I am the first one up in the Tower Campground so I drive out as quietly as possible with just my parking lights on.
I have a quick breakfast down by the Tower store, watching first light arrive. There is a good deal of fog this morning as I wind down the mountain, and even more in Little America. I lower my expectations as I approach the turn in to Slough but luckily the cloud of mist hovers above and below the densite, leaving a visible strip of hillside just where we need it most!
I set up quietly and quickly near Rick and almost immediately we see 755 moving from right to left towards the diagonal forest. I strain to see pups or other adults but that's all we get.
The pullout is quite full, and there is a TV crew here. I see them talking with Doug Smith. He's such a nice guy, I am always glad when he's around. I learn from Rick that the crew is from the Today Show, which is doing a special segment on National Parks. This morning it is Yellowstone's turn. I am introduced to the producer, the cameraman and the interviewer, a chipper, friendly young woman who looks vaguely familiar.
It's a particularly cold morning and she is not dressed properly so someone offers her a pair of gloves and I offer her my extra fleece jacket. She gladly accepts both.
I meet various other regular wolf-watchers this morning; Barb from Bozeman, and trusty Doug M who shares his great photos, and I say hi to old friends Linda and Marshall. The wolf activity this morning is quite limited, but we remain optimistic.
A group of bull elk moves toward the den area and we wonder if their presence might prompt a reaction from the wolves. The elk go right to the knoll where the pups have been seen on other days, inspecting it thoroughly, sniffing all over. But no wolves appear.
Below us on the swollen Creek, several families of geese and gosslings entertain us, and there are the usual bison, coyotes and sandhill cranes.
The bull elk eventually wander higher up the hill and disappear into the trees. We notice a bald eagle perched on a branch and someone points out a pair of cinnamon teal.
The Today Show crew interviews Doug and Rick and then talks with various regulars as well, including me. Little did I know, then, that part of my interview was destined to be broadcast when the show aired on June 28th.
At about 8:30 the sun finally breaks through the overcast and we finally warm up. I am always hopeful that a sharp change in temperature will cause some renewed activity in a wolf pack, but this time it doesn't pan out.
So I head east to see what else the valley has to offer.
I scope from Coyote Overlook, watching bison and elk and I spend some time just watching the surging river an all the flooded areas it has made.
But then I overhear a report that someone has spotted one of the Silver Pack wolves down in the rendezvous area so I head that direction. I join a group of people set up on Trash Can Hill but by the time I get Layla set up, the old guy has already disappeared into the forest.
The Silver's have denned somewhere on the forested hill behind and slightly west of the old Druid's rendezvous area, and once they head into the trees they are pretty much out of sight.
I learn that the old guy of the Silver Pack had been in view earlier on the eastern foothill but he has already retreated to the cool of the forest. The day has certainly warmed, and I am shedding layers of coats!
Then we hear that another Silver Pack member is away from the den, hopefully still in view. This is the uncollared gray female, who was seen earlier from the confluence feeding on that old bison carcass I saw when my sisters were with me on Saturday. She has now left that spot and is presumably headed back to the den area.
Very soon she is spotted out in the sage flats, east of the old Druid rendezvous site. I see her! She is a very pretty wolf, with a distinct upward curl to her tail. She looks a bit thin to me. She and her alpha female mother were both observed to be pregnant and it is assumed they both gave birth to pups.
Note: Silver Pack pups were finally seen about two weeks after my visit. As of early August, the Silvers have four surviving pups - probably two from this female and two from the alpha. The size difference in the pups indicates they were born a week or so apart; and it is likely the larger pups are the alpha's. (end)
The young mother wolf trots with purpose through the sage and grass, dropping out of sight into a gully then popping out again. She sometimes stops to mouse or sniff something. Eventually she heads towards the treeline at the base of Amethyst Mountain. There is a fallen stump at the edge of the trees which seems to interest her a great deal.
For a few moments, she trots straight towards us, finds something in the grass, probably an old cache, then doubles back and disappears into the trees.
Finally, after four days of trying, I finally get my first "normal" wolf sighting!
The crowd disperses with many happy faces. I chat with Rick a while, and ask some questions I've been storing up. It's always enlightening to hear his responses.
The day has turned spectacular - a typical Yellowstone summer day: warm and clear with high, puffy clouds. I drive to the confluence to sit and watch the river flow. I see many bison and pronghorn and also scattered bands of elk.
