DAY FIVE - Thursday, June 17

TIPPY, ZIPPY & GRAY LIMPER

The air is a bit cooler today, at 38, which is just fine by me.

I join the early birds on the hill at Slough. The first wolf I see is a black adult greeting another black adult with a wildly wagging tail, both on the crest of the Flower Hill.

They disappear together down the far side. Looks like another feeding is in progress.

Moments later we see 3 black adults, 907F and a few puppies scampering here and there in front of the Eastern Trees. Then they all disappear quickly (and maddeningly) behind the Flower Hill. I get a count of 4 gray pups today. Itís been a while since Iíve managed to see all 8.

For the next half hour, we get brief glimpses of one wolf or another at the edges of the Flower Hill. Then another uncollared black adult arrives and disappears where the others are. Probably another feeding.

A collared black with a gray face moves out from behind the hill and beds in front of the third eastern tree. Iím pretty sure this is 1048M. Later 1276F comes out on the other side.

Zippy and Tippy entertain us again, venturing boldly into the Spring Meadow, Zippy in the lead of course. There is a narrow log there that the pups love. They try to walk along it, but just like yesterday, they both fall off!

But the grass beneath is springy and thick and Iím sure they donít get hurt. The adventurers also climb on various boulders scattered about the meadow. A tiny chipmunk scampers up the right side of a boulder and sits on the edge, keeping a wary eye on the two pups.

Tippy gets closer and closer to this boulder but never seems to see the little creature at the top. The chipmunk sees the pup, though, and at a certain point, panics and dashes away.

During a lull, we notice three sandhill cranes walking slowly up the Lion Meadow trail. They reach the Spring Meadow and roam through it eastward towards the Crescent Rock. The grass is so high it hides their legs and the color of their bodies in sunshine is basically the same as the gray pups. So, if their heads and necks are down, we sometimes are briefly fooled into thinking these big birds are wolf pups. It cracks us up but I guess you had to be there.

Around 8:30 a collared black wolf appears high above the den cliff. It turns out to be 1274M, carrying something dark in his mouth. I follow him to the east side of the cliff, where he descends to join the others behind the Flower Hill.

The next time we see him, the dark thing is gone. Another treat for the lucky pups!

Tippy and Zippy (whom we have determined are both females) are now leaving the Spring Meadow, heading for the gully ridge. They pass the den and walk slowly uphill through the sage toward the Flower Hill. Zippy takes a slightly higher route than her sibling, and when Tippy stops a moment to scratch an itch, Zippy plans an ambush, hiding behind a tall clump of sage.

When Tippy continues up the hill, out pops Zippy, knocking Tippy over, sitting on her sister for a moment. So cute! A little later, Tippy attempts to turn the tables on Zippy. But she doesnít quite get the hang of a proper ambush, and when she pops out, Zippy is not surprised at all. Instead, Zippy hops on top of Tippy, sitting on her sibling once again. We wonder if we are watching the beginning of yet another generation of Junction Female sibling rivalry?

By 11AM the temp has only risen to 72, which is a relief, but time to call it a morning anyway.

As I drive through Lamar I catch up on reports of earlier of wolf sightings. So I stop and climb up Geriatric to see what I can see.

I find sandhills but no wolves and the heat waves are intense in my new extended scope. I watch bison cows and calves cross the river at confluence, which I always find interesting.

And I witness some ground squirrel drama in the flats east of the old Druid Rendezvous. I catch movement which turns out to be very small animals racing back and forth in the flats, with a few leaping and twisting in the air. I surmise itís some kind of territory dispute among the resident ground squirrels.

One chases another, then the chased one wheels and leaps up, boxing the other, or leaping entirely over the head of the other, racing back the other way.

Wow, those little guys are fierce!

As I approach the Soda Butte picnic area I see cars stopped and all the people are looking south. As no one is behind me, I stop and find a pretty cinnamon black bear waddling east along the creek.

Now I head to Silver Gate for my break.

On my way to Lamar for the evening viewing, I see a black bear climbing the hill north of Ice Box Canyon.

Missy and Andy are already on Trash Can so I join them. Missy has two bedded wolves in view (a black and a gray). We hear from others that pups are being seen at Slough and a hunting party of perhaps 7-8 wolves left there, traveling south, around 6:30PM.

Itís such a pleasant evening, with a nice breeze and about 70 degrees, we decide to stay put. For the next hour, we have little action, just heads up, heads down. But as the light changes, we realize there is a second gray bedded out there. It has a collar.

Around 8PM a second black wolf appears from the west, cautiously approaching the three bedded wolves. It howls and continues to approach, singing to a crouch, very submissive.

This wolf finally reaches the others, greeting each one. As the three sleepers get up, we identify 1228F and the gray limping male. The arriving black is very dark, whereas the bedded black has a bit of gray on its neck.

The four of them gather for a brief rally, then 1228F heads to the west, leading the others. They come out of high sage into shorter grass, which we appreciate since they are much easier to see!

The dark black and 1228F switch off leading for a while. They donít seem to have a clear purpose, just tooling around. Then suddenly they both stop short, facing what first appears to me to be a short, narrow tree stump.

But itís a ground squirrel, a very unlucky one. The squirrel stands defiantly on itís hind legs but I can just imagine itís little life is flashing before its eyes.

The two wolves remain stock still for a few beats. After a brief stare down (almost comical, except for the mortal danger to the squirrel), the squirrel loses its nerve and bolts. The chase is on. The black wolf catches it, but 1228F swoops in and runs off with it to the south. The other two wolves suddenly appear at a run. The second black snatches it from 1228F! Then in comes limping gray who grabs the prize from the second black.

Limper dashes back east away from the others. He sits down and gobbles it up.

The other three wolves leave the Limper to his snack. I get the impression that competitions like this take place fairly often between this bonded pack.

1228F starts off west again, now aiming slightly uphill. The dark black follows but is soon distracted by a large bison herd with lots of calves. Our view of the herd and the approaching wolves is slightly obstructed by the tops of the cottonwoods that line the river. But we can see well enough to recognize that the black is stalking.

As he gets closer, 1228F notices whatís up and comes down to join him. The calves are cavorting about, chasing each other, testing their legs as they do on a lovely summer evening such as this. The cows do not initially seem to notice the stalking wolf.

Suddenly the black takes off at a gallop. The bison recognize the danger and stampede away. As they run, the bison try to corral the young ones but honestly, they seem a bit un-coordinated. The black makes two impressive charges but doesnít really get close.

The wolves seem to blow their chance with the calves, as now they are surrounded by adult bison. The wolves seem to give up and continue at a steady trot past the herd. Maybe they were only showing off to each other?

We have a beautiful sunset tonight that keeps getting better and better, from pink and peach to robinsí egg blue with pink and yellow streaks. Awesome!

Time to head in.

On my approach to Soda Butte Picnic, I see lots of stopped cars and people looking south. The cinnamon black bear from this afternoon is out there, waddling through the meadow.

Today I saw: 2 black bears (one cinnamon), bison, a chipmunk, elk, pronghorn, ground squirrels, 17 Junction wolves (including AF, 907F, 1048M, 1276F, 1228F, limping gray, 3 uncollared blacks 1 uncollared gray plus 7 pups (3/ 4) and the spirits of Allison and Richard.

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