The Halloween moon is up this morning, lighting my way. The fierce wind from last night has abated and I think it has brought warmer temps.
I figure it’s always good to start at Slough, since Doug is in his usual spot. Mark & Carol are manning their post on Dave’s Hill. But just like yesterday, there are no wolves in view; only bison and a few elk. Doug does find a coyote at least!
So, soon I am headed west to help find the wolves. I always say “they have to be somewhere!” And I always hope I will be the one to see them first. Rick goes back east to Dorothy’s. Laurie & Dan and Kathie are already at Elk Creek, so I set up at Boulder.
John is here, too. We both scope mightily. He looks north while I look south, mostly up on Specimen. I search every nook and cranny, all the slim fingers, finding bighorn and elk but not a single canid. It turns into a lovely morning, sunny and cool, but by 8AM none of us have seen a wolf.
So, in frustration I turn my scope and try scoping to the north. I point my scope towards the Buffalo Ford and…a wolf runs right into view!
“Black wolf!” I call “West of the Ford!”
John has great eyes and looks where my scope is pointing. He sees it! Now I have 2 wolves in my scope. They are running through sage with a clear purpose.
I lift my radio with a shaking hand and call Laurie. “Two black wolves from Boulder. West of Buffalo Ford”.
John calls “they’re after bison”. I don’t see any bison so I don’t know what he means. He says “look at the tree line” which I do. In a gap between the trees I see five bull bison being harassed by 5, 6, 7, 8 wolves! These are additional wolves and I realize the first two I saw are running to join the pack’s attempt against the bison.
I lift my radio again to say “more wolves, more than two! A lot!” I am so excited. After all this time, I should be able to stay calm, but I don’t.
The bison try to escape but the wolves chase them en masse. One bison has four wolves attached to its rear end and another alongside. Holy moly! This is serious! The bison twists and bucks trying to dislodge the wolves. They are all out in the open sage now, away from the trees. The other bison turn to help their buddy, and those formidable horned heads are enough to make the wolves back off.
However, the targeted bison has blood on its hind quarters and no tuft at the end of its tail. I think it might have been yanked off just moments ago. Wow.
Suddenly the sage around the bison is alive with arriving wolves, moving every which way, tails high in excitement, coming from every direction.
Look at all those wolves! The hillside is full of them!
People are arriving now and can see the drama without my help. A standoff between bison and wolves begins, punctuated by dozens of lunges and feints by the wolves, rebuffed by charging and stomping by all five bison.
This is the first time I have ever witnessed a serious wolf attack on an adult bison. Six or seven core wolves stay close to the target bull, avoiding the charges of the buddy bulls, feinting left and right, flanking uphill or down, looking for ways to regain advantage.
I can’t get over what it looks like to see that many wolves concentrated in one small area.
Laurie & Dan and Larry & Linda and Kathie and Rick and Faye and Dale are here. Mark & Carol are on their way.
The action calms down for a bit. Some of the wolves sit down right where they are, and others head down to the line of trees to bed there. The bison just stand in a loose group, right in the open.
I try counting but there is too much movement to be 100% sure. It sure looks like we have the whole pack.
I am so very happy. It’s great to see this sort of action but I am just glowing with the joy of finding them. I have constant daydream/fantasies that all I have to do is look over there and be the one who finds the wolves for everyone. I have “looked over there” so many times and come up with nothing but today it happened.
Two of the bulls start to butt heads. Another begins to mount another. I wonder what purpose this serves? Are the bison dissing the wolves? Pretending their presence is inconsequential? Every once in a while a wolf manages a lunge and a nip, but it doesn’t seem to be a coordinated effort.
More and more wolves begin to settle down, some bedding uphill of the bison and others joining the ones already bedded under the trees. But the core group maintains an active interest, lunging in every once in a while.
The other four bison do seem to be protecting the Tuftless One. It’s hard to know if they are doing it on purpose or not. The high count consensus is 31 Junctions. Wow.
Laurie ID’s all the collars except 1109. She has not found the gray male or the husky yearling but she has everyone else.
I ask Laurie what makes the wolves want that particular bison. She offers that perhaps there must be something wrong with it. Something they can smell, maybe. To me, at this distance, the only thing apparently “wrong” with this bison is the missing tuft. I see no infirmity; all four legs seem to work; he does not seem thin or weak to me. But Laurie notices a slight stiffness in his gait compared to the other bison. Hmmm.
