I head out in the dark as usual, but this morning my first stop is at Footbridge.
Rick has 859's signal somewhere to the south. I scope with the other early birds for a while but when we do not find him, I decide to try from a different angle.
I hike out to the rolling hills and find Ann and Ryan already here. They tell me they just saw the Black Female in the den hills chasing a mule deer! Since they have no radio, I call in their sighting to Rick.
They also tell me about seeing the Lamars last night at Trash Can after we left. Ryan continues to see some kind of movement in the den hills but can't tell what it is, so he hikes over to a different knoll and tries from that angle. Sure enough, in a few minutes, he calls to us that he sees Middle Gray, resting on her side.
Ann and I join him and thanks to them I now see my first wolf of the day. Middle Gray's demeanor suggests she is not alone. She lifts her head several times, and seems to be looking at other wolves.
It's maddening not to be able to see through the trees!
As the sun finally peeks over the eastern hills, she gets up and stretches. She looks down slope with interest. Her tail starts to wag! And up the hill comes a little black pup to greet her! Oh, how sweet. Then two more wolf-shapes come up from below - (none of this sighting is clear - I just piece together what is probably happening based on bits of movement I catch between the branches!) It's nutty! 8~)
People call out sightings right and left, and it is impossible to follow. I give up on my scope and just use my binoculars. I focus on the most open space, the badger hole hill. Eventually I am rewarded when a gray comes into view and stops. Aha! This is not Middle Gray, so it must be Big Gray. This is my first view of him. I note his size and mottled coloring. He stands broadside for a few moments, looking downhill, clearly seeing other wolves.
Suddenly the Black Female appears next to him. Oh! She is doing a fanny dance, really putting on a flirty show! He does not seem at all interested, and keeps a strong focus downhill, either on Middle Gray or the pups, or both. Then he and the Black Female trot down slope and I lose them again! For the next few seconds I catch fleeting glimpses of wolf bodies and wagging tails moving east.
Next we are treated to a pack howl, with many voices, including pups!
Looks like they are heading out.
Some folks pack up and drive to Foobridge. I contemplate staying here in hopes they will climb up Dead Puppy Hill which can be seen from here. Bill H is at Footbridge now, and soon reports three animals have just crossed the road at 480's, continuing south.
I arrive at Footbridge in time to see them moving through the high sage in the rolling hills east of Dead Puppy Hill. We are looking right into the sun so even though it's relatively close, it's a hard spot. But eventually I see all three: Big Gray, Black Female and Middle Gray.
I expected them to climb up Dead Puppy, but instead they are on a course east of there. Rick says this is one of their typical routes - it leads to a pass over Norris and toward Cache. They are going in the same direction that Rick had 859's signal, so they will probably pick him up somewhere along the way.
I watch them until they disappear into the trees.
In addition to the wolves, we also have two grizzly sightings this morning: one on the K meadow, and one down low, just at the edge of Dead Puppy. This low bear is especially nice looking; I love how his fur glistens in the morning sun.
We keep scoping, hoping to pick up the traveling wolves as they head up Norris. I do find an elk cow with her calf, silhouetted right on the Norris skyline. The two animals remain up there, right on the edge, for an hour and a half. Given their stance and their frequent focus to the south, I imagine they are aware of the wolves moving through the area, and have chosen this spot as a defense.
Tracey and Kevin arrive and I show them my elk. We chat and I make some coffee. They invite me to drive east with them to look at the Great Gray owl nest. They heard about it from other photographers, who have been watching the nest and its two owlets for the last two months. The owlets fledged very recently, which means the nest is no longer the center of activity but the big birds are still likely to be around.
So, now that the wolf action seems to have died down, I head east with them.
We park in the big lot opposite Warm Creek and walk back along the road to a northern meadow with a culvert in it. It's quite warm and very buggy today, but the area is full of wildflowers and birdsong. I tell them I've never gone owl-hunting before!
We scan all the trees and they walk me back to where the nest can be seen. It's huge, but not as high as I expected it to be. There is a faint trail and a few small areas with beaten-down vegetation, where photographers have stood to watch the show.
But momma is not on the nest, so it becomes a challenge to find her. After about a half hour of looking, Kevin makes a truly great spot and calls out softly, pointing. Tracey and I clamber over a lot of deadfall to join him.
