Apparently, Yellowstone is under a severe snow watch until 6AM tomorrow. Chloe says the snow could turn to rain in the late afternoon but you never know. It sure feels like a serious storm, but I generally don't trust weather reports out here.
Chloe says the interior is supposed to get 17 inches. Honestly, it looks like we've gotten about half that already right here in Mammoth!
We confer with Calvin and Lynnette. They are still hopefull to see either the Canyons or the Quadrants. Calvin also reports a brief conversation with Laurie: the Lamar Canyon wolves were seen very this morning for a few minutes but now Lamar is in white-out.
We try scoping from Boiling River, and a few other lower Mammoth locations, but it becomes laughable. Snow this thick does not allow us even to see anything, unless its within 50 feet!
After trying for a frustrating hour, we recognize that there is nothing to do but to wait it out. So Becky takes a nap while Chloe and I take a walk along the trail to Boiling River. Usually this area is very crowded but today only one other car is in the lot. The driver of that car is ahead of us, we can see him up ahead on the boardwalk, hanging his towel in anticipation of his soak.
It's a perfectly pleasant place to take a walk, although we do have to brush the snow off our hoods and shoulders fairly often. We see a sweet little mule deer just off the trail, then two more. And we also see geese & ducks.
I have never taken this walk before and I enjoy it very much. It's good to get away from the road even a little bit, where you can hear the squawks of geese, the nagging chirps of magpies and the trilling of various other birds. I propose a theory that the reason a goose's squawk is so harsh and loud is so it can be heard over the noise of a rushing river.
We also see a lone bison walk down the hill, looking for a soak. Clearly this bison knows all about the hot water areas along this river and takes full advantage. She stands in water about ankle deep and lets the steam envelope her. Ahhhh.
We walk a little past the boardwalk, noticing interesting things all along the way. Then we wander back to the cars. There has been no let up in the snowfall.
We talk about going out to Lamar in spite of the unfavorable conditions. But first we check in with Calvin and Lynette. They relay the news that the Park may shut down the roads. Whoa. Looks like we are just gonna be whited out today.
I suggest to Becky and Chloe that perhaps we should spend some time taking a tour of the Upper Terraces. The are agreeable so off we go. The level of snow in this area is just not to be believed! There are amazing snow drifts which make strange formations. We take photos and fool around. It's not easy to get anywhere with snow this deep, but we get a good look at Canary Spring and several other spots.
When we get back to our cars again, I decide to call Laurie to see just how bad it is out east. I can't reach her so I try Rick. I am expecting him to say the Park has closed the roads, but instead he tells me to drive to the Blacktail and find Doug.
Well, this information changes the whole day.
The three of us decide to carpool, so I leave my car at the Chapel parking lot and gather all the stuff I think I'll need and haul it into the trusty Subaru. As we near Blacktail ponds, the sky begins to lighten. It's still snowing but a lot less.
We find several wolf watchers in the big straightaway lot beyond the new comfort station. We join them and find wolves right away. Yay! The Blacktails have a carcass, down low, at the edge of a line of willows on the other side of the road. The location is far enough for them to feel comfortable but close enough for digiscoped photos.
It is still snowing steadily, but it's no longer a white out. The carcass looks like an elk and it seems fairly fresh as I can see blood in the area. They probably got it this morning and have just gotten up from their nap. We call Calvin and Lynette to tell them to get their butts out here!
As I get set up I see two wolves on the carcass, they look brownish to me and I learn these two are considered "black". I remember the sort of "burmese" coloring on many of the Slough wolves once upon a time.
Now these two leave and head up the hill. Next a gray comes down, followed by another gray, this one with a collar. I notice the collared gray has spots of mange, and looks pregnant. We collectively realize we are looking at 693, the alpha female. She does a squat, then a back-scratch. The other gray joins 693 at the carcass and she snaps at him, bitch that she is. Um, I mean dominant. 8~) The uncollared gray moves off. Then another collared gray, large and deep-chested, comes down the hill. This wolf looks like a male to me. He joins 692 and she snaps at him, as well!
The consensus is that this is Big Brown, the alpha male, 778. With the two alphas together I get a great chance to see the size difference between them. His neck and chest areas are thick, where she is slim. He is used to her snaps and does not let her scare him away. They feed together for a while.
