When I come out this morning, I find Silver Gate shrouded in cloud. It's very dark and spooky. Yet the birds are chirping like always.
The drive in is pretty foggy, too. I have a bull moose cross the road at the end of the moose meadow. Wow, his legs are REALLY long!
My morning begins at Hitching Post but I'm not here long before I hear reports from the Trash Can area. I hike back out and head there but I arrive too late. Apparently Middle Gray was in sight south of the road for a while near Picnic. She then crossed to the north and took the usual route towards the ledge trail.
A whole lot of folk got to see her, and those with good eyes said she was carrying a chunk of red meat.
I continue west and see a ton of people in the lot south of the Institute but I find room next to Laurie & Dan up by the barn. Once I get set up, I see the Lamars made a kill last night. There is a carcass in the river corridor, being fed on by 859.
Judging by the small size, it was likely a deer or an elk calf. But what 859 is eating is fresh - the first fresh carcass I've seen in a week. Since nobody saw Big Gray or the Black Female this morning, it's a good bet that they already ate and carried food back to the den hills before first light. Middle Gray may have been the last to leave, or perhaps when people saw her she was returning from a second helping?
After so many days of seeing members of this pack scrounge for road-killed squirrels, it is a relief to know they finally got something more substantial.
For the next two hours, 859M treats us to an old-fashioned wolf sighting, meaning that it is far enough for safety, close enough for photos and lasts more than a few seconds.
Kevin & Tracey are thrilled with this sighting. It's the best wolf viewing so far for them. And there is another happy group here in the lot - folks I met last July. Ann and Rachel and Brendan and Lynn. Ann and Rachel rescued me from the bison herd on Exclosure hill last summer. They are a very handsome family, they love wild animals and are really good spotters.
While 859M feeds, the ravens grow impatient. A bald eagle, perched on a nearby snag, seems to be getting fidgety, too. In the years since the wolves came back, these birds have gotten used to easy meals, but this summer, at least in the Lamar, the cupboard has been pretty bare.
859M tugs hard and breaks off a piece of something, which he carries up the bank into the high grass. He plops down and begins to gnaw on it. The birds rush in, covering the remains in a flurry of black feathers.
After a while, the yearling wolf rises and moves off, first slightly uphill towards the treeline, then somewhat east. We watch him until he goes out of sight behind the cottonwoods.
I pick him up again from Mid-Point. He has stopped and stands looking towards the treeline. He seems to be aware of something out there, but I can't see what it is. He turns and starts for the road. Kevin sees something out there, another canid. It's a coyote. Two coyotes! Oh! They are after the wolf!
So that's what he saw! The yearling is now running with tucked tail back west. Wow, the coyotes are running full out and the are gaining on him fast.
Coyotes will harrass a lone wolf any chance they get, especially a young one, like 859. And truth be told, the Lamar Canyon pack has been pretty harsh on the resident coyotes this year, so there is no love lost.
859M runs right past our position, through the open flats of grass and sage. The feisty coyotes are really making headway when he finally kicks into a higher gear. The wolf makes it to the river corridor and splashes across. The coyotes pull up, panting.
The wolf stops, too, and turns to look back.
It's uncanny how a chased animal can sense he is no longer being pursued. I still don't know how they do that. Can they hear the sound of running feet that suddenly stops, or do they feel it through ground vibrations? I've seen it happen over and over.
Poor 859. He got his first decent meal in a week and now he just about ran it all off! I suppose he has suffered for the actions of his older sister. She was seen killing several coyote pups at two separate dens earlier in the year.
The coyotes seem satisfied with their work and trot proudly back towards the trees. The wolf stays in the river corridor and beds in the shade of the cottonwoods for a bit. After about a half hour he tries his luck again, heading east, toward the treeline.
This is how you can tell he's still a youngster. An older wolf would have waited longer. No sooner does 859 near the tree line but he is chased again by the same two coyotes. This time he quickly outpaces them and they give up quickly.
He stops just before the tree line.
The coyotes trot back east while the wolf parallels them the tree line. He skirts the edge of the small fan, then meanders towards the big fan. A deer appears at the apex of the big fan right at treeline. It stares at the approaching wolf, standing still as a statue, and then disappears in three quick leaps into the forest.
The wolf continues east below the spot where the deer went, hops the little creek that comes down the hill. Soon after this he enters the tree shadows and I lose him. None of us ever see him come out the other side, so we presume he is probably bedded in there somewhere.
I tell Tracey and Kevin that this is a proper wolf sighting, and they agree.
They are hiking the Specimen Ridge trail today, so they pack up and take off. I have agreed to meet them later so we can have a farewell dinner in Gardiner around 4PM. We want to dine early so we can be back out in time for the evening session.
