DAY SEVEN - Sunday, December 29

HELLROARING DRAMA

There is a light dusting of snow and frost on the car this morning. Itís minus 5 degrees! I guess itís just gonna keep getting colder. Poor animals!

There is a beautiful fog above the river.

I scope at Picnic for a little while but a wind kicks up, chasing me back inside. Itís now minus 8! Sheesh

There is good visibility from Dorothyís and the wind has calmed a bit so I scope from here. No Mollies, no fox. Then I hear a radio report of ďsomethingĒ at Hell Roaring.

I tell Nick and we head west. But we hear from people ahead of us that there is no parking available. The lot was never properly plowed before the weather got so cold so now itís a lumpy, frozen mess. Parking there is always problematic, but itís current state makes it extremely limited.

But I have learned to stop fretting about such things. I stop at Lower Hellroaring where there is plenty of room.

Via radio reports I know that the wolves are too far west for to see them from here, but maybe they will move into view. And luck is with us because thatís just what happens.

I am scoping with Natalie & Warren at the western end of the lot, while Kara is set up at the eastern end. Suddenly we see elk running fast in a line. Behind them are four black wolves! The wolves are VERY far behind; they seem to have no chance of catching up, therefore we are pretty sure these wolves are likely pups. But I am happy to see them!

The pups break off the chase and stop, panting. Then one by one they turn back west. They stop and howl, letting the bulk of the pack know where they are. We hear a return howl of many more voices to the west but cannot find them.

I hear that while we were watching pups, the crowd at Upper found other Junctions on a fresh carcass. But there is still no room for additional cars.

We continue to watch the four black pups as they slowly retrace their steps and eventually disappear from sight.

After about a half hour, I decide to try my luck and drive up. Luckily, enough cars have left so there is space for me. Iím happy to say my little car handles GREAT, even on bumpy icy snow like I find here. I get a good spot next to Rick.

Nick gets a spot, too. As do Robin & Steve, Larry & Linda and later, Kara.

Dan has his scope pointed at the carcass so I get a peek. I see two grays and two blacks feeding. The snow around them is quite bloody. Iím told it was a spike bull.

I hear howling and Laurie says the rest of the pack is moving. Apparently the pack has been in two or three separated groups so far this morning. The main pack with the alphas, which just howled, has been bedded fairly high up on the main slope.

So now I watch this alpha group, about 8-10 wolves, coming downhill en masse. Kara calls from Lower HR saying she now sees them, too.

I watch them descend the hill. I lower my scope to the carcass area and see several large birds on it. The carcass is in a small depression, with fairly steep sides, covered with snow & sage. There are still five wolves in the carcass area, including two pups that arrived a few moments ago from the east.

I check back and see the main pack coming down in a rush, with tails up in high excitement. I see the various birds rise from the carcass in anticipation of the wolvesí arrival. The wolves reach the final slope above the carcass and I am expecting them to quickly converge and begin to feed but instead they rush RIGHT PAST the carcass, and converge on the opposite hillside in a frenzy, furiously biting and shaking something.

At first I think they are beating up on one of their pack-mates that had been at the carcass, perhaps 1109, but it looks so vicious I canít help but hope that isnít the case. Then suddenly I see a wing, a large dark brown wing and a single black wolf viciously shaking it.

Soon we see the Alpha female trotting up the left slope of the depression in a strutting, show-offy, manner with the hapless bird in her jaws. She is trailed by an appreciative entourage of 5 other wolves. She stops on the low hill and drops the bird, in a final, victorious gesture.

The other wolves go back down to begin feeding on the elk meat.

Iím relieved it was not a pack mate that received that lethal treatment, but surprised to see a wolf catch a bird like this. It was a large bird, not a raven; the feathers were brown, not black and I saw specks of white, too. So, perhaps a juvenile bald or a golden eagle. Perhaps the unfortunate creature did not see the arrival of the wolves, or perhaps it simply did not lift off high enough or fast enough to escape. A fatal mistake. Itís life taken in a split second.

