Itís 28 degrees at 7AM. I find a light dusting of overnight snow. L & D get out ahead of me.
It looks like there is fog up ahead and the sky is quite cloudy. I notice the warmer temp has caused the remaining ice on the roads to melt. Lots of pavement shows through.
Round Prairie looks so pretty. There is a bit of fog here, but it is already rising, hugging the slopes. If there were wolves on the berm I would see them.
I see L & Dís car pulled over at Soda Butte east, so I join them. Apparently, just before dawn, Jeff spotted wolves to the south. He pulled over at Soda Butte Mid point and watched them cross to the north. He says he lost them when they moved into the trees, but they seemed to be heading east.
Dan finds a black but it goes quickly out of sight. Then he finds a gray in the same spot. Laurie & I miss them both!
Taylor & Sidney join us and we all scope the northern slopes. This is a small pullout, so most of us stand in the meadow to scope so we can still be 6 feet apart and also leave room for cars. Snow starts to fall, messing with the visibility.
Dan finds a gray again. This time I see it for a split second. Itís heading east so I am content that I am in the right pullout for now.
Taylor calls out ďbull elkĒ and I see it emerge from the tree line just north east of us. The bull moves towards the road at a slow trot. But right behind that huge elk is the light gray pup! Wow, she is something! You go girl!
Suddenly we have three, four, five wolves bursting from the trees behind the gray pup chasing the elk. The elk is now running but still doesnít move very fast. There are three levels in the landscape north of us: the highest snow slope with a backdrop of thick forest, then a hollow with a horizontal rim and the tops of trees growing out of it, then a lower snow slope leading down to the open meadow. The elk heads into the hollow and (of course) disappears. The gray pup is right on the elkís heels. All the wolves follow her and disappear.
Another two late arrivals follow the others downhill. Then a black pup comes back out. He stops and sits on his haunches, watching intently what is happening below.
We compare notes and the consensus is that most of the wolves we saw chase the elk were pups. Perhaps they have it cornered down there but donít know what to do next. The pup is watching with interest but the fact that he does not head down there suggests a kill has not been made.
Perhaps this pup is too smart to risk injury. Or is he just content to let the others do the hard work!
The gray male appears on the high slope to the west. He stops, too, looking into the hollow. He sits on his haunches, clearing watching some sort of activity going on below. Wow, that surprises me. He is usually so game and often in the lead during a chase. Hmm. I can only suppose this means the elk is still alive.
We wait. The snow falls ever more thickly until we are in full white out. I keep waiting for the elk to come back out.
The gray male and the black pup sit together for a while, still watching. Then the gray beds while the pup now heads down the hill.
At about 9:15 the snow lets up. A black wolf, perhaps the same pup, emerges from the eastern end of the hollow. It quickly moves out of sight, in the direction of Trout Lake.
Jeff is still at SB Midpoint and has a different view than we do. He cannot see into the hollow either but he can see more of the eastern side. He radios that two black pups are playing on the hillside east of the hollow. (Trout Lake side). We are blocked, but we think the black we just saw could be going to join them.
A black pup (the same? Different?) comes back up the hill and beds near the gray male. The two of them continue watching intently whatever drama is going on below them.
We keep an eye out for birds in the area, which would indicate a kill but see only one or two which makes us believe the elk is still putting up a brave stand.
Taylor notices a collared black to the west, moving this way. Laurie IDís the wolf as 1109F. She is following a clear trail through the snow just below the tree line but as she gets closer she melts into the thick trees as we lose her. I notice both the gray male and the black pup have gotten up and are moving west. I wonder if they are going to greet her?
Taylor finds a second wolf on the trail to the west but it disappears fast. Then a black wolf emerges from the hollow. Then four wolves, a gray and three blacks, emerge from the trees above the hollow and head downslope in a fairly determined way. Shortly after this I notice a lot of birds perched in the nearby trees.
Unfortunately, I have to leave this sighting for a while, to go back to Silver Gate in order to make a pre-arranged phone call to my office.
The call goes well but takes twice as long as I expected. When I get back I am happy to find that the snow has stopped and the sun is out, making everything suddenly gorgeous!
I manage to find a spot to park at Soda Butte East. Taylor and Sidney are gone but Sian is here. There has been a steady parade of wolves to and from the carcass during my absence. When I get set up I find 996M is bedded in view, on the western side of the slope above the hollow, pretty much where the gray male had been earlier.
Another black wolf is bedded behind 996, close to some trees. Sian says there are likely still some pack members feeding, but most have emerged and wandered into the cover of trees to sleep off their meal.
An intrepid coyote makes a brief appearance but quickly decides there are far too many wolves about. He beats a hasty retreat to the east, probably deciding to try again later.
Then a fox appears, perched on the rim of the lower hill below the lip of the hollow. As he pauses, a black pup emerges from the hollow, carrying some meat. The fox heads west and downhill. But I thank him for giving me a three-dog day.
For a while all we have are bedded wolves. Sian scopes around and finds a goat up on Thunderer. Around 4PM, Laurie & Dan return and I catch them up. A newly-arrived visitor lifts his binoculars and says to his companion ďoh, look, thereís a coyote.Ē We look where he points and Laurie says ďthatís a wolf!Ē
The visitor is very happy. This wolf is 1048M, walking slowly up the hill from the hollow. He passes 996 and flops down, behind a tree as if it is an enormous relief to get off his feet. I sympathize!
996 stretches, and as a result, begins to slowly slide down the hill backwards. Itís mildly comical. He rolls over and slides a bit further, legs in the air. Then he stands and shakes a little, as if to say ďyeah, I meant to do thatĒ. Next he points his nose downhill and heads for another snack.
1048 adjusts his position, moving to a spot where I cannot see him as well. The other bedded black compensates by moving to a more visible position, so, at least I still have one wolf in good view.
I watch a raven fly up from below with a piece of food in its mouth. It lands at the top of a tall stump, sits there for a while and then begins to stuff the morsel into the stump! I suppose the top is hollow, and that the raven is caching food for later. I donít think Iíve ever seen that done before.
I start to assess what my count is so far today. The individuals I have seen are: 996, 1048, 1109, the gray male, the gray pup 1228 and at least five other un-collared blacks. So thatís at least 10 although I think the whole pack is here.
I get the sense this evening that daylight is staying longer. The equinox is only a week away, so it makes sense. Around 6:00 we head back east.
Today I saw: bison, 2 coyotes, a bull elk, a fox, a mountain goat, 10 Junction wolves and the spirits of Allison and Richard