Laurie and Dan decide to head in while I go back to Hitching Post. I still want to try to see those pups if I can. I scope for another hour, this time with old friends Jon and Steve from Massachusettes, and I meet their young son, Nathan.
We see pronghorn, sandhills, a hawk and a bald eagle, as well as bison (of course). And amazing beauty.
After a while, the sun gets to me, so I drive east and find a way to watch the bison herd while still being in the shade. I especially like to watch animals cross a stream. With many animals, they wil take care to choose a shallow spot, but I see many bison bulls in this herd do the opposite. They seem to see out the deep pools. They stand in water up to their bellies, soaking up the cool. Ahhhh.
And of course I enjoy their incessant sounds. The mooing of the cows to their calves is totally drowned out by the insistent bulls. I see some bulls pairing off for practice fights. But mostly what I see is pre-mating behavior. A bull will pick a cow and begin to follow her. Everywhere. The poor cow just wants to stand here and graze but the bull won't leave her alone.
The bulls have rubbed off all their winter fur and their summer coats glisten with health. Most of the cows still have shaggy patches clinging to them. Laurie thinks the females do this deliberately to spoil their looks, in hopes the bulls will not choose them. But it doesn't seem to work. The bulls are fools for love. 8~)
A lone bull walks down the center of the road towards me, leading a line of obedient cars. When he gets closes, I notice he is crowned with small pine branches and sage and sticks of various sorts, the result, no doubt, of his thrashing that vegetation earlier today. I say "I like your headdress" to the bull, from the safety of my car. He grunts and dips his head as if to say "thanks".
The Soda Butte creek has become quite muddy from the last two days' rain. Aha, that's why there are no fishermen out there today. Then I have a second thought, I guess their absence could also be due to the fact that there are BISON EVERYWHERE! 8~)
I head further east. Just past Pebble campground I see a cinnamon black bear. Wow, he is almost orange. Aha! This is probably the old bear that Ray was telling stories of the other evening.
Back in Silver Gate I visit with Laurie and Dan. Laurie shows me a photo of the rock slide that occured yesterday in the Corwin Springs area. There is so much rubble, it completly covered the highway and took road crews hours to clear it. I sure am glad I was not trying to get to the Bozeman airport!
Around 2:30 I head out again, I drive slowly past Pebble in case the black bear is still out, but he's not. Then I see a very odd sight. A black Jeep is way off the road to the north, half way up the hillside directly west of the Campground. Also on the hillside is a bedded bull bison. And next to the Jeep is a Ranger. Hmmm.
The Ranger speaks to the driver. After a while, the Jeep backs down the hill, then it is escorted by the Ranger to the Pebble Creek parking lot. The Jeep has left clear tracks in the soft grass.
What were they thinking?
But I never find out because I continue on into Lamar.
Just west of the confluence I notice an unusual sight. The river is two-toned, with a clear separation between the two water sources. The near side carries the muddy brown of the Soda Butte, while the far side preserves the clear blue of the Lamar. The two streams flow side by side, separate but equal, for about a quarter mile, after which it looks like they finally begin to mingle.
I stop and scope in various spots, taking my time through the beautiful valley.
I arrive at the Specimen Trailhead and park next to Kevin's car. After a little while I see them coming down the trail. They both look happy. I was a little worried that his hike would not be to Tracey's liking but she seems psyched.
They get out some cold drinks and pull off their boots and tell me all about it. They had a great hike, they loved the views and all the petrified trees - and they saw a badger!
We drive through the Blacktail and take the old stage-coach road out of Mammoth to Gardiner. It's very dusty but fun. We see a mule deer pair, several pronghorn and a hawk in a tree.
We had wanted to eat at Rosies but find it closed. Hmmm, we know there are limited choices in Gardiner and many restaurants do not open for dinner until 5:30, so we end up at Cowboys - which satisfies our two requirements: they serve steaks and are open right now.
We have a great time and it's a fitting farewell for our shared experiences. They are heading to the Tetons tomorrow. We have many hugs and I wish them good sightings.
An hour later, I am back in Lamar. I join Kathie at Mid-Point where we compare notes. We both think 859 is still out somewhere in the treeline above the big fan. Neither of us saw any activity on the carcass and there is no report from Hitching Post either.
Well, at least it's pretty here.
Laurie & Dan join us and we have a pleasant, quiet time. We see pronghorn and bison and birds. We lament the loss of our favorite wolves but try to stay positive for the future.
It's not the old days anymore.
We make it a fairly early night, packing up around 9PM.
TODAY I SAW: 1 black bear, bison, 2 coyotes, mule deer, a bald eagle, elk, a moose, pronghorn, ravens, 1 wolf
(859M of the Lamar Canyon Pack) and the spirit of Allison