As I head in this morning in the dark I am listening to music and donít hear Rickís call on the radio. When I get to Round Prairie, though, I see him stopped and standing in the road with his scope out.
A few feet in front of him is Cliff, pulled off to the right.
I pull over and get out as quietly as I can. I walk towards Rick with my scope and he whispers that 926 is in the area. He only saw her for a split second and says keep looking. Cliff says another wolf is with her. Rick continues west and I stay, scoping south of the road, where Cliff is looking.
Itís still not even light and I can never see this early unless the animal is right in front of me. Laurie & Dan pull up and I bring them up to speed. Then I notice Cliff has joined Rick in the Round Prairie pullout. We all scope, waiting and looking. Nothing.
Cliff and Rick continue west while I wait with Laurie & Dan. When they are out of sight we decide to head west, too. Once we come down the slope east of Trout Lake, we see them both pulled over in a dirt spot on the south side near a small stand of trees.
I join them and set up my scope. Rick tells me he got another brief glimpse and that they are probably still on the south side of the road. Rick moves west again as do Laurie & Dan.
I ask Cliff to tell me what he saw. As he is relating the story, we both suddenly see a wolf in the sage. Itís REALLY CLOSE. Itís Twin! Oh, heís gorgeous. I call Rick. Laurie and Dan get here first. They pull over behind me. Twin does not seem at all deterred by the presence of our cars. In fact he is moving steadily closer and closer to the road. It is beautifully quiet. No cars, no talking. Twin comes out of the sage just a few feet from the front of my car. (Iím standing behind it). Heís probably 20 feet away from me. I feel like Iím in his world. I get a momentary glimpse of what itís like to be a wild wolf in the early morning in Lamar Valley.
I realize this beautiful animal is going to cross the road. We all just stand here, still and silent and watch him cross. I can hear his claws click softly on the pavement.
Just as he reaches the other side, Laurie taps my shoulder, pointing south. 926F has just appeared in the sage, in pretty much the same spot where I saw Twin. She moves right to the road and crosses after him. But then Twin turns another 20 feet ahead and re-crosses the road back to the south.
I am in heaven. Having wolves so close you can watch them without glass is amazing to me. It is still very early and barely light and itís just the five of us seeing this; Rick, Cliff, Laurie, Dan & me. I just stand by my car and watch the pair of them move silently through the sage, sometimes interacting with each other, sometimes just moving at a fast walk, slow trot.
I may have seen Twin before when he was a member of the Prospect pack but Iíve not seen him since he assumed alpha duties. And Iíve never seen him this close. He really is a beautiful wolf Ė mostly black but with a whole lot of gray. His face is dark and he has a confidence and a swagger to him that intrigues me.
What it is unusual for him to be so indifferent to people and the road, it is par for the course for her. But it strikes me that she is behaving unusually, in that she seems to have a different relationship with Twin than she had with Big Gray. Even when she was with her older sister, Middle Gray, she was often in the lead, and certainly during her time with Big Gray, she was always in the lead. But now she seems to have adapted her strategy for her new beau. Twin is leading and she is following. I wonder if she is adjusting to his personality. She doesnít seem submissive or subservient; she just seems willing to let him call the shots. At least this morning.
Laurie tells me Twin likes to double scent mark over hers and always has to be the last one. I watch him do this several times. So that does give you an indication of his personality. Big Gray never did that.
She follows him south again but then they both cross to the north a second time. For a while they move slowly through the sage in on the north side of the road, sniffing and marking. They continue moving west (away from us), so we hop in our cars and drive down to Soda Butte East to continue watching. Shortly after we get set up, both wolves return to the road and trot right along the pavement in the right lane the way to the Soda Cone. There are no cars on the road at all. It is just magical to me. She is so close and easy to see I notice for the first time that she has white paws. Bunny feet, Laurie calls them.
I take photos and video, but the light is bad. I see them double scent mark more times than I can count and I see them nuzzle each other a few times.
As they proceed west we wait to follow them so they wonít feel pushed. Eventually they head up the slope towards the den forest and we lose them for good.
Now we head to Footbridge. On the way we hear about Mollie action to the west.
We stop at the eastern end of Lamar Canyon and begin to climb up to join others already on Secret Passage. The Mollies were first spied north of Fishermanís heading east. But as Laurie and Dan and I get half-way up, Sian calls to say they are heading further east and will soon be out of sight.
We climb back down and go back to Dorothyís. We notice a small herd of alert elk. Rick then finds the Mollies a bit further west. We have seen wolves take this route before and I know they will eventually show up, but itís hard to know which pullout will offer the best viewing.
While weíre waiting, Bill H finds Scarface, prowling the hill northwest of Divide Ridge. Wow! Scarface! That bear is over 25 years old!
But then I hear a shout. The alerted elk suddenly take off and as I pan back I have wolves all over the hillside. 8 blacks and 3 gray just like yesterday. They seem to be following the elk but not very seriously. They stop at a dip in the skyline where we had first seen the elk. They stop and pose, looking at the elk that got away.
Eventually they head further east and so do we. My next stop is at Hubbard Hill. We see the elk again on Ranger Rock and although others can see more than I can, from YES, I do see one black wolf with a light muzzle and light sides. I enjoy having this wolf all to myself even though I know I am missing the others.
