DAY FOUR - Thursday, April 8, 2010


I head east at 6:30AM with a bright sliver of a moon high in the sky. It's warm today, 34 degrees and I drive with my window open. As I head slowly down the hill toward the high bridge I hear the thrilling song of a meadowlark.

I stop in a pullout and scan the sage. There, perched on a sturdy branch is the feathered singer. He trills again and again. Oh, what a sweet sound. How I love meadowlarks!

As I near the Wraith Falls lot I see elk on both sides, but they seem calm so I don't stop. The sky to the east looks quite dark, so I guess more snow is coming.

I stop to scope at Hellroaring in hopes that my grizzly will be in view again. But he doesn't seem to be around. Instead I hear a morning chorus of coyotes, followed by many honking geese. There are hundreds of elk grazing the hills, everywhere you look. And of course bison, too.

I head further east and hook up with the regulars at Boulder. Jeff has spotted some wolves way out there, on one of the slopes of Mom's Ridge, below where I saw the cougar years ago. A light snow is falling, which, combined with the great distance, makes this sighting pretty difficult.

I am able to see three blacks and two grays but Rick and the others see two more grays for a total of seven. No collars are seen so these are not members of any known pack. We refer to them as "The Unknowns", although Rick and Laurie speculate that they might be the pack that 755 and 754 were born into.

We all see ample bird activity in the area so we believe they have a carcass. Judging from their movements, we can guess where the carcass is but to me they seem to be wandering a lot so it's a little confusing. I ask Jeff how on earth he found them, and he says he was just panning in the area and found a grizzly at first, then he found the wolves.

There is some discussion of moving to a more advantageous spot and eventually we end up going to the big skier's lot west of Tower. The view from here is perhaps a quarter mile closer but all the tree trunks in the foreground make for additional problems. So we hike down the road to the hill above Rick's pullout. Once we get set up there the view is definitely better!

Once I stop huffing and puffing I make sense of what I'm seeing. The carcass is visible from here, well part of it, anyway, in a depression between a fallen tree trunk and what looks like a low, sparsely forested ridge. Beyond that spot is a fairly open slope and thicker forest beyond that.

Two wolves roam the open slope and on the carcass is a grizzly! I don't know if it is the same grizzly that Jeff saw in the beginning or a different one, but the bear is enjoying his meal! This bear probably came out of hibernation only recently and it really hit the bonanza!

Now we understand why the wolves were behaving so oddly. They are killing time waiting for the bear to leave. And it looks like some of them are getting quite impatient!

I watch one wolf walking on the fallen trunk towards the bear, while another seems to be sneaking up from behind. The bear notices them and lunges at the closest wolf, which leaps out of the way with ease. They keep this up for a while, using one tactic or another and finally the bear seems to tire of it.

He moves away, heading up the low ridge and further north. Suddenly wolves appear from every direction. I suppose several of them had been bedded in view the whole time but I had thought they were rocks or shadows!

Now there are five wolves gathered at the carcass, grabbing bites. Then the bear changes his mind and comes galloping back. The wolves scatter like leaves in a breeze. The bear reclaims the carcass and the wolves move off to the right and hold a rally to save face. This is the first time I see all seven - three blacks and four gray.

It seems they make a plan to sleep now and fight the bear later, because one by one they wander way and seek out bedding spots. Two of them, probably yearlings, remain restless and begin to play, chasing each other up and down the hill. Another one begins to mouse.

Then to our delight a second grizzly appears! This one is smaller than the other one. It walks down along the low ridge in and out of the trees. There is some back and forth between the two bears and it looks to me like they are not strangers. The large one chases the smaller one but soon comes back to the carcass. The smaller one is determined, however, and instead of leaving, it stays in the area, biding its time.

Eventually all the wolves bed and the second bear moves out of sight. The first grizzly is still feeding but is very difficult to see. With little activity to watch I begin to think of moving. So I head back down the hill to try my luck elsewhere.

While I am stopped at Tower I notice two elk standing stock still at the northwestern edge of Junction Butte. We wonder what the elk are looking at? According to the signals from this morning, 755 or 754 could be in the area. Or it could also be Narrow Blaze. As we ponder the possibilities, a bald eagle soars by, riding the thermals above the river.

The posture of the elk looks quite defensive, so we head further east for a closer look. I stop at Wrecker but find nothing there, and then head to Boulder. From here I find several bighorn sheep on the southern end of Junction Butte, so maybe the elk are simply staying out of their way? I see the bald eagle again, but no wolves.

