I am delighted to find no new snow on the car this morning. And it feels a bit warmer. The car temp says 16 degrees.
I am running late today - Laurie & Pauline get out ahead of me.
The only car I pass going the other way today is the snowplow. A nice sunrise is beginning although fog still hugs the mountain tops.
I join Laurie & Pauline at Picnic. Just like yesterday, the Handsome Gray is in view. Today he is bedded in the open snow, in the sphinx position, in front of the eastern foothill. He howls three times, very short howls.
I think he’s calling to any female in the area “Hey, I’m here. I like this place and I just killed an elk. Come join me!”
I wish every day could start like this.
Laurie & Pauline hear a report of a moose visible at Confluence so they head there. I am just about to follow when two busloads of visitors pull in. I stay and show them the wolf. They are thrilled, especially the guide.
Now I head east to find the moose. He is bedded and looks quite comfortable almost disappearing against the willow backdrop. He’s a big guy, and I wonder if he’s the same one I saw south of the Soda Cone two days ago – the one that turned around when he saw people in the flats.
Pauline gets some good photos, then finds a beautiful golden eagle perched in a tree upslope. And there are several bighorn rams here as well.
We head back to Picnic and watch the Handsome Gray a while longer. He is still in the same place, and looks quite alert. He really is a gorgeous looking wolf. Taylor shows up and gives me an update. She says she had wolves on Blacktail again, early this morning but only briefly.
Around 9AM the gray howls again, then rises and stretches. He moves a bit to the west, in front of the middle foothill and settles down again.
Then Laurie signals me to follow her west. As we approach the big ski lot, Calvin calls to say he’s found the Junctions!
We pull in and I unload my scope. The wolves are to the north, but in order to see them, it’s best to climb up on the big snow berm and dig out a flat spot to stand on and plant your tripod legs.
Someone relays the news that the plane flew this morning and saw the Junctions with a bison carcass. I find the wolves but it’s a bit tricky because there are numerous tree branches in the foreground. The carcass itself is not in view but at the bottom of the hill the wolves are on.
My high count is 16, although there is so much movement, it’s possible I counted a few of them twice!
A group of adults are bedded to the right of the big basalt cliff. But all over the hillside below can be seen many trails they made through the snow going to and from the dinner table. I watch several blacks (pups) romping down one trail on the right while another black comes up from the left, carrying a big chunk of meat in his mouth.
You can tell when a wolf arrives at the carcass, because a black cloud of birds rises up and scatters. There are more birds on this carcass than I’ve ever seen. Six of them are perched on the ground, an equal distance apart, looking like a set of printed ellipses on a page. Rick speculates that the Junctions have been here all morning, and perhaps all last night.
I count eleven wolves gathered together on a knob as a big rally begins. Lots of wagging tails in view, and even what looks to me like mating/humping behavior.
There is no mistaking the Alpha Female today. Her tail is sky high as she leads the pack, setting off to the east. After a little while, she turns downhill and the pack follows. I think she is heading down to the river (The Yellowstone) maybe for a drink?
I check back and find two pups are left in the snow above the carcass. The rest are now out of sight so I wonder if I might find them again from the pullout west of the Yellowstone River Bridge.
I pack up and drive there but find it full already. So I keep going and decide to try Wrecker grade. I set up and scan to the north west. Almost immediately I see wolves moving back uphill from the river. I count at least 5, then 7.
If Wrecker were plowed, I would go there but they haven’t cleared it yet. I call Laurie to encourage her to join me here but in another minute the wolves I have go out of sight.
Calvin solves it by calling “come to Tower”. He has found them again from this lot, and the view is great.
In fact, we all spend the rest of the day here in this large lot, with room for everyone and even a handy bathroom! Boy, wouldn’t it be nice to always have wolves in view this easily!
They are in a spot about a half-mile from where they were originally, bedded in two groups; one mainly of adults and the other mainly pups (which is typical). Many of the trails we could see from the ski lot are visible from here.
What makes this sighting especially nice is the near constant activity from the eight restless pups.
There is also a dark, bloody spot on the hill, an area I don’t remember noticing from the ski lot. We speculate that this may mark the spot where the bison was first attacked? Something edible remains in this spot because we see several pups with their heads down.
In the adult group to the right, most are bedded but two are sitting on their haunches. Then a few of them get up and move downslope to an area we start calling the “diagonal forest”. It’s just a few trees growing out of a draw, where perhaps there is a spring. We see a pattern of wolves going in there, not staying long, and then coming back uphill.
Alpha male 1047 stays right next to the AF. He mounts her once but it doesn’t actually become a tie.
We also see a lot of pinning of one wolf by another. I keep remarking to Laurie that his is one of the most consistently active wolf sightings I’ve seen in a long time. We figure it’s probably due to both the mating season and the unusual success of the Junctions having killed such a large animal.
And it’s not just wolves in view. Someone spots an intrepid fox, which appears just above the “bloody spot”. He slowly makes his way towards it, but then two wolves (who don’t seem to notice the fox) get up from the right bedding area and move towards that bloody spot. The fox sees the wolves and freezes. The wolves continue on their way with no indication that they see the fox. Now the fox bolts, and the wolves give chase. But they don’t pursue the smaller canid; they are content just to drive the him away from the “bloody spot”.
This “dance” between the fox and the wolves happens twice with the same pattern. I get the feeling the fox has done this many times before and knows just how far to push his luck.
Laurie notices the beautiful gray male in the group. We are all happy he seems to have returned to the Junction Pack. He seems an independent sort. We watch him take a walkabout, heading downhill, as if investigating the area. Two black pups, looking a little like his groupies, follow him from a distance.
When he is almost out of sight at the bottom he beds down. There is more howling and then a plane appears overhead. The plane wakes up a few sleeping wolves and another active pinning session begins.
Someone notices several bison which are grazing in the Tower Flats immediately in front of us. In the midst of them I see two coyotes. Then those two become three, then four, then five! I remember this is coyote mating season, too.
1047 makes another mounting attempt with the alpha female but again it does not become a tie. After this, the AF pins a black, then she seems to decide it’s time to move west, back towards the carcass.
She starts down the hill and the others follow. Two pups decide that rather than follow the family in an orderly fashion, they need to wrestle and chase each other. And they really go at it, sending snow flying everywhere. They leap on each other, tumbling wildly, comically, but slowly making progress behind the leaders.
A third pup joins the wrestlers and now a gray pup comes back up from below to get in on the fun.
The leaders disappear one by one behind the slope of Vader Hill while the four wrestling pups continue their roughhouse play, not stopping for even one moment.
And the fox pops up again, with perfect timing. As the wolves exit, he gets his chance to feed.
Once the wolves are out of sight, Kathie and I decide to drive back to the ski lot to see if they will show up in the original spot. And they do! We climb up on the high berm and count five of them coming from the east, on the same trails where the sighting began this morning.
We congratulate ourselves and climb back down to our cars. The light is waning and we’ve had a fantastic, wolf-filled day. Kathie heads west and I go east.
Today I saw: bison, coyotes, a golden eagle, elk, a fox, a moose, bighorn sheep, 17 wolves (16 Junctions, including 1047, 1048, 996, 907, the alpha female, the beautiful gray 2 yr old, the gray pup and 9 other blacks) plus the Handsome Gray) and the spirits of Allison and Richard