DAY TWO - Tuesday, July 4

#1347M AND #864

The Fourth of July starts out at a warm 50 degrees.

I leave Silver Gate at 4:45, heading west.

It’s still dark in Soda Butte Valley, but starts to lighten as I reach Confluence. As I’m passing Trash Can, Rick radios from Dorothy’s that he has a grizzly on Amethyst.

I join him here and watch the bear a while. Of course, we also scan for wolves but find none. Rick heads west.

I turn my scope towards the rendezvous just to check the bison carcass spot. It’s a long look but I see a dark lump, maybe a bear with his head down. Then I see two smaller dark things on either side of the bear. Hmmm.

I pack up to head to Trash Can but I tell other scopers in this lot why I’m going. By the time I get set up on Trash Can, scopers at Picnic have identified my “bear” as a bison!

Aauugghhh! So embarrassing! I am about to fess up over the radio when the “two smaller dark things” turn out to be wolves, a black and a gray.

My embarrassment turns to glee. The guide at Picnic calls in the wolves, and soon after this, the two wolves turn into five.

Paul and Scott W join me on the hill. I try to reach Rick to tell him to come back but I get no response. He’s probably too far west to hear me.

Then a morning hail storm arrives which nearly sends me back to my car. But it’s over quickly and the rain that follows is just a short drizzle. When I look again, the five wolves have become nine!

Becky and Chloe end up at Picnic with Betty and Terry. They have a good view from there.

What I always most about watching wolves is noting their behavior, and trying to surmise what it means. This morning I witness some unusual movement.

The carcass is in the “eroded area” of the rendezvous, which is on the eastern side, where the various braids of Chalcedony Creek have carved out some low spots on its way to joining the Lamar.

The group of wolves comes together for a rally, with lots of wagging tails and muzzle licking. Then they start to run east through the sage, pretty fast, like they do when they are chasing something. I pan ahead, trying to find what they are chasing but can’t find anything obvious.

The chase peters out, with a few wolves breaking off in separate directions. They begin walking back to the eroded area. A few minutes later, they come together again.

They have a second rally after which they all set off again, running fast to the east. I radio Chloe to see if she can tell what it is the wolves are chasing. Since we can’t see anything, I wonder if it’s something small that the sage can hide. I suggest a pronghorn fawn; Chloe suggests a coyote. But neither of us can tell for sure.

The second chase stops cold again, and once more the wolves wander back to the eroded area. On the way they pass through a short grass area with purple lupine growing in the background. The angle of the morning sun makes a really pretty picture of wolves traveling through this natural landscape. Everyone comments on how beautiful it is.

The wolves rest for a bit, then rather suddenly get up for yet a third rally, with many wagging tails. A third chase to the east erupts but this time I notice a tucked tail on the gray wolf in the lead. Oh! He’s not in the lead; he is being chased by the others!

Scott W thinks the target wolf has a collar. It dawns on me that they were probably chasing this gray all three times, like a game of tag with the collared gray being “it”.

I can’t confirm it was the same wolf each time, but the “evidence” of their movements adds up. Just like before, the chase peters out. The tucked tail gray is not caught, and the wolves go back to the eroded area.

It’s hard to tell if this is just play or something more serious. Chloe and I eventually agree it was serious but not deadly. Now, I have to try to figure out which collared gray Junction is being chased, and why.

Much later, after talking to Laurie, I learn that the tucked-tail wolf was not a Junction at all, but a 3-year-old male from Wyoming’s Hawk’s Rest Pack, #1437M.

Aha! This is great news to me, because the Junction Pack needs some new male blood. The pack is currently loaded with females and the alpha male can only breed with 907F. I hope he sticks around at least till mating season!

Becky and Chloe are eager to see Hayden Valley, and I promised I would go with them. It’s almost 8AM and they are ready to go. Betty and Terry are coming with us. I bid adieu to Scott and Paul and head west.

We convene again at Peregrine Overlook. We search for the falcons, but don’t find them. Instead, Chloe has found three bighorn ewes, each with a lamb on the opposite cliff.

I just love seeing the lambs. They are so agile and fearless.

After a while we continue south up to Dunraven, heading to the coyote den lot. We are in luck! All five pups are out of the den when we arrive, roaming here and there, tugging on a siblings ear, pouncing on grasshoppers. An alert adult is bedded nearby.

The pups are just darling! They pounce on each other, chasing and wrestling. It’s a real treat to see.

Chloe spots a second adult, traveling below the den meadow from the south. It’s carrying a ground squirrel – I can see several legs dangling out of its mouth.

All the pups suddenly perk up their little heads. Breakfast is served!

They rush pell-mell downslope to the adult as it moves towards them into thick sage. I can see only the tops of the pups’ ears and the tips of their little raised tails as they swarm the adult (not sure if this was mom, pop or an older sibling.)

Unfortunately, they all disappear into the sage, having their meal in private. The bedded adult stretches and rolls on its side for a nap. This adult makes no attempt to join in the fresh meal, knowing the food is for the pups!

We linger a bit, but the pups do not come back into view. So, on we go.

