DAY TWO - Friday, February 17

EVERTS AND SLOUGH

I head out in the dark at 6:30. Itís cold, minus 8, which my car does NOT like, but it starts for me anyway.

As I cruise through Lamar Valley a pinkish purple sunrise begins behind me. Looks like the day will be clear.

The day IS clear, but no-one has any wolves, at least none here in the east. This is Presidentís Day weekend, and it brings with it a noticeably higher volume of cars.

We scope from Slough, Elk Creek and Hellroaring, but in the end we have to drive all the way to Mammoth, to the Everts Overlook where I was yesterday, in order to see a wolf.

And itís not the Lupine Pack but the Eight Miles. All the wolf-watchers are here: Calvin & Lynette, Susan & Reve, Kathie L, Julie A, Rick M, Natalie & Warren, Matt and of course, the wolf crew.

The wolves are bedded at first, about half-way up one of the long fingers of Mt. Everts. I see eight animals, all gray. There is some howling coming up from below and the bedded wolves howl back. It sounds great.

At the moment, the Eight Mile pack is made of all grays. The only black in the pack, 1271F, has been spending time away from her family, looking for love. Itís mating season, after all.

I ask Jeremy to help me ID the alphas. They are both collared: 1326M (a former Wapiti) and 1328F, are bedded towards the top of the visible group. A bedded gray below them is a pup. They all seem to be looking downhill.

The wolves get up and start to move slowly downslope, picking their way past rocks and small bushes. I follow them and then pan down further, where I find more wolves, moving east over to the next ridge. I must have missed them leaving their bedding spots.

I wonder how many times wolves have been bedded or roaming these sage-studded fingers when I never thought to search for them!

I stick with the alphas and follow them until they stand broadside, looking east. The others are close, now, coming back from whatever drew them to the next finger. There is a bit of a rally and more howling. Now they change direction, moving as a group to the west, angling a bit downslope. They seem to have an idea of where they are going. I find it very interesting to watch them travel across this unusual (for me) territory.

They approach a small bison herd. Some of the wolves stop and seem interested, but the leaders soon move on, going in and out of gullies and washes through the snow and sage.

A bit of play erupts between the pups. Some adults join in, racing up and down the slopes. One gray with a tightly tucked tail gets chased by most of the others, but when itís caught there does not seem to be any pinning.

One by one the wolves move out of sight. Some people drive west in search of a pullout that might offer a view of them again. But itís past 10AM so Laurie & Dan and I decide to head back east.

We stop at S Curves and look south to the spot where I saw the Rescue yesterday. Unfortunately, they are long gone.

My next stop is at the big ski lot for a peek at the black bear den. I donít see anything but darkness in that spot but a guy in the lot tells me that when he stopped yesterday, the bear poked its head out to eat some snow.

I drive through Little America, passing a bull bison with a small pine branch stuck on his horn. I tell him how handsome he looks.

At Slough I find Jeremy and Dylan so I stop to chat. They say the Junctions are in the area but must be in some low spot, not visible. Dylan grins and says Daveís Hill might offer a view. I donít think Iím up for that. No one has ventured up on Daveís in quite a while and the snow is very deep.

Instead, I convince Rick to walk out to Bobís with me. The trail along the road starts off fine but narrows considerably about half-way out. Itís quiet out here and very beautiful.

We scope all over the place but find no wolves, so we head back to the lot. As Iím loading my scope, Natalie radios for us to come to Lamar Canyon West.

When I get here, I see two black wolves bedded just left of the Southern Round Tree. I canít figure out how we could have missed them but Rick assures me we were not high enough on the Knob. The wolf crew pulls in and agrees that the whole pack is likely in this spot, just out of view.

The two wolves are bedded with heads up. They look alert and I am hopeful they might start to move around, or that more will emerge, but nothing changes.

After about a half hour, I agree with Laurie & Dan to head in for a break and come back later.

The drive east is very pleasant, with bright sun all the way. I see steam wafting from Rose Creek.

Around 2:45 I head back out, thinking I know what we will see. But as so often happens in Yellowstone, the evening turns out to be quite different.