The river has gone down considerably in the two days since I was here with my sisters. It's still quite high, but some sandbars are now visible and there are mud flats and channels that were not seen two days ago.
The area south of 21's crossing is flooded again and oh how the willows seem to love it!
It's nice and quiet in these parts and I feel the spirits of Druids past hovering about. Well, if wolves are scarce, perhaps I can find some bears. And the best way to do that at this time of the day is to head west.
I have to go all the way to Elk Creek before I find one - a lone black bear, probably a boar, about medium sized, prowling the downed-tree area north of the curve. I watch him a while until he drops down into a gully.
At Floating Island Lake I stop to watch the sandhills. I also find a pair of geese with little goslings, and various ducks. A mallard couple seems to be having a spat with an American coot.
Across the lake at the base of I tree I notice a marmot. He sniffs around and nibbles on grass here and there. He seems pretty far away from the jumbled basalt hill on the western side of the Lake. But then I notice a dark spot just behind the tree - an opening to a tunnel. Aha! Good for him!
On the top branch of that tree is a gorgeous mountain blue bird.
I decide to pay a visit to the Tower Store but I am waylaid at Rainy Lake where I find another bear jam - this one for a black bear sow plus two yearling cubs. Nice! They are just on the far side of the Lake, browsing the grasses and forbs. Mom looks quite wet, as if she may have gone for a swim, while the cubs look dry.
Unlike cubs of the year which always seem to have such boundless playful energy, these yearlings are quite serious. They move with determination from one tasty morsel to the next, following in mom's footsteps. But when they get to a tree, they begin to squabble and one chases the other around the trunk. It is just a spat, though, and soon they settle back into grazing.
Mom is all business, and I can almost sense her relief that she does not have to be quite as vigilant with her older cubs as she must have been last year. And then it occurs to me that I may very well have seen this family last spring. Of course I can't be sure they are the same bears, but I like the thought.
After a bit more exploring I head back to Slough to take up the watch for the Lamar Canyon pups. The sky has become overcast again and we get a bit of rain. I spend almost two hours scanning the den area and the diagonal forest, but see no wolves. I do find elk, bison and sandhills.
So to change my luck I head east and set up at Mid-Point. I systematically scan the area where I last saw the uncollared female of the Silvers this morning. I don't find her, but I do see a large herd of bison with dozens of calves and enjoy watching their small family dramas play out. Two calves have endless fun running back and forth across a small creek that cuts across the flats. They splash across one way, wheel and turn and splash across the other.
Here and there are small bands of pronghorn on the fringes of the bison herd. And I find several bull elk in the neighborhood, too.
I also scan in other directions, because you just never know. I find a collared grizzly on Amethyst bench, wandering slowly up the hill toward the line of trees. In the opposite direction I find a grizzly far, far away on what I think is called Cache Mountain - the one behind Norris, anyway.
Around 7PM Rick pulls in and we chat. He tells me signals indicate the Silvers are in their den forest, so I stay at Mid-Point while he goes on to Slough. I hear from him later that a single black adult was seen there.
The sun sinks and magic hour arrives. The cottonwoods are silhouetted in beautiful golden light. In between their trunks walk a dozen cow elk with six calves. The calves begin to romp aroun d, kicking out their spindly legs.
Two of the cows rear up against each other in a minor squabble. Then one by one, the calves drop down in the high grass to bed, leaving only a brown triangle - a nose and two ears - still visible.
I turn back to the rendezvous area and see that the slight drop in temperature has an effect on the herds here. Groups of pronghorn begin to run, then some bison calves follow suit, then some adult bison join in. They all seem to just be running for fun, because it is a beautiful evening, because they are with their family and friends and they feel good.
I report my no-wolves to Rick and head west. A Ranger SUV heads east with lights flashing, then an ambulance and a second Ranger pick-up. I find out the next day that it was to help a couple whose camper was demolished in a crash near the Northeast Entrance. I certainly hope those folk survived.
As I come down the curves to the Yellowstone Bridge, a half-dozen mule deer stand like statues on the opposite hill. Goodnight deer, I say.
Today I saw: 4 black bears (including 2 cubs), 2 grizzly bears, 1 blue bird, bison (with calves), sandhill cranes (with 2 colts), a coyote, mule deer, elk (with calves), geese (with goslings), a marmot, pronghorn, 2 wolves (755M of the Lamar Canyon Pack and the "uncollared gray female" of the Silver Pack) and the spirit of Allison.