On the way over the top we pass many patches of old, melting snow, looking like a “normal” amount for July.

We enter Hayden Valley stop at the high pullout above Alum Creek. We spend about an hour here, scoping everywhere. It’s nice to see this beautiful valley again but we find no wolves nor bears.

But we do find many sandhills; Chloe finds a pair of hawks and a weasel.

We drive on at a leisurely pace and stop again at 3 Panel where we see hundreds of geese near the Yellowstone. There is a single large bull bison bedded near the steaming thermal vent, and a largish herd of bison on the closer slopes.

Temps are a bit cooler down here than I expected, which pleases me because you know I like cool weather.

We continue towards Fishing Bridge, hoping to find some bears along the East Entrance road. Sightings have been pretty regular lately, although the best viewing is usually earlier in the day.

At Pelican Creek we pass a beautiful mule deer buck in velvet.

The wildflowers east of Fishing Bridge are just gorgeous. Every year is different, but they never disappoint. Lupine seems to be at peak right now. Everywhere I look, purple rules, all sorts of shades: light purple, dark blue purple, pinkish purple.

And of course, for contrast there are white and yellow and red and pink flowers mixed in with the lupine.

We drive up to Lake Butte Overlook and I feel myself getting sleepy. I lower my seat and take a cat nap in the car, while Becky and Chloe visit with Betty and Terry.

When I join them later, the day has become clear enough for a good view of the Tetons. Becky and Chloe tell me they have decided to swing down there for a few days during this trip. I applaud that idea.

We drive back down and stop again along Sedge Bay in one of the pebble-strewn beach-side pullouts along Yellowstone Lake

I walk to the water’s edge and dip my hand in. Brrr! Yes, it’s very cold!

It’s quiet and lovely here. We scope for bears but without any luck, I just look around and admire the wildflowers.

There are a few clumps of a rust-red flower near some dark purple patches of lupine. I am struck by the amazing variety and richness of color here, especially against the backdrop of gray burnt stumps, bright blue sky and dark green conifers.

Eventually we head back towards Hayden Valley.

We stop at the heron rookery pullout. I see four adults and five large chicks. After this I take a break to do my stretches, while the others head north, with a plan to rendezvous around 5PM at Grizzly Overlook.

When I arrive at the Overlook, Chloe tells me she’s counted 23 elk up near the eastern tree line. She has also found a white goose among a large flock of Canada geese. She says it’s either a Ross or a Snow goose, but she leans towards Snow goose.

Larry & Linda R pull in. I have not seen them in quite a while, so we have a good catch-up chat. They want to know about the coyote den, so we give them good instructions.

Betty expresses a wish to see the Lower falls. She is still recovering from complications to her knee surgery and still uses a walker to get around, so Chloe makes it her mission to find a pullout with only a short walk and no steps to such a view. Betty is a trouper and a very kind lady.

Alas, there is no such spot to see the falls, so we settle for a pullout with a short walk to a dramatic view of the Canyon. Here we rest and chat a bit and take a group photo.

Next, it’s off to the Canyon Store for ice cream, Betty and Terry need to leave soon, since they are staying in Cooke City tonight. Becky and Chloe decide to adjust the plan for tomorrow so we can all scope for wolves and bears together in Lamar tomorrow evening.

Betty and Terry set off to the north and the three of us take a leisurely drive back south. We are all staying in the Fishing Bridge RV campground tonight.

We see no evidence of wolves (or wolf-watchers) at the Alum pullouts, but just past Trout Creek we see lots of cars pulled over. People are looking west with interest.

We join the crowd and to our delight, find a beautiful grizzly sow with two yearling cubs. They are a safe distance away, but much closer to the road than the grizzlies I usually see in Lamar.

We spend a wonderful hour with this bear family. The sow has an ear-tag and we learn later that she is Bear #864F. Her cubs are very active, putting on a wonderful show for us. Chloe says she thinks these yearlings are aware that they are no longer “bear cubs” but proudly aware that they are, in fact, grizzly bears. They mimic adult behavior by standing up and looking much more “serious” than coys do when they try the same move. Then again, these two can’t help chasing each other at times, falling back into baby bear behavior.

864 is a beautiful bear, calm and healthy-looking, just wonderful to watch.

The threesome continues north and finally overtop the next ridge. We could probably find them again if we moved to the next pullout, but the light is fading.

We head south and arrive at the campground with just enough light left. It’s a very big place and we have a spacious site. The bathroom has running water and is just a short walk away.

Having never stayed in an RV park before, I am concerned it will be noisy, but it’s not. Either people are tired or perhaps just well-behaved regarding “quiet hours”.

I bid goodnight to Chloe and Becky and snuggle into my sleeping bag. I’m out like a light!

Today I saw: 4 grizzlies (including 2 cubs), bison, 7 sandhill cranes, 7 coyotes (including 5 pups), a mule deer, a bald eagle, elk, geese (and a white goose with them), pelicans, pronghorn, 6 bighorn sheep (including 3 lambs), a weasel, 9 wolves (including 8 Junctions plus visiting male #1437 from the Hawk’s Rest pack) and the spirits of Allison, Richard and Jeff.

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