DAY SIX - Saturday, June 13

LAMAR DRAMA

Today is the warmest yet - 50 degrees at 5AM!

As I approach Soda Butte Picnic this morning I see a moose walking along the side of the road. I slow down and just as I stop he steps off into the parking lot. I watch him pass a picnic table and wade into the creek. Then another car comes behind me so I move on. Wow, that is a tall animal!

At Footbridge I see a pair of bull bison Ė one at either end of the lot, each rubbing his head against the sturdy log railing. Oh boy, that must feel good!

I see Rick and Bill at Dorothyís so I pull in. They have Junction wolves on Jasper bench. Aha! I lug out my scope and join them. The wolves are moving past a bison herd, downslope and east. Rick and I see six total. They are going at a good clip and quickly disappear into the Amethyst drainage.

I stick around a while hoping to see them emerge down low but when they donít, I continue to Slough. I still feel compelled to see as much puppy action as I can, knowing they might not be in view much longer.

Again Iím the first to arrive in this lot so I set up and find two adults right away. The gray male is traveling along the parrot rock route, carrying something. 907F meets him in front of the western trees. Judging from her wagging tail she seems very happy to see him but he passes her (!) and keeps trotting until he is surrounded by pups. Now he lowers his head and gives it up for them. What a guy!

Once his duty is done, he continues east and disappears behind the yellow flower hill.

907 joins the pups as they gobble the goods. Now the pups surround her! She escapes them by bounding down to the spring meadow where she gets a drink.

Next, two black adults appear at the eastern trees. One goes to the spot where the gray male left food and the other sits on the slope watching 907. Or, thatís what I thought! It turns out this wolf is watching the pups! 907 leaves the area but the black wolf is still enraptured as the pups romp and play in the spring meadow, cute as can be.

The pups leave the high grass and slowly climb the hill back to the eastern trees. Some move behind the trunks and others continue east to the yellow grass meadow. They always disappear in there Ė we have not found a place yet where you can see back there.

Ah well, it was really nice to see them play.

Bill calls in a bear sighting on Divide Ridge. I look on the flip side of that Ridge from here and to my delight I find the bear! Thanks again, Bill!

Things have begun to quiet down here so we are thinking of heading back east. And then Bill calls again ďwolves in the old Druid rendezvous!Ē

That seals the deal.

I end up climbing Geriatric with Rick & Kathie plus Laurie & Dan.

We see a total of 9 Junction adults here; 8 blacks and gray 1228. Rick agrees with me that this is the same group we saw early this morning from Dorothys.

They continued traveling east. Jort radios from Footbridge. They made it to the river bottoms and are now climbing up, still heading southeast.

I pick them up on the middle flats as they test bison and pronghorn. Laurie IDís the alphas, 1228 and several yearlings. Now they turn south aiming for Cache. I lose them and find them several times out on those rolling hills.

But they get farther and farther away and soon go out of sight.

Itís still quite early so most of us go back to Slough. On our way there, just past Fishermanís, there is a bear jam for the ďNorris sowĒ with two cubs of the year. They are north of the road in a little draw. A ranger is keeping the traffic flowing, allowing each car a minute to stop and look, then move on.

At Slough I join Larry & Linda in Laurieís lot. The pups have come back out and have resumed playing in the spring meadow near the single tree. Someone notices a woodpecker in the tree!

The gray male reappears, along with three other adult blacks, one of whom is the third mother. I see 10 pups total, including 4 grays.

Itís comical to watch them try to lead them anywhere. Laurie says the pups are old enough now to go wherever they want to go. The gray keeps spinning around this way and that, trying to gather them and they just wonít be gathered. The pups do eventually go back up the hill, but at their own pace and in their own way.

By now the sun has made the day quite hot. I shed several layers, breathing a sigh of relief once I trade my boots for Tevas. Ahhh!

Back east I go. I had commented to Laurie that I have not seen any coyotes so far on this trip, which we both find odd. I decide to stop at Dorothyís to try to find one from here. I have always had coyote luck from this pullout.

But I find none in sight. Hmmm.

Laurie and Dan head back to Silver Gate but I feel like staying out longer, now that I am in cooler clothes. I move to mid-point. From here I look at the Druid R-V and see a large bison herd. I often see coyotes roaming around these herds so I try to find my song dog from this spot. Instead I find only bison, cows and calves. One cow seems to have a sore leg, limping here and there.

Then finally I spot what I think is a coyote way down in Chalcedony fan. But the more I watch this animal, the less it looks like a coyote and the more it looks like a wolf.

Hmmm.

