I'm up in the dark, leaving Silver Gate just before 5AM. It's 44 degrees, which I consider quite pleasant.
The sky is still dark yet the birds are twittering like crazy. I feel very rested. As the light begins to grow it looks like we are in for a clear day.
I set up on the rolling hills south of Hitching Post, just like last night, but I hear no howling nor see any movement. A little after 6AM Bill H calls from Dorothy's. He's found some wolves, so I pack up and head thataway.
At the same time, Jeremy calls from Footbridge that he has two bears east of there. Hmmm, I think to myself, east for bears or west for wolves? I choose wolves. But by the time I get to Dorothy's they are already out of sight. Arrghh!
I set up anyway and scan the back of Jasper Bench. Bill says he saw several wolves in that area about 20 minutes ago, presumably members of the Junction Butte pack.
Laurie, Dan & Kathie are here, and Rick looks confident so I bet he has a signal or two. Bill H finds a black bear sow with two cubs, which I enjoy watching a while. I find a lone bull elk moving upslope, slowly, somewhat warily. Then someone calls out "wolf!" I swing my scope a bit west. Got him!
A black wolf travels uphill along a narrow trail on the hill behind Jasper Bench - part of Divide Ridge.
Then other wolves appear, one by one by one. Two grays above and two more grays below, then a second black over by a tree. Rick and Laurie ID them as Pull, Ragged Tail, Black Female, Black Male, New Male and, 870F!
They are sometimes on the trail and sometimes to the left of it, but they seem to be moving as a group in the same direction. In fact, they seem to be heading toward a herd of bison cows and calves, higher on the slope.
The wolves stop and sit on their haunches. The bison see the wolves and immediately react by "circling the wagons" around their calves, tails raised in agitation and warning.
The "front guard" bison have a stare-down contest and as soon as one wolf moves, the bison charge them and make the wolves run. The wolves evade them easily and pretty change their minds about having any success with this group. They skirt the herd and continue up the hill.
I am particularly happy to see 870F, because of her unusual history. She was formerly the alpha female of this pack but her neck was injured somehow during mating season. The injury lost her the alpha position to another gray currently called "Ragged Tail". Throughout the early spring, if she was seen at all she was mostly seen alone. But somehow she managed to survive. Now she seems fully integrated back into her pack, although she does not seem to have re-acquired her alpha status. Truth be told, she still does alpha-style scent markings, along with Puff and Ragged Tail, so her position in the pack remains confusing.
The fourth gray is the New Male. I'd love to report more details of these wolves but they were very far away and on the move the whole time and frankly, it was enough for me just to keep up with them. I do remember noticing that the Black Female has distinctly graying sides, unlike the Black Male who doesn't. Back in April, the New Male was seen walking gingerly on his front paws (as though he had injured them) and I don't remember seeing him walk oddly during this sighting.
Eventually they reach the crest of Divide Ridge and disapear over the other side.
It's a gorgeous morning, still cool. It's only a little after 7AM and I am unwilling to believe the wolf watching is over already. So I decide to head back to Hitching Post to try to see the Lamars.
I spend another two hours scoping the den hills with my buds. Then I decide to leave and go east for some reason. My timing is dreadful, because just as I leave the lot, Story and her dad have a brief but thrilling sighting of the Lamar pups!They see two blacks, which I think is the fourth time now that two and only two black pups have been seen. Looks like this is the sum total of pups for the Lamar Canyon pack this year. Well, as long as they're healthy, I say.
Laurie and Dan were on their way home when they heard the radio report of pups, so they turned around to come back.
I stop at the eastern end of Footbridge and see their car pull over at the eastern curve. They have just seen the Black Female north of the road. Rick joins them there while I stay here and scope the northern slopes.
And, sure enough I find a wolf! But my wolf has a collar. Hmmm. Turns out we are looking at two different wolves! My wolf is 859M, and he is coming down the slope towards the road. I never do see the Black Female, but she is adept at getting back to the den hills without being seen.
859M is a yearling male and quite the roaming loner. He is not very fond of the road. Even though the road is clear, he looks very nervous as he approaches it. He makes several starts, only to chicken out. Then finally he makes a run for it.
He bounds through the sage, leaping very high to see over the tall sage tops. It looks like he wants to continue south, across the creek. Trouble is, there are many fishermen working the stream, spaced widely apart, but no gap is quite wide enough for this wolf. He wants to avoid them.
He seems to chose a good spot and puts on some speed. Then suddenly comes to a dead halt. Another fisherman!!! He starts running again, but stops short yet again as another fisherman appears. None of the fishermen seem the least bit aware that a wolf is in the flats, trying to find a way across.
The wolf stands, perplexed. Finally he turns around and heads back to the road. He crosses again and trots up the northern slope, back to the den hills.
Just as he disappears from view, I hear a voice say "Wendy!" I turn around and see Kevin and Tracey, a couple from Maryland that I met last year. We had exchanged e-mails in June and found out we would be in the Park at the same time! They are staying in Canyon but knew they'd find me in Lamar.
It's great to see them but I'm so sorry they missed seeing the wolf.
We chat and catch up and tell each other of our sightings.
