DAY FOURTEEN - Friday, June 2


Ugh! My legs are bad this morning. But out I go as usual anyway.

I see the local fox on my way down.

As I reach the Canyon, the light turns green. Celia's car is ahead of me and she drives on. But just as the road narrows to one lane she brakes to a stop. Why? A herd of bison cows and calves is coming towards us!

Well, this is a dilemma because the light is on a 5-minute timer. If we don’t get to the other side in that time span, the east bound traffic will head our way and we’ll all be stuck.

I have enough room to pass Celia before the bison reach it. I motion for her to follow me and she nods. I carefully pull in front of her with the bison herd now passing on my left. I edge over to the right to give them room and continue to inch forward steadily. The herd splits and continues to pass us on both sides.

I would never try this during the rut, but this herd is cows and calves and they just want to go east. I keep going forward and finally, the ones on the right change their minds and follow the ones on the left, making more room for us to proceed.

Finally we reach the end of the herd and we have smooth sailing the rest of the way.

Once we are parked at Doug’s lot, we find ourselves with wolves in view. A black is bedded on the gully ridge and another is down in the flats just left of the Marge Simpson tree.

This wolf is traveling south, and soon disappears into the Aspen Drainage.

Around 7AM, 1341F (this ID is confirmed later) emerges from the den. Her appearance causes a previously unseen wolf to raise her head. It’s Mocha, bedded near the western trees.

1341 takes a short walkabout towards eastern trees and the pups emerge from the den. They wander around the immediate area, exploring on their own. A light drizzle begins, and I head to my car for my rain jacket.

Rick calls “Wendy get to your scope!”

I rush back in time to see 1341, now back at the den area. She is trying to pick up the black pup. She tries and fails about three times, then finally gets a secure grip. Then, to our surprise, she sets off with great determination, pup in her mouth, traveling downhill through the spring meadow.

What is she doing?

1341F is the wolf who spent many hours last year thwarting New Mom when she tried the same maneuver. Now she is moving pups on her own? Is this her own idea or is she following orders from one of the moms?

She carries the hapless pup to the edge of the spring meadow, where she puts it down for just a second. The pup tries to squirm away but 1341 is not finished, just adjusting her grip.

She manages to get a firmer hold on the little thing and off she goes again, moving steadily downhill at a fast clip, that “on a mission” gait. We watch, utterly fascinated.

Before she gets to the flats, she makes two more brief stops to adjust her grip. Laurie reminds us that over the last several days, the majority of the Junction pack has been spending time on Jasper Bench in Lamar. She points out, correctly, that they seem to like it there.

Last year, after the flood when the roads were closed to us, the wolf project said they were seen by the plane at the back of the bench all summer long. Not on the western end like they were two years ago, but more in the middle and further back, in a spot that, unfortunately, cannot be seen from the road.

There is a pond and a thick forest there, and it is near a travel route between Little America and Specimen Ridge that most of Yellowstone’s mammals use.

Someone calls out that the gray pup visible at the den. Rick asks one of us keep an eye on that pup, while he watches 1341. I volunteer to do that, while others keep me abreast of what’s happening in the flats.

Mocha has followed 1341 down to the flats. The two adults and the pup have made it to the old bison carcass. 1341 puts the pup down once again and the poor little thing immediately scrambles away from her.

The next time 1341 picks up the pup she starts to travel back the way she came. This confuses us, but in a way I’m glad for the pup. She is carried upside down for part of the way, until 1341 puts is down once more to adjust her grip.

The gray pup remains visible near the den the whole time. Eventually 1341 brings the black pup all the way back to the den where she puts it down once more. The black pup dashes into the den on its own, looking no worse for its odd “there and back again” journey. The gray pup stays outside while 1341 goes underground.

Mocha has dutifully followed 1341 the whole way. She now beds near the den with the gray pup, perhaps comforting it, perhaps wondering what is up with her older pack mate.

Laurie suggests that perhaps 1341 changed her mind upon finding high water in Slough Creek. That makes sense. I tell her 1341 has always seemed to me to be driven by instincts that don’t always make sense.

A little later Mocha lifts her head, looking sharply west with interest. Aha! She sees another wolf coming in. This one is a black with a rust-colored tip on its tail. Mocha rushes the new arrival, begging for a feeding. But she gets none.

Both wolves move to the den but the rusty-tail black veers uphill towards 890’s tree. Mocha beds down again near the den opening.

About 10 minutes later, Mocha alerts to another incoming wolf. This time she stands, looking downslope. She starts to trot that way. I pan down and find an arriving black wolf. It’s 1276!

The plot thickens.

Laurie now wonders if the reason 1341 turned back is that she could smell 1276 on her way?

1276 ignores Mocha’s pestering. She heads straight for the den and goes in.

Soon she come back out, followed by both pups. She takes a standing position below the den and the pups start to nurse.

At this moment, Becky and Chloe arrive. I greet them and fill them in on this unusual morning. They find parking at the next lot, so I join them there, where we continue to watch 1276 and Mocha at the den with the two pups.

I watch the black pup closely for any sign of injury but see none. We jokingly comment that Mocha is likely tattling to 1276 about what 1341 did while she was away.

It’s great to be scoping here once more with my Missoula friends. The day is nice and cool, mostly overcast with on and off drizzle. In addition to the wolves, we also see pronghorn, elk, and bison. And we are serenaded by lovely birdsong.

Chloe & Becky know I have to go back to Bozeman today, but if all goes well, I will return on Sunday so I can spend more time with them.

We make a plan to meet later today in Lamar after I’ve packed up. So for now I say farewell, and head east.

On the way back to Silver Gate I enjoy seeing some beautiful misty fog wafting among the high peaks.

By 11:30 I am heading back west. I stop to say thanks and farewell to Laurie & Dan at Footbridge, then meet Becky & Chloe at Confluence.

We have a nice visit over the next hour or so, ignoring the drizzle that comes and goes. I finally bid them so long around 1PM and head west.

The point of this trip was to focus on the Junction pups. Of course, in doing that, I have missed seeing the rest of the Park. Since I came through the Blacktail, back on May 20, it has turned emerald green just like Lamar. It looks stunning.

There is a single black bear grazing the southern slope above Phantom Lake. Luckily there is an empty pullout so I stop to watch a while.

It’s been a great trip, with many surprises and drama. I’ll be back soon.

Today I saw: a black bear, bison (and calves), mule deer, elk, a fox, pronghorn, 8 Junction wolves (1276F, 1341, Mocha, three uncollared blacks plus both pups) and the spirits of Allison, Richard and Jeff.

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