A pair of mule deer skirt the wolf right at the edge of the forest, moving above him. The wolf moves away from the deer and out of sight. Soon after, we hear a lone howl coming from there.
Then more wolves appear above where we lost the lone howler. They head downslope towards the creek, at least 9 of them. We lose them once more.
The day remains quite cool and Iíve needed my down coat all this time.
I head back to Silver Gate to pack up and make sure Iím leaving Laurieís house as clean and neat as I found it.
The fall color is very nice through the Blacktail. I scope at Hellroaring and at the Nature trail, finding now wolves but plenty of bison and a few elk.
In Mammoth I drive to the Post Office and park there, looking across at the new road. It looks fantastic and Iím eager to get a chance to drive on it.
I call out to some workers as I pass, saying ďThank you for making the road!Ē They grin in response.
There is a grove of aspen above the Mammoth Terraces that Doug Dance showed me many years ago. I am delighted to see they are in full golden fall glory!
West of Elk Park a mule deer bounds across the road. And along the Madison I have a slow-moving bison jam. If I had no bison jams at all, I couldnít really say Iíd been to Yellowstone, could I?
Iím back in Bozeman at 6PM. Iíd call that a successful trip.
Today I saw: bison, coyotes, mule deer, elk , a golden eagle, pronghorn, 28 Junction wolves
(including the alphas, 907F, 1048M, 1229F, 1276F, 1339M, 1340M, 1341F, thermal girl, 4 more
uncollared gray adults, 6 more uncollared black adults, at least 9 pups (5 gray and 4 black)
and the spirits of Allison, Richard and Jeff.