I head out for my last morning. No new snow overnight and it’s a normal 31 degrees.
I start at Trash Can, as usual. Right away I see a single black wolf moving west with evident determination. Soon this black joins two other wolves, a black and a gray, at the treeline above the Big Fan.
All three wolves continue west, using that fast trot that says “I’m on a mission”. I scan the rest of the R-V and see no other wolves, moving or bedded. I had hoped to find the whole family here this morning but nope, they are not here.
The consensus on the hill is that these three are puppies, so…where are the rest of them?
Some people have already moved west in hopes of answering that question. I decide to keep track of these three so I stop at Mid-Point. I find them again…on the old bison carcass! Both blacks begin to scavenge while the gray continues west. The blacks howl a bit but soon follow the gray.
The gray follows the usual route across Amethyst bench to the drainage, the same way they have travelled several times this past week.
Remembering where the adults were at dusk last night I begin to suspect that some of them came to see the pups last night and left orders for them to follow. That’s what I hope, anyway!
The three pups drop down through the line of trees that border the creek and I lose them. But as expected, they quickly re-appear on the other side and head up the bare hill. They are indeed headed to Jasper Bench, and that, of course, leads to Crystal on the Slough side.
I move to Dorothy’s and find them again, higher, predictably moving towards the back of Jasper Bench. Jeremy pulls in and we have a happy reunion. He had a good time with his family but seems happy to be back. I ask if he has signals.
He grins and tells me no, but that he just discovered why: his aerial is broken off. He doesn’t know how. So, he will have to depend on his back-up aerial.
I show him the three traveling wolves but they almost immediately go out of sight. Then the radio crackles with news we both want: the Junction adults have been located at Slough – with a carcass!
So we pack up and head there.
I hike out to Bob’s Knob and set up with Robin & Steve, Larry & Linda. Other scopers, including Susan, Reve, Rick and Kathie are up on Dave’s Hill. We stay in communication over the radio. Everyone is happy this morning.
The main pack is bedded around the Southern Round Tree. The carcass is out of sight (of course) but the wolves have been going downhill to it and then re-emerging from there with full bellies. There are numerous birds in the trees including a pair of bald eagles.
And there is also a grizzly – which apparently was closer to the carcass earlier when the wolves were first spotted. I am pretty sure this is the same “friend bear” that has been hanging out with the Junctions for weeks now. He likes the easy food they provide.
A few of the Junctions escorted their “friend” away earlier but he comes into view again, ambling slowly up to the mixed conifer/aspen forest to the northwest.
A rally begins and the pack lets loose with a howl session, long and wonderful, with many puppy voices. My count has risen to at least 27, which means some of the pups from the group of 10 that were seemingly by themselves in the Lamar R-V must have re-joined the pack overnight.
So with the three that are now on their way here, from Lamar, we are “missing” just four.
A big surprise of the day is that 1109F is with her pack today. She is bedded a bit apart from them, which is normal for her. But she has a full belly so she clearly managed to get her share of this carcass.
Later, two black wolves bed near her, and I wonder if they might be her pups from last year?
I see several instances of dominance by the alpha female against 1229 and another black (perhaps 3rd mother?).
Some of the puppies begin to play, romping and chasing each other across the low, snow-covered hills. I just love seeing pups play.
I turn fairly often to scan the hillside to the south, waiting for the arrival of the three pups. Around 8:30 they appear, quite low on the hill, below Crystal Rock.
Of course, these three pups will want to cross the road and will likely be thwarted by hordes of people and cars. I can’t blame people for being interested in seeing them, of course. I just wish they’d stay out of their way.
Of course, if the pups had made the journey last night or earlier this morning, well, they’d be on the carcass already.
The pups howl and the pack replies, so I am comforted that the pups know exactly where their family is.
One howl session goes on a really long time. Three times it starts to die off and then swells again. It’s just wonderful. Over the radio we hear that one black pup has managed to get across despite the crowds. Soon after that, two wolves leave the hill in front of us, forming a welcome party.
And sure enough, a few minutes after this we see the arrival of the happy, happy pup, wagging its tail so hard it looks like it might fly off! We are all just beaming with joy.
The other two pups, however, end up travelling all the way to Boulder before they finally get across. Poor Jeremy has his hands full today!
We talk about whether or not today may mark a change for the Junctions, or perhaps more specifically for wolf watchers. We agree it is likely that the pups will no longer be “predictable viewing” in the Lamar rendezvous. We also connect the change to the fact that elk are starting to “come down” from the higher elevations.
The pack will likely now become nomadic, with the pups following the adults wherever they hunt. From now on, wherever they have a carcass will be “home”.
Jeremy says that so far this year’s pups seem to have a healthy “fear” of the road and people, which he believes is a very good thing. They will likely live longer that way.
This has been such a great sighting that I’ve lost track of time. Its nearly 11AM and I usually leave around 10.
So, I begin my goodbyes and thank you’s to all my friends, lift my scope and trudge back to my car.
On my way out, I see a jam at Elk Creek, being handled by a young ranger. It’s for four coyotes on a carcass, just downslope from the road, quite close. I suspect something was hit by a car last night and these canids are happy to have discovered it.
My last wildlife sighting is a chipmunk scurrying across the road at Hellroaring.
I have a nice visit with Allison in Mammoth, then head back to Bozeman.
Today I saw: bison, coyotes, elk, 30 Junction wolves and the spirits of Allison & Richard.