I’m out at 6:45 this morning. It’s 10 degrees.
I start at Boulder but find no wolves in sight. Laurie calls to say “Elk Creek” so go there. Parking is full so I scope from the upper lot along with Rick and John. The rising sun is in my eyes again but I guess I’m getting used to it!
I turn my scope to the pass area up on Specimen Ridge. Right away I see some running elk…and three black wolves chasing them! The elk bunch southwest of the pass and I see more and more wolves harassing them.
The elk seem to be able to stand their ground which makes me ask Rick if he thinks the wolves are pups. He says probably so. Then on Rick’s suggestion I pan to the right and see many more wolves. This is a larger group, heading in a direction away from me, which I guess is south.
They are really far away but because they are moving steadily it is a little easier to follow them. This group now turns left and begins to move towards the pass. They are on a slope two levels above the bunched elk. I try a quick count and get 14.
I scan ahead to see if there are more elk in that direction. Instead of elk I find a sizeable bison herd, high on an open slope below skyline, well to the left of the Pass.
There are thick trees between the “V” of the pass and the bison herd and I lose the leader group in those trees. So, I go back to the bunched elk. Aha! Most of the black wolves that were chasing them have now given up and are heading to the spot where I first found the larger group. These pups are now belatedly following the leaders.
I count 7 in this group as they travel the same terrain that the leaders did a bit earlier. Then I hear John say “they’re going after the bison” so I swing my scope back to the left.
The leader group is visible on the open slope again, approaching the bison herd from below. They are not in a line but arriving from many points which would scare the heck out of me if I were a bison calf!
Sure enough, the bison bunch and move up the slope to skyline, where I suppose, they find flatter ground. Some wolves run after them but the majority just keep walking diagonally up the hill. From this distance the wolves look like ants! They must be five or six miles away.
More and more wolves appear from below and from the right. Once the bison are tightly bunched on skyline, the wolves seem to ignore them. They continue across the slope and I get a count of 27!
They continue east, crossing the open space in small groups and singles, scattered all over the slope. They look completely confident as they move across this snowy, steep terrain. A few of the stragglers sit on their haunches for a bit before continuing.
As I marvel at the view I have, it occurs to me that the wolves are likely visible from Little America, and a lot closer, too! I mention this to Rick and he agrees with me. But we are both reluctant to leave the sighting we have.
Suddenly I see animals running; wolves are chasing something. I think it’s elk but realize it’s bighorn sheep. The sheep had been grazing up high, away from the cliffs but they now make a mad dash for their lives, kicking up a snow-spray as they run for the safety of the cliffs.
Many wolves chase after them but the sheep seem to glide over the high white slope, almost like water flowing downhill. I have never seen anything like this before. It is SO cool to see.
Now we pack up and drive down to Little America. I join Rick at Boulder East where he has already found them. I set up and see the sheep safe on the cliffs, with 6 or 7 wolves above them on their haunches. More wolves are east of these, travelling into the lion forest.
I pan east and find a dozen wolves already on the east side of this forest, still moving in that direction, and still quite high but just below skyline.
Rick suggests we move to Slough, so I follow him. Most of the other scopers from Elk Creek have come down by now; some stop at Crystal or Lamar River Bridge, and others join us here.
The view from Slough is fantastic, the closest yet. The leaders stop for a rest on the highest point. One black continues down the slope through thick snow but the majority of them bed.
Straggler wolves continue to arrive at this spot from the west. Several of the youngsters rush down the slope, sending snow flying, chasing snowballs that their movement created.
Some start to play and others explore. Above them wolves continue to arrive and a large dog pile rally of 12-15 wolves forms, with wagging tails and body slamming.
Most of the explorers run back up the hill and begin a second rally. Shortly after this they all bed down for a mid-day nap.
While I am focused on the pack up high, I hear a lone wolf howling. The sound comes from the north and seems to be fairly close. Carl eventually hikes out to Bob’s and finds a s single collared black. Laurie suspects it could be 1109 (which is later confirmed by the crew).
The pack does not respond to this lone howler, which alas, makes sense if it’s 1109, since she is on the outs.
There is a bit more pup activity but not much. I think their various chases and the long trek have actually worn them out for a change. They seem to be down for their daily nap. It’s nearly noon. Most likely around 3PM they will get up and venture off again.
Laurie & Dan and I figure it’s time to head east ourselves.
I stop at Dorothy’s to see if I can locate the pack from here. I find their tracks but cannot see the hill they are bedded on. In hindsight, I think I should have tried from Coyote.
At Confluence I stop to watch dippers for a while. Then a single coyote makes an appearance out by the willows.
The Round Prairie fox is visible again, but this time he/she is in the middle of the meadow. The pretty creature is putting on a great show for about 20 photographers, including Bob L.
I end up staying in today, happy to have the company of Dan & Laurie.
After dinner Laurie gets a report from Jeff. Turns out we missed a short interaction between 1109 and some of the pack around 1:30PM. She ventured up to the group and was welcomed by several members, but both the alpha female and 907 felt differently and chased her off.
Shortly after this, the Junctions roused themselves and headed back west, still high up on Specimen, where I wouldn’t be surprised to find them tomorrow.
Today I saw: bison, a coyote, elk, a fox, 1 moose, bighorn sheep, 27 Junction wolves and the spirits of Allison and Richard.