Well, as the saying goes, “the best laid plans of mice and men…”. I do stop at the Ranch this morning, expecting to see wolves on the bison carcass Bill found last night but instead, I find thick fog blanketing the entire bench.
I set up and try anyway, but it’s too thick. So, on to Crystal I go, figuring I can always return later.
Luckily there is no fog at Crystal but it is kind of misty. The first thing I see is five wolves heading south up and over the divide, likely on their way to the new carcass.
Closer to the den I find gray 1339 lying flat out, uphill and to the right. He has been listless and apparently sick with something the last several days. But he seems better today at least.
I see 907, New Mom, 1341 and several other uncollared wolves. I also get a high count of 14 puppies this morning! At various times this morning, we see all three moms, 907, 1276 and New Mom nursing pups.
One of the yearlings leads a parade of 7 or 8 pups over to the Thumb rock. Once they are there, the yearling leaves the pups to explore on their own. Which they do.
There are several other boulders in the Thumb rock area including one that has a little pup-sized cave at the bottom of it. The pups find this utterly fascinating (as I think I would too), taking turns hiding in it, or trying to squeeze three of them in there at once.
I enjoy seeing them play ring around the rock, chasing each other on their still-wobbly legs.
The yearling comes back and starts to interact with the pups – bounding after them as they run and even sometimes reaching out a paw to gently trip them! It sounds mean but it’s actually cute, because the touch is so gentle and they only fall over into thick grass.
Once again, I see New Mom with a pup in her mouth, one of the tiny ones, heading south. This time, 1341 manages to stop her, making New Mom turn around. When New Mom puts the pup down, 1341 picks it up and takes it back to the den. Just as she gets close, though, she accidentally drops the pup! Ouch!
We all react, worried for the little one. But the pup gets up and walks into the den on its own, seemingly no worse for wear. Whew!
Around 9AM, a different uncollared black gets up and starts to travel south.
I take this as my cue to go to Lamar myself.
By the time I reach the ranch, the fog has thinned. It’s still hazy and we are clearly not finished with the rain yet. I set up and find the carcass quickly. I see five wolves, 3 gray and 2 black but they are not feeding on it because several live bison are conducting a “funeral” for their departed buddy, thus preventing the wolves from eating.
The wolves are very impatient, milling about, looking for a chance to grab a morsel. Several times the bison start to move off, and the wolves rush in, but then more bison arrive, or the first ones come back and push them off again.
It is a dance that we see quite frequently.
While this is going on, the bear people are watching the new grizzly family, a young sow with three coy. They are quite visible on a low flank of Amethyst Mountain, what Bill calls “Square Meadow” just east of the carcass area. I can easily watch both areas through my scope.
The whole area is flush with people, some uphill in the Institute parking lot and on the nearby hills, and dozens of cars line the road on both sides. This is the middle of Memorial Day weekend, after all.
And the rain doesn’t let up, drifting in thickly at times, then wisping away again. The bison move on, and the wolves regain their carcass. But just that quickly, the bison come back!
The big-collared gray (1340M) does his best to intimidate them, standing stiff-legged, baring his teeth, raising his hackles and his tail. Although they are too far away for us to hear, I can imagine the sound of his growling. A black wolf leaps on top of the carcass, trying to intimidate the bison from higher ground.
But it’s not enough to deter this group. The black wolf jumps back down and the gray slinks off.
Someone spots another bear. Actually, two bears, the sub-adult grizzly siblings that have been here almost daily for the last few weeks. I first see them at the back of Amethyst bench. They’ve got the scent of the carcass and are galloping towards it.
They are beautiful bears, robust, classically colored twins. But the wolves see them and are not in the mood! The five wolves immediately charge the bears and, in seconds, the bears wheel and run.
Which shows how young these bears are, no matter how robust they look to my eyes.
One gets a nip in the butt. The bear wheels and chases the wolf. The wolves are so agile, though, they are not in danger. I guess they figure it’s bad enough being kept from dinner by a bunch of bison. They are not about to lose their meal to a pair of baby bears!
