I’m out at 6:20 this morning. It’s 25 degrees. No snow overnight; just a bit of frost. I see stars overhead and make a wish: “please let this be the day I see wolves!”
Laurie and I have been commiserating. We can’t remember the last time either of us has gone 5 days without a wolf sighting!
There is a bull bison in the road above Warm Creek, keeping me on my toes. I stop at Footbridge in the dark to listen for howling.
Mark and Carol are at Trash Can, so I go on to join Doug at Picnic. It’s still dark and no one has anything, but I figure I’ll trust Doug’s great eyes.
Stacy and Frank radio at the same time “wolves in the rendezvous”. Doug gets out of his car and sets up his scope. I am so excited I let my breath fog up my scope.
Wolves! Wolves! Lots of wolves. The Junctions are back. I see them everywhere, bedded and walking. I start to count. 15! Yay!
As the light grows I see even more. As I finish my second count (22) the wolves are up and on the move. I watch the leaders pass the western foothills.
Laurie remembers to radio our friends to the west, spreading the good news, telling them to come this way. Luckily, everyone gets here in time.
The Junctions spread out in a lovely long line, making it easy to recognize individuals and to get a count. I now get 24: 13 blacks and 11 grays. The route they take is ideal for viewing; half-way between the riverbank and the treeline. The blacks stand out starkly against the snow.
I count all 6 pups, who easily reveal themselves through their exuberant play. The alpha female with her high tail, is in the lead and I recognize 907F and 1229F.
The leaders stall out and the pack comes together for a nice rally. After the rally the alpha female pins 1229F. 1276F dashes over and pins 1229F, too.
They howl, loud and long. Oh how lovely to hear!
I pan back to the rendezvous a few times for stragglers. I find two blacks and a gray still back there, but they soon set off, running to catch up.
As the leaders close in on Amethyst bench I decide to move further west. I end up at the Ranch, joining Kathie and Rick.
I take great pleasure seeing the Junctions pass through the trees right above Fairies Fall, the grotto where Amethyst creek joins the Lamar. Many years ago, I hiked out there and explored the grotto. It’s a cool spot.
The wolves remain in excellent view, traveling right above the old riverbank, then move steadily up the diagonal slope, aiming for Jasper Bench.
I move again to Coyote, getting there in time to make another count. This time I get 23, so maybe one of the stragglers is still straggling.
I follow them along the front edge of Jasper, as they pass through the gaps of the tree branches lining the cliff. Towards the western end, they dip into a gully. Then a few appear near the split rock.
For a moment we think they will stop there, at their high rendezvous spot, but then we see them continuing towards the Northern Divide Ridge.
Laurie looks at me and says “Slough”.
When I arrive, there are lots of people here already, looking south. Northern Divide Ridge is the first open slope to the west of Lamar Canyon. The lead wolves are already on our side of this slope, below skyline, sitting on their haunches, scattered all over. Some are looking at us and some to the west.
Late arrivals begin to appear on skyline above them.
The leaders start to move west and for a while are easy to follow. They are taking a mid-slope route, well below Crystal Rock.
Someone says “they’re chasing elk”. I see 10-12 wolves running west but I don’t see the elk. Very quickly they are through Crystal drainage, still running across the open slope above Crystal Pullout. I learn later that the cow elk turned downslope, aiming for the road. Lucky for her, a group of people have walked out from the lot, following the (bad) example of a single photog.
The wolves see the people and stop, letting the elk go.
Rick is up on Dave’s Hill and saw more of the chase than most of us. He says 907F made brief contact before the elk turned toward the road.
The leaders catch their breath and regroup. After a bit I see them moving back east. A second group of wolves have stopped below the leaders; I think they were never part of the chase.
The lower group starts to walk uphill into thick willows.
Luckily for us the whole pack re-emerges from the trees onto a snow-covered hill. They stall out here and after a bit of milling around, some start to bed down. They form two bedded groups, in front of some thick-trunked trees; the adults on the left side and the pups and yearlings on the right.
We count again and get 23 (12 black and 11 gray). Laurie tells me that 1228F is not with the pack at the moment, but 1272M is. And we are missing a black, so there could be a straggler still left in the rendezvous.
It’s harder to show bedded wolves to newly-arriving visitors, but we still try.
Around noon, with only bedded wolves in view, I decide to take a break. People have been talking about the black bear sow with two coys that I saw near the big ski lot on Sunday before the snow. Evidently, she has dug a den in the ravine next to the lot and has been sleeping in it with just her head in view.
