SUMMER VISIT 2014 - June 2-7


DAY FOUR - Thursday, June 5

AM WOLVES, PM BEARS

I leave Silver Gate a bit late – at 5:10. It’s nice and cool at 30 degrees. The upper meadows are frosted and there are mule deer in them.

Nothing in upper Soda Butte so I head west to Slough, where I see Rick. He encourages me to follow him. We stop at straightaway. Two people are out of their cars on the south side of the road looking uphill. They saw something and are now trying to find it again. Then there they are – black wolf 890M plus a collared gray, 870F.

I set up on the hill behind the pullout and watch them. There are two more grays with them. The alphas head east, still fairly low on the slope. We hear howling. A lot of it! Both sides of the road. The alphas disappear into the Crystal drainage but just before that happens, the Black Female joins them.

I learn later that she apparently caught a pronghorn fawn on the north side of the road, but when she heard howling from her pack mates, she dropped the fawn carcass and headed toward the howling.

During the greeting with her family, she is chased by two grays and her tail was tucked. It did not look particularly aggressive chase, but it indicates her lower status.

I move to Slough and scope from there. Steve is here which is great as he is such a good spotter.

We watch the two yearlings a while, then lose them. But Steve finds the alphas higher up the slope, bedded near some scattered rocks. We watch them in this spot for almost two hours. During this time, 870F the alpha female seems very antsy. She howls a lot, and seems like she cannot stay asleep. Is she worried about her pups? I’m not sure. There are certainly other wolves in this pack not accounted for – perhaps still on the north side of the road.

After a while the wolves move and head back west, going higher on the hill and disappearing into a patch of woods. We see interaction between them and some pronghorn, including a pronghorn which ran into the woods and three mule deer which came dashing out of the woods, stotting quite impressively.

They came out again on the next hill, now approaching the butte where we often see bighorn sheep. The sheep seemed aware of the wolves but not bothered. Then Steve finds a black bear below the butte, walking over fallen logs. The alphas see the bear and give chase down the hill. They run the bear into the woods below the butte. But I never see them come out. Suddenly I have no wolves to watch!

We continue to look for them but about a half hour later, we get a call from someone at Boulder who just saw the alphas cross the road heading north. Since their den is most likely in the Trough area, this makes sense to me – the alpha female wanted to get back to her pups.

However, the two gray yearlings and the Black Female were not seen crossing the road – so they might still be on the south side – or of course, they could have crossed unreported.

It’s now almost 9:30. I head back to Lamar and stop at Dorothy’s.

From here I watch a courting pair of grizzlies – north of Coyote. The male is considerably larger than the female. They paw at each other playfully, then continue grazing and digging.

When they go out of sight I head west again. I stop at Peregrine to look for wolves but find a herd of elk. They wander, very alert, over the Peregrine hills to the north. There are bighorn sheep visible at the Yellowstone Bridge.

I am now quite sleepy so I park at the end of the Blacktail road (still not open) and take a nap.

I wake up, refreshed, and head west to see what might be seen. I find a black bear at Phantom Lake and watch him for quite a while. Then wander slowly towards Gardiner to keep a promise to have dinner with Doug and Helen again. We liked the Raven so much that we go back here again.

After that they head to Swan Flats and I return to Lamar.

I see Betsy at Elk Creek so I stop to join her. We watch another black bear down in the valley below us for a few minutes.

I want to find the Junctions again so I head to Slough. Betsy scopes from Boulder. As I am walking out to the Knob, Betsy warns me that a storm is coming and I can hear the wind over the radio. So I head back to my car to wait it out.

I find a black bear up on the slope beneath the Sheep butte, probably the same one the alpha’s chased this morning. I watch it through binocs in my car, between wiper blades.

Once the storm passes we both realize there will soon be a rainbow and she wants a photo, so we head east to Dorothy’s.

It’s still raining lightly here but as we get set up, the rainbow appears, arcing over the road and ending on Amethyst Bench. A very large bison herd is on the move, lots of cows and calves, marching blithely under the rainbow bridge. I notice visitors in the pullout behinds us looking into the valley excitedly. I say to the closest man “I bed you didn’t expect to find bison at the end of a rainbow?” He smiles and says “No, nor grizzlies either”. I say “What grizzlies?”

Well, apparently while I was looking southeast, two grizzlies (the courting pair from this morning) came down from the north, crossed the road and chased some of the bison that are now marching towards the rainbow. The man says some of the bison turned around and faced the bears, and the bears headed south to the river.

That’s where I find them.

We watch them for the next two hours, across the river, sometimes on the high bank, sometimes right at the water’s edge. The larger of the two is black and the smaller one is brown with the very typical grizzly vest markings. One of them finds something on the bench to nibble on and the other one wants it. They squabble a bit, then move on.

They slowly travel east, looking for trouble. Pronghorn dart everywhere, perhaps trying to distract the bears from their newborns hiding in the sage.

As the bears move steadily east, Betsy and I follow. She goes to YES and I stop at the Institute. In the dimming light, I can see the lighter bear cross the river. The darker bear is far to the east, still on the far side of the river. The lighter bear makes a diagonal trek across the flats and crosses in front of Betsy’s car at the YES pullout.

It’s a lovely end to a good day. We head back to Silver Gate and I see mule deer again at Baronnette.

Today I saw: 4 black bears, 2 grizzles, bison, mule deer, elk, a hawk, pronghorn, a rainbow, bighorn sheep, 5 wolves of the Junction Pack (870F, 890M, the Black Female and two un-collared grays) and the spirit of Allison.




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