I walk out to 7 inches of new snow. 28 degrees at 7:15AM. Everything looks beautiful.
I shovel a pair of tracks out to the road, testing how deep it is. It’s over my boots! Next I drive back and forth on it in my trusty new car, tamping it down. That works and I feel ready to go.
It’s nearly 8AM and well past first light. I am pleased that Arrow handles her first serious test just fine.
There are bison in Round Prairie and a large herd to the west of Hitching Post. The roads are a bit icy in spots but mostly ok. There are very few folks out today so that helps.
Snow is still falling but there is still decent visibility, despite pockets of fog along the river at the Confluence.
I stop at Picnic and scope from here for a while. For the last two weeks, 1109 and her three pups have often been seen in the R-V, so that’s who I’m looking for. Alas I do not find them.
I hear crackling on the radio but nothing I can make out. Usually that means the speaker is far way, like in Little America. I continue west, enjoying the fresh snow views.
As I approach Mid Point, I see a father and daughter there with a single scope between them. It’s pointed south and they are both looking intently. I figure a coyote.
I roll down my window and stop in the road, saying “Good morning. Have you seen any wolves or bears?”
The man says, quite casually “yeah, we have a few wolves out there”
I tuck my car into the lot and train my binocs where their scope is pointed. Yes! Four wolves, above the river bank, 3 black and 1 gray. I think the gray has a collar.
I thank them for their info and we three enjoy watching them as they make steady progress from west to east. The man says he and his daughter were at Dorothy’s and heard howling to the south. They found these wolves but only had them for a second or two, when they went out of sight heading east.
So they drove to this spot to try to find them again, and, there they are!
The group is right out in the open, south of the river, about half way between the tree-line and the river, so I figure they’ll be in view a nice long time.
I call Unit 1 and tell him there are animals south of Mid-Point. He asks all kinds of questions and I learn that these are the first wolves seen today. I tell the man and his daughter that their efforts have made many people very happy.
Very soon, cars start arriving. Most go on to Picnic & Trash Can because the wolves are now east of this spot. I stay here until Rick arrives, since I want the father & daughter to get credit from him for the spot.
Just after Rick leaves there is an accident at Trash Can. A red pickup truck going too fast hits his brakes and skids a bit, ripping off the bumper of a car that just pulled in to the Trash Can lot. The impact pops the tire of the pickup at the same time. No one is hurt, thank goodness, but the damage is significant. The damaged car is drivable but quite a sight!
The pickup guy is finishing changing his tire when a ranger arrives to cite him for driving too fast for conditions.
I stay at Mid Point a while, watching the wolves as they continue eat. Rick has ID’d them as Junctions 969F, 1109F and two black pups of the year. (Laurie says DNA has confirmed that 969 is 1109’s mother.) The four of them sniff around and the pups play with each other. Eventually they reach the eroded area of the R-V and bed down.
The pups don’t stay bedded long, though. There are bison nearby, so they need to be messed with. Until a bison bull decides to mess with them!
They retreat and bed again. I am curious as to where the third pup is, but I never find out.
The sun comes out for a bit and it’s very nice. Rick says he suspects there could be other Junctions on Jasper Bench so he heads back west and I follow him. We don’t find any, though. Instead we find 4 cow elk crossing the river bottom very cautiously.
The father and daughter who found the wolves are in this lot now, and mention they’d really like to see a bear. As if on cue, the people at Trash Can radio that a grizzly has appeared near the wolves. I share that info with the father & daughter and we drive east.
I set up on Trash Can hill with many others. The bear is walking slowly towards the spot where the wolves are bedded, sniffing and ambling along, as if looking for cached meat.
The two pups get up and approach the bear. They all seem curious of each other, not aggressive. In fact, the bear looks small to me and might be a three year old out on its own. The two species stand nearly nose to nose for a moment, then the bear ambles off. One pup follows for a bit, then gets bored and turns back.
969 seems unsettled. She dominates 1109 for a bit, standing over her and giving her a nip. She beds, moves and beds again. The three blacks seem far more comfortable here. Perhaps the third pup has come to prefer the company of his other siblings.
Later, when Laurie and I talk of this sighting, she suggests that 969F might be visiting her offspring or she might just be escaping the other two females who beat her up so often. I am reminded that 969 was once the alpha female of the Junctions, and has always been in competition with her sister, 907. Now her status has dropped even further and we wonder why she does not just leave to find another mate.
The pleasant conditions do not last long – around 11AM more snow arrives. Visibility it compromised. Then someone finds the grizzly again, further east, near the Opal Creek trail. Then the wolves re-appear, climbing out of a gully into which they had earlier disappeared. Rick says there is an old carcass in that gully and they may have been scavenging out of sight.
We also see two hawks and a bald eagle, and a peregrine falcon flies over our heads.
Around noon I take a break and head to Tower. I get gas and take a look around the area. The day has become alternately sunny & snowy. I end up driving to Elk Creek and scope a bit from here.
I decide to head in early, since Laurie never made it out and I want to make sure she’s ok. She is; she just needed to sleep in. I can see she did a magnificent job of packing down the entire driveway by running her car back and forth for about a half hour.
She did such a great job, it looks like it’s been plowed! Yay Laurie!
The least I can do is offer to cook tonight to give her a break.
Today I saw: 1 grizzly bear, bison, elk, a bald eagle, a peregrine falcon, a hawk, 4 wolves of the Junction pack, including 1109F & 969F plus 2 black pups and the spirit of Allison & Richard.