I come out in the still-dark to another nice morning. It’s a comfortable 32 degrees with no overnight precipitation. And the birdies are singing their heads off.
I go straight to Crystal with no stopping. The first thing I see is 1276, left of the den, with a pup in her mouth. She moves beyond the den, then turns back and places the pup near the opening.
I guess she just wanted to carry a pup for a while, since it seems the fashionable thing to do this year!
More puppies appear, roaming around the den area, watched over by several more adults.
A half hour later again we hear “wolf on the bridge” again!
When I move my scope to look, there is New Mom again. But she’s actually not yet on the bridge, but just east of it. She has a big pup in her mouth (black) and she stops just before the bridge because of…PEOPLE! There are several parked cars and at least a dozen people out of their cars aiming cameras and iPhones.
New Mom doubles back east but turns suddenly, leaving the road to the north. She starts to follow a trail above the Lamar River.
Taylor arrives and is able to get people to back off. While she is doing that, New Mom enters the river with the pup. She is carrying the pup correctly this time, by the neck scruff, so the pup’s head is well above the water. She walks in the shallow part but the center is deep and she’s got to swim. I can’t imagine the strain it must be to keep her own head above water plus the additional 6 or 10 pounds of pup she must carry. Whew!
Once she reaches the west side of the bridge, New Mom runs up to the road and bolts across it. I get a great view of her through my binoculars just 100 feet away. She runs down the south side-slope and heads for the den.
Once she arrives, she repeats her behavior from yesterday, placing the pup on the edge of the den opening. When the pup goes inside, she follows.
The other adult wolves in view (1229F, 1276F, 1339M and the two gray yearlings) watch with interest, but do not interfere or participate. This is the sixth pup transfer I am aware of (and there could have been others I missed or that happened overnight); three large and three small; four black and two gray.
Things slow down after this and I decide to take a look at the north side.
I am rewarded with a view of the alpha female near the sage den. Oh! There are several pups here, too! The alpha female has a stick in her mouth, trying to entice the pups to follow her. I guess she thinks they are too far from the natal den for her comfort.
I make a note to myself that this is the first time I’ve seen the alpha female behave “like herself” since she gave birth. Maybe she is finally feeling better? I hope so.
It takes a while, but she eventually succeeds, leading the three pups back to the natal porch. She stands there, nursing them, allowing me to see two small ones and one big one. The small ones cannot really reach her teats.
I hope she will lie down for them.
Finally, she does, and the little ones get a good meal. After this, the alpha female goes inside the natal den, followed by the three pups. I notice another uncollared black bedded to the right of the natal den – one of the cocoa yearlings.
The alpha female re-emerges a few minutes later, moves downslope and beds in her favorite spot near 890’s tree. The cocoa yearling gets up and follows her.
A little later, a gray wolf is spotted in Slough flats. It’s busybody wolf 1341F! She has been visiting the south den. She enters Slough Creek and starts to swim across. The near bank is full of bison, so she turns upstream, looking for a safe spot to get out.
She chooses a spot below a cut bank, trotting along below the top edge. She turns back to the Creek to take a drink, then aims for the top of the bank. She’s now in a grassy part of the lower lion meadow, the most usual route back to the den. She shakes off and looks uphill, then goes back to the water’s edge for another drink.
She looks over at the bison herd, perhaps sifting for calves. Finally, she turns and sets off. We think she will head to the den but she doesn’t. Instead, she takes a “low route” northeast ending up above the horizontal forest. She stops and begins to wander, nose down, in that area, perhaps looking for scraps from old carcasses.
Now she turns and heads for the den.
Jeremy is here, so I chat with him for a bit. He is dismayed by what happened this morning, when so many people tried to get close to New Mom while she was carrying a pup. To him, it’s just insane for people to interfere like that: how can they not understand how stressful that is for the mother and the pup?
He’s right, of course, but I remind him people are not thinking of the wolf at all, but of the chance for a photo. That’s all they care about. He tells me he has asked the Park to block the four parking areas near the bridge with orange cones. I’m glad to hear that because I think it will help.
We continue to follow 1341 as she takes her circuitous route back to the den. She is now in the rocky area below the Crescent Rock. She stops, and chews. Apparently, she found a scrap of something.
Now she travels the final 50 feet, ending up behind 890’s tree where she greets the alpha female and the yearling. Once she has paid her respects, she heads up through the bracken-covered hillside to the natal den. She stands broadside on the porch for a minute, then goes inside.
I think about 1341, about what has been motivating her behavior. From the very beginning of pup season, she has behaved as though she is a mother. She’s been very protective of the pups, going in and out of the den constantly, spending time inside, and specifically trying to keep New Mom from carrying pups anywhere.
She has not succeeded in that last effort, as we’ve seen at least six pups transferred over the last three days from north to south. But 1341 has been consistent and diligent nonetheless. In the past, I have seen many younger wolves behave with curiosity about pups, and I’ve seen some very diligent babysitters, but 1341F has taken that role to a whole new level.
I’ve never seen her nurse, and see no evidence that she has teats, nor did anyone report that she was pregnant. But I am going to remember her because I bet, she’ll end up with pups next year.
I stay here a while, scoping with Chloe & Becky, enjoying the calls of sandhills, watching pronghorn and bison. Chloe discovers that you can see the golden eagle nest from here, so we watch one parent feed the two chicks in the spot on the cliff that has been there for years.
Bill calls in a sighting of the Middle Ridge sow with her two yearlings, so we add them to our mix of wildlife sightings. Finally, Chloe finds several sheep in the rocks above the den cliff.
Around 11 I head back to Crystal to check in with Laurie. She and Rick have been counting pups here at the south den. They have seen 15! So, with the 3 I just saw at the north den, that makes a full count of 18.
There is a garbled radio report of a sighting from Long Pullout – possibly a grizzly and a wolf, both to the south. I drive there to check it out and find quite a few people. But the bear is a cinnamon black bear rather than a grizzly. None of the people I talk to saw a wolf but one man saw a coyote. Hmmm.
It’s nearly 1PM and a very warm 50 degrees when I finally head east for a break.
When we go back out at 6PM, the temp is 56! But the wind has picked up.
I see the Baronette fox at Soda Butte picnic.
I spend another pleasant evening at Crystal watching wolves and puppies, showing wolves to many visitors and chatting about New Mom and her motivations.
The canid characters this evening include 907F, 1048M, 1276F, New Mom, 1339 and the “fluffy” gray yearling, plus at least 11 pups.
Laurie, as usual, counted more.
We also find three adults, 1229F, 1339M and the “skinny” gray yearling hanging out with three black pups in a different spot well upslope of the usual den area, mostly hidden by a line of tall sage.
I leave around 8:30, heading back to Silver Gate.
Today I saw: 1 black bear, 3 grizzly bears (2 cubs), bison, sandhill cranes, elk, a fox,
meadowlarks, pronghorn, bighorn sheep, 25 Junction wolves (11 adults – AF, 907, 1048, 1229,
1276, 1339, 1341, new mom, 1 cocoa pup, 2 uncollared grays) and 14 pups (3 N; 11 S) and the
spirits of Allison and Richard