When my wolf finally heads downhill I move back west. But when I get to YES I am told to go to Dorothyís Ė when I get to Dorothyís, the word is go to Coyote so I do. From Coyote I see the whole pack again. The alpha female, 779, separates from the group, she is heading downslope as though she wants to cross. She stops and sits for a long while and the others remain on skyline, uninterested in crossing. She clearly wants to get back home and her pack is not making it easy for her.
There are not that many cars on the road at this time of year Ė certainly nothing like Christmas or summer crowds, but she is from an interior pack and they are just not as comfortable with the road as some of the Northern Range packs.
None of her pack comes down to join her so she eventually heads back uphill. Then she repeats her earlier movement, trotting half-way down the hill, sitting and looking forlornly at the road. She howls for a while. Rick stops traffic for a bit, trying to give her room, but none of her pack is willing to go with her so she gives up and heads back uphill.
They have a nice rally on skyline and the move north.
While this sighting is going on, other folk in Little America have been seeing Junction Butte wolves near the Round Tree. I might as well try for a three pack day so I head to Lamar Canyon West.
Kirsty & Alan are up on Daveís Hill. They say itís very windy but they do have wolves in sight. I see Doug walking out to Bobís so I join him. The wind is absolutely crazy. I could not hear a thing Doug said and he was right next to me. Talking over the radio was a joke! At first we had nothing, other than the beautiful landscape before us. The curves of the meandering creek, the gorgeous orange and red willows, the yellow grass and many bison groups against the blue, blue water. The day is quite warm and the sun is strong but the wind is INSANE!
I begin to wonder if withstanding such wind in the face is gonna pay off. I say to Doug, I think Iím gonna go. He says ďno, theyíll come out.Ē And then they do! First we see a black running north and up a hill. Itís 890! We donít know why he is running but Doug says he spooks easily, and I remember him doing the same thing two days ago. And also, Doug reminds me that Mollie scent is all over this area. Next I see a gray, then another gray, then another gray and then the alpha female (970) and finally a fourth gray. One of these is alpha male 911M.
These six meander against the cut bank of the creek, sniffing and looking about. 911 moves furthest to the right (north) and seems to be inspecting the territory. Since the Mollies were in this area yesterday Iím sure he is smelling them.
This is such a pretty setting in which to watch wolves. And please note that I donít mention the wind anymore. Hah! There is a good deal of water here, and a small bridge of land between two ďlakesĒ. The wolves walk one by one along this bridge. First 911, then 890 (who has recovered from his earlier fright) then another gray. 911 steps into the shallows with his front legs and takes a drink. Two other grays enter the water to drink, just like 911, but then they wade in further, apparently enjoying its coolness. While they are in the water, several other wolves appear from the willows at the edge of the water. Itís a particularly pretty picture.
There are always bison in this area and they get the wolves attention for a while. The wolves make them bunch and then the bison charge. No one is caught, but itís fun to watch.
The two grays move into a deeper section of the creek, swimming a bit. When they get out, there is a rally/greeting with the others, then the two grays begin playing chase and ambush. Itís really nice to see them behave so carefree. The others are more businesslike but these two take time to roughhouse. One is a pup and the other is 907F.
970F moves off south, but the others meander the other direction. Hmm, the alpha females of both of these packs are not being listened to today! Eventually they all climb the hill of the Low pass, up into the rocks. We eventually lose them up there.
So now that the wolves are out of sight, the wind begins to bother us again and I pack up to head back to the car.
By 1PM Iím back in Lamar, hearing meadowlarks trill from both sides of the road. I follow Laurie back to Silver Gate for a bit of a rest. Who knew Iíd have a three pack day!
Around 5:30 I follow Rick into the Park for the evening session. Laurie & Dan have decided not to come out. The sky has clouded up and my gorgeous day is gone. The wind has brought clouds and now it looks like snow.
We scope from Round Prairie a little while and I find a pedestal bull moose. Rick moves further west and I scope from Eastern Curve. 926ís signal is in the den area. No one knows right now how many of the Prospect males are now part of the Lamar Pack. Twin is the only one people are seeing with any regularity. There have been sporadic sightings of thin black wolves that Laurie and Rick think might be 926ís female pups from last year. There is also a big collared gray, 965M, a male wolf called Mottled, and another male called Dark Black. But they have been seen so infrequently, no one really knows who is permanent. And it is still unknown as to whether these males will actually help raise pups that they are not related to.
I am here all by myself, which is really nice. I can smell the precipitation coming. I see movement and get excited, but itís just a coyote prowling the sage. I hear geese calling from the river.
Then Rick calls on the radio, encouraging me to head west to see the Mollies again.
I do and join him at YES. The Mollies are all up there on the same hill where I last saw them. He sees all 11; I have 5 blacks and 2 grays. They soon top out heading west and we move on.
We scope from Coyote but donít find them. The crazy wind from Slough has moved to Lamar. So I now drive back east. There is a crowd at Hubbard looking south. But itís not a wolf, itís a bear! In fact, itís Scarface.
Heís following the river bank, roaming the flats. I watch him a while and then head in.
Today I saw: bison, 1 grizzly bear (Scarface), bison, coyote, elk, geese, 1 moose, and 19 wolves from 3 packs (2 Lamar Canyon, including 926F and Twin; 11 Mollies including 779F, seven more blacks and 3 grays; and six Junction Butte, including 890, 970, 911, 907 and two more grays) and the spirit of Allison