DAY THREE - Friday, December 23


LEDGE TRAIL AND BUFFALO FORD

Iím out a little earlier this morning and again itís minus 15. There is a bright moon and one star visible.

I meet up with Kara at Footbridge. She says Rick has confusing Lamar signals this morning so we spread out. I end up scoping from Confluence for a while. I find a fox, a golden eagle and a bald eagle before the radio crackles with a report. Wolves are visible to the north from Picnic so I head there.

From here I see all 5 Lamar wolves, sitting above some rocks west of the Ledge trail. I see 926 nuzzling Husky. I also see 926 showing affection to her daughter, Little T. I also see her scratching a bit, which is distressing, since it could mean that her mange is not yet gone. Larry & Linda find a bull moose in the old Druid R-V which is pretty cool to see.

The Lamars are mostly bedded with a little bit of walking around & sniffing. But they seem a bit fidgety. I see Little T get up and move east with an air of determination. Once she disappears into the trees the rest of them get up and follow her.

Kara suggests we move to Hitching Post, where we can watch the Ledge trail. Rick had gone west but someone calls him back. I pull into Hitching post and set up next to Larry & Linda just in time. I put up my scope and there are the Lamars, right on the ledge trail, moving cautiously, stalking through fairly deep snow. There is a small herd of elk ahead of them on the steep, wooded slope, just around the curve of the hillside from the wolves. The elk are grazing (if an elk can graze a snow-covered hill) and seem totally unaware of the approaching wolves.

The wolves get closer and closer, to within 20 feet, maybe less, and suddenly they are all running. Elk run up hill, elk run downhill. Two wolves pursue three elk to the east. The wolves gain rapidly on a yearling calf. Just before contact the yearling makes a huge, risky leap off the ledge (and, alas, out of sight). It may have landed well (or not) but we are blocked by thick conifers.

The wolves stop for a moment and an adult cow turns the tables on them. She charges two of them and they bolt out of the way. I notice another elk running up hill with two wolves after her. I lose that group but then another single elk begins to run straight west, above the ledge trail with two wolves behind her. She looks to be in great shape, she stotts a bit, showing off her health, and takes an enormous leap at one point, causing one of the wolves to give up. One still pursues here (I think its Little T) but she does not gain ground.

Now I have no wolves nor any elk in sight, although other watchers are calling out glimpses here and there. I hear a deep howl. Itís 949M. He appears, sitting on his haunches in a snowy gap between trees next to a broken off stump. He seems to be asking ďdid anybody get one? Where are you?Ē

He howls 5 or 6 times but I hear no response. He keeps looking to the east and slightly downhill, so I wonder if they did catch one or if perhaps the yearling that leaped may not have survived? There are several elk standing higher on the hill above 949. They, too are looking in the same direction. It begins to look like they got one.

Eventually 949 gets up and moves east, following the curve of the hillside, if not the trail itself. Then I pick up Little T coming down from her failed chase. She also follows the curve of the hill and disappears in the thick trees.

I never catch any other glimpses of them after this and I donít think anyone else sees them again, either. We think they did get one Ė very likely the yearling that leaped.

Then I hear a radio report that the Prospects have been found north of Curve. So I head there to aim for a two-pack day. It starts to snow lightly.

As I pass the Aspen lot I notice a very pretty silvery coyote jump over the snow berm and head up the hill.

We squeeze our cars into the Curve lot and watch the Prospects. This is the main group, all 10 of them. They are in the Buffalo Ford area; most of them bedded flat out on their sides and a few on their haunches. I see four blacks and six grays. 821F (gray), 996M (black), 966M (gray) and 964M (gray), Black Bar(M), black pup, gray pup and three more.

Then I see another black wander up toward the aspens, continuing upslope of them. I lose him and return to the bedded wolves. There is enough movement within the pack to interest us, and the day is warming, so it is a pleasant sighting.

821 gets up and re-beds higher on the hill. There is a bit of other movement but mostly they sleep.

Around noon we split up and begin to seek other entertainment. Mine includes watching dippers from Footbridge and coyotes from Hitching Post. Near Aspen pullout, I also find a mysterious mound of fresh, dark earth over the snow, as though something has risen from the dead.

I arrive back at Curve around 2:30, expecting to watch sleeping wolves but when I get here Kara says something has just happened. Sheís not sure what it is but the wolves are all up and slightly agitated. We eventually figure out itís due to some snowshoeing humans.

821 leads the pack up the north slope, then aims for the aspen and I recognize the same route taken by the walkabout black pup earlier. The wolves reach the aspen area and mill around there a bit, then mama goes straight north to a higher aspen area where they congregate at the base of a lone conifer, noses down. Aha! They have a carcass here. And thatís where the walkabout black was headed this morning when I lost him.

They do not stay long, though, so it appears that their kill is now played out. They climb the hill above and slightly west of the aspens, then reach a third area of aspen trees. Here many of them find something sniff-worthy behind a fallen log. One gray (probably a pup) comes bounding back down the hill to see what the others are sniffing. It is during these explorations that we realize we have 7 grays, which makes our full count 11 Ė the whole pack is now accounted for. They continue uphill from the third aspen grove and we lose them around 3:30 behind a rocky butte.

We donít think we will see them again for quite a while so we head back east.

I try once more to find the Lamars from Hitching Post but no luck. Instead I find three bedded coyotes. The temperature is dropping and I feel cold so I head in a little early.

Today I saw: bison, coyotes, elk, a fox, a moose, and 16 wolves from two packs 5 Lamars (926F, 949M, Husky, Little T and Small Dot) and 11 Prospect Peak (including 821F, 966M, 996M, 964M, Black Bar, and six others) and the spirit of Alison




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