DAY SIX - Friday, April 28

A LESSON FROM A BISON CALF

There is frost on the car this morning, and itís only 16! That wind yesterday really did bring new weather.

I always prefer cold to hot, though, so I just add another jacket and on I go. Happy to say my legs are a bit better today.

At Hitching Post this morning I find a single bear sitting on the carcass. Not sure which bear it is.

Next I head to Slough, where my streak of a perfectly-timed arrival continues! As soon as my scope is up 907 emerges from the natal den.

She travels down the bracken hill to The Boulder, passes that spot and continues to the sage den. She pauses briefly as if listening (or smelling) then continues to the spring meadow for a drink.

She stays longer than usual, but soon she heads back upslope. She pauses for another sniff/listen at the sage den, then continues the Eastern Trees.

907 seems more calm and confident today. She does not howl. Well, maybe some pack members brought her food last night?

She disappears back inside the natal den. Paul has timed her: she is out 15 minutes total.

Rick radios that the Rescue Creek pack is being seen on Blacktail so I head that way. But they are not in any of the places I expected. I continue down through the S Curves. When I am almost at Blacktail Ponds I see cars pulled over. Alas, the crowd is dispersing, so I know Iím too late.

Laurie & Dan give me the scoop: earlier this morning, people who drove in from Gardiner/Mammoth found a grizzly had pulled a yearling bison carcass from the melting ice. Soon some Rescue Creek Pack wolves appeared, challenging the bear for a meal.

The bear ended up crossing the road to the south, while the wolves left about 15 minutes ago, heading northeast towards the Painted Hills. I turn around and try to find them from the midpoint lot. But I find only pronghorn.

After a while, I head back east. On the winding hill above Phantom Lake, traffic backs up. A bison herd is the cause, but when I get down to the lot I see the herd is just topping out above the steep hill to the north.

Trailing the herd, still at road level, is a single cow and her very young calf. The cow walks very slowly and I realize her calf is struggling with each step. As they head up the steep hill, I gasp. The calf has a bad injury Ė the joint on its left rear leg is dislocated; it keeps bending out instead of in. Oh! the poor thing!

As the pair leaves the road, the other cars drive on but I stay in the lot. Mom is patient and attentive; I can hear her grunting softly. But she continues climbing the steep, rocky slope on her four good legs. Three or four times the calf nearly tumbles backwards, each time catching itself just in time. After a brief pause it valiantly forces his other three legs to make up for the useless fourth.

The calf refuses to give up. It struggles on, following momís encouraging grunts, ignoring what must be agonizing pain. I get tears in my eyes watching this, and I take it as a lesson for me and my own leg pain. You just gotta keep going!

The day has turned sunny and delightful. As if to illustrate that point, a blue bird flies across the road in front of me.

Upon my return to Slough, I find 907 just above the goal post tree. She has just had another nice long drink and is heading back to her pups in the den.

Five minutes later, someone spots a black wolf. I donít know where it came from 907 from her den and rushes downslope. She meets the black behind The Boulder, eagerly pursuing a feeding. The black seems to be resisting but 907 is relentless and eventually I see two heads down and two wagging tails.

Then they both climb the bracken hill, with 907 licking the muzzle of the black all the way. When they get into the clear at the top, I can see that the black is the alpha male!

907 goes into the den while the male stands outside looking in for a bit. Then he returns to the area behind the Boulder, flushing some birds that probably were trying to grab scraps of dropped food.

A second black shows up, with a noticeably tucked tail. The wolf greets the alpha male and I notice a collar.

Jeremy arrives shortly after this and confirms we are looking at 1382F.

Well, isnít this interesting! Laurie and I agree she no longer looks pregnant. I wonder where her pups are?

The alpha male moves from The Boulder to the eastern trees. 1382 takes a walk along the den cliff trail and beds down, well to the right of the den opening. Itís a little sad to see her up there. Just last year she had pups in that den and was alpha female of the pack.

A little after this, 1276F comes out of the sage den. She takes a long, slow walk, starting and stopping, several times, and ends up in the spring meadow. She has a drink, then wanders up to the Eastern Trees.

She sits there, howling for a while. She missed the feeding! She is out about 20 minutes, then goes back into the sage den.

Things slow down and I think about leaving. But then Frank calls from Daveís Hill. He says there are wolves heading this way from the west, maybe as many as 13.

I train my scope on the area above the western trees and soon see seven additional wolves arrive.

They scatter in all directions. I follow a collared gray (1341 or 1384). She goes straight to the sage den, accompanied by an uncollared black. Both wolves do a lot of sniffing. The collared gray enters the sage den but comes back out pretty quickly. I think 1276 might have said ďToo soon!Ē

907 appears on the den porch, watching the activity below. Several of the wolves head towards The Boulder, where I see the alpha male has re-appeared. A big greeting happens, with many wagging tails.

Suddenly an uncollared gray bolts from the rally, rushing rapidly downslope chased by three or four others. I have no idea if this is play or punishment.

The gray continues through the lion meadow. One by one the group of pursuers give up, until itís just two, a gray and a black.

Those of us at roadside lose sight of these three but Frank is on Daveís Hill. He says they are still chasing the gray. Finally when they reach the creek flats, the two pursuers give up and return uphill.

Things calm down and all the wolves I can see have found bedding spots. This is the sort of activity I had expected to see a bit of each day since Tuesday, so I am happy to see the pack tending the dens as usual.

I pack up and head east.

At Picnic I see people pointing south. They are watching a grizzly, walking west just below the treeline. Keep in mind there is still quite a bit of snow covering the valley. Itís a beautiful bear, perhaps one of the ones I saw on the Hitching Post carcass.

However, the snow is not packed any longer, itís hard in some places and mushy in others. Every three steps or so, the poor bear postholes as his front or rear leg sinks into the snow. When his front leg punches through, the poor bear faceplants into mush. Then he hauls himself back up and keeps going.

I drive on to Footbridge where I see the bison carcass has been moved again; the horned head faces upslope once more. But the body is drastically and only birds are feeding right now.

I continue to Silver Gate after another nice morning.

Today I saw: 2 grizzly bears, bison (and calves), a coyote, elk, 10 Junction wolves (including 907F, alpha male, 1276F, 1382F, either 1341F or 1384F, three uncollared grays and two uncollared blacks) and the spirits of Allison, Richard and Jeff.

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