Today I’m out just before 6:40 – it’s 25 degrees. No snow on the car, just a little frost.
The Baronette fox is on the road this morning.
I stop at Soda Butte midpoint but find no wolves. And guess what? The elk is gone, too! Poor thing. Hope it found a wolf-less spot to refill his tummy.
I see Rick at Slough so I stop there. He tells me Junction signals put them on Specimen but not in an area they can be seen. He is about to head out to check on evidence of denning activity.
Kathie, Laurie & Dan drive up and we decide to join the throngs watching Wapiti.
Amazingly, Kathie & I both find spots to park; Dan drops off Laurie with her scope and finds a parking spot at Elk Creek . They set up on the western side of the lot. There are probably 200 people here, most of them crowded down by the curve.
A Ranger has his hands full patrolling cars and people.
There is a substantial, steady wind, with overcast skies and a threat of coming snow. The wolves are instantly viewable, some on the carcass and some bedded upslope.
I can’t believe how close they are! It actually makes me uncomfortable, so I find a spot away from the crowd and set up.
Two of the eight wolves here yesterday seem to have left, leaving six in view: three gray and three black.
I watch a big beautiful uncollared black, who looks a lot to me like “Romeo” from two weeks ago. He’s bedded near a broken snag. A few yards away is a collared gray, 1203F. She is gorgeous, too, and seems very serene.
I also see an uncollared light-gray wolf coming up from the carcass. From her overall look and behavior, I believe she is a pup (almost a yearling).
She goes straight to the black and begins to wrestle with him. He stands and she moves underneath him, taking his back leg in her jaws, playfully, not aggressively, as if trying to tip him over.
He reacts as though he is used to this, suggesting to me that he could be her older brother. She is delightful, this pup. Later she goes to 1203 and licks her muzzle quite affectionately.
Once she beds down, I turn my scope to the carcass, which is further down the hill towards the curve. Some fallen trunks and some thick new growth block most of my view but I can see movement there and can make out shapes of wolves feeding.
Eventually the wolves leave the carcass and move uphill towards the others. Two of them are collared “cocoa pups”; they are nearly identical, with gorgeous dark mottled coats, a little bit like salt & pepper but with brown-gold tones too. One is male, one is female (1266 and 1267). There is also an uncollared gray with them, a bit drab, a male pup.
When these three arrive in the “bedding area”, 1203F heads down to the carcass for more.
The gray male pup and the beautiful black begin to wrestle a bit. They jump on each other, flop over on each other and roll on each other, legs in the air.
This attracts the feisty gray pup, so she dashes over to them and joins in. Then she breaks off and just runs about a while, amusing herself. She comes back to them, proudly carrying an orange cone! This cone had been placed by the Ranger near the curve in the road. I learn from others that it was grabbed by one of the wolves yesterday and has be become a favorite toy. She goofs off with it for a while, then abandons it at the top of the hill.
The two cocoa pups are so beautiful – well they all are, really. Their luxurious, healthy coats are so wonderful to see.
Both cocoa pups begin to wrestle with the black male. It’s two against one, then the feisty gray female joins in. The cocoa pups chase her for a bit, until she turns the tables on them. This play seems to be the way the wolves say “I like you” to each other.
The drab gray pup chases ravens on and off, leaping high into the air a few times.
1203F comes back up from her snack. She stops about half-way back to lowers her head and eat some snow. Laurie told me long ago that this is the way they drink in winter. 1203 then returns to her earlier spot and rolls on the ground, legs in the air, scratching her back.
One of the cocoa pups heads down towards the carcass, but it doesn’t stop to feed. Instead it continues towards the people for several dozen yards, lies down and just stares at the people.
I’m sure this made the photogs VERY happy. It worries me, though.
Across the main road, on the snow-covered petrified tree side road, a coyote is making a lot of noise, bark/howling, cursing and complaining.
A light snow is still falling but has no power to block a sighting this close.
I see Barb as she walks back to her car. She’s had a minor mishap with her camera but luckily got plenty of great shots before it happened. We chat a bit and watch the wolves a while, then she heads in to Gardiner. She says she’ll be out again tonight.
The cocoa pup returns and is greeted by the feisty gray pup. She is happy to have someone to roughhouse with. It’s delightful to watch them spar. But soon 1203F seems to get an idea in her head. She turns, heading west. Soon the rest follow and go out of sight.
Dan comes to pick up Laurie and I follow them back to Elk Creek.
As I drive slowly past the curve I say hello to another Bozeman friend, Veronica, who is happily chatting with other photogs and visitors. She is delighted to have had a chance to photograph these gorgeous wolves.
At Elk Creek we find the Wapitis again, bedded flat out and much further away. Coyotes start to arrive in the carcass area, ready to grab their chance at a meal. I see a total of five.
After a while we head back to Silver Gate for our mid-day break.
We go back out again around 6PM. The sky has cleared, with bright blue and puffy white clouds. It’s very welcome.
There is nothing in Lamar so we continue west. There is only one car at the big ski lot so we continue to Elk Creek where we find the Crew.
The Wapitis have disappeared to the north but just as I get out of my car, Jeremy announces he has found the Junctions. He is looking at Specimen. By the time I get set up they are already out of sight, heading down a steep slope towards the Yellowstone corridor.
I scope anyway, but it looks like they will remain out of sight. But then there they are! Jeremy finds them again, coming right back up the steep slope. With help from Laurie & Dan I finally spot one on the move. Soon they are out of sight but I find them again. There! Ant-wolves moving across a snow slope.
This time they remain in view a good while, strung out in a tiny ant-wolf line. I count 20 (there are more). Many of the pups are in their typical playful mood, running and chasing each other. It’s so nice to see.
They move steadily across the flat slope, heading for the area we call “The Cut” which is a low pass that leads to Little America. We are just about to pack up to move there when Jeremy’s radio crackles with a call from the Tower Ranger. The Ranger says the Wapitis have been spotted in the flats “right across from the flagpole”. Uh oh. That means close to the road.
Jeremy now has to monitor the Wapitis instead of the Junctions. I don’t want to get in the way so I decide to go to Little America to see the Junctions.
Just as I am pulling out, Barb drives up – telling me the Wapitis are in view at Tower, she just got photos! I update her about the Junctions and motion for her to follow.
The Crew is well ahead of me as we caravan east. As I’m coming down the hill towards the Ranger station, a car ahead of me hits the breaks, so I do, too. Barb radios to me to “look left” and when I do, I catch a glimpse of the Wapitis in the flats, traveling south.
But what I DON’T see is that the Crew, Laurie & Dan have stopped at the Ranger Station. I want to see the Junctions arrive in Little America so I keep driving east, thinking the Crew and Laurie are ahead of me. I want to get to Straightaway before I lose the light.
As I drive on by my lonesome, everyone at Tower gets a nice view of the Wapitis. They stay out of trouble, heading steadily south, and Jeremy’s job is made easy.
I stop at Straightaway, surprised to find no one else here. It’s become very windy but I get out and scope the Cut. But I find no wolves and keep wondering where everybody else is. I still think the Crew is east of me, so I drive on to Longs.
But when I don’t find them here, I realize they must have stopped at Tower. Then an amazing full moon appears from behind a cloud. Despite that unexpected light, it’s really become too dark for my poor eyes, so I get back in the car and continue east.
I find out later that Jeremy did see the Junctions briefly from Curve lot.
Today I saw: bison, coyotes, elk, a fox, bighorn sheep, 26 wolves, including 20 Junctions and 6 Wapitis (1203F,
2 gray females, a black male and two collared cocoa pups) and the spirits of Allison and Richard.