I leave Silver Gate for my last day at 5:08. First light has arrived and the day is already warm at 54 degrees. The sky seems overcast but the birds are singing like crazy!
At the "Entering Wyoming" sign I have three mule deer cross the road, and see two more hanging back in the trees just as I pass.
At Round Prairie I finally see in Yellowstone what eluded me in Teton - a moose! It's a nice-looking bull, just reaching the edge of the meadow, heading into the trees. I pull over and watch it through my binocs. He looks back over his massive shoulder, then moves further into the trees. Yay!
A short but sweet glimpse!
On I go into the valley. I park at Hitching Post, pack up my gear and head out to the rolling hills. Today is my last chance to see pups so I am going to try my hardest.
A crowd begins to gather and soon we have our first wolf sighting - it's Mama 06 herself. She comes down the hill and stands in profile on the "eyebrow" rock. She howls! We hear a response behind her, the unmistakeable sound of puppy voices. We strain our eyes to see, but no puppies appear.
Now the 06 heads a bit to the west, then turns and comes back. Next another wolf appears behind her, , one of the gray yearlings. Anticipation is high. Then suddenly I see a small, brownish shape and a small black shape, dashing down the diagonal hill towards the two adults. At last! Puppies!
And then we see a second black pup! It just pops out from behind a tree trunk. The gray pup (gray pups always look kinda brownish to me) races back up the hill and I see another gray yearling in the area. Oh, how sweet, this yearling is playing with the pup!
The little darlings are very hard to see in this light on a sage hill but we do try to help the visitors without scopes. I know how frustrating it is to hear others talking excitedly about seeing pups and not having the wherewithall to see them yourself! When people get up this early on their vacation to stand out in the wild morning air, I think they deserve a look through a scope!
I see the 06 and one of the yearlings head to the east over the next hill and out of sight. I have the impression that she wants to go south, across the road. She is smart and will likely pick a place away from the mass of watchers here.
The pups have vanished back up the slope into the trees. We keep our eyes peeled but I do not see them again. I had them only for about a minute. Rick feels he saw 5 total but I saw only three. Still I am glad there are blacks, because they are always so much easier to see. 8~)
A little while later, we hear from a visitor that the 06 and the yearling did cross the road - just east of the Footbridge lot. Then, to the visitors' delight, she and the yearling crossed the Footbridge itself! We hear another report that a bison carcass has been seen out in the old Druid rendezvous area, and that there are bears on it.
We pack up to head there.
The summer months often provide a welcome treat for the carnivores of the area. Bison can develop severe cases of bloat and often die from it. From what I've been told, when they eat too much green stuff too quickly after a hard winter, the gasses build up inside them during digestion and sometimes kill them.
The past several years, bison have dropped dead from time to time, usually in July. Although it's possible that wolves or bears might have come upon a very sick animal and hastened its death, it is generally thought that the bison would have died anyway.
When we get set up on Exclosure hill, we find a great show already in progress. The bison carcass is quite visible just east of the middle foothill. One grizzly is feeding happily on it and another grizzly is walking away from the area to the west, as if it's already had its fill.
I figure the 06 and the yearling are aware of this bounty in their home territory. I bet she wanted to head that way when we first saw her, but is now taking the long way around.
I also see a black wolf nearby, bedded, waiting somewhat impatiently for his turn at the free meal. It's 755M, the alpha male. He was somewhat injured in June and limped for a while, but when I see him walking today he seems fine.
There is also a lone, bold coyote hanging about, hoping for a scrap or two.
We speculate about this carcass, wondering if it died in the night and the wolves may have already fed on it before the bears found it. We'll never know, of course.
A third grizzly shows up and looks like he is thinking about pushing the feasting bear. The feasting bear stops eating and just sits on the carcass. I suppose that is his way of telling the other bear who is king. But 755M is not happy. He wants a bite. He moves in while the feasting bear is distracted by the new arrival.
He nips the bear on the butt! The feasting bear turns, mouth open, probaby growling. I wish I could hear it!
Now 755 nips him again and the feasting bear lunges at the wolf, then swats sharply at him. Luckily for 755, the bear misses.
But 755 makes his point. The feasting bear doesn't care for the double trouble: a wolf biting his butt and another bear's challenge puts him off. He begins to walk off to the right, very nonchalant. He tries to make it look like he really doesn't care for bison meat at all.
755M wastes no time. He moves in, quickly. Uh oh!The feasting bear's dignity is assailed. He wheels and gallops back to reclaim the carcass. The other bear is still standing exactly where he stopped, watching the drama.
755 moved too soon and now has to retreat. He beds about 50 feet away, staring at the bear as if planning his next move. The feasting bear goes back to his feast with a vengeance. The other bear still watches from a distance.
After a few more minutes of gorging, the feasting bear moves off to the right again, assuming nonchalance. This time, 755 waits for him to get further away. Interesting! It looks like he "learned his lesson"! When the feasting bear is twice as far from the carcass as he was before, 755 gets up and slinks toward the meat. He makes his precious seconds count, rips off a huge chunk of meat and trots off with it in his mouth to the middle foothill, where he can chow down in peace.
Now the third bear makes his move. He rushes to the carcass and feeds a while, then flops down on his belly with his back legs spread out!
Someone calls out about another bear. It's a fourth grizzly, ambling along the riverbank from the west, surely drawn to the carrion. I watch the bear makes it's way east, as the sun climbs over the shoulder of the hill behind us.
Alas, it's time for me to head back to Bozeman.
I take a last look at the beautiful valley I love so much. The flats are filled with bison, elk and pronghorn, and in front of me is a predator's feast.
I pack up Layla, say my goodbyes and head down the hill. On my way out I stop again at Floating Island Lake and find the crane and the geese still sharing space on the little grass strip.
I listen to the bird song at the Ponds. I just can never get enough of those yellow-headed blackbirds! I stop in Mammoth to say goodbye to Allison and notice that some of the hills down here are already drying out!
Once I'm on the highway I am pelted by a ferocious rain storm that becomes so heavy I have to pull off the road for a while until the worst is past.
Once the rain passes, I decide to take the Divide Road to Trail Creek back to Bozeman, which affords me additional views of wild iris and several blue birds.
I take a deep draught of clear, fresh mountain air and try to keep it inside me as long as I can.
Today I saw: 4 grizzly bears, bison, 1 coyote, 5 mule deer, elk, a bull moose, pronghorn, 7 wolves (all from the Lamar pack, including the 06, 755M, two gray yearlings and 3 of their 5 pups) and the spirit of Allison.