I don’t feel like myself this morning. I had a fitful night, which is just weird. Usually, I am a very sound sleeper. I head out, anyway, hoping for wolves.
I think there are even MORE people at Exclosure today than yesterday. While I’m climbing up Doug radios that he heard howling a little while ago. Good! That bodes well.
I set up with Maureen and Rick B and Rick M. In the dim light I see a dark shape moving quickly right, then back left. “Well, that’s one” I say to myself, meaning one black wolf. I see other shapes in the same area, but they seem smaller. Some are just lumps.
A moment later, Rick M says “Is that a bear?”
As the light grows, all becomes clear. There are many wolves in the rendezvous, and yes, that is a bear. He is right smack in the middle of the pack, with his head down as if eating some scrap. He’s sitting, not standing, like this is his family room, too.
Junction wolves are all around him and seem utterly unfazed by his presence. I replay in my mind what I first saw in the dark. The dark moving shape was the bear, as it lunged briefly toward a wolf, then turned to swat another behind him.
At the moment, though, there is peace among them. We all remark on how comfortable both species seem to be around the other.
For the next three and a half hours, the bear remains in the midst of the pack. Those of us who watch Junctions frequently have seen bears follow the pack on many occasions, most often in the fall when they are trying to fatten up before hibernation.
It could be we are seeing an individual bear who has figured out wolves will inadvertently provide free meals. Or it could be there are several bears who live in Junction territory who are smart enough to know it.
I remember a single grizzly last fall from Lower Hellroaring, who slept on the same hill with the Junction pack and was generally tolerated. This could be that same bear.
However, I don’t think I have ever seen a bear pull up a lazy boy and park himself in the wolves’ family room quite like this!
Anyway, my first count gives me 15 wolves in view, including two pups, one black, one gray. They are mostly spread out in the short grass in front of the eastern and middle foothills. A few walk about, here and there, nosing around, as they so often do.
Dan calls out “more wolves coming”. And sure enough, I see several wolves appear at the apex of Chalcedony fan. I recognize 907F in the lead. There are quite a few blacks and grays behind her, late arrivals.
As 907 gets closer, some of the bedded wolves on the eastern side get up and run to her. Two gray pups run particularly fast, eager to see if Mom has brought food. More and more wolves get up to greet the new arrivals. Even the BEAR gets up and moves in her direction, as if seeking a regurgitation!
Oh boy, do we get a chuckle out of this.
907 is mobbed by 2 gray pups, a black pup and a black yearling. Tails are wagging like mad. It is a happy greeting.
More wolves arrive, a total of 6. Then a 7th appears, the fourth gray pup. He stops a moment, staring at the bear. I think he is wondering if he took a wrong turn, or if he’s been following the wrong pack. Is this my family?
But the pup eventually feels comfortable enough to proceed. He moves forward and greets his family, receiving enough assurance that all is well, despite the bear.
I count several more times and have a full count of 24 with 13 blacks and 11 grays. The whole pack is here!
Three separate dog piles form, with nuzzling, tail wagging and bouncing.
A black gets pinned by the alpha female. Her work is never done! They start to howl, thrilling the crowds and me, too.
I see only one more bit of antagonism between the Junctions and the bear, when a black gets a bit too close. Perhaps he snuck a nip on the butt that I didn’t see. Anyway, the bear wheels and swats at the black, but the wolf easily evades him.
After this things settle down once again.
Around 9AM, one of the wolves gets the bright idea to head into the forest. I think it was 1229F. First, it’s just one or two following her, but soon it becomes a pack exodus.
I lose them for a while in the trees behind the eastern foothill, but soon they appear again in the semi-clearing at the western end of the Chalcedony fan. They skirt the edge just as they did last night, following a trail there. To our amusement, Brother Bear slips right into line, towards the back but not the last. He might as well be part of the pack.
They meander through the trees in a way that makes me think they are looking for bedding spots, not hunting. Three grays and a black remain bedded in the short grass to the right of the middle foothill.
907 turns around and stares at the bedded ones. She howls, encouraging them to follow along. I wonder how often she has to do this!
The group in the trees howls back in response. The sound reverberates gorgeously. 907 waits a bit longer, then turns to follow her family, leaving the reluctant four to their beds.
The traveling group continues to skirt the back of the fan, partially visible through the tree trunks and scattered open patches. I see the bear, too, off and on.
Somewhere beyond the apex, they climb higher and treat us to another long, echoing howl. After this, things quiet down and we have only bedded wolves to show late-arriving visitors.
Around 10AM, a lone bison wanders into the area where the reluctant wolves are bedded. The bison proceeds to dislodge them all. One by one they get up, first moving into the sage, then turning to climb the foothill. Up and over they go and eventually follow the trail to the southeast.
We have one more “cathedral style” group howl and then we have no more wolves.
It’s a lovely morning and we all relish it.
However, I still feel overtired and tell Laurie I think I should leave a day early. So, I drive up to Silver Gate and pack up. I take my time driving west, enjoying the fall color and the cool weather.
When I get back to Bozeman I don’t even unpack. I take a shower and sleep for the next 12 hours. That does the trick!
Today I saw: 1 grizzly bear, bison, mule deer, pronghorn, the full pack of 24 Junction wolves (including the alphas,
907F, 1048M, 1228F, 1229F, 1272M, 1274M, 1276F, both limpers, husky gray, square black, 2 more uncollared grays
and 3 more uncollared blacks plus the 6 remaining pups (2/4) and the spirits of Allison and Richard.