DAY SIX - Thursday, December 10

THE UNWELCOME VISITOR

Itís lightly snowing this morning, with a half-inch accumulation of dry feathery flakes.

The mountain tops are shrouded but you can still make out the tops.

Through Lamar Canyon I hear crackling on the radio but canít make it out. I continue past Slough to the west and then see Doug and Bob L in a pullout on the south side, looking south, up on Specimen. There are many more cars at Boulder so I stop here.

People are looking both north and south. Laurie tells me four wolves (all black) are visible in the sage to the north, making their way towards Buffalo Ford. I see three of them and learn later that both 1047 and 1109 are in this group.

The main pack is to the south, up on Specimen. Itís still snowing lightly so they go in and out of view, but they are basically traveling the same route they took yesterday, high on the wide-open slope. I count 30 wolves!

It is amazing to see this many wolves up there. Laurie & I share a grin.

The wolves come upon the same herd of bighorn as yesterday and the race is on! It is just SO COOL to see those sheep dash across the slope to the safety of the cliffs. They are like a waterfall, their movement is so smooth, kicking up snow all over. Nothing comes of it, though, just like yesterday.

The wolves continue east and the crew moves towards Slough.

I see Bob L at Crystal and decide to pull over at Lamar River Bridge. This turns out to be a good choice. Right away I find several straggler wolves still in view on the highest point but then a friendly photog in the lot says ďthey came downĒ so I lower my focus and find the leaders even closer!

I radio this tip to Laurie in case she is still looking up high. The sighting becomes absolutely gorgeous, especially since the wolves are now travelling through forest, which is, as you know, is my favorite setting. They move quietly in and out of a naked-branch aspen forest, wolf after wolf after wolf.

I see robust blacks and slim blacks. I see grays in multiple shades: cream and silver and tawny and every shade in between. So beautiful. They travel this low route for quite a while.

There is a bison herd below them which catches the eye of several individual wolves. A few sit on their haunches while two of them, including the gray male, start to circle around below them. The bison bunch up and the wolves stop and stare. But after this initial investigation, the gray moves on as do the rest of them.

In no time at all the Junctions are across Crystal Creek, continuing towards Crystal Rock. Most of them go behind it and emerge on the other side, moving through the young aspen forest. Finally, they re-appear at the bottom of northern divide ridge, a mostly-open slope where I so often see bison.

Here they take a short break, then continue up the ridge. This is truly spectacular viewing, enjoyed by about a hundred people. They are on a route that will bring them into Lamar, so I pack up and follow the crowd through the Canyon.

Upon exiting I see some cars already stopped in the small dirt lot just west of Fishermanís. There are already many cars parked at Fishermanís but there is plenty of room left.

I pull in and set up near Taylor. She already has them up high, right at the eastern end of the Canyon. Beyond the wolves, and slightly lower is another bison herd of cows and calves. Taylor says the wolves have just tested them and gone on back uphill. Suddenly I see wolves running left, up to skyline. Then I see several bull elk, well, just their big racks and backs up at skyline, above a line of sage. The chase is on!

I see maybe 10 bulls running. They stay together at first, running east, then they turn and go back west. It looks like we will lose them over the top when they split. Now I see wolves behind them. The gray male and the alpha female are closest but there are a LOT of wolves running.

Half the elk go east and half go uphill west. Wolves are chasing both groups. Then one bull in the west-running group splits and runs downhill. Uh oh. Four wolves are very close to this bull. A black makes contact, then a gray, then the whole group disappears into trees. I think the bull is doomed.

I see lots more wolves rushing downhill to the spot where the others disappeared. Then Jeff calls over the radio to say he has the group in sight from Coyote. Coyote is higher than Fishermanís and thereís lots of room so I drive there.

By the time I get parked and set up, itís over. Which is ok with me. I donít like to see the animal die, so I am fine with that. I see the elkís rack lying still on the ground and wolves all around it. Wow.

The first group has fed for only about 5-10 minutes when suddenly a bunch of them bolt away to the east. Maybe 10-12 of them seem spooked while other wolves remain on the kill. We try to figure out what made them afraid.

Did someone hike out from the road? If so, theyíd have to cross the not-quite frozen Lamar and I hope no one is foolish enough to try that. Laurie notices a single photographer on the rocks of Secret Passage. Could he have disturbed them?

I think itís unlikely. Heís not much closer than we are. Then I hear the snowplow! It is scraping asphalt as it comes east through the Canyon. The sound is probably echoing loudly, as it comes closer and closer.

Well, in any case, the spooked wolves do not go back but instead cross the open slope above the bison herd to the east. There is a horizontal line of sage up there, where the elk were first spotted. They walk below that line to the east past a group of trees until they reach a rounded knob, where they mingle about and then bed down.

There are still a bunch of wolves feeding on the carcass. A 600-700 pound bull can feed 30 wolves 7 pounds of boneless meat each plus another 13 pounds of tougher nutrition each (I looked it up!)

