Day Three - Monday, April 1


I'm out a bit late, but it's a crystal-clear, bright day, around 24 degrees. I feel so lucky to have these unexpectedly gorgeous days on this trip.

At dinner last night, Jeff told me someone had seen the bison calf nursing and that the mom had brought it over to join the herd. So I feel far more hopeful about its chances now.

I stop to listen to the ducks on the Lamar River this morning, and I see lone bison scattered throughout the sage flats. I still think Lamar is the most beautful valley in the whole world, no matter what season or weather.

But there are no wolves here. The Lamars are, apparently, still in Wyoming. There is no word, yet, on whether or not they will den there, or if 776 will den here in Lamar, but this late in the year, I feel Lamar may be without a resident wolf pack raising pups for the first time since 1996.

My first stop is Hellroaring, where I see my first (and only) wolf of the day - a lone black, most likely the Junction Butte pup. It's gnawing on what's left of the elk carcass from yesterday.

There is a rumor that the rest of the pack is further east. 889F is now the only collared wolf in the Junction Butte pack at the moment. Another black male had been collared, 890, but he was pushed out of the group recently, and no longer travels with the pack. He has not been seen for several days.

I watch a group of elk up on the high slopes. This is probably the same herd that lost one of its members yesterday. Some of the elk cows are chasing a group of bison. Hmmm, well, that's a bit odd. Most of the time these two species get along just fine, but I have seen bison chase elk, so I guess turnabout is fair play.

The black pup moves off to the west and disappears (how do they do that?). Shortly afterwards, a coyote comes into the carcass from above. He is very cautious, but soon is gnawing on the bones. That pretty much tells me there are no longer any wolves in the area.

So, I head back east and stop at Elk Creek, trying to help find the rest of the Junction Butte wolves. Rick is here and I overhear some light-hearted discussion about giving Puff a new name. The general idea is that it no longer fits his physical description and seems, well, kind of "soft" for an alpha male who can bring down an elk by himself. Then someone reminds Rick of the actor/singer "Puff-Daddy" who certainly does not have a "soft" reputation, and this pretty much ends the objections.

Of course, Puff got his name back when he had a terrible case of mange. He used to bring up the rear of the large Blacktail pack. He was nearly hairless, with a spray of fur at the end of his bony tail. I remember thinking back then that he would not likely survive the winter.

But he did. He also survived the Mollies, who killed at least two of his brothers, and is now firmly established as an alpha male of a now-cohesive pack. Sian says she thinks a "gentle" name is a good switch from the usual macho names given to pack leaders and I see her point. 8~).

After about an hour of fruitless scoping, I hear the bison calf is in view again, so I head east to Boulder. Alas, by the time I get there, the cow and calf have moved behind the Peregrine Hills.

So, instead I watch a pair of geese, several sandhills, and numerous bighorn sheep, both on Junction Butte and further north on the rocky spur of Mom's Ridge.

Becky & Chloe show up around 12:30 so we compare notes. They spent the morning at Blacktail Ponds, watching the floating/frozen carcass. At first light they had a grizzly on it, but he soon left. Then they had several coyotes come in and out of the area. Eventually they got their wolf of the day - an unknown gray, who showed up at the base of Mt. Everts. The gray seemed quite unwilling to come to a carcass so close to the road.

They watched this wolf a good while, until it disappeared, heading west. With the wolf gone, they went back to watching coyotes, and saw a total of nine!

They have just been up to Round Prairie and back, so we decide to head back to Blacktail Pones in hopes of more wolf sightings. We end up spending the next 3 hours here, watching various coyote interactions and the antics of ravens. I notice that some ravens have very fluffy heads and necks while the others' feathers seem smooth or oily. I wonder if the fluffy-headed ones are young birds?

At one point a group of ravens successfully mob a bald eagle, driving it away from the carcass. One of the coyotes begins to stalk a lone sandhill crane on the eastern side of the pond, but just as the coyote gets close, the crane simply lifts off and flies away.

The day has turned quite warm - it's already over 60! So Chloe & Becky entice me to go into Gardiner for some ice cream at the drug store/gift shop on Park Street.

On our way back we stop at Hellroaring again. We see lots of elk and bison, but nothing on the carcass, not even birds. We decide to head to Boulder to try to find the Easter Bison.

We scope from Boulder hill for about an hour. We finally find the cow, but never see her calf. We are sure it's still here and alive, because the cow stays in the area and seems to be continually looking at one particular spot on the ground.

A coyote trots toward the area - worrying all of us - but bison mom sees it and does not act concerned. She just stays right where she is, watching the coyote pass through. I begin to realize she may be more clever than I first thought. Her strategy seems to be to NOT call attention to her little one and no-one will be the wiser.

A little later some of her herd moves past bison mom, heading toward better grazing near the Peregrine Hills. Mom watches the herd go by but does not follow them. She watches their progress, but keeps looking back at the same spot on the ground. We become convinced she is looking at her resting calf. It's frustrating for us not to see the calf ourselves, and I try various different vantage points, but none of them work. We have to content ourselves with what we infer from Mama bison's behavior.

Kim and Joyce arrive and come up to join us. I introduce them to Chloe and Becky and we fill them in on the latest. Shortly after this we head our separate ways to home and hearth.

As I pass Warm Springs, I spot another bright blue bird flitting across the road ahead of me. Oh, they are so gorgeous!

TODAY I SAW: 1 blue bird, bison, 3 sandhill cranes, 7 coyotes, ducks, 2 bald eagles, elk, 2 geese, 2 hawks, pronghorn, ravens, a dozen big horn sheep, 1 wolf (the black pup of the Junction Butte pack) and the spirit of Allison.

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