DAY NINE - Sunday, April 25

A DENNING MYSTERY

There is ice on the windshield this morning, but itís a normal 28 degrees.

I go straight to Slough and walk out the campground road to the new spot on Dougís Hill. Rick is already here and Laurie & Dan arrive soon after. The wolves are in the flats this morning, not on the den hill. I see the alpha female plus two blacks and two grays.

There is also a black wolf bedded on the natal porch and another black bedded below that den near the bow logs. Then Laurie spots 907 on the den porch. She stands a moment, looking around to see if the coast is clear. She starts up the cliff path on her route to take a drink. She stays longer this time, then comes back and disappears inside.

I think itís uncanny how she seems to know when the alpha female is nearby or further away.

Meanwhile, in the flats, the two grays and two blacks are playing together. This indicates that they are young and healthy. The alpha female paces nearby, howling on and off.

Rick suggests she is trying to get the younger wolves to follow her. Four times we see her pick up a stick and use it to entice them. This always worked when they were young, she seems to say to herself. The fifth time it works and they follow her up the hill to the den meadow.

She goes inside the sage den, remains inside about 5 minutes, then comes back out, shaking off dirt, sand and dust.

Michael & Taylor are on Bobs. They alert us that a wolf is on the hill behind us. Sure enough, when we turn we see a black wolf with a dark face about 200 yards above us. Laurie thinks itís thermal girl.

She travels boldly down the hill behind us, disappears a while, then reappears in the sage flat. She approaches the creek. We are not high enough to see her cross, but she must have done so since we see her pop out on the other side.

She wastes no time climbing the next hill and emerges in the lower portion of the lion meadow. She finds something there and rolls in it repeatedly, legs in the air. Then she gets back to business bringing home the bacon.

The alpha female has now succeeded in leading the four young wolves back to the den meadow. They tool around a bit and pick bedding spots. The alpha takes up her seat near 890ís tree, staring at the natal den. We agree to not tell her that 907 already snuck out for her drink.

Thermal girl makes her way up to the den meadow. She stops dutifully at the sage den. Hmm, something doesnít smell right. She heads up the hill and the alpha sees her. Both wolvesí tails go into overdrive and the alpha approaches her in a crouched, submissive position. She gets a feeding.

The alpha then returns to her spot near 890ís tree, while Thermal girl goes to visit the other wolves. She feeds two of them, then all three of these wolves head up to the natal den. 907 comes out and she gets a feeding. Some of the food starts to roll downhill but 907 deftly catches it and gobbles it up.

Oddly, the alpha female simply stays bedded while this activity plays out. Hmmm. After this bit of activity, the wolves settle down.

During the lull, Bill calls in a wolf sighting from Dorothyís. Rick and I go there to check it out. The wolf is gone by the time we get there but we see a grizzly instead. A light drizzle begins.

I notice lots of cars stopped at the ranch so I drive there. Another griz is in view from here, across the flats to the south, right at the treeline. Itís a great sighting, much closer than any other bears Iíve seen this trip.

I go back to Slough and re-join L & D on Dougís hill. They tell me what I missed: 1275M came in from the east and fed the troops.

Nothing else of note happens over the next hour, just wolves bedding and re-bedding. At 11AM I figure Iíd better head back to Bozeman. I am leaving in the middle of a mystery that only time will solve. I trust that Laurie will fill me in as things develop.

On my way out I stop at Curve for a while to watch a bison herd with 3 tiny babies. Then I have a black bear jam at Junction Butte.

The light rain continues as I drive west, but it stops just beyond Gardiner.

I stop to visit with Jackie & Phil in their new house, and take East River Road back to Livingston. What a great road that is, offering views I havenít seen for over a decade!

The Absarokas are shrouded in cloud, looking quite spooky. On the Bozeman side of the pass the heavens open and the rain comes pounding down. But I get home safely anyway.

Today I saw: 1 black bear, 2 grizzly bears, bison, sandhill cranes, elk, pronghorn, 8 Junction wolves (including the AF, 907F 6 others) and the spirits of Allison and Richard.

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