DAY ELEVEN - Tuesday, January 23

IN SODA BUTTE VALLEY

This morning is a re-run of yesterday, plus a trace of overnight snow on the car.

My first stop is at Footbridge, where I listen (in vain) for howling. Laurie and Dan come by and we decide to try Picnic next. But there is nothing to see here either. Laurie and Dan continue west to Dorothyís while I linger here a while, checking the northern hills.

Then I see Jeremy drive by, heading east. So I follow, thinking he might find the Shrimps.

As I approach the Confluence, an ermine dashes across the road from river to cliff. Nice!

I find Jeremy and Taylor at Soda Butte Midpoint. They donít have Shrimps but Junctions. The pack is traveling east on the north side of the road, right at the tree line.

I radio Laurie to ďcome eastĒ.

I count four wolves, three grays and a black, but they go out of sight quickly behind a hill. I am confident Iíll see them again, though.

Sure enough, the wolves re-appear in the next opening to the east. Cars are arriving. Laurie and Dan head to Soda Butte East, where Bob L is already set up.

So often in winter, deep snow makes it hard to find safe spots to pull off the road. This year we have no such problem!

Cars and tour vans fill up the midpoint lot as well as two ďlogsĒ dirt lots further east.

For a while the Junctions are in excellent view. Without Laurieís help I still manage to ID the alpha male and the pup. Next, I see an uncollared gray, then 1385F. At the rear is dear old 907F, taking her time.

There is another opening further east and I see there are wolves ahead of the alpha group; a black and two grays. These three soon reach a hillside south of Soda Butte East lot, an area very familiar to me, as Iíve seen numerous packs here over the years.

There is a hollow about half-way up this hill, in which a substantial number of aspens grow. The aspen actually surround a pond in the hollow, which cannot be seen from the road.

One day in March several years ago, I saw not-yet-yearling 1228F burst out of the trees at the top of this hill, close on the heels of a bull elk which she chased all by herself down into the hollow. She and her pack mates eventually took it down (out of sight of course!) and fed for several days.

We donít see that kind of action today, but I am delighted to be watching wolves on this hill again.

907 beds down. Another gray beds on a boulder. The alpha male beds near 907. One collared black continues roaming east, looking ahead.

Around 9:15, I notice a different black by itself at tree line at the apex of the slope. A gray below the black runs up to the black, then suddenly all the wolves are up and moving to the top of the slope, tails high, including the alphas. They may be having a rally or greeting a wolf that just arrived, or perhaps they caught the scent of something that interests them.

Itís impossible to tell.

Whatever it is, it draws the whole pack up and over the top of the slope. In a New York minute, they are all out of sight.

After about 10-15 minutes of no wolves in view people start to leave. Some go to Round Prairie to see if they might continue east and re-appear there. My thought though, is that the wolves went north. There is a whole lot of country back there.

Itís kind of early to go in, though, so I suggest we drive to the Confluence, to scan for another otter sighting. We do that but donít find him.

Ah well.

This is my last full day for a while, so I head in to start packing.

Today I saw: bison, coyotes, two bald eagles, an ermine, 8 Junction wolves (including the alphas, the pup, 1385, 3 grays & 1 black) and the spirits of Allison, Richard and Jeff.


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