Today is a bit warmer at 8 degrees. Above zero not below!
I see Bob L at Slough so I stop to chat with him a while. He very graciously gives me his latest DVD, about Yellowstone coyotes.
Over the radio I learn that no wolves are in sight yet. There are several people scoping from Rick’s pullout but no room to park. By the time I get settled at the big Ski lot, the word is “nothing in sight”.
The plane is in view, though, circling just north of Flat Top mountain. Hmmm.
I join Laurie & Dan at Elk Creek and learn that the plane saw the wolves deep in the Yellowstone corridor on a carcass, which means we are unlikely to see them. Grrr! Some people are talking about climbing Vader Hill but I don’t think I’m up for that!
Instead, I suggest we try looking further west, for the Eight Miles.
We set up at Children’s Fire trail but then see the plane circling north of the Painted Hills. That suggests they are seeing wolves in a spot too low and too far for us to see from anywhere, so it doesn’t look like we’ll be seeing Eight Miles today either!
On our way back we hear that the intrepid crew on Vader Hill have managed a few glimpses of a few Junctions from time to time. The hike is similar to Cardiac Hill behind Dorothy’s; something I might attempt in summer but not winter!
I end up at Wrecker instead. There are a few frustratingly garbled radio reports that give us hope of seeing Junctions from here. I hear pieces of conversation: one sounds like “heading west” and then another sounds like “heading east”. If east is correct, we would likely see them either here or maybe from Boulder.
I choose to go to Boulder with a few others. Of course, as soon as I leave, three wolves come into view for Laurie & Dan. Well, I am glad for them but looks like I chose wrong. Laurie says these three are headed east so I figure they should be visible from Boulder very soon. But we never see them. Hmm. Most likely they stayed low in the river corridor.
After a little while, Laurie & Dan join me and Jeff at Boulder. We all look in vain for a glimpse of a wolf, any wolf! Laurie & Dan decide to head back to Silver Gate. I am about to follow them when Scott radios once more from Vader Hill. I don’t know who he is talking to but I hear him say there is “still one pup bedded at Junction Lake”.
Hmm. I didn’t know there were ANY wolves seen at Junction Lake today, so perhaps I missed a lot in the earlier garbled messages. Since I am still wolfless for the day, I figure seeing one bedded pup at Junction Lake will be just fine with me.
So off I go. As I approach, I can see the lot is empty, so my heart sinks yet again, assuming I’m too late. But then Jeremy and Maddie zip their car into the lot from the west. Hmm. I pull in at the other end and walk back to them with my scope.
Maddie is already set up and I hear her say to Jeremy “At least 15”
I point Layla’s big eye at Junction Lake. Holy moly! The Junctions are here! The rascals! And they are bedded, so they have been here for at least several minutes. I count 21!
I radio Laurie & Dan, knowing they have already gone east. Rick replies and I happily tell him there is not only one pup here, but at least 20 Junctions bedded in view.
I am thrilled to see them and thrilled to tell other watchers of this happy development. No hiking necessary for this view!
The majority of wolves are bedded right on the snow-covered frozen lake. Some are being their usual restless pup selves, and I am quite happy about that. I decide to stay out all day, and since I get cell service from here, I’m able to stay in touch with Laurie too.
Jeff pulls in, followed by John, both with happy grins on their faces. We get out our chairs and snacks and settle in for a good late morning wolf watch.
Since the Junctions have so many pups and yearlings, even at bedding time there is always some activity to watch. And today proves that in spades. One wolf, or two or three, is always moving one place or another, playing, exploring, getting into trouble.
I watch a black wolf chase birds for a while, amusing him (or her) self. A gray romps over to two blacks, encouraging them to play. They race across the lake and up the hill, tumbling and sliding.
Lots of the older wolves get up from time to time, stretching or re-bedding.
Another young wolf finds something interesting in the willows at the far left end of the lake. I never do figure out what attracts him to that spot.
My high count is 21 so at least 10 are somewhere else. There are still people on Vader Hill, who are still occasionally seeing a wolf or two.
The day has warmed up considerably. It’s already 38 degrees and it feels nice.
Some shadows have fallen across the lake which makes the frozen surface look blue, which in turn makes it look like water and not ice. We are amused when black wolf walks boldly across the “water” like Jesus. Then he sits down in a sphinx position to rest a while.
The happy hours pass, offering a variety of wolfish entertainment. At 3:20 we hear coyotes howling. I spot one of them right at the edge of the forest. Then a single coyote howls in response from the northeast. The wolves do not react to the coyote songs.
Around 3:30, however, the pack becomes restless. Several get up and move east, then more and more. We witness several small rallies and I notice distinct fanny dancing between two blacks.
More and more of them are heading east so we figure they are likely going back to whatever carcass they had in the river corridor.
We radio the scopers on Vader Hill to be on the lookout. They see the wolves shortly afterwards and radio that the pack is continuing east.
So the human exodus from Elk Creek to Boulder begins. I am happy to say that this time we DO find them coming east. They appear in the Buffalo Ford, which is where I expected to see them this morning.
Their pace is brisk and no-nonsense; the leaders are moving quite quickly towards the river corridor. As they parade across my count rises to 23. I recognize 907 and the alpha female and I count all 10 grays for the first time in a while. A few pups stop to dig. A gray has a leg in its mouth and a black carries a stick.
They go out of view fairly quickly but Taylor finds them again further east. They are still quite low, at the bottom of Mom’s ridge. Several of them are carrying a trophy of some sort.
They pass between the trunks of trees, sometimes two or three abreast. As you know, this is one of my favorite settings in which to see wolves. The background is a rocky cliff, with wolves walking on a snowy path past tree trunks, wolf after wolf after wolf. The first time I saw Druids doing this, way, way back in 2001, I fell in love with seeing them travel this way.
Once they disappear, those of us on the hill smile broadly at each other, commenting that the day turned out so nicely different than it began.
It’s now almost 4:30. I am quite satisfied and content to head east.
I see the fox at Round Prairie again, but this time it’s upsetting. A car is parked at the log pullout and the fox is right next to it, head down, gobbling something then looking up to the car as if wanting more.
It looks like the person in the car is feeding the animal, so I take a photo of the license plate. There is no one else around so I pull next to him and roll down my window. I don’t want to start a fight, so I ask the guy “is there something dead there or did the fox just come up to your car?” The guy sighs and says someone left dog food. I gasp. He says he notified a ranger; the ranger came and picked up the dog food but that’s what the fox is looking for.
I shake my head and drive on. The guy in the car struck me as sincere, but then I think, why is he choosing to sit in his car, allowing the fox to remain comfortable near a car with a human in it? It would have been better if the guy had driven on. I couldn’t see if he was just watching or taking photos, but the realist in me suspects the latter.
My last sighting today is at Warm Creek, where I see two moose on the north side, a mom and grown calf.
Today I saw: bison, coyotes, elk, a fox, 2 moose, 23 Junction wolves including 907, 1048M, 996M, gray male, third mother, AF, AM and the
spirits of Allison and Richard.