As I come around the curve into Lamar Canyon I find cars stopped and jammed in the pullout every which way. I stop and put on my flashers, lowering my window so I can call to the nearest person. ďIs it otters?Ē I ask.

ďA wolfĒ comes the answer.

Oh!

There is nowhere to park, so I end up following Laurie & Dan who are continuing west. We have a 3-minute red light, so I run ahead to check in with her. Laurie says she caught a glimpse of a gray heading west in the forest across the river.

I go back to my car while a dozen people come running along the edge of the icy road, carrying expensive cameras and tripods, trailing the wolf, eager for a shot.

Luckily, once we get to the other side, we find parking. Calvin and Lynette are here plus one other car. I focus my scope on the Southern Round Tree area but find no wolves in view. Calvin says they had some on and off sightings in the last two hours, but nothing for a while.

They know about the wolf coming through the Canyon, though, and we all anticipate its arrival. Laurie gathers info from other visitors, who tell her this is a collared gray, first seen in Soda Butte Valley. People have been following her progress for the last hour as she travelled from the Confluence all the way into the Canyon.

Lynette adds they have heard howling from the main pack on and off for the last several hours.

It seems to me that enough time has passed for the wolf to be here already. Calvin agrees. Then he notices some bedded elk to the west, about half-way down Northern Divide Ridge, which have just stood up.

Soon after this, the collared gray is spotted, well west of the elk, loping downhill in thick snow.

Itís 1341F of the Junctions. Sheís panting. She passes the bedded elk, (about 100 yards to their west) disappearing into the trees. Then more elk come up suddenly from the gully below the bedded ones. A moment or two later, 1341F re-appears, now running uphill after those elk.

The elk take off and she struggles on through very deep snow. This behavior endears her to me. She is obviously in great physical shape and too game to resist chasing her favored prey, even when it demands such an effort.

Sheís been travelling for hours, but still has the ability to chase prey!

She is also wise enough to give up when it is obviously hopeless.

A coyote races away from her, not taking anything for granted.

1341 turns back downslope, likely intending to return to her family on the north side.

Calvin calls out that the Junctions are starting to appear, behind and left of the Southern Round Tree. I turn my scope and find them. Oh, yes, lots of wolves suddenly in view. They mill around for a bit, and I try to identify individuals.

They howl and rally and head off northwest, towards the conifer-aspen forest. Several cars have left the lot, probably to try to intercept 1341 when she crosses. But it means there is now room for Kathie and Rick. It sure feels like old times!

I voice a worry that the people might keep 1341F from re-joining her pack but Laurie reminds me she is now an experienced wolf and will likely find a way.

I find other Junctions in a slightly different area and then spot a fox moving towards them below the tree line. One group of wolves far ahead of the others, already passing the conifer-aspen forest.

It sure looks like the pack is on the move. The ďleader groupĒ of 6 trots with determination. A second group has formed and begins to climb up from the creek, following their trail. I count 14 in this group.

The leaders continue upslope, aiming for Junction Pass and the very large rock. More wolves begin to appear trailing the group of 14 and my total grows to 22. Then I see a collared gray coming up from the flats, using a different route than the majority of the group. The gray intercepts the second group, and we are all pretty sure this is 1341F, who did indeed make it across the road just fine.

This makes 23 total for me, although others got counts of 24 and 25.

Then I find a dark animal below the traveling wolves, near the Marge Simpson tree. Itís too big to be a wolf. Oh! Itís a moose! As the wolves continue to climb up towards Junction Pass, I watch the moose travel the same direction but a half mile lower. Eventually the moose disappears into the willows along the creek.

We watch until the last wolf goes out of sight. As Calvin folds up his scope, he predicts they will be at Hellroaring tomorrow morning.

What a nice sighting!

Our drive back tonight features some gorgeous pink/orange alpenglow. Then, as I reach the 35mph sign just before Silver Gate another moose appears, crossing the road and disappearing down a snowy driveway to the south.

Today I saw: bison, coyote, elk, a fox, 2 moose, 31 wolves including 8 gray Eight Mile wolves (including 1326, 1328, 1389, 1390 and four others) and 23 Junction wolves (including alpha male, 907F, 1276F, 1341F and many others and the spirits of Allison, Richard and Jeff.


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