This morning we leave extra early in order to be in Lamar by first light.
A beautiful full moon accompanies us on the drive, going in and out of clouds quite dramatically. At Phantom Lake we have to stop for a huge bull elk in the road, stradling the center line. He stands there, a most impressive creature and we are happy to admire him.
Eventually he moves away from the center line and begins to nibble at the side of the road.
Chloe sees her opportunity and slowly drives past him in the opposite lane. I follow. He lifts his head as I pass him, and the view through my passenger window is amazing. He dwarfs my car!
The temperature gauge reads 4 degrees, making today our coldest day yet. By the time we get to Lamar it has warmed all the way up to 10!
I pull in at Picnic and in a few seconds, I have wolves in view. Lamar wolves! Finally!
These are the same three wolves that others saw yesterday. They are bedded on a low slope on the north side of the road, two levels up. I recognize 755M, former mate of the 06, and two of their daughters: 776, a very pretty gray, almost three years old, and 820F, a slightly lighter gray who will be two in April.
I never thought I'd be seeing these three without the 06 or 754M nearby somewhere. It is bittersweet.
I'm happy to say they look generally healthy. 820 seems extremely subservient to her older sister, 776, licking her muzzle and rolling on her back a little. Other than a bit of stand up, turn around, they are not very active, but it is enough to show us they look full.
It is very touching to see them here, after all that has befallen them, and several of us get a bit weepy. They look completely normal, except that there are only three of them. The question continues to gnaw...where are the others?
It is soon discovered that these wolves have a carcass nearby. In fact, a bison carcass. That ought to feed them well for several days. It's out of sight from this pullout, due to the slope of the hill and a gully behind it.
Around 8AM, 755 gets up and moves downhill towards the carcass. He disappears and many birds fly out. After a while, the females follow him into the gully. They manage to have a second breakfast, but then some people walk out from the road and spook them off.
Rick drives down to ask the people to come back and they do, but, alas, the damage is done. The threesome moves back uphill, climbing higher than they were before, and pick bedding spots among some snow-covered boulders. 776 seems a bit restless - her head is up most of the time. Perhaps she is taking over her mother's guardian role?
Three coyotes appear in the river corridor, including one with a dreadful case of mange. Half his tail is bushy, the end half just a bone. The coyotes squabble with each other on the frozen river, sorting out the heirarchy.
There are several bald eagles perched in the cottonwoods south of us, flying back and forth to the carcass. I watch one return to his high perch with a fairly large portion of meat in his talons. He proceeds to tear off slivers with his beak while several ravens and magpies wait in the lower branches, waiting for fallen scraps.
Some folks leave for a while to try to find the Junction Butte wolves, but they remain elusive.
I settle in for a long, cold viewing of these Lamar wolves. Several of us take turns showing them to the people who stop by. We give the wolves' brief history and again I am amazed that so many people already know that the 06 was killed. Most of them have never seen her, but they knew what happened. I make sure they know these two grays are her daughters, and that 755 is her former mate.
Around 3PM the wolves begin to stir. They treat us to some sweet bonding rituals and a short howl. 755's voice is deep and significantly lower than the females. 776 is quite the soprano, while 820 seems somewhere in between the two.
We hear no answering howls.
After a few minutes, 755 starts to trot down the hill. I think he is going to the carcass, but instead he continues further west. After some hesitation, the females eventually follow him.
It becomes clear that they intend to cross the road.
The wolf watchers are gathered in two groups, one west of the wolves at Mid Point and the other (where I am) east of the wolves at Picnic. Most people are considerate and remain in the pullouts, content to watch them from a distance, but a few people drive towards the wolves, I guess to be able to "see them up close". These drivers end up disturbing them and thwarting their movement.
The rangers and Rick are finally able to stop traffic for the few moments necessary for the wolves to get across safely. 755 leads them across the flats and out towards the main channel of the Lamar.
To my surprise, they make a beeline for an old carcass, a REALLY old one, the rut-killed bison from August 1st! Note: the position of this carcass is well-known to those who follow the Lamar wovles. It is a site that sparked several altercations between the Lamars and other packs over the summer and fall.
As they travel, I notice double scent marking by 755 and 776. This is a behavior usually performed by an alpha pair. These two wolves are too closely related to mate, but at the moment, 776 is the highest ranking female, so it makes sense for her to adopt this behavior. As I watch them, I am painfully aware that these three, currently united, are not destined to stay together for long, as breeding season is only a month away.
820F, whom I have always considered very similar to her mother, is often in the lead. 755 takes over every once in a while. The three of them take various routes to the southwest, but they converge at the forest on the edge of Amethyst Bench. They stop here and give the area a good sniff, then disappear into the trees.
I move to Dorothy's Knoll, hoping to find them again from this angle. Instead of wolves, though, I see a coyote dashing at top speed away from the forest. Looks like the wolves spooked him! Kara gets a brief glimpse of the threesome higher on the slope, and then I see another coyote, further west, atop a snowy ridge. This second coyote stares back at the forest. It is easy to read his body language and to know what he is looking at!
The first coyote traverses the bench at a quick trot, putting a safer distance between himself and the Lamars.
Around 4PM, with the wolves still out of sight, Laurie and Dan arrive. I am so glad to see them, especially now that the Lamars are back. As we are catching up, the trio is sighted again. To my surprise, they seem to be retracing their steps.
So we gather back at Mid Point, and watch them come across the flats, across the river and the road. They head right back to the bison carcass from this morning.
I breathe a sigh of relief. The day has come full circle.
Soon I am bidding goodye to Laurie & Dan and gathering up my gear. We head back west, hoping the Lamars will be here again in the morning.
Tonight I share a meal at the Mammoth Dining Room with B & C & Brian. On our way out, the sky is clear full of stars.
TODAY I SAW: bison, coyotes, bald eagles, elk, bighorn sheep, 3 wolves from the Lamar Canyon pack (755M, 776F and 820F) and the spirit of Allison.