Things become static for a while as the adults wolves bed, waiting for the next opportunity. Several pups begin to play, fooling around under the trees, running back and forth, jumping on each other. Well, they’re pups, they still don’t know how to hunt yet.
I see the alpha male hobble downhill towards the trees. I guess he was one of the ones that went uphill a little bit ago.
When he arrives at the trees, the pack has a rally with lots of body slamming, nuzzling and tail wagging. And they howl like crazy!
Things calm down again with just some sporadic pup play that we show newly arriving visitors.
Around 9:30 the five bison begin to move uphill. Immediately the bedded wolves jump to their feet and go after them again. Again, the hillside becomes alive with wolves. It is just breathtaking! A few individuals focus on the Tuftless One and I see several points of contact. But the bison’s bodyguards stick with him again and the wolves are forced to back off.
We have stalemate again. A sixth bull bison wanders up from below and joins the group of 5. His arrival seems to prompt a slow exodus of the bison to the west. Again, as soon as the bull begin moving, the wolves’ interest is renewed.
They are all up, following and surrounding the bison again. Unfortunately, as they move left, our view is obstructed by the line of trees. Between branches we catch glimpses of rapid movement. I am pretty sure the wolves have renewed their attack.
If they remain on this westerly route, they will all go out of view in a minute and we won’t see them again unless they travel as far as Junction Lake. That area can only be seen from Elk Creek.
So people start to pack up and head west.
I stay a while, still hoping the bison will, instead, try to evade the wolves by moving upslope to place where we can see them again.
A larger herd of bison, one with cows and calves, grazes higher on this slope. Three of the bulls separate from the others and begin to run uphill as if to join the larger herd. This is the move I am hoping for but the Tuftless One is not one of these three bulls and the wolves do not follow them.
Which means they are likely still following the group with the Tuftless One. And his bodyguard/entourage has now shrunk from five to two.
I head to Elk Creek myself.
Sure enough, the three bison and many of the Junctions are already at Junction Lake. Several wolves have climbed up the rocky hill on the far side of the lake and bed there, watching the continuing show below. Two wolves are standing broadside on the flat ground by the lake, showing keen interest in the bison.
I watch this fascinating back and forth, with wolves occasionally lunging in for a nip and the bison standing firm. Usually the action involves only one wolf at a time (or at most three at once). The Tuftless One is being constantly harassed by “a thousand tiny cuts” rather than a full-on assault.
It is crystal clear that the Junctions are interested in just the Tuftless One, not the group or any other individual. Every time contact is made by one wolf, bedded wolves on the hill get up and come down, as if ready to join in. But they never mount a full-on attack, though. Most wolves are cautious (or you could call them “chicken”.)
After about an hour, the bison abandon this area and begin to move back east. The wolves follow right along. As the bison depart, more and more wolves appear from their hilltop bedding spots and come down, heading east. They disappear quickly.
So I pack up once more and head east myself.
I find John back on Boulder hill but no animals have yet appeared. It’s late in the day so after a litte while, I bid him adieu and head east.
I see a coyote mousing in the meadow west of Fisherman’s
Back in Silver Gate I take a break and relax. Laurie reminds me that we get an extra hour of sleep tonight. Yay!
We all head back in around 5PM, planning to stop at Boulder. Faye and Dale are here and already they have wolves in view.
I see at least 10 (7/3). They are on the same hill as this morning but in a higher spot. They are STILL harassing the Tuftless One.
It is the same semi-casual back and forth. One wolf will start to get close and the bison will toss his head and the wolf will evade it. Then another wolf will approach from a different angle, repeating that action.
Nothing remarkable happens, but the target bison is not allowed to relax.
It’s very interesting to watch, at least to me and the wolf-nuts around me!
Just when it starts to get interesting, the momentum slows and things quiet down. Much has been written of the kind of stamina wolves have and how they sometimes win their battles simply by wearing down their prey. I think I’m seeing a bit of this today.
But I would also not count out the bison too fast. They are as tough as they come!
As the light starts to fade three blacks head downhill, disappearing into the river corridor.
As I pack up and say my goodbyes, I wonder if the Tuftless One will survive the night?
A really pretty sunset begins behind me as I follow Dan & Laurie home. We don’t see the Halloween moon tonight as there are clouds to the east but just as I pass the “Entering Montana” sign it bursts into view, huge and bright with an orange tinge, I kid you not.
Today I saw: bison, coyote, elk, a Halloween moon, 31 Junction wolves and the spirits of Allison and Richard.