The rain pounds down, ruining visibility once more.
I retreat to my car and head back to Slough for a look at the north den.
I find the alphas, bedded in the rain, howling on and off. I don’t see any pups while I’m here, but Laurie reported two; both black; one big and one small. But I do see a change - the alphas are now using the sage den.
I feel sad for the alphas. Their family has abandoned them for the south den, and their two remaining pups have lost their playmates.
The rain only adds to the gloominess.
I decide to make lemonade out of rainy-day lemons by taking a drive over the brand-new Dunraven road. It’s been closed for two years and just opened yesterday.
I get a black bear sighting at Rainy Lake. Ranger Bill is working the jam. I’d like to chat with him but he’s kinda busy so I just wave and continue on.
The road is gorgeous and wonderfully smooth. There are several brand new pullouts plus a bunch of improved pullouts with sturdy ”corral” railings on three sides. There are also a few new “interior” pullouts, too.
The “Mae West” curve has been completely re-designed, making for much better traffic flow and a new pullout that is safer-to-access and offers a great, wide view.
Once I’m up this high I find a whole lotta snow, which is nice to see. The temperature drops to 34 and the rain turns to snow.
When I get to Hayden I find very little green (which is normal) and many remaining patches of snow. Hardly any people or cars here at all – I don’t think either Canyon or Lake is open yet.
I see three swans and a bunch of geese near Alum Creek and hear chorus frogs all over the place. I drive as far as Grizzly Overlook but find the view from here quite chilly and gloomy, so I head back to Lamar.
On the way back, just beyond the bottom Mae West curve is a spot to which I hope the Park will add a barrier railing. Otherwise, I’m afraid more than one car will easily drive off the edge into oblivion.
I see no more bears on my way down. There are sheep above Wrecker and more in the meadow below Junction Butte.
It’s almost 1:30 when I reach Crystal again. Only a few people are out now, braving the chilly rain. But I stop anyway and find two adults: 907 and a black yearling. I also spot 1339M, still bedded but in a different place.
Suddenly I catch movement in the sage close to the road. A badger! I point him out to a couple with binoculars and we follow the creature as it zig zags through the sage.
I drive on, hoping for clearer viewing at the Ranch. Instead, I find even heavier rain. I set up in front of the barn anyway, using my open hatch as protection.
I find the carcass as well as some birds. But I don’t see any wolves and there is no one close enough to ask. I find the grizzly sow with her 3 cubs again, so I watch them for a while.
Unlike Hayden, Lamar is green as green can be. This valley just loves the rain.
I head back to Silver Gate, seeing two moose on the way: one at Soda Butte picnic and the other in Moose meadow. And for the first time in a while, I see mule deer (5 of them) in the owl meadow.
After a short break, I head back in, despite the continuing drizzle. Beautiful mist is wafting off the mountains.
I see a black bear and another moose near Pebble on my way down.
It’s raining quite hard as I approach the ranch. I join Michael in the road level pullout. He has a bear on the carcass, well, the shadowy shape of a bear on a shadowy lump of a carcass. We both think it is a grizzly but we learn later it was a black bear.
With Michael’s help I see the shadowy shape of a wolf, bedded on the left, waiting for the bear to finish. He says there were more in view earlier but just barely.
I go on to Slough, choosing to visit the north den first. The alpha female is here, roaming the den meadow, howling now and then. I can’t help but feel sad for her.
I move over to the Crystal side and find 907 and three uncollared yearlings. The rain has lessened a bit and the pups are out, running here and there. They don’t seem to mind it.
I leave around 8 and find thick fog again at the Ranch again, so I don’t stop.
Today I saw: 1 badger, 3 black bears, 6 grizzly bears (including 3 coy), bison, sandhill cranes,
elk, 3 moose, pronghorn, 26 Junction wolves (including AF, AM, 907, 1048, 1339, 1341, new mom,
6 other adults plus 14 pups) and the spirits of Allison and Richard