DAY TWO - Sunday, December 27

SODA BUTTE EAST

I am up early Ė in fact I am on the road even before Rick. Itís 6:30 and a very cold minus 17. My two sandwiches are frozen!

But the moon is bright and full. As I head towards the Soda Butte Valley the temperature drops further. I stop at Warm Creek to put on one more layer Ė my polartec fleece overpants Ė the ones I have been ďsavingĒ for such a morning as this. So now I have on silk thermals, polartec leggings, insulated ski pants AND polartec fleece overpants. It is crazy bulky but I am warm.

I wait at Pebble Creek for Rick, but when he arrives he gets no signals for Lamar so he moves on. I wait for Laurie & Dan and then move on myself. Laurie tells me she got word that a pick-up truck hit a bison last night near Slough. The driver survived but the bison had to be shot and carted out.

We keep driving all through Soda Butte valley, past Footbridge and Confluence, past the Institute and into the Canyon. No Lamars. Hmmm. On the west side of the canyon, just a bit before Slough I see the abandoned pick-up truck. There is disturbed snow around it, broken sage-brush and a wide swath of blood-stained snow. The front end of the pickup is utterly smashed. The driver is lucky he didnít lose his legs!

Apparently, the bison was injured severely so it was shot to put it out of its misery. I believe it is Park policy to remove road kill and cart it to a dump site. I wish, however, that they had dumped it into the canyon or over the Lamar Bridge. That way it would have been close enough for viewing but far away enough for the animals to eat in peace. But I donít make the rules.

I stop with Laurie at Slough for a while and she tells me the Canyon alphas were seen east of the High Bridge traveling north to south. Itís wonderful to know they are still around and healthy.

The sun is up, making everything beautiful. But it doesnít get much warmer.

We drive all the way to Childrenís Fire trail before we get out and scope. Kara is here, as well as Richard, Mike & Karen, and a photographer friend of theirs, Marco. From here we see elk and bison but no wolves.

We scope a while, and talk more about the bison accident. While we are here, we see the truck towing the bashed-in pick-up heading west.

Around 11AM a bunch of us head back west. We stop at the Lamar River Bridge to check the old carcass and see two coyotes scavenging on the little that remains.

Mike sees something to the south and thinks it could be a wolf. It certainly could be a Junction pup or two, sneaking back for a bite. We try scoping from a variety of spots but donít find anything. Mike and Richard and Karen hike up a knoll while I scope from the road.

I find only a single bison and a lone coyote. I look at the tracks made by the coyote. His route comes from the north so itís possible Mike saw this animal. I see no other canid tracks, but who knows.

Itís now 12 noon and the day has warmed up to minus 6. Laurie went back earlier and now calls in a sighting. She has the two gray Lamar pups.

I bring my scope back to my car and drive east.

As I pass the confluence, I notice the usual bighorn rams grazing on the steep hill below the ledge trail, and I see dippers bobbing in an out along the river.

I join Laurie and Dan at Soda Butte East. She shows me the two grays. These pups both have mange and look so pitiful. One is bedded under a cluster of conifers and the other is gnawing on a bone a few feet away under a single conifer. The bone is from a weeks old carcass that lies about halfway between the road and the wolfís bedding spot. Laurie says she and Dan watched the wolf drag it up to that spot.

Someone notices a coyote on a snowy hill to the east, approaching the general area of the wolves. The smaller canid stops, sniffing the air. It seems to detect the wolves so it moves uphill into the trees, keeping its distance.

Both pups have chosen bedding spots under these conifers because of the area of snow-free dirt beneath their protective branches. When wolves have mange this bad, they cannot bed on snow. They must either stand, or lean against boulders, as we saw the poor Druid females doing back in 2009.

These pups at least have a few areas without snow and a few morsels of food to keep them going. But watching them try to sleep itís clear how dreadfully uncomfortable they are. The larger of the two does manage to keep its head down a long time.

I wonder where the rest of the pack is, but Laurie thinks they are out hunting and will hopefully come back for these pups if they catch anything.

She and Dan head in but I stay out watching these two grays and showing them to visitors. We find some bighorn on the skyline to the south. While Iím here, a familiar truck slows down. Itís Story and her dad, Dave. How nice to see them both. Kara pulls in, too, so I show her the pups.

I take a break and head back east to Round Prairie in case the rest of the Lamar Pack might come to visit their old carcass, but I see nothing but bison. Then a large brown body catches my eye. Moose! I set up my scope and two more appear; one with antlers and one without. Then I see a fourth emerge from the willows, another bull with an impressive rack.

A visitor tells me he saw 7 wolves ďback thereĒ. I ask him several questions and figure out that he was at either Coyote or Dorothyís and that the wolves he saw were on Jasper Bench. So I drive back west to check that out. There are no cars in either pullout but I scope anyway. Alas, I find no wolves.

I discover that my radio is not working properly and by the time I see Rick to report the visitorís sighting, itís nearly dark. He gives me a spare radio to use instead. I take a last look at the bedded gray pups and then head in.

TODAY I SAW: bison, coyotes, dippers, elk, bighorn sheep, 2 wolves of the Lamar Canyon Pack (both gray pups) and the spirit of Allison




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