DAY TEN - Saturday, February 25

THREE GRAYS

This morning, the temps are back to normal at 19 degrees. No fresh accumulation on the car but there is some blowing snow.

Looks like the Silver Gate fox was right by the door last night, and I see tracks going past the garage.

Once again, the mountains are shrouded in cloud and there is drifting along the road.

We stop at Lower Hellroaring, in the hopes that some of the Junction pups will not be able to resist one more bite on the carcass. We find a lone coyote feeding there, but no wolves. People who got here before us have seen no wolves either.

We continue west all the way to the Ponds, where we scope a bit and listen for howling. Susan and Reve report that nothing is happening in Mammoth, either.

Itís nearly 9 when we head back eastwards. At the Blacktail loo we find a moose in the willows on the north side of the road. Itís probably the same one we saw here two days ago, a very big bull.

Apparently, wolves were seen last evening in a few spots along the new/old road. Not sure if it was Lupine or Eight Mile (could have been both, I guess). I suggest to Laurie that the packs in that area have probably been hanging out in that neighborhood for years, but until the road was put through, we just didnít see them, winter or summer. She agrees.

Between Upper and Lower Hellroaring, I stop for a mule deer crossing the road. Rick heads on to Elk Creek while we stop at Lower. We are determined to help find wolves today.

I set up and watch the carcass area but also scan the Cottonwood drainage areas, because those are the areas where Iíve seen Junctions in years past. After about a half hour, a visitor scoping from the other end of the lot comes by to tell me there is a wolf on the carcass. I see the animal but think it's a coyote. Dan does, too.

We keep watching, though and suddenly I see a second animal further left, walking slowly towards the carcass. A gray. Maybe this is the animal the visitor had seen?

Both Dan and Laurie agree this one is a wolf. I radio the news to Rick.

Then, the ďcoyoteĒ leaves the carcass and begins traveling in the direction of the gray. The gray tucks its tail and moves away, which amuses us because it looks like this wolf is afraid of this one coyote.

The wolf stops and looks back. It seems to be reconsidering his reaction. All the while, the ďcoyoteĒ has continued walking towards the wolf. Suddenly the grayís tail begins to way and the two animals come together.

OMG, itís NOT a coyote! It was a wolf all along! A gray pup! These two are pack mates! Dan and I laugh at our mis-identification.

The pup is overly excited, jumping up on the gray (who is a bit larger, perhaps a yearling). The pup wants to play but the adult is not in the mood. The adult moves away from the pup and finds something to chew on. It beds down to concentrate on its find, while the pup roams about.

Finding nothing more interesting than its pack mate, the pup comes over to the adult again and tries to steal its morsel. The adult chases the pup away, then goes back to its spot. The pup tries again, and this time the adult lets him have whatever it is. As the pups dashes off with the prize, the adult romps playfully after him.

The two go back and forth a bit. Then a third gray appears from the left. This is also a pup. Now all three begin to play together. Itís so charming to watch. After a while, two of them tire of the game and bed down, while the third continues to romp about, chasing birds.

I go back to the visitor and apologize for not believing him! He and his wife are very gracious about it.

Dan & Laurie and I agree that these three young wolves are likely bored and are casting about for something to do. After about an hour, they all head back to the carcass for a short feed on the remaining scraps.

Then, unfortunately, they leave the carcass one by one and head back downslope, following that same darned trail to out-of-sight-land.

The sun finally emerges around 10:30, and we get the kind of day that had been forecast.

With no wolves in view, we go east, where a surprise awaits us.

At the Confluence we pass some photographers looking at the usual group of bighorn rams. But then I hear bits of reports that donít add up (yet).

Laurie & Dan are ahead of me. I see them pull into the last spot at Soda Butte East. I stop in the road for a moment to see whatís up. Laurie is looking at photos taken by some first-time visitors. They saw four wolves about a half hour ago just north of this lot!

Laurie tells me it was three grays and a black, that one of the grays was collared. She thinks it may have been 1228ís Shrimp Lake Pack!

I turn around and set up at the mid-point lot and train my scope on the treeline north of where Laurie is. I know the official count for this pack is two grays and one black, so itís a mystery who the third gray might be.

But the pack is seen so infrequently from the ground, the count is often made from the plane, and since the pack is often in the trees, they might have missed one. More intriguingly to me, however, is the possibility that it could be 1341F. She is 1228ís younger sister, and itís likely she would still be friendly enough to 1341F to allow her to join her pack. The alpha male would likely have no objection, nor would the pup.

Of course, itís also possible that what the people saw are other wolves, perhaps a few Junctions traveling together, or wolves from a totally different pack.

In any case, unless we see them ourselves, we can only speculate. Various scopes are trained on the area, but no wolves are seen.

Around 12:30, we continue to Silver Gate with a plan to return in a few hours. With the warmer temperatures today, quite a bit of snow slides off the roof!

Around 3:30, we are back in the lot at Soda Butte East. This time with room to park. Rick joins us and we scope and talk. The scenery is beautiful and the memories come flooding back.

Alas, we find no sign of any wolves, nor do we hear howling, but itís a nice feeling to have the whole valley to ourselves.

Today I saw: bison, coyote, mule deer, elk, bighorn sheep, a moose, 3 Junction wolves (all grays; one adult, two pups) and the spirits of Allison, Richard and Jeff


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