DAY NINE - Friday, May 27

THE MELT IS ON!

Itís even warmer this morning at 47! We had some light rain overnight, which has left a nice mist in the air for the morning drive. The birdies are singing as usual but this morning I can also hear the creek gurgling. Itís rising fast.

As I approach the Soda Cone I see six elk standing warily in the flats to the north. I wonder if 1228F or her mate might be nearby, making them nervous?

Another elk crosses the road from south to north at eastern curve. When I get to Footbridge I stop to scan the landscape but I donít find any wolves.

At the Confluence I notice the water is higher than it was yesterday. I remember that ďrivers rise at nightĒ. The Lamar sure seems much wider than itís been. Iím the only person on the road which is just so nice.

There are many bison at YES pullout and on both sides of the road near the ranch.

I set up at Crystal, joining early birds Rick and Kathie. We see 907 at the den with 5 pups. 1341F comes in from the south and 1229 jumps up, pouncing on her. A little later, 1341 makes a point of pinning a yearling, I guess to reassure herself of her own power.

A bison herd grazes upslope of the den and soon three black adults are walking towards them, with purpose (1229F, 1276F and a black yearling).

They circle the herd, then as a few bison start to run, the wolves give chase. A group with the most calves run straight uphill. Two of the wolves follow but soon give up. Then they turn to chase the smaller group, without calves. I think they do it just for fun.

It starts to rain. Itís light and tolerable for a while, then a heavy downpour arrives, chasing us back to our cars.

Rick goes over to the north den and reports 1 adult and 2 pups in view but that itís generally quiet.

The rain lessens a bit and I set up again. The three black wolves have now gone over the hill following the route taken by the herd with calves. 1341F emerges from inside the den and shakes off a load of dirt/dust. She walks around like she owns the place. We wonder if she will become a regular here, now, since the majority of the pups are using this den?

We find several opportunities to count pups. I get 12, Laurie gets 14. One of the tiny pups is REALLY tiny. We call it mini-pup.

Around 8AM the rain gets heavy again, so I decide to drive into Lamar to see if we can find the three blacks.

I stop at Dorothyís. The bison herd is in view on Jasper but none of us see any wolves. However, the bison begin to run downhill towards the river. I decide to watch in case they decide to cross. I always like to see animals swim a river.

The bison come galloping down the east end of the bench, somewhat recklessly. The leaders just plunge into the water, despite there being dozens of very young calves in this herd. To me, the river is running pretty high and fast, not quite flood stage but spring high.

They start swimming and all of them are swept well downstream, calves and mothers and older sisters and brothers. They keep swimming, though, and in the end, they all get across safely. They just end up way downriver compared to where they started.

I especially enjoy seeing each calf as it finally gets purchase on the near side sandbar. They are so happy when they feel the ground under their hooves. Once they get all four feet on solid footing, they gallump through the shallows, splashing up a storm, mewing and calling to their moms.

I head back to Crystal, but the rain is still heavy, so I go to Tower for gas. I continue west for a bit, enjoying the green and hoping to see black bears. I stop at Hellroaring and glass the hills here, finding many elk, nearly 200, but no calves. (They are probably hidden in the grass)

When I get back to Crystal, the sun is out again. I watch the den area a while, seeing two wolves come in with food, so they have a carcass somewhere.

Around noon I head back east. On my way through Lamar Canyon I notice water lapping over the ďindicator rockĒ, a big boulder near the top of the canyon that is only submerged during a flood.

The melt is definitely happening!

At the Ranch I join bear watchers looking at a grizzly up high on the west side of Amethyst. I learn I just missed the new family of a sow with three coy that Bill found a few days ago.

At Confluence I join Bill who shows me a courting pair of grizzlies up on Norris. And in the Soda Butte Valley I stop to watch a badger near itís hole to the south. Iíve seen photographers here for the last two days Ė now I know what theyíve been seeing!

And I see a moose at lower Baronnette.

During melt season, I enjoy watching the spring run-off corridors as they grow more and more full. So far this year, I have only seen trickles. I guess that means that most of the snow has not yet melted. I guess itís been too cool so far or maybe itís just too early yet.

I have seen several additional streams appear; one at icebox canyon on the north side, and another north of the pothole bridge. Those are signs of spring melt, too.

The moose mom is in the field across from Laurieís again.

After our break, we set off again around 6PM. The day has become overcast once more, at least up here.

At Confluence, the water actually looks like a lake. Itís very muddy, too. If I were a bison calf, I would not want to cross the Lamar today!

We gather again at Crystal. The evening gets off to a slow start but soon several adults (1229 and 1276) show up at the den, looking well fed. They deliver the groceries to the pups, who swarm them, eagerly.

We also have 907, New Mom, two black yearlings and one gray yearling. 1341 is here again. I guess she canít stay away. The pups are more adventurous than ever this evening, travelling further and further from the den. 1341 is kept very busy trying to herd them back with little luck.

I see some prickly behavior among the females this evening. At one point, both New Mom and 1341 try to enter the den at the same time. Each of them seems to want to block the other. Finally, 907 goes over and calms them down. New Mom goes in. 1341 grovels next to 907 even though 907 is not pinning her. I guess she was saying ďsorry!Ē

A few times this evening I see New Mom pick up a pup and start to carry it off to the south. 907 blocks her, being calm but firm. She takes the pup from her and brings it back to the den.

1341 wanted to rescue the pup herself but stayed in a crouch whenever 907 was nearby. Laurie says her role at this den is very different from how she behaved at the northern den. She is a great protector of the pups but she wants to pin New Mom, which 907 doesnít like. 907 is clearly in charge.

Our high count for pups is 13 tonight. Laurie and I both feel we are missing some tiny ones. We figure perhaps one or two of the little ones are staying inside the den.

Around 8:30 a hunting party starts out, heading southwest. A bunch of pups come rushing out of the den, trailing them! 1341 and a yearling stay with them, herding them back.

We leave after this. But when I arrive in Silver Gate, Bill pulls in to give us some news. He spotted a bison carcass on Amethyst just as dark was descending. I guess I know where Iíll be stopping in the morning!

Today I saw: 1 badger, 3 grizzly bears, bison, coyotes, sandhill cranes, elk, 2 moose, pronghorn and 20 Junction wolves (including 907, 1229, 1276, 1341, new mom, three yearlings and 12 pups) and the spirits of Allison and Richard

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