DAY FOUR - Tuesday, December 29


FULL COUNT

At 6:50 AM, ďwarmĒ is a relative term, I guess, but itís technically warmer this morning, at 3 degrees ABOVE zero.

There was a light snow overnight but it brushed off easily. I forgot to bring one of my non-frozen sandwiches today, so I try to thaw one out on the dashboard.

Kara left very early this morning as a favor to Rick, to check on the Junctions at Slough.

There is cloud cover this morning, making it a bit darker than usual. I start at Soda Butte East with Laurie & Dan. They have Mottled and Dark Black scavenging at the old carcass here.

What used to be a bull elk was brought down by the Lamars on the south side of the road two weeks ago. Rangers dragged it to the north side and the wolves have been returning to it fairly often.

Dark Black is very pretty. He does have a bit of mange on his belly but itís not too bad. Mottled has more of it, but is still in much better shape than the poor pups or Big T.

As the light improves, this becomes a very nice sighting. At one point, Dark Black is tugging on the head of the elk and the antlers poke him, making him jump. Then he starts to drag it and the antlers flip, poking him again, making him jump even higher. I do love wolves, but their brains are sometimes a little slow.

The two wolves take a break from scavenging and begin to howl. They have low, masculine voices that echo quite beautifully off the snow-covered slopes. And these two are champion howlers. They are famous for being on the opposite side of the road from the rest of their pack and they howl their displeasure. Or perhaps they just want the others to know where they are and to come back to them?

Eventually they both move uphill, seeking bedding spots. Then they howl again. They howl a LOT. But none of us ever hears a reply.

Mottled beds for a while under the same tree where the gray pup bedded the last two days, which, of course means he could be picking up more mites than he already has. Or leaving some. Then they both get up and move further back into the trees.

Itís now after 9AM but still only 10 degrees.

We get a report of 926F being seen at Round Prairie, that around 8 AM four wolves crossed the road from south to north. Laurie and I head up there to check but we donít find anything. But the wolves are probably passing through the Trout Lake area on their way to Dark Black and Mottled.

They will likely come across the slope directly north of the pullout, so I go back to Soda Butte East and wait for that.

Story and Dave are here, and I watch the video she shot during the elk chase last night. Itís really good and you can see Twin latching on to the elk and getting tossed off. I suggest she show it to Bob Landis to get his advice on what to do with it.

A very light snow begins to fall Ė really light, like one flake per second. We get a report that Kara has found the Junctions from Slough, in the same area as yesterday. Kathie and I try the other pullouts to find a better view of Dark Black and Mottled but no. So I head further west to try to see the Junctions, but they have moved off to the west. They were last seen fairly high, so there is a chance they could become visible from the pullouts in Little America.

Itís now 11AM and 11 toasty degrees. Kathie and I join Richard, Mike & Karen at Longs, trying to find the Junctions. Christmas gifts are exchanged and I get a really cool wolf-themed bracelet.

We try Boulder for a while, but it gets windy and my cheeks start to hurt. We find elk and bison but no wolves.

Rick heads for Bozeman where he has a doctorís appointment. We all know that he plans to see the new Star Wars movie afterwards and expect him to stay in Gardiner overnight. We know weíre on our own for the rest of the day.

A few of us try looking from Lamar Canyon West but still nothing, so I decide to head back to Lamar.

I get back to Soda Butte East around 12:30. I discover that the rest of the Lamars DID arrive, appearing on the snow slope north of the pullout, just as Laurie had predicted. The whole pack is now northwest of us, bedding in various spots, mostly out of sight in heavy timber.

For the next two hours I watch bedded wolves or slowly moving wolves. I see 926F, all the pups and Big T. Eventually I see Twin when he gets up to leave so I have a full count of the pack for the day.

926F follows Twin and one by one they get up and move uphill into even thicker trees and out of sight. Itís clear they did NOT kill the bull elk from the chase last night, or they would not be in this area, scavenging old carcasses. They are still hungry and must be in a hunting mood.

I reason that the wolves will probably keep moving, rather than bed, because they are hungry. So, I go to Footbridge to look back on the hill where Debi found them yesterday. I scope every nook and cranny of that hill as well as the narrow ďski runsĒ near the den area. Nothing.

Then it occurs to me to always check the opposite direction. I intend to scope the middle flats, thinking they might head out to Cache, but before I do that I scope the river flats nearest to me. I find a coyote mousing so I watch him a while, then see him stop and look to the east. I pan my scope to see what he sees andÖthere is a wolf!

Itís a black Ė in fact itís Little T. She is scavenging an even older carcass to the south of the road, just west of the Soda Cone. She howls. I report the sighting to Laurie and soon people start pulling in. Chloe & Becky are the first.

Little T is soon joined by a gray pup, then the other gray, then the black. And as people gather to watch, our sighting grows to include 926F and Twin. Wow! I sure did the right thing by coming here.

While the Lamars are crossing the road near Soda Butte, Debi is watching them from somewhere and on the radio trying to convince the rest of us to ďstop the carsĒ so the wolves can cross safely. None of us has the authority to do that, and neither does she, so although I believe she means well, I wish she would not suggest such things. Itís not summer, with hordes of people; itís winter, and these wolves know their home territory. They cross the road constantly, when none of us are here to witness it. I think sometimes Debi gets too emotionally involved for her own good. She has a right to her feelings, of course, but I see her overstep so often, as if she alone cares for the wolves' welfare; as if she alone knows what's best for them. But itís no good trying to reason with her. Sheís right and everyone else is wrong. I learned that already.

I donít think anyone did as she asked, but luckily, traffic is low and the wolves get across just fine.

This turns out to be a really nice sighting, relatively close and long lasting.

I watch the Lamars tool around in the flats a bit, sniffing, digging, roaming here and there. Then Little T picks up her pace and heads south purposefully, trotting up into the hills slightly east of Dead Puppy.

One by one the wolves head south. Twin follows 926 along a slightly different route, west of where Little T went, eventually disappearing into the forested hills.

The pups, however, take their time. They are VERY hesitant to step into the cold creek, even though itís running as low as it is. Poor things, they have no fur to protect them. But they finally go across and head south, scent trailing 926 and Twin.

I never see Dark Black or Mottled appear in the flats. They are the ones most hesitant to cross the road in daylight, so itís not surprising.

Laure stayed back at Soda Butte East. She still has one wolf in sight; Big T is still asleep in the dirt under a tree. At 3:45 I report that all our wolves have gone out of sight. But Laurie doesnít want to go in. We both feel they are hunting and that we might still see a chase tonight. She and Dan come to Footbridge and we keep watch on Dead Puppy and the Middle Flats.

Phil and Juliet come back from a ski outing. They find a fox. Dave & Story see it, too and help me find it in the fading light. Itís a pretty little thing, hunting in the snow at the edge of the forest, right about where I last saw Little T before she disappeared uphill.

So now I have a three dog day!

But the light is gone, so we call it a day and head home.

As I approach Warm Springs I see a large, lumbering shape in my headlights. I hit my brakes, pumping like mad. My first thought is bear, then I realize thatís ridiculous and it is probably a bison. But when the animal leaps over the snow-berm on the south side, I think, wow, thatís an incredibly agile bison. Only when I get back to Silver Gate and Dan calls out ďdid you see the moose at Warm Springs?Ē do I realize THATís what it was.

TODAY I SAW: bison, coyotes, elk, a fox, a moose, 9 wolves (the complete Lamar Canyon Pack, including alphas 926F and 992M (Twin), 993M (Dark Black), Mottled, Big T, Little T and all three surviving pups), and the spirit of Allison.




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