Note: Despite what a certain donation-seeking, self-promoting person's FB page has alleged about the fit of this wolf's collar, I saw no evidence whatsoever that it kept him from doing what all normal wolves do. I saw him lope, leap, walk, sit, sleep, rest, howl, and outrun two determined coyotes.
But now it seems the wolf activity has died down and most of the other wolf watchers have headed in for the afternoon. I suggest that we take a look at the osprey nest and they are game for that.
Tracey finds the nest right away and we spend about an hour here, watching both adults. I have heard there are three chicks, but I only see two - one a good deal larger than the other, as is common with raptor chicks.
Then we get a bonus! A little black bear is far below us in the canyon, walking along the boulder-strewn edge of the river. We follow him a while until he moves out of sight.
The osprey nest is quite large and the view is remarkably clear from this spot. Now I understand why so many have been commenting on it for the last two months. One adult on the nest has its wings spread to shade the chicks from the sun. It can't be easy to hold its wings out like that for so long. It is amazing and heartwarming to see this selfless parental gesture from a bird.
Then we see the other parent fly in. It drops a fish, then flies away again, making its high-pitched screeeeee call.
The three of us hang out, talking of this and that, until other adventures call us.
Eventually I end up at Laurie's and have a nap. In the summer months, when you are up before dawn and after dusk, it's really impossible to get by on five hours of sleep day after day, so I have learned to take naps, at least every other day.
This afternoon, I sleep for two full hours!
Laurie & Dan and I share a delicious dinner and invigorating conversation, then go back out for more wolf-watching. There was a little rain shower while I was sleeping but it's cleared up now, a mild 72.
Bill H called Laurie before dinner, to report a wolf sighting south of Picnic, so that's where we are headed.
But there is nothing at Picnic or Mid Point. Then, as I approach Hubbard Hill I see Story and her dad scoping to the southwest so I join them. There is a massive car jam at the pullout ahead - the one called YES. Cars stick out every which way in the pullout and line both sides of the road. People are everywhere, including about 10 photographers off the road in the grass to the south.
The object of everyone's fascination is a wolf - the Lamar Canyon Black Female. She is perhaps a hundred feet from the road, in the flats, tugging on something. It looks to me like an old carcass. Jeremy believes it's a bison calf that coyotes got a while back. When the wolf tugs on it, the hide is completely stiff. None of us see any sign that it's fresh.
Several people in the too-close group creep even closer and, of course, the wolf shies away. She stops to look back, as if trying to decide what to do, but the people do not retreat, so she gives up and trots further away. I guess some people just don't realize that when they encroach on an animal's space it will have an effect, and usually ruins the sighting for everyone. If they had remained at their cars on the road, she might have stayed a lot longer.
But what's done is done. The Black Female heads east for a while, then turns and quickly crosses the road to the north, before any cars can get going to stuop her. She travels up the slope quickly and disappears behind the hill.
Rick arrives and begins to deal with the haphazard parking and people in the road. I see several people walk right out to the carcass itself - bending down and nudging it with their feet.
The Black Female soon re-appearance on the far side of the hill. She has stopped for a moment but we expect she will continue moving on a route back to the den hills.
But she doesn't.
She comes back down to the road. A black wolf moving in daylight is 100% visible so car after car stops on the road to watch her approach. Rick really has his hands full.
For the next hour or so I watch the wolf as she comes to the road and walks along it. At first I am very worried that she is seeking handouts because she boldly walks between cars when she could easily avoid them. She crosses to the south, sniffs around a bit, then comes back again to the road. She does this over and over, so it is obvious she is not just trying to get to the other side. She is interested in the road itself. Then I remember what Laurie told me - she is looking for road kill. This time of year, the road is littered with the tiny corpses of ground squirrels which seem to insist on dashing in front of every car and getting hit. She is scavenging ground squirrels.
This makes me feel a little better about her behavior, but it is still very dangerous, for her and for visitors. But many people get the close photos they dreamed of but never expected.
A drizzle begins, but it's so light, most of us don't even cover our scopes, much less pull out our rain gear. The Black Female makes slow but steady progress east and finally goes back to the north side and heads further up hill, eventually aiming for the ledge trail.
Once she is out of sight I head to Hitching Post to try for a last look. A rainbow arcs across the road and it feels like I'm driving right through it!
From Hitching post Jeremy finds 859 bedded under a tree but we never see the Black Female arrive or any of the others. Two coyotes trot by behind us and some pronghorn skitter about in the river corridor. Further south, some bison run down the lower slopes of Norris.
I keep looking up in the den hills, hoping for pups. I think we all have that wish, but it doesn't happen tonight.
Ah well, time to head east.
I notice the fishermen are gone; Soda Butte creeks is empty of humans again. Just before I get to Trout Lake, I hear Jeremy report over the radio that 859 just crossed the road heading toward the month-old bison carcass south of eastern curve, which is probably where he was trying to get to this morning.
TODAY I SAW: 4 black bears (2 adults plus 2 yearling cubs), bison (and calves), sandhill cranes, 2 coyotes, 4 osprey (2 adults and 2 chicks), pronghorn, 8 wolves from two packs (including Junction Butte wolves Puff, Ragged Tail, 870F, Black Female, Black Male and New Male; Lamar Canyon wolves Black Female and 859M) and the spirit of Allison.