DAY TWELVE - Wednesday, May 31

SLOUGH AND LAMAR

My legs feel surprisingly good this morning. What a relief!

When I arrive at Dougís lot, he tells me he has two grays in view bedded near the den. Rick soon finds a black bedded near the western trees. I find a different black bedded at the edge of the gully.

The gray to the right of the den turns out to be 907.

Four elk graze quietly in the meadow below the wolves, drawing no attention from them at all.

The black pup emerges by itself and roams here and there for a while. All the adults watch it carefully.

Around 7AM there is a group howl. This draws a previously unseen wolf from its hiding place behind the western trees. Oh! Itís that handsome dark male with the white spot.

The howling also draws out 1276 from the den, and with her comes the gray pup.

Both pups remain outside the den for a good while this morning. Itís hard to keep track of them as they explore their world, but it is awfully fun to try!

Around 8:30 a dark black yearling starts to follow the pups as they take a jaunt below the den. The yearling gets ahead of them and beds down, so they both crawl on top of her.

Suddenly the yearling lifts her head, looking west. She jumps up, leaving the pups and dashes towards the western trees. Aha! Three wolves are coming in: the alpha male, Mocha and 1383F (GPS).

Suddenly all the adult wolves in the vicinity are rushing to greet the three arrivals, swarming them and begging for food. The converging wolves become a single moving mass of wagging tails. As they pass by the den opening, 907 comes out.

The swarm of wolves now includes the pups, as it moves towards the gully. Heads are lowered and it looks like everyone gets fed.

Once that task is done, the mass breaks apart, with most of the wolves moving up to the eastern trees. 907, Mocha and the pups stay in the feeding spot, sniffing for any remaining tidbits.

Mocha heads into the den while 907 heads uphill. Most of the adult wolves are now ambling over to the flower hill. She follows at her own slow pace.

The pups are still near the gully. Mocha comes back out and returns to the pups. Both the dark blacks join her and start to play with the little ones.

Others wander back west, seeing bedding spots.

The pups have a short wrestling match, with the gray pup on top. Itís so funny to see how they try to bite each other but canít quite get their jaws open far enough to do much.

The black pup takes a break from its sibling and wanders all the way to the crest of the gully ridge, looking down at the spring meadow. She stops there as if amazed at all that space still to explore. Then she follows the ridge west to where it connects to the den hill and romps up the slope to familiar territory.

The pups go back into the den and the various adults settle down for their naps.

We start looking around for other critters. I find a pair of geese with the first goslings Iíve seen this year. The proud parents lead their six sweet yellow babies through the quiet water. There is also a bald eagle perched in a tree and several sandhills strutting about.

And then there is psycho bison. A lone bull bison comes into the den area, calmly walking along the gully ridge below the sage den, where several wolves are napping. As the bull passes below the bedded wolves he suddenly startles and wheels around. He starts pronging quite comically on all four feet, then gallops furiously down the lion meadow, wheeling and bouncing like a lunatic. It struck us so funny, like he was absolutely shocked that there were wolves here and went into uber defensive mode. The wolves remain bedded and pay him no mind.

I say to Celia that heís living out a fear fantasy in his head of being attacked by giant wolves. We call him psycho bison. He runs all the way down the drainage until he gets to a wallow. That slows him down and he eventually enters it, lies down and rolls back and forth, kicking up his legs.

This roll in the wallow seems to help him calm down. When he gets up, he continues walking down the drainage like a ďnormalĒ bison again.

While we are enjoying the entertainment at Slough, Laurie & Dan are in Lamar at Dorothyís watching a Junction hunting party.

I find out later that they saw two groups of Junctions for a high count of 12, (8 grays and 4 blacks). They watched one group travel from Jasper to Amethyst and down to the flats. A little further on, they met another group of Junctions, already bedded near the western foothills. The two groups have a greeting and then they all head into the trees.

Around noon when I return to Lamar, none of the 12 Junctions are still in view. Instead. I see the Willow Bear in its new spot, north of Picnic. It still draws a big crowd.

The valley looks gorgeous, that lush, emerald green. I just love seeing it this way.

On my way to Silver Gate I see Larry & Linda stopped at Moose Meadow. They are scoping for goats up on Baronette, so I join them a while. I see two, a nanny and a kid.

