There is a bit of frost on the windshield this morning. It seems cloudy as there is no moon, which means its extra dark.
My plan for today is to start at Slough, in the same spot as I was last night.
When I arrive I find Doug here. Itís very nice to see him again. Mark & Carol are up on Daveís Hill. We have a hearty hello over the radio.
Itís chilly this morning; only 18 degrees, but I am ready for it. With an assist from Doug, I see wolves, four of them, in basically the same spot as last night. However, Mark & Carol have a better view and report 7.
I am thinking of joining them up on the hill when Laurie & Dan show up. Laurie just talked with Jeremy and suggests we go to Hellroaring. There was a visitor report of wolves chasing elk there last night.
So, I follow her to the west.
Along the drive we get radio updates from Mark & Carol. Their wolf count has risen to 13. I consider turning around but keep going anyway. At Elk Creek their count has blossomed to 20 wolves in view. And a grizzly!
I laugh out loud at the irony of our leaving such a sighting but thatís how it goes sometimes. We pull into Hellroaring and get out our scopes. Itís Dan, Laurie, Jeremy and me, plus a few other visitors.
Dan finds a grizzly walking west in a swale, east of the lower tornado drainage. Iíve seen wolves in this area so many times I am hopeful this means something.
Jeremy changes his viewing angle about 6 times and finally announces heís found a possible carcass. Then he sees a wolf, just one, so yeah, there is a carcass.
We are likely seeing the result of the chase witnessed last night. Laurie is about to call in our single wolf when we hear from Carol again. She has 26 Junction wolves in view. We all burst out laughing and the other visitors are SURE that we are nuts.
I find Jeremyís wolf. Itís black and looks to me like a yearling or a pup. I see his head is lowered in snow-covered sage. Then he lifts his head and moves northeast with something in his mouth. He disappears behind a hill and a few birds follow him.
A few minutes later the wolf re-appears (or perhaps this is a different one). This wolf goes straight to the carcass area, flushing more birds. He lowers his head to feed. I think this is a different wolf because it has slightly gray sides while the first one was very black.
There are two bald eagles and two goldens perched in trees near the carcass, waiting their turn. After a moment or two, the wolf leaves the carcass carrying a leg and disappears behind the same hill.
I always try to stich a story together from the few bits of information we get. My impression is that the Junctions likely successfully hunted last night, fed on it for several hours, and then travelled back to Slough, bringing food to the pups, out of habit.
I also think that after the majority of wolves finished feeding and went east, the bear to his turn. I think Dan found him as he was leaving the carcass, and that his departure allowed the straggler wolves to take another turn themselves. And to grab souvenirs to bring back to the pups. I now expect these two black wolves will appear at Slough in an hour or so.
Anyway, we get back in our cars in order to return to Slough, hoping that we have not missed our chance to see the other 26!
When we get back I am able to confirm, through Laurie, that the majority of later-appearing wolves arrived from the west and almost all of them delivered food to the that had been there at dawn. All of this supports my theory too.
I join Faye and Dale on the little hill and start to count wolves. I see 23 of the (now) 28 in view. One is 996M who sits by himself on the crest of a low hill, scratching. He has been doing this for a couple of months. He might have a touch of mange but if so, itís not bad enough that we notice missing fur.
I am delighted to witness some wonderful morning play between two black pups and two gray pups.
Laurie is especially very happy when she recognizes 1109F. She is with the pack today, bedded on her own to the left. She looks well fed, which is encouraging.
One of the gray pups gets chased by several other pups. The gray drops to the ground as an evading tactic and rolls on his back, defending himself from his playful siblings.
A black pup crouches in the snow as the others are playing. I think he is setting up an ambush. Yes! As the others come his way he leaps up and surprises them. So cute.
Another black pup walks over to 996M and gives him a friendly greeting. 996 basically ignores the pup and starts scratching again. Some things stay the same.
Then a grizzly appears. Carol says this is a different bear from the one they saw earlier. He moves north past the Marge Simpson tree and stands up a couple of times, which is always fun to see. Then he ambles away. I get the impression that this bear is very familiar with these wolves and vice versa.
A collared gray appears (1228F) from the west. She is swarmed by pups. She lowers her head and feeds them. The pups gobble it up.
Two more blacks arrive with wagging tails. They, too, are swarmed by pups but they move downhill and out of sight before I see a feeding. Iím pretty sure they had food, though. In fact, timing wise, I bet these two are the same blacks I saw at Hellroaring.
Around noon, most of the wolves begin to settle down and bed but the puppy play continues for another hour.
In between the wolf action I see a swan fly overhead and find elk up on Specimen.
I belatedly notice Larry & Linda in this lot, so I climb down the hill and say hello. I present the clothes I got for them in Bozeman. They are very happy which makes my day!
Itís after 1PM before we pack up to leave. Wow, what a great morning!
On my drive back east I see the four-color winter palette I like so much, but then I realize that in some spots, specifically in the areas where willow grow, there is a fifth color. Itís a watercolor mix of purple/red/orange in the willow branches. So thatís even prettier.
The sun comes out, making the whole landscape just vibrate with fresh, cool beauty. Oh, and the evergreens! The sun makes them nearly as bright as spring!
I love this place.
When we get back to Silver Gate, I tell Laurie this morning was so good, I donít think I need to go out for the evening. She agrees so we end up staying in. Dan builds a fire and we have a lovely, cozy visit.
Around 8PM we hear footsteps on the deck. Faye and Dale stop by to tell us of their sighting this evening. They had been scoping at Boulder and were just about to leave when many Junctions appeared in the sage to the north. The light was failing but the wolves slowly approached the road to the east of the pullout. Everyone on the hill was quiet, almost holding their breath. The wolves crossed, in ones and twos and threes, heading straight towards Specimen.
Itís a wonderful sighting and I am happy for them. Plus, we now have a good idea of where to start tomorrow!
Today I saw: 2 grizzly bears, bison, coyotes, 3 bald eagles, 2 golden eagles, elk, a swan, 25 Junction wolves including 996, 1047, 907,
1228, 1229, gray male, 1109 plus 18 more and the spirits of Allison & Richard.