Although I am up at my usual time, I am just a tad late to see a wolf.
I see the usual mulies in the meadows on my way in and there is a bit of fog at Round Prairie. I arrive at Footbridge at 5:30 and learn from Jeremy that Big Gray was seen coming in from the south. He stopped for a bite at yesterday’s mule deer carcass then headed east, crossed the river and the road was last seen heading up 480’s Crossing.
There is still fog in Lamar and at Slough but Steve reports that he saw 907 and 890 briefly to the north and west. I head to Slough but we are stymied by thick fog.
Around 7:15 Rick heads back east. I join Jeremy and Doug at Boulder – actually on the hill opposite (south side). We are looking through the fog to try to find wolves.
Another visitor alerts us to an animal behind us. I expect a bison but it’s a black bear walking down the slope behind us, aiming right for us. It turns and crosses behind us and then roams through the swale at Curve. He crosses to the south at Curve and eventually rounds the base of Junction Butte, heading northwest.
Jeremy wants to go to the Blacktail. I decide to go with him. Carl reported wolf sightings from there last week, so there is a chance. We scope from the Nature Trail. No luck but it’s fun to hang out with Jeremy and at least there is no fog here.
Around 8:30 he heads back east to go to work and I decide to drive the freshly opened Blacktail Road. I have never been on this road so early in the season nor so early in the day. It proved to be a wise choice.
The area is gorgeous and just being a tiny bit away from the road offers immediate solitude. I stop at one of the first pullouts to have some coffee. While I’m sipping it, a white pickup with a family inside rolls up and continues past me.
I catch up to that pickup about a half mile later. They are stopped in a part of the road where you cannot pass, but I am in no hurry so I stop, too. Then I notice a coyote on the right, and I figure this was why the truck stopped. I get out to see the coyote better and the woman from the truck walks back to me to say quietly “we think we have a bear, too”. It is so nice of her to tip me off so I pick up my scope and walk with her closer to her truck.
Then she says “well, either a bear or a wolf”. At first I think – huh? - but when she points to the top of a draw maybe 200 yards away I see this huge head looking right at us. At first I actually thought it was a blond bear with an unusually narrow nose, but when I stand still and look through my binocs, I can see it is a wolf. A gray. It just stares at us for a while. It’s bedded and all we can see is its head. We watch it for another minute or so, then it gets up and stands broadside a few seconds, then very casually walks down the hill into a shaded, woodsy gully and out of sight.
I thank the woman profusely for tipping me off. I tell her I missed my chance to see a wolf this morning and that I have never seen a wolf on this road before. She asks if I want to go ahead of them, and I say, no, I will follow you and see what else you can spot for me!
They drive on and I follow. Around a bend we go and there is our wolf again. This time we get an even longer look. She does a squat urination so we know now she’s a female. She walks casually across a meadow, and I notice she has no black tip on the end of her tail but she does have a dark scent mark at the top of her tail, as well as a thin dark shoulder stripe. She’s light to medium gray overall.
She crosses the dirt road ahead of us and walks up a hill, giving us a look at her belly. I do not see lactating teats but her belly fur seems very sparse to bare.
I am mostly struck by her nonchalance. She seems completely at home in this area and in no hurry to get away from us, although she does head in a direction that takes her out of our view. Finally she tops the hill and disappears down the other side. And that is that.
The rest of the drive tallies up this way: two coyotes, two sandhills, two pronghorn, bison, elk and one gray wolf.
Now back on the main road I head to Calcite Overlook but no bears are in view today.
I return to Little America and radio Rick that I have a story for him. We meet at Boulder, where I also find Larry & Linda. I tell them all my story and Rick says he thinks I saw the wolf called “Third Sister” of the newly formed Prospect Peak pack, an offshoot of the 8 Mile pack.
Next I head for Lamar Canyon for a look at the osprey nest. I see one parent and one chick. While I’m watching, the other parent comes in, drops some food and flies off again.
Some other visitors notice another raptor sitting on a tall rock on the slope east of Crystal. It could be a hawk, or a peregrine. I don’t know birds well enough. This one had an odd white ball of feathers on its throat high on chest. One lady suggested its crop was full. Very light speckled back and wing feathers. Smallish, roundish head with curved black beak. Very white breast with bright white lump at throat. Seemed big for a peregrine, and feathers too light. The consensus was some sort of hawk.
I head further east and watch a badger just east of the Soda Cone.
Now I drive the rest of the way back to Silver Gate to pack up and make sure I leave Laurie’s as clean as I found it.
I have a leisurely trip back west, stopping wherever I want. No more wolves but many bird sightings. No trouble on the highways and I’m back in Bozeman by 4PM.
TODAY I SAW: 1 badger, black bear, bison, 2 sandhill cranes, 2 coyotes, mule deer, elk, a hawk, 3 osprey (including 1 chick), pronghorn, 1 wolf (Third Sister of the Prospect Peak pack) and the spirit of Allison.