DAY THREE - Saturday, March 18

THREE PACK DAY!

Itís cold this morning, minus 12.

Laurie & Dan are ahead of me and tuck into the last spot at Soda Butte East, while pull in behind Jeffís camper at the Mid-point lot. The Lupine crew is here so I guess they did not see their wolves today.

I bundle up and lug my scope east along the road to Jeffís spot, about a quarter mile away.

Itís crazy cold but I set up anyway. After about 10 minutes, Jeff spots movement. Yay! The first wolf I see is the black pup, walking across the clearing. To the left of the black is a big gray wolf, sitting on its haunches.

I know right away this is a different wolf than the gray I saw yesterday. Wow! This is the new alpha male! He looks burly and tough. His legs and sides are light-colored but around his neck is much darker fur, kind of a ďnecklaceĒ. This part reminds me of Dark Gray, from back in the Druid 2.0 days. He came to woo the Druid females and was repeatedly chased off by dear old 302M.

I watch these two wolves for a bit, then Jeff spots the gray pup, a bit further east. Just when I get my scope on the pup I see more movement, and thereís my girl 1228F herself! She passes the aspen tree with the bald eagle in it, going being the gray pup. This is a much better look at her than I had yesterday. She looks very good, healthy and fit.

She sits on her haunches, looking confident and regal.

I let myself hope for a moment that they will all go down to their carcass, although itís likely they fed on it through the night. They seem to be bidding their carcass goodbye. 1228 turns and starts uphill. At first it looks like sheís going east, but then she hooks left and I realize she is following a trail through the deep snow.

She goes out of sight briefly, then I see her higher on the slope, passing behind trees. The pack members get up and fall into line behind her. Gray pup, then alpha male then the slightly mangey black female. Jeff comments on the obvious size difference between the alpha and the pup. The male is really husky with a deep barrel chest, reminding me of 21M.

We watch them travel west along the trail, going in and out of the trees. The trees are thick, so all we can do is scan ahead to the next gap where they are likely to appear.

I do my best to help other visitors. Melba is here, getting great video.

When they go into the thick forest, we start to pack up. My poor toes are frozen! We re-convene at Footbridge where there is plenty of parking, flat ground and some very welcome sun.

It takes a while, but Dan spots them at the top of a snow-covered slope with a smattering of boulders at the top. I recognize this hill as one on which I have seen Druids and Lamar Canyon wolves many times.

All four pop out from the trees and walk casually among the boulders, looking like they are quite familiar with it. They bed for a bit and might have stayed a while, except for the inconvenient arrival of the plane. Itís no surprise to us veterans when the wolves get up and quickly seek refuge in the trees.

I figure they are gone for the day, so I set about fixing my coffee. After a few sips, 1228F re-appears on the boulder hill. The plane has departed, so she poses, stretches, scratches a bit then climbs atop the highest boulder.

She beds there, thrilling the various photogs and phone-scopers. She howls to her pack, but I donít hear them respond. Then she hops off, alighting gracefully and walks a bit downslope, sniffing here and there.

She goes further down and disappears over the edge. I wonder if she wants to cross south? Soon she comes back into view, heading back up slope.

She post-holes a few times, reminding us just how deep the snow is. But unlike me, she recovers quite easily! She looks downslope a second time and now moves that way but angles slightly more east. Soon she disappears over the edge of the ridge.

When she doesnít come back up, Laurie & I drive east, stopping at Soda Butte mid-point. We look back at the hill 1228 was on and see a coyote down below. People in the pullout say they saw a collared gray high on that hill, but that she went into the trees.

I notice people looking south Ė but they are seeing another coyote. This one makes a bee-line for the road. It crosses and heads for the carcass.

Itís now about 9AM and I am very happy with our morning sighting. But weíve also heard that the Rescues are in sight on the Blacktail, so we head there. The Rescues killed a bison yesterday and are likely remain nearby for a day or more.

Despite the welcome sun, itís still very cold, minus 5. My toes are still complaining!

On the drive west, I see the bighorn rams posing on the Eyebrow hill and spot two coyotes on the winter-kill bull elk carcass north of Confluence.

The drive is another gorgeous one, especially under the sun.

We find the Rescue Crew at the Nature Trail lot. The bison kill is north of the road, below the Painted Hills, so I am quite surprised that the crew has their scopes pointed south.

I set up and soon have 6 Rescue Creek wolves in my scope. They are bedded on the crest of a low-windswept hill, in the flat area where there are scattered horizontal patches of willows and aspen.

I see two grays and four blacks. A little later, two nearby rocks turn into wolves, one gray and one black, so thatís 8. Jeremy thinks two black pups are likely still at the bison carcass on the north side.

This lot is surrounded by very high snow mounds, piled up by the plows over the previous months. Whenever the sun is out, some of it melts and covers the pavement. The water has nowhere to go so it just pools on top and freezes overnight, basically making the surface a skating rink.

Itís smooth and slick, and one must adopt a bit of a penguin walk to avoid falling. Nevertheless, the rink quickly fills up with visitors happy to have a peek at the wolves.

The day warms up all the way to 22 above. This is the first chance Iíve had to visit with the crew so I have a nice time chatting and scoping.

Around 1PM, Rick and I head back east while Laurie & Dan stay a while longer.

As I near the Tower area, Sian radios Rick. She and Melba are on Bobís Knob with ďsomething interestingĒ in view. Hmmm.

We park in the lot and hike out. Itís now almost 30 and my toes are finally thawed. Rick is accompanied by Angela, a friendly reporter for the Wall Street Journal, who is writing an article about wolves.

Once we get out to the point, Sian and Melba show us a collared black wolf, way out towards the campground area. Itís bedded on a low, snow-covered hill above Slough Creek.

But thatís not all. Below the wolf, a little to the right, is a furred carcass of some sort, smaller than the wolf, but too indistinct for any of us to tell what it is.

Sian and Melba saw this wolf chasing birds off this carcass. The wolf did not feed on the mystery lump, it only chased birds away. They are concerned it might be a dead wolf. Hmm.

Laurie & Dan join us. Rick wonders if this might be 1382F, still spending time separate from the pack. None of us can tell what the lump is, so Laurie says sheíll get in touch with Jeremy. If it IS a wolf, heíd want to know which one and what happened.

I leave Slough around 4PM, the first and only day Iíve stayed out this long.

As I pass Soda Butte East, I see a line of about 6 cars inching forward slowly past the bull elk carcass area. I look, too, and see a bald eagle on the fox carcass, while a single coyote is on the elk.

At the pothole bridge I slow down while a tiny gray squirrel dashes across.

After we are back in Silver Gate, Laurie hears from Jeremy. He says the mystery carcass is not a wolf but a beaver. He also says the collared wolf we saw is not 1382F but 1386F, otherwise known as New Mom.

Today I saw: a (dead) beaver, bison, coyotes, a bald eagle, elk, a fox, big horn sheep, a gray squirrel, 13 wolves including all four Shrimp Lake Pack (1228F, gray alpha male, gray pup and black pup), 8 of the 10 Rescue Creek Pack; 1386F of Junction and the spirits of Allison, Richard and Jeff.

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