Itís another cold morning but it feels so good to me.
As I pass the entrance gate, I see something up ahead in the road. A fox! Oh itís beautiful. The little dog crosses the road quickly and disappears into the underbrush.
As I approach Soda Butte East I see Rick so I stop. He has 926F to the south but nothing on 965. I scan in the dark from here as Laurie goes on to eastern curve, looking north.
Rick heads further west, then calls us to come to Footbridge. He had a brief glimpse of a few wolves on the ledge trail heading west. So Laurie & I go to Trash Can and look north. Nothing. We do hear howling but it seems to come from the south-facing side. And we see several elk up high on the north side but they donít look nervous.
We wait a while longer for something to develop but it doesnt. Laurie heads to Slough to look for Junctions. I drive slowly back east but mysteriously miss a few radio broadcasts. Some of the Lamars come down and cross to the south. When I get to Hitching Post I hear howling from the ledge trail area and then an answering howl, one deep voice, from the south. I try to find that wolf but canít. Then I notice people stopping at the Confluence east and several photogs get out of their cars very excitedly.
I head there and park at Confluence, looking back east. By this time Stacy has climbed up Geriatric and sees the gray Lamar pup in the river bottoms. I find it too. Itís the pup with the least amount of mange. I watch this pup, seemingly forlorn, wandering around in the confluence, trying to find the scent trail of his pack. I wonder what he was doing when they took off?
He howls a lot but the sound is not carried to us and I donít hear any answers from the south. Putting two and two together, I suppose 926 and the others headed south early this morning and now this pup has been left behind.
Some of the visitors who watch with me worry about him, but I remind them that he is in his home territory and that this happens fairly often. I think heíll be fine and the adults will come back soon.
I donít know what is wrong with my radio, but I hear a few more broadcasts - enough to know that something is going on at Slough. Itís still early just past 8AM. So I head west to see what it is.
I find everybody at Longs. The Junctions have a carcass on the north side of the road, which has been commandeered by two grizzlies! The wolves are in two groups Ė five on the south side and the rest on the north side.
One bear is dominating the carcass and a smaller one rests a few yards north, in tall sage. Some of the braver (hungrier?) wolves begin to approach the bear on the carcass but they donít really mount much of an attack. Just a reconnaissance mission. They end up thinking better of a charge and turn back.
In this sighting, I mostly see various individuals in small groups at a time, so itís hard to know just how many are actually there. I do recognize 890M, 911M, and 968F, who Laurie says is a recently-returned black female. She may have been ďpushed outĒ by her sister, the alpha female 970F, in an effort to reduce breeding opportunities. But now 968F is back. Most wolves prefer to live in a pack.
I have a total of 4 blacks and 3 grays on this side but I think there are more that I donít see.
Behind us, on the south side, we have 969F, a gray, and four gray pups. They have been howling on and off. Then 969 gets up and starts to head west, fairly high on the hill, advancing towards our direction, looking steadily at the area where we presume the north side wolves are.
It affords us a nice view of them. Itís interesting to see how robust and healthy these Junction pups look compared to the Lamar pups. They are bigger and of course, fluffier. They sit on their haunches, bedded straight above us, and howl to their family across the way. Sometimes we hear a response but mostly we donít. The morning air is still so cold, you can see the wolvesí breath when they howl.
At one point the group on the north begins to head for the road Ė close to the Lamar Bridge. We see six or seven of them sporadically in that area, but either they changed their minds or perhaps there are more cars down there than we can see from here. No one is sure. But they do not cross. Eventually we see several of them moving back west.
The small grizzly accepts defeat and leaves but the dominant bear is not going anywhere. The wolves are now all bedded and itís time for me to head back to Bozeman.
I say my goodbyes and drive west. At Boulder I spot two coyotes running up the side of the hill. How about that? I have a three dog day!
Today I saw: 2 grizzly bears, bison, coyotes, elk, a fox, pronghorn, 13 wolves from two packs (The larger gray pup of the Lamars, and 12 of 19 Junctions (890M, 911M, 969F, 968F (recently returned) 4 gray pups and 4 more unidentified adults) and the spirit of Allison.