Well, today beats yesterdayís record. My carís temp gauge reads minus 14! But my little Subaru starts up just fine.
At least it looks clear today, the first non-cloudy day Iíve had on this trip. Itís nice to see stars, and a pretty crescent moon.
I meet up with Kara at Warm Creek. She is star-gazing and has already found two satellites.
Again there is some beautiful fog at Confluence. And finally dawn breaks, at 7:20.
I donít stop in Lamar, seeing no one with a scope in any of the usual spots.
At Curve a few cars are stopped, including Doug M. A few elk have just crossed the road from north to south, except for one young cow, who is stuck on the north side.
I scan the area behind the stuck elk, looking for wolves who might be pursuing her but find none.
Then Laurie & Dan arrive and we scope from Boulder for a while. We donít find anything but then Rick calls us on the radio. He says the bear is still on the carcass at Hellroaring but he saw no wolves. He suggests we try Elk Creek.
We head west but before we get too far, Rick calls again and suggests we stop at Tower. He instructs us to look northwest. We do so and follow his directions. A few second later, Dan finds wolves on a boulder-strewn hilltop just east of Flat Top mountain.
When I get set up I see four grays and several blacks. I assume they are Junctions, and that the fourth gray is the long-missing 969F.
We lose these wolves pretty quickly so we join Rick at the big Ski Lot. Lots of cars and people already here, so itís tricky to find a place to set up. But I do find the same wolves again, now gathered on a snowy bald knob, kind of low. They are perfectly perched there on their haunches, looking with interest downslope, away from us, perhaps at elk or maybe other wolves.
Suddenly I see a very white wolf. My eyes grow wide. These are not Junctions! There is no mistaking this famous individual. She is the alpha female, once the mate of our hometown favorite 755M. These are Wapitis!
This iconic pack is making one of its winter forays into the northern range. Wow, what a nice surprise.
We have them in good view for about a half hour. At one point I notice a lot of movement by the pack, many get up on all fours and begin wagging their tails. I recognize this behavior as indicative of when an absent pack member arrives to re-join the group.
And sure enough, a bunch of other wolves come up from below, where the ones on the knob have been looking. I see a rush of greetings, muzzle licking, body slamming, and excitedly wagging tails.
After this happy greeting, the pack settles down a bit on the nob, and then one by one they begin to leave the knob, heading downslope and west.
As we are packing up, my Bozeman friend Veronica arrives. Oh shoot, too late to see the wolves. But she did get to see the grizzly at HR to which I had alerted her last night via email.
We chat a bit and then someone suggests we try Wrecker so we go there.
Itís now after 9AM and the day has warmed up to minus 6 (!)
As we pass the Tower gas station I notice steam coming off the wooden sign there. I guess the sun is melting the snow on the sign which is condensing upwards as steam. Itís freaky!
When we get to Wrecker I manage a very brief additional sighting of the Wapitis, three individuals, two grays and one black, moving east through an opening on the far side of the Lamar River. Jeff M is already here and I set up beside him. They are crossing a little depression but quickly go out of sight.
I let Veronica use my scope as I lift my binoculars. In doing so I see the white wolf dash downslope to the east. I canít tell if they are just traveling or chasing something. It seems to me they are headed towards the confluence of Lamar & Yellowstone.
Then I remember the furtive movements of the elk at Curve lot earlier this AM and now I believe they could have been aware of these wolves in the area. They may have crossed the road to avoid them.
Several people climb various hillsides to try to find them again but no one seems to have any luck. I check the time and see that Iíd better head back to Bozeman.
I see Colleen and Des and so I deliver a bottle of wine for the New Yearís party Iíll miss tomorrow. Then I say my goodbyes and head west.
Itís after 10AM and still only minus 4!
As I round the curve at Elk Creek I see a moose on the north side. I stop at Upper HR and find the bear on the carcass, still eating!
I decide to scope from the Fire Trail but do not find anything moving. But the day has warmed into the positive numbers, a full 1 degree. Hurrah!
I stop in Mammoth to visit with Allison and tell her how happy I am to have seen so many wolves and THREE different packs in such a short visit.
I see steam lifting off the Gardiner River and bison grazing alongside it.
What a beautiful place this is!
I have a very easy drive back, beautiful weather, and make it in record time. Another wonderful Yellowstone trip.
Today I saw: 1 grizzly bear, bison, coyotes, elk, 1 moose, 13 Wapiti wolves including the white AF and the spirits of Allison & Richard.