And there she is, perched in a tall douglas fir, about a third of the way up, which is to say about 25-30 feet. Her huge talons grasp a thick branch, quite close to the main trunk. She is mostly in shadow and some dappled light, making her hard to see, which I'm sure is not accidental. But I do see her, and she is enormous!
A great gray owl.
Flushed with this success, we again scour the forest, quietly and methodically, searching for her two owlets. Several times we hear and see the momma make soft calls, but do not hear any response. The youngsters are most likely quite nearby but we do not find them.
In the meanwhile I enjoy the wildflowers. Being even this short distance from the road is a great feeling, reminding me of all the other things Yellowstone has to offer. Yes, we got bitten by eager skeeters and biting flies, but we are in a gorgeous, healthy forest, in the domain of animals. Once when I turn to look behind me, a little Least Weasle dashes along a fallen log.
Eventually we call it a day and head back to our cars. On the way back we talk about the road over Dunraven to Canyon and all of the interesting sights from up top. So I decide to accompany them.
Soon we are driving west again. As we pass Footbridge and Hitching Post, the lack of cars and scopes tell me that there are no wolves in view at the moment.
In Little America we see a jam developing in front of us. There are so many people I begin to suspect it could be for a black bear, but when I ask what is being seen, an excited woman points south and says "deer"! As I look in that direction I see a small band of pronghorn "deer" bedded on the next hill. Aha.
Just past the Yellowstone River Bridge we get a REAL bear jam. It's one lone bear wandering up the hill above the river. Big John is here so I stop to say hi to him and chat a bit, while Kevin and Tracey snap photos.
After we make the turn at Roosevelt, I see the difference between driving this road on a Monday versus a Sunday. We are halted by the construction for over a half hour. I use the time to have a snack and to re-apply my sunscreen, as well as continue chatting with Kevin & Tracey.
The road crew includes a truck that goes back and forth spraying water in an effort to keep the dust down. It really helps!
And once we get up top, the views are great. It seems to me that the Antelope Creek burn from a few years ago is hardly noticiable now. I point out the Fox Butte, some of the areas where the Agate pack used to be seen, and I tell them about Coffee Pot.
On the other side of Dunraven we stop at the Washburn Springs overlook. The views are outstanding and the air is so clear we even see the Tetons!
On our way down we have a bear cross the road, just before the Cascade Lake trailhead. It's a cinnamon black bear with unusually long legs.
After this we pull over to say our goodbye's for the day. I decide to visit the Canyon gift shop to get souveniers for my office staff. But I am totally unprepared for the blast of humanity and crush of vehicles at Canyon.
I am just about to flee when a parking space opens up. So I go inside after all. And I'm glad I did because I found some perfect items as well as a pair of earrings that matches the ones I got last year - since I've already lost one!
I had inititally thought I would drive out to Grizzly Overlook, despite the mid-day timing, but I'm so un-nerved by the summer crowds that I just want to get back to Lamar.
As I wait my turn to make a left, a mule deer skitters across the lot, bolting toward the relative safety of a tiny island of trees. I feel just like that deer! I get enough of crowds in New York. I want my vacation to be different. 8~)
I drive back over Dunraven and soon find the pleasant quiet and open space I crave. I stop up here where the signal is best and check my phone. I find an intriguing message from Chloe & Becky. Since we missed seeing each other in the Park this summer, they suggest I come to Missoula and they will take me to Glacier. Hmmm. Very tempting indeed!
Construction on the way back is really easy, and I am now driving through Lamar Canyon.
I get back to Laurie's and visit with them a bit, then head back out for the evening session.
We spend two pleasant hours scoping and chatting, but see no wolves. They are most likely hunting to the south and will return at night with food for the pups.
In the meanwhile, we are entertained by a big grizzly on the K meadow, several nearby pronghorn, and many sandhills, as well as some particularly cute kids.
We pack up around 9:15 and head in for the night.
TODAY I SAW: 2 black bears, 3 grizzly bears, bison (with calves), sandhill cranes, deer, elk, a great gray owl, pronghorn, 1 weasel, 4 wolves (all Lamar Canyons - Middle Gray, Big Gray, the Black Female, and one black pup) and the spirit of Allison