I rejoin my friends back at Hellroaring. Rick says there are signals for the Silver Pack in the neighborhood, but no one can seem to find them. We have all been hoping the Silvers would den further east in Lamar, now that it is bereft of Druids. It's much harder to see densites from Hellroaring and we want a pack to watch in the Lamar. 8~)

The day has turned very warm; the temperature has risen all the way to 46! As the Silvers remain elusive I decide to take a journey into Lamar.

I stop at Elk Creek and scope here a while. So many elk! And there are courting red-tails here, too, As they soar overhead the sun turns their backs to a shimmer of reddish-gold.

And I notice a hatch of some sort going on - thousands of tiny insects rising, glimmering in the sun. I think the birds have arrived just for them!

This time of year is so amazing because there is hardly a single car on the roads. I can drive 20 mph and stop in places I never have before, enjoying views I rarely see due to the traffic in the more popular seasons.

There are lots of pronghorn in Little America and I see them in Lamar, too.

As I move slowly towards Dorothy's Knoll I hear high-pitched calls above me. I stop and see two red-tailed hawks, calling repeatedly to each other. They fly with their full-feathered legs extended, in an obvious courting ritual.

I stop and look out at gorgeous Specimen Ridge, and watch the wind blow snow off the cornices in beautiful spiral patterns. I notice many cracks in the snow-pack and realize they could come avalanching down at any moment.

The valley below is getting muddy but not yet green. Two coyotes mouse in the flats. As much as I miss the Druids here, I am happy for the coyotes. They have a chance to roam more freely than they have in years, and I hope that the elk will soon discover it, too.

I move on to the Confluence, looking for a bison herd to watch. I find a perfect group heading toward the river. I love watching animals cross rivers. I spend the next hour here, happily listening to their soft grunts and noticing the dynamics in the herd.

This is a group of cows, and most of them look pregnant. They are moving in almost single file toward the river bank, which gives way to a gravel border. Some individuals lower their heads for a drink before they cross; others walk right in. The water is shallow, reaching just above their knees, but there is a deep pocket in the middle, where each cow takes her time to navigate, in water up to her belly.

The footing is probably quite treacherous and each animal is in no rush to get across. Once on the other side, I am delighted to see another ritual that most of them engage in. First the cow sniffs around and paws the ground, kicking up a dust cloud. When she finds a patch of dry dirt that suits her, she lowers herself, kneeling front legs first, then folding her back legs, then flopping over to the side to roll in the dirt, kicking her legs up in the air and making loud snuffing sounds. After about four to six rolls, the cow gets up, shakes a bit and moves on.

Then I see another ritual. Around the bend of the river are some eroded banks, with a chalky/pebbly content, about three to four feet above the river. A cow heads there and begins to rub her chin vigorously on that bank, destroying some of the bank in the process. Dirt and pebbles rain down and a cloud of dust rises around the cow's head.

This must feel good to the cow, although it looks like she is deliberately excavating the riverbank, like a child playing too hard. All the while the herd is grazing and moving steadily to the east, grunting and snuffing to each other. Some of them cross the next loop of the river, and climb up the hill to the road.

Like so many ungulates in the Park, they seem to prefer the grass right at the road's edge. Why is that?

Watching bison like this also shows me that some individuals don't like other individuals. I witness some cows deliberately making other cows move, sometimes larger animals bully smaller ones, but I also see it work the other way around. There is probably some heirarchy at work that I have not yet deciphered.

I go slowly through the confluence area. The willows on the south side are flame-orange and so gorgeous against the sage.

I stop at the Footbridge for a melancholy visit to this once-bustling pullout. There is beauty in all directions, but the land of the Druids is empty. I know it won't always be so, but I do miss them.

I see another coyote and watch him hunt. He cocks his head right, then left, then gathers himself, leaps and nose-dives into the snow. He got it! Chomp chomp, swallow. He moves a bit to the right, then repeats the ritual, but this time comes up empty. Undaunted, he trots on.

I walk down the hill to the river and watch some ducks for a while. I'm quite astonished at the amount of mud that I bring back up on my boots. I spend a good 15 minutes scraping it off.

When I look up at Druid Peak I see it is shrouded in more snow. That snow reaches road level when I pass the Soda Cone. A rainbow appears and I drive right through it.

Silver Gate, here I come!

Today I saw: 2 grizzly bears, bison, mountain bluebirds, coyotes, a bald eagle, a golden eagle, elk, two pair of courting red tailed hawks, some kind of insect hatch, a meadowlark, pronghorn, bighorn sheep, 7 wolves from an unknown pack (3 black and 4 gray) and the spirit of Allison

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