DAY FIVE - Wednesday, May 24

MOMS' PRIVILEGE

Raindrops cover the car this morning and itís still drizzling. Itís also quite warm at 46 degrees.

As I descend into the valley I pass through wisps of hanging cloud. In Round Prairie low-lying fog blankets the meadows on both sides.

The rain lets up as drive through Lamar Canyon. Frank and Paul are on Dougís hill this morning, so I decide to join them. Bill W and Celia come too.

This is where we would set up a few years ago when the Junctions had 8 pups. Itís the same angle as Dougís Lot but slightly higher and not as much of a climb as Daveís.

The first wolf I see is a collared gray (1341F or 1384F) who is travelling with purpose down the lion meadow. The lion meadow is a short-grass drainage/meadow that snakes down from the spring meadow between sage hills to Slough Creek flats. Once upon a time a single tree grew about half-way down, and one day long ago, people watched the Rose Creek Pack chase a mountain lion up that tree. The poor thing was cornered there for hours.

Many years after that incident, the tree died and fell down. Itís rotting trunk can still be seen on the ground.

I can see much more of the creek corridor from this higher viewpoint. In addition to path of the winding creek itself, I see several oxbows full of still water.

The gray swims a section of this still water and emerges to the right of the carcass. The carcass itself lies behind a long, fallen tree which has dozens of bare, dead branches sticking up like skeletal arms. On most of these branches a bird is perched, a raven, a crow or a magpie, waiting its turn.

The gray reaches the carcass and flushes the many birds away. She dashes back and forth, chasing them. She wants to feed without feathered competitors. She feeds alone for a while but soon an uncollared black arrives. The gray bares her teeth at the black and I imagine she is growling.

The black backs off and beds down, letting the gray feed alone for a while.

Back at the den, 1276F makes an appearance along with the gray pup. There is an additional collared gray at the den, so since there are only two collared grays in the Pack at the moment, we are seeing both 1341 and 1384.

Later the black pup comes out, too. They both seem bouncy and healthy.

After a good 20 minutes, 1341 leaves the carcass and beds in some high grass near the still water for a while. But she is still bothered by the birds. She gets up and flushes them away once more. And now that sheís near the carcass again, she decides to stay and have another go.

The black waits patiently for her to settle down, then sneaks in for its own breakfast.

A little later, I notice the people who are scoping below me in Dougís lot. Itís Larry and Linda from Wyoming. I have not seen them in a long time so I head down the hill for a visit.

Together we watch 1341 start her slow climb back up to the den area. When she reaches the spring meadow, 1384 gets up and enters the sage den. 1341 soon follows her inside.

The black yearling at the carcass finishes eating and heads back uphill, too. The yearling passes the den and disappears into the gully.

Bill H radios that the sow with two yearlings is up on Specimen and ought to be visible from Slough. And of course, heís right. Larry finds her first, and we share our scopes, inviting other visitors to see her. People are always happy to see a bear with cubs!

Next, Larry finds a badger near the water. These are fascinating creatures but this one surprises us by entering the water in the oxbow. It swims across the still water, aiming for a thin strip of land covered in marsh grass. It climbs out for just a moment but then rushes back into the water. Why? Because of the geese!

Uh oh! It looks like the badger has been caught trying to grab a gosling. Mom and Daddy goose will have none of that! They start screech-honking, spreading their wings wide and flapping in an aggressive display.

The pair forces the badger into deeper water. They chase the badger, making it swim for its life to the south. Finally it reaches a line of willows at the southern edge. I donít think the badger was successful. And boy, I would not mess with those geese!

A little while later, Linda finds a muskrat in a curve of the creek closest to us. Itís carrying vegetation in its mouth.

Someone calls out ďSage den!Ē so we turn our scopes back to the wolves. 1341F and 1384F emerge from the den and head down to the spring meadow. But there is more movement at the den itself. The pups are out! We see both of the little wobblers, taking short, tentative excursions to the right of the den and back.

1276 comes out to supervise, but spends most of her time scratching. All too soon, all three go back inside.

I get a radio call from Laurie. She and Dan are still in Lamar. There was wolf activity there this morning so they stopped. Larry and Linda and I decide to head east.

After a brief wait at the light, we arrive in Lamar, happy to see how green the valley is now, warming in the sun after last nightís rain. Dozens of bright clumps of yellow Balsamroot have burst into life today, making a beautiful spring backdrop.

We join fellow wolf-watchers on Trash Can hill: Laurie & Dan, Maureen and Rick, Mark and Carol. Eleven Junctions have been sifting bison herds to the south of the river all morning, looking for vulnerable calves. So far, they have been unsuccessful.

The wolves are taking a siesta at the moment but are still partly visible in high sage of the Old Druid Rendezvous area.

I see four of the eleven; a black and two grays close together, plus a third gray bedded to the west. The third gray is very light, almost blonde.

