I start my day at 5AM in 28-degree weather. Clearly the wintry weather is not finished with Silver Gate! I find about a half-inch of powdery snow on the car but it’s light and easy to brush off.
I find that the wind is still with us.
When I pass Dorothy’s, Doug M radios from Slough that fog is hiding the north den area. So, I go past Slough and stop at Crystal instead.
The view from here is hazy but not awful. Once I set up, I see a few adult wolves bedded in view. It takes a while but finally some puppies emerge from the mouth of the south den. Oh! They are so small! And so MANY! I count at least 8, both black and gray.
At this age, the term “gray” is a bit imprecise. The color is more sandy-brown than gray. But that’s the term biologists use.
Right about 8AM a bison herd moves in. People who have been watching for several days say that bison herds have come through this area, stopping at the den, every single day.
As the herd comes closer, most of the pups scamper back inside the den, but one little black is not quick enough. He wobbles away from the giant brown beasts towards a thick patch of sage but runs out of time about 10 feet from the den opening.
The adult wolves do not seem to know what to do. They move back and forth but stay well away from the bison, which linger in the area, sniffing everywhere. Some bison stand right smack on top of the mound of earth. One even lowers its great horned head into the opening.
It looks to me like it snorts right into the hole.
I can just imagine poor pups inside, cowering, diving under each other, or crowding against whatever adult might be in there with them. I imagine them whining and barking and growling. Of course, the den is too far away for us to hear anything, so I’m just making that up.
After a half hour, the bison finally get bored and begin to leave. Soon the adult wolves reappear from their hiding places. Some bed down next to the den, waiting for the last recalcitrant ungulates to vacate the premises.
907F is one of these. I see her lift her head alertly, looking slightly south. She gets up and goes quickly to a thick clump of sage. She is partly hidden behind the brush, but I can see two things, her suddenly wagging tail and her lowered head.
Two or three other adults rush to that same spot, all with wagging tails.
907F emerges from the sage clump with the black pup in her mouth! It spent the whole bison visit hidden in that clump of sage. Mama 907 carries the lucky pup to the den opening and places it right on the edge. The little thing runs the rest of the way inside, to warmth and safety.
Now she walks back to her bedding spot and plops down. It’s all in a day’s work for 907F.
The other wolves I see today are 1048M, 1276F, 1340M and two black yearlings.
Jeremy scopes with us for a while and tells me he has a count of 10 puppies at this den, 5 blacks and 5 grays. Yesterday he counted 8 pups at the north den for a high count of 18!
After the bison drama, 1276F beds close to the den opening. It is thought that she and 907 are the mothers of the pups here. We may never know how many each wolf had.
1048 is a late arrival, after the bison have already gone. But he brings food to the waiting mothers.
I decide to head to the north den. It’s such a treat to have two active dens to watch. Parking is relatively easy on both sides, allowing visitors and regulars to spread out. For once, neither spot feels crowded!
At the north den I see the alpha female plus 2 gray adults. The wind has finally died down and the temp has risen to 40. Rick is here and tells me he saw several pups earlier, but they are out of sight at the moment.
Then someone calls “pups!” so I swing my scope to the natal den. Oh yes! Puppies are pouring out of the natal den onto the “porch”. I’m pretty sure I count 7. But then…it starts to snow!
The “fluffy” gray yearling has planted herself on the porch with the pups. She is clearly enamored of them. She stretches out a leg and gently paws at them.
The snow continues to fall, and the pups go back into the den. It’s nearly noon, so I decide to head back east.
As I approach Fisherman’s I see many cars stopped and people looking north. I pull over and see a mom grizzly with two yearlings causing a huge jam. She is in plain view on the north side, grazing and grubbing.
I watch these bears a while, then continue east. I decide to stop at the Coyote den near the Soda Cone.
At first, I just sit in the lot, glassing the eroded spot with my binoculars, getting familiar with the area. Then my eye catches movement above. Puppies!
Three darling coyote pups are wrestling each other in the sage a few feet above the den opening. Oh, they are so cute! No offense to wolves but I think coyote pups are even cuter than they are!
I get out my scope and train it on the three pups. They are having a good time, pouncing on each other, pulling each other’s tails.
A visitor to my right points east of the den, saying “there’s another one”. I glance where they’re pointing and see an adult coyote at the base of the hill, trotting very fast with singular purpose. Oh! This is probably one of the parents, bringing food to the babes.
