DAY TWO - Friday, March 17

SHRIMP LAKE CARCASS

Iím up and out at 6:35. Itís a cold minus 12! The days are getting longer, of course, but due to the time change, Iím leaving a little later than I did in February.

On my way east last night I noticed a bunch of cars parked at Warm Creek, figuring they were cross country skiers. Well, this morning, 3 of those cars are still there. Which means the skiers are camping somewhere out there! Sheesh, I used to camp in the winter once upon a time, but not at these temps! Itís down to minus 15 right now. Those are some hardy folks!

There is fog at Round Prairie, and some of it wafts over the road.

I stop at Dorothyís and scope a bit but find nothing. Nothing at Slough either, so I continue to Lamar River Bridge, where I scope both north and south. Nothing but bison. But the morning sun on the snow is gorgeous.

Around 8 AM I end up back at Slough where I find Jeff chatting with Laurie & Dan. Jeff asks if I am up for a walk out to Bobís Knob. I figure we should at least try to find the Junctions, who might be coming back from upper Slough.

I hope the walk will keep me from feeling the minus 9 temps! I try to remember the brave elk as I go. Itís gorgeous out here and we find plenty of wolf tracks, but no wolves.

Then we hear a radio call from Doug Mac to Rick, saying the magic words ďgo eastĒ.

We hustle back to the lot. As I am getting into my car, I slip on the ice and slide partly underneath it, banging my shin, but making me laugh at how silly I look.

On my way east through Lamar Canyon, I share the one-lane section with a small herd of bison heading west. The bison are careful and so am I.

As I drive, I assume that someone found Junctions, maybe from Dorothyís. But that lot is empty. The sighting turns out to be way to the east in Soda Butte Valley. Itís a rare appearance by the Shrimp Lake Pack.

I find out later that Bob spotted a bull elk carcass northwest of the Soda Butte East lot around 8AM. He saw two wolves, one black and one gray, leaving the area. When I arrive, there is no parking, and no wolves in view, but Bob says he thinks they are still around, just hiding in the trees. He says heís leaving, so I can have his space.

Laurie & Dan end up at the mid-point lot with Jeff.

I set up and watch two coyotes on the carcass. I am embarrassed to consider that it was probably here this morning and we missed it. Of course, it was dark when we came through, but I admit I wasnít even scanning for birds.

I find a trail running from the carcass to the scattered trees on the hillside above, so I follow it, hoping it might give clues as to where the wolves are. The trail curves into the trees. I suspect they are just inside that forest, looking down longingly while their kill is consumed by coyotes.

Jeff and Laurie and several others have walked east from the lot and are set up on the high berm just off the road, looking into the trees above the carcass, just like I am. We report to each other that there is nothing in sight yet.

But that changes fast. One of the guides driving west between the lots radios that he just caught a glimpse of a black right at the edge of the trees. Jeffís group soon finds this wolf, too. I donít see it from here so I grab my scope and start to walk west along the road, stopping every 50 feet or so to look.

On my third try I find the wolf and do my best to help other people who came this way. Luckily traffic is not heavy so we can scope here safely for a while.

The area above the carcass is framed by two sections of trees with an open snow slope in between. The black wolf sits on its haunches at the edge of the left group of trees.

Suddenly I catch movement in the right clump of trees. A collared gray moves between tree trunks, appearing and disappearing, then goes uphill into thicker trees. I only see this wolf for a few seconds, but I am pretty sure it is 1228F!

The black stands and moves across the clearing so everyone gets a clear look at her. The black greets a gray I hadnít seen till now. The gray is camouflaged, bedded near a thick trunk. This gray is not collared. The black and gray are nose to nose for a moment, and I see neck hackles on them both, suggesting they are both pups.

As the black moves past the gray, I notice the fur on its backend looks odd. The man next to me says he sees another uncollared gray, walking above these two. I never manage to see that wolf, but itís likely the alpha male.

I decide to keep walking west until I reach Jeffís group, which now includes Sian. Itís a bit tricky to get up on this high snow berm but I manage. We scope for another hour or so, enjoying views of the two pups. They are restless, bedded most of the time but moving about just enough to allow us to help other visitors see them.

All this time, the carcass is being fed on by numerous coyotes and dozens of birds. There is an intrepid fox in the area, too, waiting for a turn. Two bald eagles perch in an aspen tree while a golden lands on the carcass to snatch a few bites.

We have the wolves in view for over an hour but eventually they move further upslope, becoming pretty impossible to see.

So, I decide to go in for a warm-up, figuring Iíll come out later. While Iím walking back to my car, I miss seeing a side-drama: the fox makes a mistake and the coyotes give chase. They catch him and kill him. Honestly, Iím not sorry I missed it. Poor fox.

After a break in Silver Gate, I head back out around 4:30. Because of the hard parking situation, I carpool with Laurie & Dan.

Dan kindly drops us off with our scopes at Jeffís spot. He and Sian are still here, along with numerous others because the two pups have remained in view Ė off and on Ė all afternoon.

Right now, just the gray is visible, bedded in the right clump of trees, just behind a fallen log. Sian says the black is around somewhere.

The snow berm we are standing on has softened in the sun, so there now are numerous deep post holes all over. As new people arrive and climb up, we have to warn them before they sink.

Itís pretty funny but everyone takes it in stride.

I scan around, hoping to find other wolves. To my surprise and delight I find the black pup, bedded in snow on the east side of the small forest, close to a single conifer.

She is easier to see right now than the gray, so the new folk are very happy. But she is restless and soon gets up. I lose her in the trees but soon she appears near the gray. As she moves, we get a good look at her odd-looking coat. Laurie agrees s he likely has some mange. But we think itís not too bad, and she will likely be ok once the weather warms.

The black amuses us by finding something to roll in. Soon all four legs are in the air. Perhaps her skin itches!

The gray gets up and moves deeper into the trees. A lean-forward confirms the gray is a male. He starts to dig in a spot close to where the black was rolling. We follow them as they roam here and there. The black finds a leg assembly and carries it upslope a bit. The gray follows and then they both go out of sight.

Someone finds them again, slightly higher on the hill and slightly west. It appears they are following a trail through thick snow. They pass through a clearing at a slow lope, and I get the impression they are on their way to meet other wolves.

But the trees are thicker on the west side of the clearing, and I fear weíve lost them for the evening. As a consolation, Jeff finds two moose on the south side of the road near the creek.

We stick around as the light slowly fades, hoping they will reappear. The air turns chilly, and we finally call it a day.

Today I saw: bison, coyotes, 2 bald eagles, a golden eagle, elk, a fox, 2 moose, 3 wolves from the Shrimp Lake Pack (including 1228F, a gray pup and a black pup) and the spirits of Allison, Richard and Jeff.


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