DAY EIGHT - Friday, January 2, 2015

PROSPECTS AND LAMARS

This temperature this morning is minus 7. Itís amazing what you can learn to tolerate when you have little choice!

I am hoping to see the Lamars on the bison at Soda Butte, but nothing is there. Instead, Rick has signals in the confluence area. We scope a while from Hitching post and Confluence but donít find anything moving. Then we get a call from Slough that wolves are in view from there, so, you know what they say, a wolf at Slough is better than none at Confluence. LOL

I follow the line of scope carriers heading up Daveís Hill. There is already a group assembled on the southern flank. I get set up and find 12 Prospect Peak Pack wolves on a snowy slope east of the Crystal drainage.

They howl beautifully, then they begin climbing uphill. At first I lose them in some conifers so I climb up a bit higher on Daveís. I find them again in the forest, where they remain semi-visible for a while.

Then I see some of them emerging below that forest, moving towards a gully thick with willows and aspen. They are suddenly wolves all over the place. We hear more howling and then I hear at least two voices behind us, responding. Hmm, looks like a few stragglers got left behind.

Then they flush a bull elk out of the willows. The elk starts running, not full out, but not trotting either. There are three wolves behind it, a black and two grays. Although the bull is running in deep snow it seems quite healthy because the wolves do not manage to gain on it. They soon give up. After catching their breath, they rally together and then head back to the rest of the group.

Then we notice two more bull elk among the willows on the western end of the gully. These two elk clearly know the wolves are there, and itís a little big funny to imagine that they are trying to ďhideĒ from the wolves. The wolves do not seem to know they are there.

When a large pack is spread out like this itís impossible to keep track of them all, so I choose three to follow. There is more howling and a few of them bed. Then two pups, a black and a gray, finally discover the two elk. The pups make an attempt to get the elk to run but the bulls are strong and turn the tables on them easily, charging and kicking.

Then suddenly all the wolves begin to run back toward the conifer forest uphill of the gully. None of us can figure out why or what might have spooked them. It could be that two of the wolves returning from the first elk chase were misidentified by the bedded wolves and one spook led to a mass spooking. After all, this is not their home territory.

It remains a wolf mystery but the pack eventually re-assembles to the west, close to the spot where I first saw them. They climb uphill to an area with a very large boulder and have a rally. Then one by one they begin to bed, with a few (probably pups) remaining restless for a little while longer. Eventually all of them bed in two distinct groups.

We keep an eye out for the two missing wolves, the ones who howled behind us. Steve sees a single gray in that area but then loses it. Laurie says the gray cannot be a Prospect wolf, because all their grays are accounted for. Hmmm.

People begin to pack up and I do, too. Itís downright toasty at 7 degrees ABOVE zero. I end up driving back to Lamar. As I pass the confluence, I notice two coyotes in the river corridor climbing up the bank to the west.

I stop at Footbridge and scope for about an hour, checking the bison carcass (nothing on it) and mostly to the north, thinking the Lamars will come over Druid Peak from the north. I later find out that all this time they were IN the confluence river bottoms on a new carcass! In fact, the coyotes I saw were probably returning from a snack on it.

I talk with Story & Dave a bit. They tell me that last night, just after Laurie and I left the Institute the Lamars did appear. They said they could still see my tail lights, but they have no radio so they couldnít alert me. They watched them for about a half hour until they ran out of light.

I hear over the radio that a single gray is being seen from Bobís Knob in the flats. Hmm. We know this is not a Prospect wolf, so who is it? I head there to try to find out.

Once Iím set up on Bobís I learn from other watchers here that the gray was suddenly chased by a black (likely one of the Prospects). The black caught the gray and bit its rear end, then they both stopped and faced off. Then the black turned away and the gray followed the black! Another stand-off occurred and then they both went their separate ways.

Hmm, sounds like pup behavior.

The gray is no longer in sight but the black is. Itís sitting on a rocky knob, close to where the male group of Prospects was bedded several days ago. It just sits and howls, over and over.

I also scope Specimen from here. I see a large herd up there Ė not elk but bighorn. Then more and more show up on skyline. Then they start running. Ahh, itís three coyotes. The sheep have the advantage on those high rocks.

One small group of ewes and lambs dash down slope for the cliffs. The coyotes disappear over the top, then the big herd moves lower down and begins to graze. Then further to the west on skyline, another herd of bighorn appears, more and more, crowding close to another cliff. I never see the coyotes but it looks as though various rams are charging something.

A few rams are chasing ewes! Their mating season was in November but I suppose a few of them drag it out a bit. I am hoping to see head butting but never do.

Now Rick says he has weak signals for 870F. She is still on her own, somewhere around here. Itís sad. Sheís had such a roller-coaster life. We go to Curve but donít find her. We do find a hawk in a tree.

Eventually I head back east. The Lamars have finally been spotted but now the sky is clouded over and it looks like more snow is coming. When I get to Trash Can, I find Rick on the hill so I join him. He shows me three wolves bedded in the rendezvous. What a sweet thing to see: Druid descendants in the Druidís old R-V! Itís Big Gray, 926F and a black pup.

A coyote is out there also. Boy he is taking a chance!

Laurie and Dan are set up at confluence. They find more Lamar wolves from there, a black and a gray, both pups. This is when I learn they have another carcass which they may have gotten last night and what might explain why we did not see them this morning.

It seems to be down low in the river bottoms, virtually out of sight. Rick climbs Confluence hill for a better look. I consider it, but I slipped trying to get up Trash Can hill, so I stay in the lot. He tells us he can see the carcass and itís a 5 point bull elk. But he also sees a person out there, a photog, in white camoflauge. In his opinion the photog is getting too close and will probably push the wolves off any minute.

I see the gray pup and the big collared black pup. Then we see another black to the left and finally a third black. We are missing one black pup but itís probably out there down low.

I notice many bighorn rams grazing above us on Confluence hill.

The snow has arrived and begins to mess with our visibility. The wolves bed down for a nap. After a while we leave the confluence and go back to Slough, hoping to see the Prospects wake up and do something fun.

Another car drama plays out. A Japanese couple spin off the road just east of Fishermanís. Steve saw it happen. He pulls in at Fisherman and goes to help. They tell him they want a tow and they want to stay in their car. Steve takes it up on himself to scoop snow away from their tail pipe so they will not asphyxiate.

He calls Rick, and eventually a Ranger arrives.

Laurie and I get to Slough just in time to see the Prospects wake up and rally. I see pups jumping on adults and lots of tail wagging, as well as pups pawing adults which is so cute. But then the pack heads into the trees and I lose them.

Itís snowing harder now and visibility is not good. I head back to Lamar but Laurie opts to stay. I see Story and Dave at Confluence so I stop. They know the wolves are here but have not found them yet. I put my scope on where I saw them bed and luckily they are still there, so they get to see bedded black wolves through thick snow.

We watch the gray get up and move east. Then one of the blacks gets up and moves the opposite way. Both these wolves converge on the big collared black, then all three head out of sight in thick willows, where the carcass is. The snow continues to fall, silently, but more and more heavily. Itís very pretty.

Laurie joins us and reports that the Prospects came out again and she had a really great view of them. I now follow her east to Silver Gate. Itís Jeffís last night. He got pizza! We all head over to Ricks to watch a video of his.

Today I saw: bison, coyotes, elk, big horn sheep, 21 wolves from two packs and one unknown individual (13 of 14 Prospects, one unknown gray, and 7 of 8 Lamars) and the spirit of Allison




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