There are now 11 wolves around the carcass.

While the adults are eating, four pups move up to a higher slope and begin to play king of the boulder. It is very cute to see them hop up there and knock each other off. They also romp and pin and roll each other, playing in such an endearingly carefree manner, in sharp contrast to the deadly activity of the adults.

Laurie and I compare notes of what we saw. She, too, thought at first that a pack member was being beaten up, and is relieved that it turned out to not be the case. But we both remark on the single-minded focus of the AF as they roared down the hill.

There are now wolves visible in many areas and we go over our count several times. I have 14 total, with only 3 grays and the rest blacks. 969 is again missing but so are three additional blacks. Perhaps they are all together somewhere else?

Laurie says one of the Junction yearlings has not been seen with the group in a while, so he may already have dispersed. However, we know it is also possible he was shot in an unreported hunt.

I distract myself from this dark thought by watching the AF flirt with 1047 at the carcass.

The alpha group feeds for about a half hour, then begin their long climb back up the hill to bed down. Visibility is good and I am able to follow them a long time. Towards the back of the line, I notice two blacks break out of line and dash to the west through the sage. Turns out they were after a coyote, but the smaller canine gets away.

I see it running for its life across the next slope. The wolves stop and resume their climb.

Back at the carcass, other coyotes have appeared to take their turn.

The alpha group finds a spot to their liking and beds down. They are near a small diagonal forest near a tributary creek of Hellroaring Creek.

Itís now 1:30PM and we still have lots of wolves in view. We break out the snacks and begin to socialize. I risk my parking space in order to take a break and head to Tower.

On my way back I stop at Lower HR to see if I can locate the bedded group. I find them instantly which makes me very happy. Not only that but I also notice a lone black (probably a pup) who gets up and starts downhill, needing a snack to ďfill up the cornersĒ.

Miraculously, when I return to Upper there is still room for my car.

But now, with less wolf activity to distract me, I become more aware of the cold.

B & C have been here from the very beginning. They are happily showing wolves to the various visitors who stop by. I find the single black I saw from Lower, still heading downslope to the carcass. Itís a long walk! He is mostly in good view which makes it easy for me to show people.

He feeds a while and then chases some birds, but after about 10 minutes he suddenly bolts up the hill to the left, tail tucked. Hmm. Why did he do that? I notice him looking backwards three different times. I have no idea what scared him, but something did. Then again, pups tend to be skittish.

As he continues his slow climb to his bedding spot, a second single black gets up and begins HIS journey down for a second feed. B & C take a break and go to their car to warm up, leaving me and a few others to show people the moving black wolf.

Then someone in the group of scopers to my left suddenly calls out. A womanís voice says ďthereís a BEAR on the carcass!Ē I swing my scope and sure enough, there is a grizzly chowing down. Now I know what scared the pup away so suddenly before. Holy Moly!

I go over and tap on Chloeís window. She lowers it and I smile, saying ďthere is a bear on the carcassĒ which gets both of them out of the car fast.

So we spend the next half hour showing new visitors the bear, while following the progress of black pup #1 still on its way uphill, plus black wolf #2 on its way down.

The two blacks take slightly different routes and do not cross paths, but when wolf #2 gets two levels above the carcass it stops abruptly. I donít know if it can see the bear but surely it can smell him. Wolf #2 displays its excellent judgment by turning back and climbing back to his family.

He will NOT be getting a second breakfast today!

I text Laurie so she knows about the bear.

Around 3PM the bear is still filling its tummy. Of course it should be hibernating by now, but it looks like an older bear Ė and it may be well aware of wolf behavior and may have smelled the carcass.

But itís time for me to head east so I say my goodbyes, pack up my scope and get back in my car, hoping to reach SG before I lose the light.

Today I saw, 1 grizzly bear, bison, coyotes, eagles, elk, 14 wolves of the Junction Butte pack and the spirits of Allison & Richard

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