That is exactly what I find when I arrive. The cubs are inside, so not visible. I see her head (with a green ear tag) resting on a front paw. She seems to be sleeping in the sun, despite being so close to a busy road and lots of excited onlookers.
There are closure signs all around. Everyone is behaving well and keeping quiet. But I kinda hope she will not stay here. It’s just so exposed. Maybe this is a temporary den and she will eventually choose another spot?
On my way back I hear a radio call that the Junctions are up and chasing elk.
When I get back to Slough I see five or six wolves running, tongues out, from west to east, at the bottom of the Northern Divide Ridge, just above the tops of the trees that line the (unseen) Lamar River.
I pan west and see more wolves heading the same way.
I go back to the first ones I saw and realize they have stopped. Belatedly we realize they are eating something. A gray comes up from below and joins this small group. Another appears from the east, also joining the feast.
We can’t see what they’re eating because it’s in a bit of a depression. No one seems to have seen the take down. Laurie says she was looking to the west of this spot, since wolves and elk were running every which way.
The best I can figure out is that at least one wolf and one elk ran back east, and perhaps those animals were blocked from view by the tree tops.
Anyway, it is obvious now that they are eating a fresh carcass. We see bloody faces and tugging, and then a long elk leg is yanked skyward for a moment.
More and more wolves arrive from the west and the number of feeding wolves grows to at least 15. 907 arrives. She pauses, as if looking for a parking spot, then plunges in.
Two wolves grab bloody pieces and rush off to dine in peace.
Wow. We are a bunch of happy wolf watchers, especially those of us who have been wolfless for five days. As Laurie says, this day is like three days worth of wolf watching!
We watch their feeding behavior for the next several hours. Some wolves begin to move off slightly upslope to bed down and digest their meal. Some of them bed just out of sight.
There are still at least 10 wolves feeding when I hear Mark say “what is that on the carcass?”
I turn back to my scope. Well, that there is a bear.
Hah! Looks like the Junctions favorite grizzly has come to join the feast.
The bear is feeding right alongside the wolves. They just tolerate him. Oh man! One time I see him lunge at the closest wolf, who evades him and moves further away. But they both keep eating.
This had to be Brother Bear, who appeared in the rendezvous two weeks ago.
He doesn’t stay long, though, so I think the best parts are already gone.
The bear leaves the wolves to tug on the scraps and moves into the area where the other wolves are bedded. He sits down, right in the middle of them, in a comical position, with one hind leg sticking forward.
Wolf 1274M comes over and stands a few feet away, staring at him. I comment that he is asking the bear to stop embarrassing them in front of all these people!
Two wolves play tug of war with a piece of hide. This draws the bear’s attention. He wants that hide. There is a bit of back and forth but the wolves keep the hide.
The bear wanders upslope, looking elsewhere for entertainment.
We watch a coyote sneaking closer and closer to the carcass. Most of the wolves ignore him. Then one black (I think the alpha female) notices the smaller canid and starts to stalk it.
Once the wolf bolts, the coyote turns tail and runs to the river. The wolf stops, satisfied.
When the bear comes back into the bedding area, several wolves seem to take offense. Suddenly the bear is surrounded by about 10 of them. They charge at him, chasing him this way and that. The bear wheels and defends himself. There is a standoff and the bear sits down again. The wolves accept this and bed down again.
Later, Brother Bear notices a single wolf with its head down, chewing a tidbit. The bear wants it and tries to bully his way into possession. But it doesn’t work, the wolf just takes the tidbit and moves elsewhere. This happens twice with two different wolves, two different tidbits.
Finally the bear gets smart. He approaches a group of ravens squabbling over something on the ground. The bear charges and the birds fly away, leaving him to gobble up whatever it was they had.
The wolves now have VERY bulging bellies. One gray in particular looks to me like a pregnant horse!
1229F starts to wander upslope. That girl is always restless. She beds higher on the slope and a few follow her to new spots nearby. Other wolves head back to the carcass for another bite.
The bear heads downslope to the river, perhaps for a drink.
The day has turned out to be very nice with lots of sun amid the clouds.
I look around and see how much snow has disappeared. All the south-facing areas are pretty much melted out.
Around 5:30 we call it a very great day and head back east.
Today I saw: 1 black bear, 1 grizzly bear, bison, 1 coyote, elk, the full pack of 24 Junction wolves
(including the alphas, 908F, 1048M, 1229F, 1272M, 1274M, 1276F, plus others (missing 1228F), the 6
remaining (2/4) pups) and the spirits of Allison and Richard.