There is clear sky above me today and no snow overnight.
At Soda Butte east, in the dark, I get stuck in a bison jam. The kind where the cows are just standing on the road, unwilling to move. I begin to inch forward and see one cow has a tiny baby. Well, thatís probably why they are standing their ground. I take great care and eventually inch my way past them.
I see Taylor at Dorothyís so I stop and scope with her. She is thinking she might find the Junctions as they return from Cache.
But no luck.
Laurie radios and suggests I come to Longs. When I arrive I learn that Rick saw the alphas leave Slough and travel west. But now he says they are going back east.
He suspects that they may have been visiting another den area, possibly 1276ís in the area we call the aspen drainage. Last year the Junctions used this area during July/August.
But there is nothing in view now, so I go back to Slough. Once Iím set up I find a dark-faced yearling at the natal den. The wolf howls a bit, then disappears inside.
There are elk grazing in the den area again (for the third day in a row). They move from west to east, drawing no attention from the wolves.
Bob L radios that he has wolves in Lamar.
We pack up and head there. Cars are stopped at Coyote and Dorothyís as well as any flat area in between. I find room at Coyote and quickly see a black wolf low in the sage, an uncollared female.
I am pretty certain this is not the only wolf around. Over the radio I head someone mention a gray. I watch this wolf a while. She is moving steadily west. Her belly does not exactly look full.
I learn later that when Bob called, heíd seen 4 wolves on the north side of the road.
When I lose this wolf I head back to Slough. Rick has moved further north, trying to get a better angle on the natal den. Laurie & Dan and I join him on Doug Mís hill.
Other scopers set up on Bobís Knob.
Only a few minutes after we set up, we are rewarded for our effort when 907 comes out of the natal den. Again, she is very nervous, very hesitant.
She starts up the trail in the cliff to the top, stopping and looking around frequently. Laurie guesses that she is worried about being caught by the alpha female. She makes it to the top of the cliff and walks across the flat part to a large patch of snow. She takes a long drink, then heads back. She actually runs part of the way, revealing how nervous she is.
Once on the cliff trail, she makes her way carefully back to the den and quickly disappears inside.
We are perplexed because none of us know where the alpha female is at the moment. We know she went west with 6 others in the early AM, but where is she now? Can 907 sense it when she is away?
About 15 minutes later, 1228F arrives from the east. She crosses the creek and enters the lower part of the lion meadow, climbing the hill in her diligent way. She makes a bee line for the sage den.
To our great surprise, no wolf comes out of the sage den. Not the alpha female, not the black yearling. Hmm. 1228F is trying to do the right thing according to her little wolf brain, to bring food, there is no one to feed. Hmm. She sniffs around the area, then turns to move up the hill.
1275M appears on the lion meadow trail, basically following 1228F. This wolf makes a bee line to the sage den too, as a dutiful wolf with food in its belly should. 1275M gets the same ďnobody homeĒ result.
1275M eventually follows 1228F up the hill. We canít help wanting both of these returning wolves to go to the natal den and feed poor 907. We are on the edge of our scopes.
1275 finally climbs the hill to the natal den. He sniffs the porch, then heads up the cliff trail that 907 took to get her drink. Suddenly, a black yearling bursts out of the natal den. 1275 (with eyes in the back of his head) turns around. Then suddenly 907 bursts out of the den, crouching and wagging her tail so pitifully.
The yearling sees 1228F below and bolts down the slope to her and receives a welcome feeding. Meanwhile, 1275 has closed the gap between him and 907. She has to pester him a bit but she succeeds in getting a feeding, too.
We canít hear her but we imagine her whining and whimpering until he gives it up.
We are all cheering that we finally witnessed 907 getting fed! She licks her chops and rests on the den porch.
The other three wolves now gather together below the willows, greeting each other and wagging their tails. Poor 907 starts down to join them but turns around half way, climbing back up with tucked tail. She canít risk being blindsided by the alpha female.
The yearling goes downhill to the sage den and disappears inside. But the yearling is back out again, almost immediately. Thatís weird too! Wouldnít she stay to help the pups inside?
Laurie and Rick keep asking ďwhere is the alpha female?Ē
If she is still to the west, what is she doing there? Rick agrees with Laurie that the pups are still small enough to need an adult nearby to keep them warm. So, her being gone this long is very unusual.
If a yearling had been left inside the sage den to keep the pups warm, then why didnít that yearling come out to receive food from the two returning wolves?
A third wolf arrives in the lion meadow, climbing the hill up to the den. This wolf messes with some bison in the spring meadow first, then approaches the sage den just as the other two did. For the third time no one comes out of the sage den.
I lose track of this wolf but none of us see it go up to feed 907.
The day has turned warm and we pack up for our break. We are almost back to the car when Frank radios from Daveís Hill. The alphas have just returned!
I quickly get re-set at roadside. I see the alphas but watch the female. She does NOT go to the sage den. She does NOT stick her head in, nor go inside, nor go anywhere close to the sage den.
Instead she goes to 890ís tree and beds there, staring up at the natal den as if daring 907 to come out.
It is belatedly dawning on us that there must be no more pups in the sage den. Perhaps she moved them over to the aspen drainage, or the Diagonal Forest, where we saw her travel two evenings in a row.
But if she DID move her pups, then why is she here and not with them, keeping them warm and fed?
907 behaves as though she still has pups. The alpha female stares at the natal den in a way that worries us. Would she attack 907ís pups or refuse to feed them?
Will 907 stay here or move?
I tell Laurie that I feel sad for the alpha female. She is harsh sometimes but she has proved to be a good mother to her young ones, so I wonder why she canít just relax and be the leader.
The alpha male goes to the sage den, sniffs the opening and walks away.
Another mystery is around 1276. Her collar stopped working a while back. She has not been seen for 12 days. Itís very likely she is denned somewhere else and the Junctions are feeding her just as they have been feeding the alpha female and 907.
So itís possible the alpha female moved her pups to 1276ís den and they are being kept warm and fed by 1276.
We just hope she has not lost them.
While we are watching wolves, Laurie finds 3 different grizzlies. One is the lone grizzly that has been seen near skyline and the other two are a sow and cub currently grazing on a slope above the Horizontal Forest. Both the sow and cub have the lovely gold/silver shoulder stripe.
I find a mule deer above the conifer-aspen forest.
There seem to be MANY more cars and people at Slough today. Itís Saturday and really warm at 53 degrees. Such a difference from the snow yesterday.
Our mid-day drive east is an hour later today, after 1PM and itís 53 degrees. We donít see anything of note on the drive. My log is still stuck in the same place.
We decide to stay in tonight so we can catch up on some pleasant conversation.
Today I saw: 3 grizzly bears, bison, sandhill cranes, a mule deer, elk, 9 wolves (Junction AF, AM, 907F, 1228, 1275M and
several others) and the spirits of Allison and Richard.