At 6:36AM it’s a normal 23 degrees. As predicted, I find an inch of new snow has fallen overnight. It’s light and powdery, very easy to brush off. Snow is still falling as I head out past fox tracks in the driveway. I have some lovely sparklees on the way down.
I stop at SB Midpoint and look for 1239F but do not find her. Rick is looking from the Soda Cone but he is wolfless, too. I continue west.
Lamar looks gorgeous under a fresh blanket of snow. There is a bit of fog and the snow continues to fall.
I arrive at Hellroaring a little late for the main action. A total of 22 Junctions were seen near the river at dawn, but they are now climbing up along Little Buffalo drainage. The snow makes for poor visibility, and I only manage to see two of them, just before they top out.
The human exodus begins as we go back east. I assume we are trying to pick up the Junctions from Lower HR or maybe Elk Creek. I end up at Elk Creek west with Rick and Amanda. We hoist our scopes and hike down to the main Elk Creek lot.
To my surprise, the people here are not scoping to the north for the Junctions but to the east. The wolves they see are not Junctions but Wapiti!
On a low horizontal hill about 2 thirds of the way between this lot and the big Ski Lot are 8 bedded wolves; 5 gray and 3 blacks. They are beautiful, with full, thick coats, startlingly different than the mange-afflicted Junctions we usually see. Laurie says the alphas are not here; this is a group of young wolves, accompanied by 1203F, a gorgeous 3 yr old gray.
Note: Nearly all the Junctions have a bit of mange, some worse than others, which makes them look a bit less healthy than wolves normally do in wintertime. Their bodies seem a bit skinny and their fur is somewhat dull and flat (not fluffy). When you see only them, day after day, you dont really notice it, but when you see other packs in their healthy coats, you do. Luckily, none of the Junctions has a truly severe case like what we saw in the poor Druids of 2009-2010. Since the Junctions are a large and cohesive pack, it is most likely that all members, even the scrawniest, will survive the winter just fine.
I know from talking to the Crew that the Wapiti pack has been visiting the Northern Range, as they often do during the winter. They have been hunting on the Blacktail Plateau for the past few days, which is only a short distance from here.
This group has been feeding on a bison carcass. A bison was hit by a car a day or two ago, which left both its back legs useless. The poor animal has been hanging out on the road by the Elk Creek curve but Rangers hazed it to the north. No one knows whether it died on its own or if the Wapitis came upon it and put it out of its misery.
However, the carcass is only about 100 yards from the road, on a hillside almost directly across from the Petrified Tree side road. The wolves were found feeding on it an hour or so ago and have attracted a huge crowd.
Of all the Park packs, the Wapitis are the most tolerant of human presence and will continue to feed despite a nearby human crowd. They are now bedded in a spot within easy view of two pullouts, which is unusual for wolves but not for Wapitis.
As I look through my scope at these wolves, I see the big Ski Lot pullout in the background of my scope, jam-packed with cars and people. People viewing them from that lot must be able to see them with the naked eye.
The Crew is in radio contact with Rangers because of the understandably enthusiastic crowd of photogs. These are gorgeous wolves, in full, healthy winter coats. You don’t have to be a wolf fan to enjoy seeing them so close.
But my scope allows me to stay further away and still enjoy them. I am just as glad to avoid the larger crowd. Plus, after about 15 minutes, the Junctions come into view at the left end of Junction Lake (an area only visible from this lot). So, I now have two wolf packs visible from one lot!
Snow has been falling all day, with visibility going in and out. A coyote ventures too close to the Wapitis’ bison carcass and several get up to give chase. The coyote escapes and the Wapitis move to new bedding spots.
The Junctions have stopped at the Lake and bed down for a mid-day snooze. At 12:30, with only bedded wolves in view, we decide to take a break.
As I drive through Little America it looks like the snow might soon end.
We stop at Soda Butte midpoint with two other cars and see 1239F bedded comfortably near the bull elk carcass.
After a rest, we head back in for more wolf watching.
We see no one stopped in the Soda Butte Valley, so we continue west and stop at Lamar Canyon West in order to scope the Slough area. We suspect the Junctions were on their way there and may have continued after their nap. Sure enough, Dan finds four wolves; 3 blacks and a gray. I find an eagle and a coyote. We notice the Crew car pulling in at Slough so we drive down to join them.
We hike out to Bob’s Knob. It’s just the three of us plus Jeremy and Dylan. Jeremy says that the Junctions got up a while ago and headed east. They found them again from Boulder, running through the Buffalo Ford on their way here.
He also tells us the Wapitis are still visible from the Big Ski lot and that the crowd has only grown larger.
The snow has finally let up and the temps are pleasant. We have a lovely evening with the Junctions. Most of them are bedded on a bare bluff, cleared of snow by the wind.
Various pups romp below them in the flats, playing catch and trying various ambush tactics. After about a half hour, though, always restless 1229F gets things going again. She goes from one bedded adult to the other, rousing them.
The pack howls, which sounds just gorgeous. They have several mini-rallies (instead of one big one) and soon 1229F sets off to the southeast.
But first we witness a pinning of 907 by the alpha female. Then we see 907 seem to “take it out” on a younger female (not sure who). As the slow procession begins, I notice that both 907 and the alpha female look pregnant. The wolf line takes a low route, coming out on still-frozen Slough Creek. A few youngsters walk hesitantly across the ice.
It’s very quiet, with no wind, which makes for particularly pleasant viewing. Laurie tells me she calls one of the mangy gray pups “the lion” because the thick ruff around his neck reminds her of a lion’s mane.
We follow their progress past all the familiar areas, crossing the empty campground road and the un-used outhouse.
They head up into the rocks south of Secret Passage. We give voice to our hopes that they end up in Lamar, rather than the First Meadow – both of which are accessible from here.
They go out of sight around 6:30 so we still have a bit of light left. We drive east hoping for a view of 1239F or other Mollies.
I am thrilled to hear Jeremy say Mollies are in the area. He finds one wolf, the black alpha female, 1090F. When I get eyes on her I see she, too, is visibly pregnant. But guess where she is? Way up on the far finger of Norris. the very same spot where I saw a bull elk and a “trail” yesterday.
Next I learn that when Rick was on his way in this afternoon, he spotted a carcass up there and alerted the crew. Jeremy finds the blood trail which is perfectly visible now that he’s pointed it out! It leads down the steep slope to a horizontal gully above a rocky bluff, below which is a precipitous drop off.
1090F is at the end of the blood trail just above the gully. I am glad the gully is there because the elk and the wolves might have slipped into oblivion without it.
I scope to the left and find the same bull elk I saw yesterday. It’s still in exactly the same spot, and seems just as trapped.
We stay till almost 8PM and then head in. We’ve had a 3 pack day!
Today I saw: bison, coyotes, a bald eagle, elk, 30 wolves from 3 packs, including 20 Junctions (both alphas, 907F, 1048M,
1229F, 1276F, Lion gray and mangy gray, and many others); 8 Wapitis (including 1203F and 7 others); and 2 Mollies (1090F
and 1239F) and the spirits of Allison and Richard.