DAY THREE - Monday, May 22


It’s still dark as I set off today at 38 degrees.

I stop at Trash Can to listen for howling but hear meadowlarks trilling instead. The sky looks less hazy than yesterday.

I start my pup-watch at the Slough “gravel pile” lot again. Matt is here and shows me a video of the tussle between 907 and 1276 that I missed last evening. It’s very interesting that the alpha male tried to intervene.

There are three Junction wolves in view so far today: a gray bedded near the sage den plus 1276F and an uncollared black up by 890’s tree. A second uncollared black appears in the meadow, walking towards the bedded black in a submissive posture. The bedded black stands up, revealing himself to be the alpha male. Aha!

A big uncollared gray (likely 1340M) comes in from west and goes into the sage den. 2 gray wolves come out of there. Neither is 907.

There are both bull bison and bull elk grazing near the den area all morning.

At one point a wolf begins to walk along the gully ridge, and an elk follows it at a bit of a remove. The wolf belatedly looks back and sees the elk. The wolf gets out of the elk’s way, moving up to the eastern trees and the elk continues in perfect nonchalance.

For some reason, the local flock of geese make an awful racket this morning. I always find myself wishing their sound could be a bit more modulated instead of repeatedly honking that one harsh note!

While I wait for the pups to appear, I watch a small herd of bison as they cross the swollen Slough Creek. Their calves are old enough now to keep up, swimming the high water like champs.

Around 8AM the Junctions have a rally near the Western Trees. I count 13 wolves in the group, seven blacks and six grays.

Today both 1385F and 1383F are here today so I try to make note of their differences. 1383 is a little older and her black coat has some gray in it, making a kind of marbled look. She also has a GPS (white box) collar, while 1385F is dark overall and has a “regular” collar.

1340M decides to go hunting. He leads two younger wolves up to the top of the den cliff and eventually eastwards, traveling with purpose.

A collared gray (1341F or 1384F) eventually follows them. When she gets to the top, here comes 1340M coming back again. These two greet briefly and then she continues east while he checks out the empty natal den, then the sage den. I comment that big brother is as eager to see the puppies as we are!

Wolves are now scattered about the area, bedded in various spots from the goal post tree to the rocks west of Parrot.

Around 9AM 1276 appears and stands just to the right of the sage den. Suddenly I see movement at her feet! A gray pup, then a tiny black tail! And a tiny black body! Two pups! One of each!

907 emerges from the den and nuzzles them both. OMG! Yay puppies!

Everyone radios everyone else and the pullouts buzz with happy visitors. Laurie & Dan are in a different lot, but they see the little ones, too.

Later in the morning, Helena shows me a video she took through her scope of this very moment. It’s just great.

The sage den has a lot of thick grass tussocks around the opening, which makes it extra hard to see the pups’ small bodies. But they were momentarily between tussocks and had what I consider to be a really good look.

Rick is eager to find a better angle in case they come out again. He decides to try the low hill behind the small north-side pullout we used a few years ago. I’m not sure my legs are ready to climb a hill, but I go with him.

I bring my stool and manage the climb with no mishaps. I think this spot does offer a slight improvement but the pups do not emerge a second time while we are here.

Frank, who is scoping from Dave’s hill, radios to “look behind you”. When I do, I see Mocha, angling across the side of Dave’s Hill below Frank. She’s aiming for the Slough Flats and needs to cross the Campground road in order to return to the den area. A coyote trails her for a while and two pronghorn keep an eye on her as well. She crosses quite near Doug’s lot and lopes downhill towards the water. I lose her in the willows.

The day has warmed to 65 so I need to shed a few of my “cold morning” clothes.

Once I’ve lost a layer or two I head into Lamar, where it’s even warmer. When I get to the Confluence, I see the Willow Bear is drawing its usual crowd. In addition to the bear, I see a coyote roaming the wet meadows south of 21’s crossing.

The water in the Confluence is noticeably higher and still rising.

At Soda Butte Picnic, the creek bed has been so altered by last year’s flood, a new shallow channel has formed on the west side. It’s more of a marsh at the moment. I don’t remember that happening during past flood seasons.

Park crews have been working just east of here to thin out the pile of ripped-up trees. It looks like they are trying to scatter them about to shore up the banks and make it harder for the creek to overtop the road.

At Baronette, the local fox is in the south side meadow. A man with a camera is making “injured-animal” sounds, trying to draw the fox closer for a photo. The fox ignores him.

After a break in Silver Gate we all head out for more pup viewing. I hope for clouds, so that the sun will be veiled. But alas, the sky is clear. When we arrive, we learn that a hunting party left the den area around 6PM, heading west.

With the sun in our eyes here, we opt for a drive west, to try to find the hunting party.

We try Aspen, then Boulder. But we find no wolves, only bison and elk. Two bison calves approach each other and touch muzzles in a sweet little calf-kiss.

I end up calling it an early night. On my way back through the canyon I notice the water level is now high enough to splash over the upriver side of the big indicator rock.

As I pass Footbridge I see two cars stopped at Eastern Curve. It’s Gary and some friends. They have a grizzly in view, fairly close, near the creek.

I find room to park and set up my scope. But I find a different bear, walking along the bank, further east. My bear is dark, almost black while Gary’s is brown.

Since we missed the wolves, it’s nice to end the day with two grizzlies.

Today I saw: 2 grizzlies, bison (and calves), sandhill cranes, coyotes, elk, a fox, pronghorn, 15 Junction wolves (including Alpha male, 907F, 1276F, 1340M, 1341F (or maybe 1384F), 1383F, 1385F, Mocha, Limper, 3 additional uncollared blacks and 1 additional uncollared gray, plus both pups and the spirits of Allison, Richard and Jeff.

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