This animal is threading its way through the bison herd. I notice it gets charged by a cow, but it just moves on. Then another cow charges it. Hmm, usually bison donít bother charging a lone coyote. But they DO occasionally charge a lone wolf. I begin to think this could be a Junction yearling.

Perhaps it was part of the hunting group earlier but turned around or got distracted? I need a closer look so I drive down to Trash Can. At first all I see are pronghorn, bison and sandhills.

Ahh, there it is, heading west. I am now sure itís definitely a wolf, in fact, itís the cocoa colored yearling. I call it in. ďBlack wolf, south of PicnicĒ.

Then I see a second wolf, a gray. They are close enough to be aware of each other but are not exactly traveling together. The black is moving through the sage while the gray is further west in short green grass. I move west to the Ranch, joining Kathie, Chloe & Becky.

Both wolves are making good time. The gray is collared and we think itís 1228 because she doesnít look like 907 (and we saw her at Slough this morning). She is heading up Amethyst bench. The black is still on the flats.

We now move to Dorothyís, passing cars and people stopped on both sides of the road, thrilled to see wolves so close. Once we are set up we agree that the cocoa yearling looks like he/she might cross the road. There are so many cars full of people watching this wolf, we canít help but worry.

We all guess this wolf is a female (just a guess, based on overall size and build). We notice a clear white stripe on her shoulder. She decides against the road and continues west, below Dorothyís Knoll. People (of course) start to walk out.

Luckily, she turns south and now aims for the river. I am almost melting from the heat (65!) so if I were this wolf I would definitely choose a water route!

But before she gets there, she needs to cross an area of former river bottom which is gravelly and full of flotsam. The wolf enters this area, hopping lightly over a log or two as she goes. I see her leap a narrow channel in the river, then splash through some shallow water. Suddenly a gray canid shape explodes into view; itís chasing the wolf!

The black wolf speeds away to the left with the gray in pursuit. But itís not a gray wolf after her, itís a coyote!

The coyote chases the wolf right to the riverís edge but there it stops, momentarily victorious, leaving the wolf to catch her breath and try to regain her dignity.

What a cool way to finally see a coyote!

We comment to each other that it looks like the coyote was lying in wait for the wolf. Of course, itís more likely that the coyote was just minding its own business when the wolf ambled along. It was very exciting to see and we all agree the coyote seemed driven by a strong animosity.

The cocoa wolf is now in the water. She attempts to swim across but gets swept down by the very strong current. She lets the water take her a awhile then returns to the near bank. She shakes off, stares at the road a bit, perhaps wonders where the coyote is, and seems to be weighing her options. But soon she heads back into the water. This time she chooses her crossing spot carefully and executes a very efficient river crossing.

Once on the far side she shakes once, then climbs quickly uphill.

After this, I need to cool off in a river myself, so I head back to SG.

Around 6PM I head back once more. It has barely cooled at all, itís still 70 degrees!

I am pleased to have Laurie & Dan for company tonight. Laurie is finally feeling better. She has a new prescription which gave her an upset stomach. She stopped taking those pills and is finally feeling better.

Itís clear that the number of people and cars is more like late July or August level than early June. But this is not a normal year. (I find out later that after a slow start, June attendance broke records Ė 115% of normal).

We have a fox in the road just before Baronette, so I get a three-dog day.

And we see a black bear north of the road at Soda Butte Picnic and a second black bear in Lamar north of Soda Butte east.

We set up in our usual spot at Slough. There is a single bedded black in the spring meadow. I suggest itís too hot for them to be active.

Dan finds pronghorn and another black bear high up above the den cliff. We hear meadowlarks and watch a northern harrier soaring and diving above Slough flats.

Around 8PM, the bedded black gets up, has a drink at the spring and moseys up the hill towards the eastern trees. The wolf sits on the hill a moment, surveying its world, then disappears into the yellow grass meadow.

We keep expecting to see pups or other adults, but itís just a slow night. At least there is a breeze to keep the skeeters away.

We head back to Silver Gate, knowing we will likely be stuck for a while in a bison jam or two. And we have three, which has become a nightly ritual. You just have to go with it.

Our last sighting of the day is two mule deer at Warm Creek.

Today I saw: 4 grizzlies, 4 black bears, bison, 2 sandhills, 1 coyote, mule deer, elk, a fox, a northern harrier, a moose, pronghorn, a woodpecker, 23 Junction wolves including the alphas, 907, the gray male, a cocoa pup, 1228 plus 7 others as well as 10 pups (6/4) and the spirits of Allison and Richard.

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