I swing my scope back to the pups, just in time to see them suddenly dash up the slope. Oh! Three puppies have become five puppies! Running fast. Ahh! They are running to greet a second adult which has just come in above the den. It has food!
Four of the five pups crash into this adult, who lowers its head, delivering food. The fifth pup can see it’s too late so it wheels and bolts downhill to meet the first adult, who is now coming up from below.
The fifth pup is the big winner today – he gets all the food brought by the first adult. Fifth pup grabs a huge chunk and moves off, gobbling it up, leaving several morsels untouched. The adult quickly grabs those back.
Higher on the hill the four other pups are gobbling whatever the second adult brought. When the food is gone, they gather together, greeting and tumbling over each other, eventually following the adult down to the den.
I feel so lucky to have witnessed this. Looks like the parents know where to find fresh food.
They all go into the den, so I continue east. At Round Prairie, I see a number of cars and a ranger parked in the big woodsy lot. I remember hearing that 1228 and her mate killed a moose here a few days ago, so I figure the carcass must be what people are watching.
I join the group with just my binoculars. I look where they are looking but don’t see anything. I whisper to the person next to me “Is it a bear?” She turns and smiles, saying “wolf”.
This group is very quiet and well-behaved. Now I see it! The wolf is quite close, maybe just a quarter mile away. He’s black with blonde patches here and there. He is VERY nervous but clearly wants to nibble on the carcass.
The wolf looks right at all of us. He inches towards the dark lump that I assume was once a moose, staying well hidden in the high grasses and willows.
Finally, he lowers his head and tugs, pulling the dark mass towards him. Camera shutters whir and click and he gets a few mouthfuls, but it’s too stressful for him to be this close to the road and people. He quickly abandons the effort, slinking back into the underbrush.
I am pretty sure I’m looking at the mate of 1228F.
A light rain begins and it’s quite chilly at 38 degrees, and I feel bad for being one of the people making it hard for this wolf to feed. So, on I go.
Back in Silver Gate I have a break and a nap.
When I wake up, I find Laurie & Dan, Rick and Maureen gathered at the front window. A moose mama and her two yearlings are paying us a visit!
Mama finds tasty things to eat right by the propane tank. The yearlings walk past my parked car to the thick willows east of the driveway.
The moose draw a crowd from the road, too. In fact, Laurie has to go out on the deck to wave away a person who is getting WAY too close to Mama.
Later in the afternoon, the rain gives way to sun. The air remains cold though, at 37.
Around 6:30 we all set off for an evening viewing. We have bison on the road in several places and find the grizzly sow with yearlings still thrilling crowds north of Fisherman’s.
We have a really nice night scoping from Crystal. With the sun behind us, instead of in our eyes, we don’t have to pray for cloud cover.
We find wolves right away near the den opening, namely, 907F and the dark faced male cocoa yearling. They are tending five pups. The pups roam around the den mound, very wobbly, disappearing and reappearing behind clumps of sage.
1048M arrives from the south and 907 rushes over to greet him. They take a stroll together through the meadow and he feeds her. 1276F is here, too but she seems restless, wandering here and there. Laurie thinks she is hungry.
More pups come out and others go back in, so it’s hard to get a count. A black pup beds near 1276 for a while. After a bit, the pup gets up and starts to leave. 1276 takes its tail in her mouth tugging it backwards. The poor pup’s legs go stiff as she pulls. It looks a little harsh (and comical) but the pup is fine.
Four more pups come over and nuzzle around 1276 and she nurses them.
Someone notices several adult wolves running downslope to the left, towards the forest at the edge of the river. They are chasing elk! They go out of sight for a bit but return quickly, panting. It looks like the elk got away.
The number of people here has risen a good deal since my last visit. We help a lot of people get their first glimpse of wild wolf puppies.
We stay till 8:30, enjoying a gorgeous sunset.
On the drive back I see a black bear near Thunderer.
Today I saw: 3 grizzly bears (twice), a black bear, bison and calves, seven coyotes
(including 5 pups), sandhill cranes, elk, 3 moose, pronghorn, 24 wolves including 23 Junctions,
including (South den: 907F, 1048M, 1229F, 1276F, 1340M, skinny gray yearling, both black
yearlings plus 7 pups; North den: alpha female, 1341F, fluffy gray yearling plus 5 pups),
plus the black mate of 1228F and the spirits of Allison and Richard