DAY THREE - Saturday, February 20


I get going at 6:10AM; It’s a normal 17 degrees. Lots of frost on the windshield but no overnight snow.

On my way up I have a snowshoe hare hop across the road.

As I wind up towards Undine, snow begins to fall. As I wind my way past Phantom Lake, I see cars stopped ahead with people out in the road. I stop where its safe and see a fresh (bloody) bison carcass just a few feet below the roadside, with lots of disturbed snow all around it, full of tracks.

Nothing on it right now other than birds, but it looks like a wolf kill to me. However, since it is right next to the road, I don’t think even Wapiti wolves are likely to return to it when people are here, so I keep driving.

I see no-one stopped at Hellroaring, upper or lower. I had planned to stop at Elk Creek to look up on Specimen for the Junctions but alas, the lots are full again. I see Bob L on the road near this bison carcass and stop to ask him for news. He says a few wolves were on it at dark but are now gone.

I scope from Boulder and Longs but find no wolves. As I am approaching the Aspen lot I see a large brown body emerge from the north, clambering awkwardly over the high snow berm at the road. It’s a moose!

The animal pauses in the empty road for a moment to catch its breath and I stop where I am to give him plenty of room. He continues and hauls himself up and over the snow berm on the south side.

I slip into a handy pullout on my right to watch him through my binocs.

He moves slowly across the open expanse, in deep snow, proving the worthiness of those long legs. He heads steadily southeast toward the willows of Crystal drainage.

I call in the sighting, since I know there are many moose fans in the Park. Taylor replies her thanks. She has just arrived in Little America and is heading east.

I stop again at Lamar Canyon west to look towards Slough for Junctions. It’s full of bison but no wolves as far as I can tell. I find my moose again from here and watch it disappear into the thick willows of Crystal Creek.

Taylor soon calls over the radio. She’s a Coyote and she’s found Junctions, just where she left them last night.

I join her and see four Junction wolves to the south on southern divide ridge. We see two bedded blacks, another black walking west from them and a gray coming up to the others from below.

The gray is walking up a wind-swept trail, aiming for the two bedded blacks. When the gray arrives, one of the blacks gets up and pins it. The third black is roaming to the west of these three and now stands broadside looking down slope.

Rick suggests there could be more wolves visible from the Slough side. Doug M takes that advice and drives to Slough. He radios back for the rest of us to come to him. When we do, we find a big crowd already here.

And they are looking at the same four we saw plus about 20 more!

As I set up my scope, Taylor and I tease each other that if we had thought to scope from Slough ourselves, we would likely have discovered them sooner!

There is plenty of parking here and lots of happy people, some wearing masks and everyone keeping the 6-feet of distance.

The whole Junction pack is visible here, bedded in two groups very high, just below skyline. Many of them look like rocks, and indeed, there are many rocks up there along with the living animals. But thank goodness, there are also many restless pups and yearlings who keep us entertained.

We enjoy seeing them roam here and there, exploring both high and low.

I share a hope with Taylor that if 1228F is still in the area, it would be nice to see her reunite with her family. But we also consider that it would be great if she could form her own pack. She is certainly alpha material.

My high count so far is 27, so I am still missing a few.

Around 10:30 we see a collared gray approaching the area from below. OMG! It’s 1228F!

Several wolves run down to greet her, with 1047M being one of the first to arrive. She tucks her tail, but overall, the greeting is friendly. But then the alpha female rushes past the others and pins her aggressively. 1228F goes limp and tolerates it, lying there with her tail ceaselessly wagging.

I look up on the hill where the pack had been bedded. They are all standing, now, watching. Soon most of them start to run down the hill. A huge dog pile forms around 1228F. After a few anxious moments, we see she is clearly welcome by the pack.

A bit later, slowpoke 907F makes her way down the hill. She pins the prodigal daughter just as aggressively as the alpha female did. But 1228F survives this, too.

1228F gets up, shakes off and travels a bit uphill. This is when her sibling 1229F meets up with her. They trot side by side a bit, nuzzling and licking each other. Taylor and I especially enjoy this.

1228’s return spawns a big rally, which prompts a sort of slow-motion pack move. Many wolves begin to trot west, above Crystal Rock. We are presented with some gorgeous views as the pack travels in a long line.

As they near Crystal drainage they come upon some scattered bison. They go into “testing mode”, quickly surrounding two lone bulls. We see feints and charges and lunges and standoffs. It begins to look serious and dangerous for the two bulls but then, like Popeye finally remembering to eat his spinach, the bulls suddenly turn and run downslope – and join their herd which has been peacefully grazing a mere hundred yards away.