Now the snow falls more thickly, obscuring our great view. Both wolves move off and start uphill. The male has a chunk of meat in his mouth as he goes. Two more wolves come down the hill - both black. With four moving wolves and thickening snow it's hard to keep track of what is going on but at one point the alpha female chases the alpha male, wanting the meat he is carrying. He lets her have it and they both move uphill.
Meanwhile, the two blacks have reached the carcass. One of these two is Big Blaze and the other is the uncollared black female, who looks pregnant. Those who have seen the Blacktails more often than I have, believe that these two wolves are a "couple" and she may be carrying his pups.
The snow is really thick now, even obscuring two black wolves about a quarter-mile away. And the wind has picked up, too. I cover my scope and take refuge in the car to wait out this squall.
About 15 minutes later we pop out again. The blacks are gone, but another wolf is headed down the slope. This one is gray, with a very full tail and a robust body. I believe it is Medium Gray, the beta male, but others believe they saw hackles, which would make it a yearling.
Then another gray comes down. The robust wolf now heads back up the slope, taking a different route than the others took, which brings him past some flame-orange willows. He stops in front of them, making a great photo.
He moves on and when he gets about half-way up, he tosses his head back in a howl. Close as he is, we still don't hear him. But we do hear faint answering howls from the pack, bedded up above. Then we get a glimpse of the alpha female on the higher ridge, bedded at the base of a tree.
After that, the robust gray moves off. For a while we have no sightings. It seems that all the wolves that wanted to have their second breakfast have already had it.
We have glimpses of them in their bedding spot, but not as close as before. Of course, now is when Calvin and Lynette arrive! But after a while, a couple of coyotes arrive at the carcass. They were probably watching the whole time, waiting their turn.
A golden eagle flies in and feeds a while.
And then a wolf appears. Its a smallish gray, coming down the hill the same way the others did earlier. We peg this wolf as a female. As she nears the carcass she seems fearful and eventually turns away.
She might be nervous about the coyotes but we realize we might be talking too loud for her.
Anyway, we quiet down quickly and as if in response, a second wolf comes down the hill. They are visible long enough for us to show some first-time visitors.
I am now up to 10 wolves, and possibly 11, which is what I had yesterday.
For a while we watch more behavior up on the hill among the bedded wolves. One of the collared grays is 777F - a dominant yearling. She is known for not liking the pregnant black yearling. 777F comes over to where the black female is bedded on her side, minding her own business, and stands over her.
The black female responds by subserviently licking 777's muzzle, legs in the air. Apparently this is not subservient enough. 777 gives her a holding bite. Sheesh! Like mother, like daughter I guess. Laurie has told me there is strife in this pack, like there often was in the Slough pack, perhaps due to the example of alpha 693 who has pushed two of her sisters and one of her neices out of the pack already. Alpha 380 did this while leading the Sloughs. She drove out several sisters and nieces.
The snow is still falling and it seems that the wolves are bedded for the day. So we decide to start heading back west. We all have a date tonight, with Bob Landis and his Black Wolf movie. As we pack up we express our relief about how well this day turned out after all.
We have a lot of elk grazing the river flats and we are pretty surprised to see that most of the snow that fell today in Gardiner Canyon is already melted out!
We all meet again at the Association in Gardiner, along with many people from town. Bob is here to introduce his film and he makes us all laugh when he says "this film is basically a lie". But he praises the producers and script writers for coming up with words that are true in essence yet still fullfilling the mandate to make it an "exciting" story.
It's great to see Bob. He's had a foot operation and the boot he has to wear means his toes are exposed. So he has to avoid being out in this nutty weather, which I'm sure is hard on him.
The film is great, and he also plays one of the "DVD extras" for us. It's lovely to see 302 again and of course, the dear departed Hayden alphas. And I learn that one of the stand-ins for "Black Wolf" was the current Canyon alpha male, now known as 712.
Bob says his next film will probably be about bears. I also learn that someone has finally written a biography of him. I will be eager to read that.
Afterwards, Chloe, Becky, Calvin & Lynnette and I go to Outlaws for more pizza and salad. We have a blast as usual.
Today I saw: birds, bison, coyotes, mule deer, ducks, a golden eagle, elk, geese, 11 wolves of the Blacktail pack (including 693F, 778M, Big Blaze and 777F, as well as three other grays and four other blacks) and the spirit of Allison