DAY EIGHT - Saturday, December 12

TERRITORY CHECK

I find an inch of fresh snow on the car this morning, which is actually less than I expected. I wonder where I will find wolves today? In Lamar, I hope.

But Lamar is quiet. As I drive through Lamar Canyon I hear lots of crackling on the radio but canít make out any words until I recognize Bobís voice saying ďSlough flatsĒ.

So, I pull in and hike out to the knob. Rick and the crew are here. Bob found the Junctions in the early dark, crossing into the flats from Secret Passage.

I see three wolves still bedded on the low rendezvous hill left of Marge but the rest of them are already travelling west, taking their usual route up to the pass. Light snow is still falling, making visibility a bit tricky. The route they follow is through mostly snow-sage hills so even the blacks blend in. I end up seeing 13 in this group but the crew has twice as many.

Once they go out of sight we move on to Boulder. We wait in vain for the wolves to come into view here, but they donít. However, when I ask Jeremy about signals he says both 1047 and 1109 are to the west, in the same general area.

I am not the only one who would be so happy if these two formed a pack together this season. The consensus is that the Junctions are likely to split somehow during mating season. The pack is just too big to last.

The crew moves further west. I stop at Rickís pullout to scan from here. I do not see any movement but I do hear a single voice howling to the west, which I report. Laurie and Dan radio, saying come to Hellroaring.

So, my last day circles back to where my first day began; watching Junction wolves from Hellroaring.

The howler is 1109F. The crew saw her briefly below the overlook but she can only be seen from one spot. In the meanwhile, the main pack emerges high on the open slope just west of Little Buffalo drainage. They cross the hillside on their usual route, making easy viewing for all.

For the next hour, 1109 continues to howl, unseen, quite plaintively, while I watch the huge Junction pack making a territory check across the wide-open slope. The alphas double scent-mark again and again.

I count 25 with 7 grays. The gray male is one of the missing grays. Their progress is deliberate but not fast. The leaders seem hesitant this morning, stopping and starting over and over, taking time to scent mark. Laurie reminds me that the Carnelians were here two days ago.

1109ís near constant howling reminds me of the 06 during Christmas 2010, when she was searching for a mate. She howled like this so frequently t hat her voice got hoarse and harsh by the end of the day. But, she ended up with both 755 and 754, whom she charmed away from the poor, mange-infected Druid females.

The Junctions ignore 1109 and continue their stop & start way across the slope. They cross Hellroaring creek at a spot much higher on the slope than usual (to me). They re-emerge from the line of trees that border the drainage and skirt the frozen pond, still in the hesitant manner.

1229F is out in front again. She starts going downhill, continuing west, towards the basalt cliff. Half the pack crosses behind it while 1229 leads the other half in front of it.

Then she suddenly rushes downslope with several of her group closely following. They are clearly chasing something but I canít see what it is.

I listen to other watcherís comments as I follow the running wolves. Uh oh, they are after two different wolves, a black and a gray, quite likely Carnelian pups, who didnít keep up. The chase turns upslope and then stops suddenly beneath a wide-spreading conifer. Oh no!

The black pup is caught while the gray escapes.

Suddenly I see a big pile of wolves with heads down. Ugh.

Iím glad I canít see this very well. This is my least favorite wolf behavior.

But I know they are the dominant pack and a small pack like the Carnelians are at a huge disadvantage. Now I understand all the stopping and starting and scent marking. They were following the scent trail of these two pups in territory they consider their own.

After a few minutes, the Junctions abandon the hapless pup and continue west. Watchers who can see the area better than I can say the pup lifted its head but doesnít otherwise move. It has probably been fatally wounded. Poor thing.

The Junctions continue moving west and soon go out of sight. The crew moves to Lower Hellroaring which offers a little bit better view, so I follow.

Some people catch a glimpse of the Junctions far to the west but soon our attention is drawn straight north. Jeremy has found 1047. He is standing alone way out there at the bottom of the slope, broadside, howling in the direction of the pack.

After a while, the Junctions are spotted again far to the west. They have turned around and are retracing their steps. Again, I follow the crew back to Upper Hellroaring, where the view is deemed to be better now that the Junctions have come back.

I watch a slow, careful reunion between 1047 and his pack. The older wolf plays it very safe, just inching forward, a few steps at a time, howling a lot so they remember who he is and what he means to them.

A group of six wolves forms in a meadow and 1047 is now only about 100 yards away from them. They watch him slowly come closer. When he makes it the last few feet he is greeted happily. But then the alpha male arrives. 1047 drops in submission and is summarily pinned. But the effort looks routine to me, not vicious, and soon he gets up again with a wagging tail.

All through this ceremony, 1109F persists in pleading her sad case.

The rest of the wolves catch up and the group moves to the flats near the bottom of the Tornado drainage. They begin to bed for their mid-day nap.

Itís 12:15 so I take advantage of the break in activity to make my round of thanks and goodbyes. Jeremy instructs me to always bring muffins.

I thank Laurie & Dan once more and bid them adieu.

On my way back I see elk in Mammoth, bighorn in Gardiner canyon and mule deer in Paradise Valley.

Today I saw: bison, a coyote, mule deer, elk, bighorn sheep, 25 Junction wolves including 907, 1048M, 1047, 1228, 1229 and the spirits of Allison and Richard.

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