Then I notice a fifth wolf, a dark black, standing broadside closer to the bison herd. This wolf is still interested in a single calf guarded by a group of adult bison. After about 10 minutes, the black finally gives up and walks over to join the others.

Laurie says 907F, the alpha male and 1382F are with this group, but out of sight in the tall sage at the moment. I eventually find one more gray, the one we call drab.

Linda and I suddenly see something small dash across the short grass between the lines of sage, further away than the wolves. Itís a rabbit!

If I were that critter, Iíd want to put a lot more distance between myself and those wolves!

We have a nice time up here, chatting and comparing notes, sharing our scopes with visitors.

Around 1:30, with only sleeping wolves in view I drive east to Silver Gate.

Maureen and Rick and I go back out for the evening. We set up on Exclosure with Mark & Carol. The Junctions have moved a bit further south-east from where I left them this afternoon.

They are just black and gray lumps in the high grass and sage in front of the double foothill.

For an hour and a half we see only a head up here or there. But the weather is perfect and the company is great.

After a while, a collared gray gets our attention. The gray is bedded near a black with a graying muzzle. But the gray is eating something. We eventually figure out the gray is 907F and the black is the alpha male.

It looks like she is the only one eating whatever it is. The rest are still sleeping.

Eventually, a group of bull bison provide the spark that gets the wolves to move. Some bison make it their business to use their size and temperaments to deliberately push wolves around. Thatís what these bulls do, forcing them to get up or be trampled.

When the bison make their presence known, 907 moves to the right, carrying the item she is eating. I canít tell what it is, other than its fairly large and quite bloody, like a piece of something larger.

Hmm

Maybe they caught a bison calf after all during the afternoon?

We agree that the chunk is too big to be a rabbit or a squirrel and definitely too bloody to be a cache that she dug up.

907 settles down away from the bison and resumes eating. A yearling makes the mistake of wandering over to her, thinking she might share. Nope. 907 growls at the yearling, who drops to the ground, begging, rolling over on its back, pawing at her ďpretty please?Ē. Nope.

A second yearling comes by and tries its luck. She growls at that one too.

Both yearlings walk away hungry.

Most of the wolves respond to the bison bullies by moving just far enough to appease them, and then re-bed. This gives me a chance to count them, and I reach 11. (Laurie saw 14 earlier today)

The bison turn around and head back east, leaving the wolves in peace.

Just when I start thinking of calling it a night, three young men come up the hill to join us. They report that they just saw three wolves take a bison calf a bit to the east of here. They saw two grays; one collared, and a black.

My first thought is that they saw three Junctions from this group we are watching, which would make a full count of 14. But Mark and Carol have different idea. They suggest that the young men might have seen the Shrimp Lake Pack!

Thatís all it takes for me to pack up to investigate.

Maureen and Rick feel the same way. As we walk downhill to our cars, the Junctions get up from their beds and begin to walk slowly back towards the treeline.

As I pass the Soda Cone I can see cars stopped up ahead. I pull over at the log-lined dirt lot on the south side. I look north and immediately see two wolves, a black and a gray, a quarter-mile away at the bottom on the hill.

I set up just north of the road and follow the two wolves as they climb the low hill. About halfway up I see another gray with its head down, eating something bloody. This gray has a collar and is none-other than 1228F!

She is consuming whatís left of the bison calf while her gray mate sits on his haunches to her left, partly hidden behind a bush. He stares at us along the road, wary and not particularly happy. The black female yearling wanders here and there, staying close to mom just in case she drops something!

I grin at the sight. Iíve seen two mother wolves tonight, each feeding on fresh meat, pulling rank and feeding alone, unwilling to share. I know how hard they both work at being mothers, and I say they deserve it.

At the bottom of the hill I see the sad bison mom who just lost her calf. She walks slowly back and forth, which I guess is how bison mothers grieve. I do feel bad for her, but 1228F is still nursing and needs the sustenance.

Maureen and Rick and I are just thrilled to see these wolves. They are an elusive pack. Even though they live in territory we drive through four times a day, this is the first time weíve seen them. We are grateful to the three young men who reported the sighting, as we would surely have missed them again, if they had not.

The black yearling beds down on the hillside for a while. She remains restless, though, getting up several times, which gives me a pretty good look at her. Last time I saw her was late March, when her coat looked uneven due to a bit of mange. That seems to be gone now. She looks good.

Itís such a pleasant night, I stay here until 9PM, the latest Iíve been out in quite a while. But itís totally worth it.

One our way back, the Baronette fox trots by.

Today I saw: a badger, 3 grizzly bears (including 2 cubs), bison (and calves), sandhill cranes, elk, a fox, geese, a muskrat, pronghorn, a rabbit, 23 wolves (including 20 Junctions Ė alpha male, 907F, 1276F, 1341F, 1382F, 1384F, six more grays (blonde, drab and brown gray), six more blacks (mottled, skinny tail and mocha) plus both pups, and 3 Shrimp Lake wolves (1228F, alpha male and black yearling) and the spirits of Allison, Richard and Jeff.

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