DAY ONE - Saturday, April 17

THANKS TO BEAR MAN BILL

I leave Bozeman around noon. Itís time to get back to the Park and watch the den area.

Itís 40 degrees, a bright blue cloudless sky. The Bridgers look great, freshly draped with snow up high.

Bozeman is eager for spring. Some lawns are already starting to green up. Our tulips have even poked up. I bet I come back to green grass and budding trees!

A pair of sandhills visited my neighborhood yesterday, gobbling and walking through the big yard two lawns south of me. And while Laurie and Dan were here on Thursday, a pair of ducks crossed the road right beyond my front porch.

Easy driving so far, Iím happy to say. In Paradise Valley the Absorkas look spectacular. Lots of snow on the high peaks. The sky is clear and cool, just how I like it.

I spot six sandhills in a field just south of Emigrant.

A small herd of bighorn grazes near the road north of the campground in Yankee Jim. I bet it is the same group that was hanging around the cattle guard a little over two weeks ago.

I am through the gate at 1:30. Itís a very warm 55 degrees. There are several elk grazing near the arch. Everything looks dry and is nearly snow-free. I remember visiting in April about 10 years ago when everything was still fully winter.

I have my visit with Allison then head east. I see scattered pronghorn and bison along the way.

I stop at Blacktail ponds. There is usually a nice variety of bird life here. Today I see several pair of mallards, many geese and a single sandhill. Then I notice a mystery bird. I record notes about it and look it up later. Itís a bittern!

All through the Blacktail I notice how much the snow has melted since my last trip.

A herd of bighorn sheep is drawing a crowd at Wrecker Grade. Little America is nearly snow free.

I stop at Slough where I see Bill, looking south. He has some bears. A sow and her 2 year old cub are way up high on Specimen. They are nearly identical in size and each has the nice gold-silver grizzly shoulder stripe.

I am aware from Laurieís reports that the Junctions have again denned at Slough. So far we think both the natal den (on the west side of the cliff) and the sage den (on the open sage hillside) are being used.

I turn my scope that way and find a single black wolf.

This makes me happy to find a wolf so easily, but I decide not to stay, knowing we will be out this evening. I thank Bill and continue east.

Half-way through Lamar Canyon I spy a big jam up ahead. Most cars are pulled off to the side but of course a few stop right in the road. While Iím stopped, waiting for a safe moment to pull around the car in front of me, I glance to the right and see the cause of the jam: a black bear walking along the steep hill above the river.

The people get back in their car and drive on, so I donít have to risk it. They pull over at the next lot and I continue.

Iím very surprised to see how Lamar has lost its snow since I was here 16 days ago. Itís not nearly as pretty, but of course, I still love being here.

I grin as I recognize a high-pitched peeping sound. Ground squirrels! More evidence that the season is changing.

I arrive at Silver Gate and unload the car, happy to see Laurie & Dan again.

By 5:50 we are heading to Slough.

A blue grouse crosses the road. An oncoming driver and I see it in time and stop with our flashers on, giving the slowest bird in the world time to pass.

It turns out to be a slow evening. We have only one wolf and that one is due to Bill H.

He spots a black coming up the hill near the remaining goal post tree. It does not go to either den but disappears behind the western trees.

We also see 3 sandhills and Billís 2 grizzlies who are still on Specimen but a bit further east.

Today I saw: 1 black bear, 2 grizzly bears (twice), bison, a bittern, sandhill cranes, ducks, elk, geese, a blue grouse, pronghorn, bighorn sheep, 2 wolves (both Junctions) and the spirits of Allison and Richard.

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