Once the two bulls make this “duh” move to herd safety, the wolves quickly give up.

The pack then heads slightly downhill and further west. Rick and I move to Lamar River Bridge, which proves a good idea. But it starts snowing, making a thick curtain, turning the moving line of wolves into ghostly shapes.

A good sighting now becomes great; absolutely beautiful, artistic. The wolf shapes move silently across the white slopes, then into the trees, past tree trunks (my favorite wolf-watching setting). In one spot, the trail they follow takes a zig zag around some trees. It creates an illusion of a line of wolves is moving both right and left simultaneously. Really pretty!

Their route will take them across Crystal drainage but they’re not quite there yet. They go in and out of sight at times but when they emerge I can see they are again testing bison.

In a clearing with a big boulder is a lone bison. One wolf comes up to it from the trees below. Then a second wolf joins the first, then a third. These three get in several nips and bites while the bison charges and lunges.

He is a feisty bull, giving as good as he gets but more and more wolves keep arriving. I count 13 wolves harassing this one bull. Suddenly the light bulb goes off in the bull’s head and he bolts to the right into thick trees…where there is a herd of about 20 other bison.

Just as before, this move does the trick. The wolves temporarily give chase but as soon as the bull reaches the herd they lose interest.

I wonder if they are hoping to find that one bull whose ego will prevent him from bolting to the safety of the herd? I wonder, if such a bull exists, could they take him down?

The pack re-traces its own steps, heading back east. Again, we see a nice long, countable line of wolves through bright white snow.

They get to the crest of a hill, west of the original ridge. More bison can be seen on the downslope side of the crest. The bison move away and disappear and the wolves follow. There is another lull, then wolves begin to pop out on the crest again, followed by a few bison who do the same.

Another snow squall arrives, obliterating the view. Many of the snowflakes have a thick consistency that allows them to hold their shape. Several land on my jacket and I can clearly see their beautiful six-pointed designs.

Rick updates me on the Phantom Lake bison carcass I saw this morning. The Rangers moved it since it was so close to the road. A situation like that is just too dangerous for people and wolves.

The poor Wapitis must be scratching their little wolf heads trying to figure out who stole their dinner.

Rick and I talk about how both Wapitis and Junctions have become better at killing bison than packs before them. Of course, both packs have Mollie blood – at least on one side. The Mollies are the original bison killers in Yellowstone. Their rivals, the Druids, never needed to kill bison. They had plenty of elk to choose from.

It’s now 12:45 and the wolves are no longer in view. The crowd begins to disperse. I head to Elk Creek in hopes of seeing Wapitis.

There is a line of people along the road from the low spot at the curve all the way up the hill to the “regular” Elk Creek lot. Two wolves are visible on the hill to the north.

There is nowhere to park so I turn around at Floating Island Lake. On my way back I get lucky and grab a spot as a pickup pulls out. I am about to walk downhill with my scope when I discover they are easily seen from right here.

Oh, they are such beautiful wolves! I see a black and a gray, bedded in clear view on a snowy bluff. I have no need to be any closer, and I feel much more comfortable here than at the edge of the road.

The wolves are bedded but quite alert, separated by about 20 feet. They both look young to me; robust and gorgeous. The black is especially fluffy. They repeatedly adjust their bedding spots as if they are unsettled.

The gray gets up and walks towards the black. When she gets near, she stands in front of him and averts her tail. Whoa! The black rises half-way, very stiff and alert, which I recognize as breeding behavior.

But he doesn’t seem to know what to do next. The gray walks around him to the other side and again averts her tail. This time he sniffs her but makes no additional move.

She turns again and nuzzles him. She plants herself in front of him again and averts her tail a third time. He beds down. Hmm.

She walks back to her bedding spot and he follows her. She beds and he beds close to her, much closer than he was before. Maybe he’ll figure it out in another hour or so? What a beautiful pair they are!

In addition to these love birds, there is a bald eagle perched in a snag near the carcass.

I watch a while longer, but the wolves relax and seem ready to sleep.

I decide to call it an early day. I can’t imagine having better wolf luck than what I already had.

Today I saw: bison, coyotes, a bald eagle, elk, a snowshoe hare, 30 wolves (28 Junctions (including 1228F, 1229F, 907F, 1047M, 1048M, both alphas and many more, plus 2 Wapitis; blackM and grayF) and the spirits of Allison and Richard.

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