We are up early this morning. It's minus 4 on the Blacktail Plateau and the temp is dropping as we go. At first light we reach the pullout near Crystal Creek where we get out in hopes of finding the Silvers again and to perhaps identify the additional gray.
But apparently they have moved on. We scope everywhere we can think of but find no trace of them. Then we hear a report of wolves near the Institute so we head into Lamar.
We find Rick and a few others set up across from the Institute, looking across the road into the tree-lined ridges above and behind the ranch buildings. It takes me a while but I finally find a wolf, but it's bedded and not doing much. This is 682M, one of the Wyoming threesome that I saw for the first time in October. The same wolves that roughed up Druid 571F and her brother, Triangle Blaze, as they tried in vain to protect their lone remaining pup. These same wolves were ambushed and sent packing two days later by 480M and his Druid troops.
But now that the Druids have been out of the Lamar for many weeks, perhaps these wolves are thinking of sticking around?
There is very little movement to watch, just enough to know that it is a wolf, and twice we get enough action to know there is at least one other wolf in the vicinity.
But it is SO COLD this morning, the coldest yet, at minus 17. The rising sun feels good but only manages to warm the valley to minus 6 by 10AM. I use hand-warmers for the first time and have to hop and take short walks constantly to keep the ache from my poor toes. But during this cold two hours, I show about 25 people their first wolf. It never ceases to thrill me to be able to do that.
Chloe and Becky have never seen these wolves, but they are well aware of their story, and there is a certain excitement in seeing such notorious individuals. For a while we think we hear howling a litte to the west but we do not locate the howler.
Around 10:30 we are forced to leave in order to warm up. We take a nice drive through the beautiful Lamar Valley and stop at the Confluence to check for otters. No luck, and no otter sign, either. So we continue our drive and end up going all the way to Silver Gate for a nice lunch at Beds & Buns.
On our way back we stop to glass the gorgeous ice falls on Barronette. The trees along the road are beautifully flocked. Along the Soda Butte steam is rising, which collects on the branches of the conifers lining the banks, dressing them in rime.
As we approach the Confluence again we hear that wolves are being seen from Boulder, and at first we plan to go there, but when we reach the Institute again we can't help but stop to check on the Wyoming wolves. Sure enough, they have moved from their spot. But a friendly couple has one wolf in view so they give us directions.
We find one animal in view, bedded in the snow, on a bench far below where he was this morning. He sits up for a few minutes and we recognize him as the youngest wolf in this group, the "uncollared black", so we are hooked again. Around 3PM this wolf raises his head and howls. We hear an answer and he turns his head behind him, but no howler appears.
This wolf now shakes and stretches and then re-beds, but before he settles down he rolls over on his back, legs in the air, in a gesture of complete confidence. Then he lowers his head and becomes nearly impossible to see!
While we wait for more action, we scope the river flats behind us. We see two coyotes mousing in the snow, both moving steadily west. And in the hills above the wolf we spy some bedded bull elk, and several bighorn sheep higher on the cliffs.
We fight the cold as this wolf offers barely an ear flick for the next hour, but as the sun begins to sink behind Specimen Ridge, I tell my shivering companions to hang on, that I am sure we will get some action once the shadow of evening chills his bedding spot.
Well, about 15 minutes after the mountain shadow reached him, suddenly Chloe says "here comes another wolf!" And sure enough, 682M saunters into the open from the west, heading for the uncollared black. He is quite recognizable due to his very white cheeks. And a few moments after this, 697M appears, swaggering over to the other two wolves. He is a dark gray with various light patches on his sides, face and throat.
We are so happy our efforts have finally paid off - these are three charismatic wolves; big, healthy males, who move with noticable confidence and power. We enjoy seeing their greeting ceremony - tails high and wagging, lots of muzzle licking and bodyslamming. These three have an unmistakeable bond and 697 is clearly the chief.
Both blacks offer 697 submissive greetings. Once that is done, 697 leans forward into a long, luxurious stretch. Now he rolls in the snow, kicking up its feet, then rising to all fours and shaking off the snow. The uncollared black mimics this behavior and then heads downslope to the right. He is about to disappear behind a low ridge when I see him stop and lower his head. It looks like there might be something to eat in that spot, something he knew was there before he got there.
The big black follows him, and he stops in the same spot, lowering his head. Now I see a few birds in the area so we suspect there may be some edible remains behind that low ridge. Now 697 trots down toward the spot. A magpie lands on the ground about 6 feet ahead of him. He lunges at it and the startled bird takes to the air, narrowly cheating death.
697 is the boss, alright! He disappears with the others and that's it for our sighitng. Short but very sweet and we all feel it was worth waiting in the cold to see.
We now head west and stop again at Boulder. There is no one here, so I volunteer to climb the hill and see if I can find wolves on Junction Butte. I scope all the usual places, but find nothing moving.
However, when I get back down to the pullout, Chloe has set her scope on Jupiter and we enjoy seeing 3 of its moons!
Finally we head for home. Tonight we have pizza and salad at Outlaws. Yum!
Today I saw: bison, 4 coyotes, elk, ravens and magpies, bighorn sheep, 3 wolves (Uncollared black, 682M and 697M, aka 682's Group, aka Miller or Hoo Doo or Wyoming wolves), Jupiter and 3 moons, and the spirit of Allison