DAY FIVE - Sunday, March 28

VERY CLOSE VIEWING

First light is now 6:15. Spring is actually coming!

The full moon from last night is still visible this morning, but through a haze. Itís really cool to see. And the temperature is warmer at 28.

At Exclosure I have a fox crossing the road from north to south. I keep going, expecting to find the Crew (and the wolves) at Slough.

As I come down from the Canyon, I see an amusing sight. On both sides of the road there are about 20 bedded bison, 10 on each side, spaced equally apart, like some sort of avant-garde art installation, with live bison.

It makes me laugh.

I donít find the Crew at Slough, though, so I keep going. Hmm, maybe theyíre at Boulder? As I near that spot I see Kathie driving east. There is no one behind either of us so we stop on the road to check in. She has not found the Crew to the west either. Hmmm.

She says sheíll turn around and we agree to meet at Elk Creek. But as I pass Wrecker, I slow down because I notice the barricades that had been blocking this lot are gone. Hmm.

Looks like the snow has melted out, so I wonder if this is why no one had found the crew yet. I pull in and immediately see two cars.

The Crew is here, and Rick, too. I see where they are standing and can tell they have wolves in view. I set up as quietly as possible. The wolves are feeding on a bison carcass right at the edge of the forest.

Although they are considerably further away than the Wapitis were yesterday, but they are. Indeed, much closer than is usual for Junctions. I can see right away how wary they are of human presence.

I count six wolves and learn later that there were 13 when Jeremy and Crew arrived. Seven have already moved off.

I also see a fox, trotting away from the group towards the river. A gray wolf is bedded on a boulder above the carcass to the left. Four blacks are feeding and a fifth arrives from the right to take a turn.

One of the blacks at the carcass repeatedly raises its head and stares at us.

More and more people arrive in the lot, doing their best to be as quiet as possible. I watch for about a half hour, as one wolf after another gets up to leave, each of them taking a morsel with them. They move north into the forest that surrounds the base of Junction Butte. Each wolf takes a slightly different route.

One black, 1275M, drags a large piece of hide that flaps this way and that, almost like a toreadorís cape. 1229F takes the skull. 1276F carries a large leg, with a floppy piece of hide still attached. She has some trouble getting it up the hill and through the trees. She finally just sits down between two trunks and continues her meal.

These wolves are at least four times further away than the Wapitis were yesterday with their crowd of 200 admirers. Yet these wolves, with a group of maybe a dozen quiet scopers are quite attuned to an errant crunch of snow under a human foot, glancing our way and choosing to slink off to a more private spot to finish their meal.

Itís such a contrast in behavior between the two packs.

When the last one disappears, we move to Boulder, predicting correctly that the pack will soon come into view from there.

We gather on Boulder hill, at a more ďnormalĒ distance away. The word goes out to other watchers to come this way.

The Junctions soon appear in the Buffalo ford, moving steadily east. I am delighted to see that several of them still carry their meaty prizes, including 1276 with her floppy leg piece.

A few of our friends did not get to Wrecker in time to see them, including Susan, Reve and Barb, but they see them now from here.

I count 15 Junctions while the Crew has a full count of 22. One by one, they settle down in the flats, some to sleep off their meal and others to continue chewing.

A single coyote crosses the frozen pond to the east of here. And it looks like the fox is following the wolves. He sneaks through the trees above them.

Someone finds a group of elk on a hill to the west near the small basalt cliff.

Laurie and Dan are leaving today so itís a bit melancholy. I have plans to stay another day or two Ė and will move to the Super 8 in Gardner.

We watch the wolves a bit longer, then head back to Silver Gate to pack up and clean.

On our way, we see the Confluence moose in the willows and a coyote in the flats to the north of the Soda Cone.

Now we drive west again and find the Crew still scoping from Boulder. The day has turned warm, all the way to 49! None of us is in a hurry so we set up again, watching mostly bedded Junctions, chatting and laughing.

I say goodbye to Laurie & Dan. They will stay at my place in Bozeman tonight and fly out in the morning.

Eventually I head to Gardiner and get settled in my room. Then back into the Park I go.

I stop at Blacktail and scope a bit, finding bison and elk. I continue east and find the crew right where I left them at Boulder. The Junctions have moved, however, to a spot much more difficult to see. They are in the rocky knob above the ford. Try as I might, I find only one black.

Kathie arrives and with her help we find a few more. We amuse ourselves by naming certain features to help each other navigate the landscape. So much snow has melted, the patchwork of short shrubs, rocks, and shadows offer perfect camouflage for the wolves.

We see 907F coming down from above. She greets a pack member behind the branches of a tree. We suspect more wolves are bedded back there. Sure enough, we soon see several wolves move uphill into the rocks. Then even more wolves appear from the right, coming downhill to join the rally.

They howl twice and we see lots of wagging tails. The group begins moving uphill and slightly east. At first I think they are off on a new hunt but then they stall out, wandering here and there on individual journeys.

Some re-bed. A single gray moves onto an open rock face and beds in the sun. Two blacks explore together to the right.

They have another rally with lots of nice howling. But after this, they all bed down once more.

Kathie and I decide to call it a day. Itís still quite warm at 52 degrees. In retrospect, I wish we had delayed our departure about 15 minutes because I find myself nearly blinded by the bright setting sun for most of the drive back!

My reward, though is to arrive in Gardiner before dark. I scramble for something to eat (there is very little open this time of year!).

Today I saw: bison, coyotes, elk, 2 foxes, 15 Junction wolves (including 907F, 1229F, 1276F, 1275M and many others, and the spirits of Allison and Richard.

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