DAY THREE - Sunday, September 10


I leave early again. It rained overnight but it’s now clear above. Many stars and a bright moon light my way.

But as I reach Round Prairie, clouds move in again.

I join the group of regulars already here: Gary, Celia, Ginny, Krysztina, Melba, Dave and Teresa. Rick joins us soon after.

Around 6:20, these bright-eyed people see a pair of wolves, a black and a gray, to the right of the Douglas fir. It’s still too dark for me!

The clouds inhibit first light enough that I can only start to see around 6:30. But my hearing is fine, at least enough to detect a robust pack howl. There seem to be two distinct groups; one close, the other more distant. Their voices blend beautifully.

But I am still having trouble seeing. Then I realize it’s due to fog rising from the wet ground. Finally I see three bedded blacks near the Douglas fir. One of them is 1276F and another is 907F. I also see two more grays.

A bear appears uphill of the carcass, heading right for it. His arrival causes most of the wolves to rise and rush in that direction with raised tails. But they soon retreat and let the bear eat in peace.

Kristina encourages us to move a little bit east of our “normal” spot and we find it offers a slightly wider view of the fir-tree meadow, which increases my count from six to ten.

Two blacks begin to play, one being the pup. The older black entices two gray siblings to join in a game of tag. For a while, the pup sits this game out, somewhat separate from the others. But soon she is noticed by an uncollared gray who trots down to engage with her.

Another uncollared black finds a leg assembly and drags/carries it upslope a bit before sitting down for a chew. Not sure if this leg was from the carcass or an unrelated old bone. Later this bone becomes a keep-away prize for the rambunctious yearlings.

The bear leaves around 7:30, traveling upslope, escorted by several wolves for a short while. After this, the action slows down a bit with only bedded wolves in view for another hour or so.

When the sun finally breaks through the clouds, the wolves begin a slow exodus from the meadow to the thick trees upslope. I follow the alpha male, 1276F, another black, the pup, and then four grays as they move slightly west and up into the trees.

We begin to hear radio reports of other wolves being seen to the west of us. Around 9AM, I follow Rick towards the Cone. He has just had a brief sighting of several wolves moving west through the rolling hills. I set up and find a black much further west, following the creek corridor.

I move to Eastern Curve and with the help of others find an uncollared gray in the flats, heading upslope to the south. We also see a coyote heading east.

Rick moves to Footbridge and finds these three wolves again but they go out of sight to the south before the rest of us can join him.

I check from various spots but never find them again.

Around 11, I call it a morning in drive back to Silver Gate.

On the way I notice little spots of yellow and orange in the ground cover; 3 or 4 aspens have turned yellow or orange and a bit of russet shows here and there.

When I get to Silver Gate, I notice the marsh across the street from Laurie’s is taking on a golden tinge.

After a break, I’m back at Soda Butte midpoint at 4:30PM with my buds.

The first ominous sign we notice is a distinct lack of birds anywhere near the carcass area. I scope every inch of landscape within view. I find goats up high to the southeast, see flying ducks and sandhills overhead and an occasional bison or far-off pronghorn.

The turkey vulture stops by for a bit but doesn’t stay, which we consider another sign that the carcass may be finished and the wolves are gone.

Soon we have some thunder, wind, and a short-lived bout of rain. Right when the raindrops start Gary notices a bear at the edge of the forest above and behind the “perfect” tree. We all try but never manage to see it.

The rain departs, leaving a bright rainbow which touches down right smack on the “perfect” tree.

By 7PM, though, without any wolves in view, we begin to accept that the Junctions have slipped back to their Jasper rendezvous. I decide to drive into Lamar, at least as far as Dorothy’s to check this out.

I see very few cars and nothing but a few bison and pronghorn. The valley seems deserted for this time of year, but I always enjoy driving through Lamar, especially in such beautiful evening light.

I go back east, finding only Gary still in position at Soda Butte Midpoint. We confer once more but neither of us has anything to report to the other.

On my way back I spot the local fox, which gives me a three-dog day.

I reflect that our “pot of gold” lucky streak was bound to end sometime, and tonight was the night.

We’ll see what tomorrow may bring.

Today I saw: 1 grizzly bear, bison, 2 coyotes, sandhill cranes, a fox, 4 mountain goats, pronghorn, 12 Junction wolves, (including alpha male, 907F, 1276, pup, high-tail gray, four more grays and three more blacks) and the spirits of Allison, Richard and Jeff.

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