I am definitely staying out today! I gather my sandwich and my coffee and my little stool and settle in to watch todayís wolf story unfold.

After about an hour, most of the wolves have fed and moved off, most to the east. A few bed down on the slope above the bison herd. Several from the rounded hilltop get up and go back for more, one at a time or maybe two together. Others wander past the bison herd, sniffing here and there. One restless individual chases birds.

All I can see of the carcass is the rack, a dark smudge and a lump.

Various puppies begin to play, treating us to their pinning and chasing games. Some pups delight in chasing snowballs as they roll down the hill. SO CUTE!

We are all congratulating ourselves on what a great sighting this has been, when a person strides into the horizontal strip of sage just below skyline. He is above the bison and several bedded wolves, mid-way between the carcass and the rounded hill.

The wolves see him, jump up and bolt to the east. Those still on the carcass abandon it and flee to the east, following the others. I track the main group all the way to the trees near the back of Jasper Bench. Several stop there to look back at the stupid human.

We are astonished and appalled. The wolf project folk are incensed.

Laurie has never seen anything this blatant in her life.

Rangers are called. People take photos and video for evidence. It seems likely that this clueless person followed the wolves up from Crystal or Slough. He makes no attempt to retreat or hide from the fleeing wolves; in fact he follows them. He makes no attempt to hide from us. He begins to climb the slope leading to the rounded hill on which the wolves were bedded.

I hiked up on Jasper Bench many years ago, from Crystal Rock, when no wolves were in the vicinity. When you are up there you can clearly see the road. This person must see all the cars in this lot and scopes pointed his way. What is he thinking?

The wolves have disappeared into the trees.

I figure this guy must have an unattended car parked somewhere between here and Crystal so I volunteer to search for it, and to take photos of the license plate.

But I donít get very far before I am recalled via radio. When I return to Coyote, a ranger is here and the drama has taken an absurd turn.

Turns out the clueless person is part of a couple. The female partner ( C) was right here in this lot, in a silver pickup, communicating with R over a radio! The Ranger is already aware of them since they were cautioned yesterday when they got too close to the Round Prairie fox!

Before the Ranger arrived, C peeled out and headed west. R is still visible out there left of the carcass. He seems to have dropped something in the snow and is now looking for it.

He disappears again, and we hope he is heading back down to the road.

Two more rangers arrive. They know where the couple is staying. They get written statements from a number of us then head west.

Suddenly R shows up again, in the very same spot where he first appeared. This allows the main Ranger to see him with his own eyes.

R seems to find the thing he dropped and we watch him depart once more.

Itís very upsetting to think there are people so clueless that they would so deliberately and blatantly invade the space of wild animals. His partner surely informed him that they had a fresh kill. And he chose to invade the space of wild predators on a fresh kill? As late as November this year, there was a grizzly (and often two) following this pack. That grizzly could have been on the carcass when the man arrived!

Heís lucky that this pack mistrusts humans and chose to run away rather than challenge him. But what if they didnít? What could one man do against 30 wolves if they had decided to test him?

What if he had injured himself, going up or coming down? What if young wolves found him?

Itís so outrageous and stupid that we are just speechless.

Note: I learn later that this couple was cited and escorted out of the Park.

Itís now past noon. The day has warmed to a pleasant 33 degrees with nice bright sunshine.

After some searching we find about 10 Junctions far to the east but visible in front of the trees, bedded on snow. After an hour or so watching bedded wolves, a few begin to cautiously return to the original area, sniffing, exploring, digging.

Several blacks go to the spot where R was, sniffing and roaming there.

More and more wolves begin to venture back and we are treated to more delightful puppy play, like we had before. A game of king of the rock develops.

Another pup finds something fun to toss, and a few of his siblings join in.

The bison herd moved downslope at some point when R was up there. Now a coyote appears below and to the left of the carcass. I am nervous for him with all these wolves around. While I am watching the coyote, a fox appears downslope and to the right of him. Then a wolf wanders into view above them both. I now have all three canids in my scope at the same time! A three-dog view!

One of the pups is especially bouncy. He chases rolling snowballs. I see him make five high hops in a row as he bounds after it. So cute!

The wolves I can identify are 907F, the alphas, 1048M, gray male, husky yearling. I think all the collars are here, except 1109 and 1047.

We lay bets on when they will get up and where theyíll be tomorrow. I make a wish for them to be in the rendezvous. Taylor teasingly rolls her eyes at me. I also predict they will get up today at 3:45 but they surprise us all by sleeping a bit longer than that. Itís not until 4:15 that a rally begins.

They donít head off, though, but move west to take another turn at the carcass.

My toes are starting to complain so I think itís time to head east and warm up.

The fox is visible at Round Prairie again, but not the moose.

Today I saw: bison, a coyote, elk, 2 foxes, bighorn sheep, 30 Junction wolves including the alphas, 907, 1048M, 996M, gray male, third mother (and the rest) and the spirits of Allison and Richard.

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