I’m up and out at 4:42. It’s a chilly but normal 38 degrees. There is already enough light to see the mountaintops.
Just east of Thunderer a small black bear runs across the road and continues uphill to the north. This is exactly why I drive slowly in the mornings!
Just east of the Ranch I have a small group of pronghorn at the edge of the road. There is a bit of fog hugging the valley here and I see bison about to cross the road up ahead.
I get through the jam just fine. As I pass Coyote I see Bill H, scoping to the north. It’s only 5:17 but the light is already good. Dawn comes early in Yellowstone this time of year.
I set up in “Laurie’s Lot” at Slough, all by myself. I see a pair of wolf ears peeking over the crest of the yellow flower hill.
This morning offers a good amount of movement around the eastern trees as several adults move one way or another, trailed by numerous puppies. I recognize 907 as one of them. She howls a bit and many puppies surround her, allowing me a good chance to count. I get 11, with 3 grays.
Eventually Laurie’s Lot fills up with the “regulars”: Jeremy, Rick, Kathie, Becky & Chloe, Susan & Reve, Laurie & Dan.
The gray male is here today. He loves the pups and they love him. He takes a walk up to the natal den and sticks his head inside. We think the pups have long vacated that den so we wonder what interests him in there? Maybe he is just making sure. Later we see a black adult do the same thing. Neither wolf stays long there, though.
Another black yearling wanders around at the creek level. To continue watching him I climb up the low hill behind this lot that Rick likes. I watch the yearling tool around, looking like a bored teenager, until he heads off out of sight to the south.
Some of the pups begin to play on a rock near the Eastern Trees. They are so sweet! Their playtime is interrupted when a black adult arrives from the west. The adult is swarmed by a mass of pups rushing excitedly to greet it, hoping for food. Suddenly all sorts of other pups appear from their hiding spots in the high grass, overwhelming the adult!
I count 14 at this moment, including 5 grays.
Around 8:30 we notice several adults on the slope to the right of the den cliff. My count grows to 10 and Laurie helps me ID them: 907, the gray male, 1047, 1048, 996 and five other blacks. Looks like they are forming a hunting party. Yep. Soon we watch these 10 adults head off northeast towards the first Slough meadow:
I take a break from the pups in order to track this group as they travel past the horizontal forest and up into the rocks. They cross the yellow grass meadow, which is still green right now, not yellow yet.
Once the adults leave, the action settles down. Both pups and adults disappear back into the high grass or over the crest of the yellow-flower hill and bed down for a snooze.
We scope around, finding other animals in the area: a pronghorn with twin fawns, and lots of “red-dog” bison calves.
Kathie asks if anyone is up for a hike later today. I say yes, and tell her my wish to explore the hollow north of Soda Butte East where we watched the Junctions chase a bull elk back in March. She likes this idea and suggests we hike up to Trout Lake, then bushwhack to the west from there. Sounds like a good plan to me.
When the action slows down we head east.
As I approach Footbridge I see a lot of people looking intently to the south. I stop and ask what they are seeing. A grizzly! I hope out and set up my scope, taking car to leave at least 6 feet of space on both sides. The people are pointing to the middle of Dead Puppy Hill. They say it just caught an elk calf.
I call Bill. He is glad to get the call as he did not know about this one and soon we are scoping together. I am glad to have a chance to return one of the dozens of favors he’s done for us wolf nuts.
We both notice a cow elk nearby, behaving as they do when they’ve just lost a calf. The bear lunges at her when she gets close and as soon as he moves, the ravens swarm in. The bear now lunges back, chasing the birds away. He lower his head. I’m just as glad I can’t see more. I always feel bad when it’s a calf.
Kathy arrives and we watch the bear a while longer. Then off we go to the trail head.
Trout Lake is its usual gorgeous self.
We turn left and follow the trail around the south side of the lake, then continue uphill until we come out in the open and get broader view of the landscape.
It’s hard to tell exactly where the hollow is, but once I see the road below it gives us a pretty good idea of where it is. As usual, whenever I hike in Yellowstone, I am amazed at how much country there is that is unseen from the road.