They tell me Chloe & Becky are coming to the Park tomorrow! I am thrilled to hear it because theyíve both been through so much this year. But I have an appointment in Bozeman on Friday that I need to keep. So, I will have to figure out a way to come back to spend time with them.

After a break in Silver Gate, Iím back in the Park for the evening session. A light drizzle begins, which I welcome, since I prefer cloudy conditions for best viewing at Slough in the evening.

I see mule deer in the usual spots on the way down, but I also hear a sharp clap of thunder and see a bolt of lightning!

As it so often happens in Yellowstone, my evening turns out differently than I expected. At Exclosure Hill I see a huge jam stretching past Picnic. I assume the bear is still in view, but I notice that many people seem transfixed by the view to the south. My gut says they are seeing wolves.

As I inch past Trash Can, one of the friendly guys from Tennessee sees my car and comes to the road. ďGo to HubbardĒ he says. I relay this over the radio to Maureen and Rick and head there.

As soon as I set up on Hubbard Hill, I see several wolves to the south with my naked eye as Iím setting up my scope.

Laurie & Dan, Maureen & Rick arrive with the Tennessee guys. We watch a group of four wolves: two black and two gray. One of the blackís has a collar, and Laurie IDís her as former alpha female 1382F. She says she was one of the wolves she saw from Dorothyís this morning.

I have not seen this wolf for a while so Iím happy. She is back in her former personality, queen of the valley. Without 907 or 1276 to pin her, she is in her element with these three younger wolves (some of whom might be her offspring).

The foursome trots along the far side of the river, heading west at a casual pace. Sometimes they angle into high sage and other times in shorter grass. They are much easier to see in the shorter grass.

We semi-identify the others as a black male yearling, a large dark-gray yearling and a light gray yearling. The way 1382 behaves, I suspect the other three are all males.

We also see a coyote well to the east of the wolves.

1382F really struts her stuff, tail held high, lording it over these other three. She leads them into tall sage and beds for a bit, looking back east. The other three nose around.

Suddenly all four are up running. They converge at a spot in the thick sage, heads down. They seem to be tugging or biting something. Laurie says ďI think they got somethingĒ. At first, we wonder if they are attacking another wolf.

All four surround the critter, tugging on it like they do when they kill a coyote. I can only see backs, tails and sometimes ears. The light gray suddenly leaps sideways like itís avoiding a bite.

Whatever it is, it has sharp teeth! It could be a coyote, but I think more likely a badger, which is so low to the ground we wouldnít see it. We saw no real chase, which would be typical if it were a coyote.

The light gray hops aside a second time, and then the struggle is over. All four heads are down and the animal is now dead. It doesnít really look like the wolves are eating, so I donít think it was a typical prey animal.

Itís impossible to see more because the sage is so high.

Soon, 1382F leads them away to the right. They enter a section of short grass, where we can finally see them clearly. They head up Amethyst bench, aiming for the drainage.

Dan (who is always scoping the edges) finds a black bear in a little finger of green surrounded by forest at the right end of the big fan. Oh! Itís a sow and she has two coys!

I spend the next 15 minutes switching between the cubs and the wolves.

The cubs are following each other along on a fallen log. They begin to wrestle with each other, which causes them to both fall off into dense underbrush. They come out of the brush at a run, one chasing the other, clearly unharmed by the tumble. Meanwhile, mom grazes and grubs.

The cubs attempt to scramble up a pair of saplings which are much to young and thin to hold them. Sure enough, the trees bend over and the cubs fall off.

All too soon the wolves reach the drainage and disappear into it. A light drizzle begins so we pull up our hoods. We hang out a bit longer, then head to our cars. Iíd say this was a very good night!

And again I see lots of mule deer on the way home.

Today I saw: 3 black bears (including 2 cubs), 1 grizzly bear, bison (and calves), coyotes, sandhill cranes, mule deer, a bald eagle, elk, geese (and 6 goslings), 3 mountain goats, pronghorn, bighorn sheep, 13 Junction wolves (AM, 907F, 1276F, 1382F, 1383F, 2 dark blacks (one with star on chest) and a large black yearling, a collared gray, 2 uncollared grays (one large & dark, the other light) plus the two pups) and the spirits of Allison, Richard and Jeff.


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