I am out a little before 7AM today and find it even colder than yesterday; a chilly 9 degrees. But there is no new snow; just some frost on the windshield.
It seems extra dark today so it must be pretty cloudy. When I reach Icebox Canyon the snow begins to fall.
I learned last night that the Junctions have been in the Antelope and Tower Falls area for the last two days, which explains why we have not seen them.
As I near the ranch I see a white car off the road in the dirt lot between YES and the Ranch. I stop and ask the people if they are in trouble. The lady says yes. I recognize them as a couple I met yesterday watching Eight Miles.
I tell them I will stop at the Ranch and find someone to help them. To me it looks like they should be able to drive themselves out, with a little help from my rugs and a little digging. They say they are ok and I tell them not to worry, I will be back.
As I top the rise I see two cars in the roadside pullout and all the scopes facing north to the rolling hills. I recognize Taylor, the terrific guide who so often goes out of her way to help others. I set up next to her and she says she had four wolves in view 10 minutes ago (Junctions) but that they went downhill and out of sight. Nick is here, too so we say hello.
I tell them about the couple down the road and they agree to help. Then Bob drives by and I tell him. He says he has a shovel. So we all head east but when we get to the spot, the car is no longer there. They DID get themselves out!
So we park at YES instead and scope to the north. We see bird activity and Bob hoists his enormous camera and starts hiking up the hill. He is amazing, that guy.
I scope from here a while but see no wolves. I head back to the Ranch and see many scopes but the people say they are watching a coyote. The Taylor lets me know the wolves have headed west. I tell Nick and then drive back to let Bob know.
We all end up at Coyote. The Junctions have moved west and are just now settling down for a nap high up on a snowy hilltop to the north. They are in perfect view, although a bit far away. Some are already flat out, looking like black rugs and gray rugs.
Many people arrive and the lot becomes VERY full. Several of us nicely ask other people to adjust their parking so more cars can fit in. Finally that is accomplished and I can concentrate on watching these wolves.
My count is 15, then 16. I only have 3 grays, so the fourth could be just over the crest. Rick is particularly interested in knowing if anyone sees 4 grays. It seems 969F is missing and that strikes him as strange.
These wolves can also be viewed from Fisherman’s, and from one end of Dorothy’s. I tell several people that this pack has not been seen for four days, so we are all grateful for this view.
One of the black pups begins to entertain us, like the Eight Mile pup did yesterday. First he rushes downhill through thick snow, creating several rolling snowballs that skim across the crest. So, of course he has to chase them, which makes people chuckle in delight.
It’s pretty clear the Junction had a carcass behind the Ranch last night and are now sleeping it off. I wonder, of course, if they were there yesterday and we just didn’t see them? This is a fairly typical sighting, without much activity, mostly the usual stand up, move to another spot, bed back down variety. But they are in clear view so that is something.
Laurie & Dan are here, as are Becky & Chloe, Kara, Steve & Robin, Larry & Linda. We break out the stools and the lunches and the snacks. The visitors are very enthusiastic and ask many questions which we are all happy to answer.
Although it has warmed considerably, it is still a cold day so we do take breaks to warm up by sitting in our cars.
At around 3PM the wolves begin to stir. They get up one by one and have a nice long howl, then a rally and another howl. Then they set off to the north-west. At first they treat us to a gorgeous line of traveling wolves, right along the crest. The beautiful gray yearling, however, decides to be his independent self and takes a different route, slightly lower on the hill but in the same direction.
Two black pups stay behind; one sitting on its haunches and the other bedded. This is how pups get lost! But they are oblivious. They begin to play, running downhill together then rolling on their backs, legs in the air.
While they carouse, the main pack disappears behind a curve of the hill.
A lady next to me says “oh look, the elk are moving” and she’s right. Kara has moved back to Dorothy’s and has a slightly different view. As the wolves continue west, her view improves. Kara reports a long line of elk on the next hill heading west, probably in reaction to the advancing wolves.
I can see lots of elk bunched on the skyline to the right of the shale forest. They are all looking back at a spot behind the hill in front of us. Although we cannot actually see the wolves, the elk are telling us just where they are.
The woman with binocs next to me finds them first, then I see them, too. A black is out front, most likely the AF, followed by the big gray yearling. Then the rest emerge, in three lines. The AF runs a little, then stops. As the full pack appears on the hill, the entire herd of elk, perhaps 40 individuals, vanishes in a blink.
The wolves follow, crossing the snow-sage slope. They are in hunting mode.
We are in prime position here and watch the wolves reach the same skyline where the elk had been. As they arrive on the crest, I turn my scope back to check on the two pups. Finally they are following in the trail of their family.
I see the AF top the ridge and disappear. And there goes the big gray and another un-collared black. The rest of the group continues climbing the hill. Half of them disappear over the top; the other half stops, perfectly lined up on skyline, most on their haunches, looking down at some activity below them to the west. Then, one by one the rest of them disappear over the top and we are wolfless once again.
But not for long. Here come the pups, appearing in the crease of two low hills where we had first seen the pack emerge. The two straggler pups have become three. They pass some bison, scent trailing the others.
When these three finally reach the skyline, they, too, pose upon it a minute or two and then they themselves disappear.
I feel very satisfied with this sighting. However, I realize I have been on the verge of shivering for the last half hour, so I’m glad to pack up and get back in my car.
What a great day. I reflect that it was marred only by the fact that none of us ever saw 969, the missing gray. Where is she? Could she have dispersed? Has she died or been killed? She was once the alpha female of this pack but for the last few months has fallen out of favor and now gets harassed regularly by the Alpha female and her sister 907F. Hopefully we will get the answer some time soon.
Today I saw: bison, coyote, a golden eagle, elk, 16 of the 18 Junction Pack wolves and the spirits of Allison & Richard.