The sage is very thick and it’s not easy to get through, but we manage. We find numerous green gentian and all sorts of other wild flowers. And we even find a second hollow surrounded by thick willows and aspen. As we get closer to it, we see a secret pond inside.
We don’t go much further because we both forgot bear spray and the area is exactly the kind of place a bear (or a moose) could hide in. We peer through a gap in the branches, though, using our binoculars. I see three huge aspen trunks growing right out of the water.
We put our heads together and decide this pond is likely seasonal, because I don’t think aspen would survive being drowned like that all year long. Kathie and I both feel a return trip to this area in the fall would be a good idea.
We head back to the Lake, negotiating around a few soggy spots and eventually make it back to the trail. We don’t see any otters but Kathie catches a quick glimpse of a muskrat. We also see pair of geese with five sweet goslings.
And we spy a few trout under the surface but see no evidence yet of a spawn.
We meet and talk with a couple of molecular scientists (!) who have come to the Park for a break. They work at UCLA. We have a fascinating discussion with them about potential treatments for Covid. They express how perplexed they are that the pandemic has become politicized.
On the way down we meet a woman Kathie knows who is involved in the current YP/YA situation. She says people are trying to brainstorm ways to preserve the work of YA and that Yellowstone Super Cam Sholly is having a meeting tomorrow to discuss options. It’s the first hopeful news I’ve had about that depressing topic in quite a while.
After a relaxing break in Silver Gate, I now head west again in hopes of more puppy action.
In the straightaway between Baronette and Moose Meadow I see a fox on the left side of the road, heading towards me. With no one behind me, I put on my flashers and stop. As the beautiful animal gets closer I see two voles dangling from its mouth! The fox hops off the road into the brush and heads south. Looks like this fox has kits to feed.
I stop again at Moose meadow – and catch a glimpse of a mother moose with twins heading up the stream. I only get a quick peek but it’s a really cool sighting.
Back at Slough I set up in Laurie’s lot where I am joined by Becky & Chloe. We scope and chat and laugh, but for nearly an hour we have no movement at all.
Chloe and I are deep in discussion when Becky calls to us “wolves! Puppies” she says. Aha! A bunch of puppies are making an excursion from the eastern trees towards the Crescent Rock. After some exploring and tumbling, three of them turn around and head back to the shade of the trees. They play ring around the tree trunk and one of them runs so fast he kicks up a dust cloud!
Another group is roughhousing around the rocks and sage above the entrance to the sage den. And two more wander down to the spring meadow for a drink, before heading back up.
As these two are climbing, a pair of black adults emerge between the eastern and western trees – probably having been bedded in tall grass the whole while. Two puppies wander over to the adults and disappear into the thick green.
We hear a call from Bill saying a wolf is visible from Fisherman’s, gnawing on a 5-day-old bison carcass across the river from there.
We decide to pack up and head there. The pullout is pretty full, but we manage. We all wear masks, though, because there are more people here than we are used to. We still manage to stay far apart, though, although not everyone does. When people get too close, I lift my scope and move.
It takes a while to find a safely distanced spot but I do. Across the river, on the rocky hill just left of the canyon is a black yearling, collared, which means it must be 1229. At first I find her hard to see, because she blends in so well with the dark mud around the carcass. There is not much left, but 1229 tugs and tugs.
The weather is great and we enjoy watching her.
I have to keep moving my spot, though because people naturally start to crowd around, wanting to see what I see. I move off but still offer directions. The people are just excited, not jerks. But it changes my experience.
Around 9PM I say my goodbyes to C & B and head east. I see the fox again in about the same spot, now heading west. Look out voles!
Today I saw: a black bear, a grizzly bear, bison, elk, a fox (twice), geese and goslings, pronghorn (including one with twins), 25 Junction wolves;
including 907, 1047, 1048, 996, 1229, gray male, five yearlings, at least 14 puppies (9/5) and the spirits of Allison and Richard.