Itís a cold 18 degrees at 6:40AM
It is snowing and blowing. In fact, a blizzard is upon us. We start the day with white-out conditions.
Last night Kara mentioned that she found a winter-killed bison right at the bottom of DPH on the western side. She says it actually died on Friday and she watched a bison funeral converge around it.
It was there all day yesterday while the Prospect drama was going on. The wolves were too stressed to notice it but we do see a bird or two land on it. So, this morning, my first stop is at Footbridge. I find the dark body being rapidly covered with snow.
There are no Prospect signals this morning nor do we see any of them. Rick says the Lamars seem to be back in their traditional den area. We are all hopeful they had a less stressful evening than they had a day.
Itís not very pleasant to scope this morning, what with icy snow pelting my face and accumulating on my scope & binocs, but I try. I hear howling to the north above 480ís crossing. Kara and I try various angles but visibility is poor and we are not able to find the howler. We speculate it could be Little T, calling for her family?
But then a report from the west reaches us of a lone Junction pup in the Lamar Canyon area, so we head west. Conditions through the valley are insanely bad; blowing icy snow with little to no visibility. Nevertheless, Fisherman pullout is nearly full of cars and people, eager for a glimpse of a wolf. I find a place to pull in and say hello to various people with whom I watched the drama yesterday.
Lots of people help me find the area where the wolf is being seen off and on, when visibility permits. Iím told the wolf is walking on the frozen river heading east and might emerge where we can see him. Instead the wolf turns north towards the road. I see a car stopped in the road and finally see the wolf right behind it. Then I follow it a short while through the snow-covered sage, heading towards Secret Passage.
The wolf accommodates its admirers by stopping at skyline and howling. Despite absolutely dreadful conditions, dozens of people get to see this one animal and it makes their day!
But I need a break from the relentless wind so I pack up and head back east. I think I will try to find some of the moose people have been seeing in Round Prairie.
But as I proceed, I begin hearing radio reports from people in the Soda Butte Valley mentioning sporadic sightings and frequent howling. Itís 926F. She was probably our lone howler this morning. I bet sheís calling for Little T.
By the time I reach Footbridge 926 has begun howling again, and is moving east, sporadically visible to the north. I drive on but all the lots are full. I finally find space at Soda Butte East with Kara which proves fortuitous. 926 is howling again as I set up. I find her right at the treeline in an area where I often saw the Lamars last Christmas.
She moves into the open and now the rest of the family emerges from the trees behind her. All three males. Still no Little T. 926 heads straight downhill through the snow-covered sage. Thankfully, the blizzard relents enough for us to see her. She is clearly aiming for the road and I can tell we are about to have a GREAT sighting.
She bounds through deep snow, undaunted, reminding me of her mother. The males are intent on following her, which reminds me how different these males are from the ones last year. In 2015, Dark Black, Mottled and sometimes Twin were generally hesitant to cross the road. These males are either more familiar or they trust 926F.
Rick has to manage traffic coming from the west. Traffic from the east can see the wolves ahead and are willing to stop voluntarily. 926F reaches the road and sniffs it quite a lot. She walks down the road in my direction, so close that her body fills my scope field at low power. I switch to binocs. Husky stops on the road too, but 949 bolts across, as does Small Dot. 926 stays on the road, as if she is a crossing guard for schoolchildren! Only when all three males are safely to the south, loping through snow, does she leave the road and follow them.
Traffic now proceeds and Rick joins us. We continue to watch the progress of the four black wolves. I grin as I see them pass between the trunks of cottonwoods. I just love this image. I like it in any season but I particularly like it in snow.
They reach the willows along the creek and walk in a line along the bank for a while. At times I can only see their backs or their tails jutting above the berm. Then they cross the creek and next I see them trudging up the far slope in a line. They bed there for a while and begin to howl.
And still it snows. It has not let up the whole day.
After a quick rest, they are up again, heading east. Once I lose them I pack up and continue to Round Prairie. I hear them howl again around 11:30 but I donít see them again.
I now have a dilemma. I have been invited to attend a Christmas party by Kirsty & Alan at their home about 15 miles outside Gardiner. The trouble is, of course, the weather, or more specifically, the driving conditions. The plows do not seem to be able to keep up with the amount of snow thatís falling, probably because fewer plows are operating. This is not only Christmas Day but a Sunday.
There are stretches of road that are collecting drifts all through Lamar. That is unusual in my experience and makes driving tricky.
Kara is already driving towards Bozeman Ė her Rick flies back to Michigan later today. She is planning to be at Kirstyís party but will stay in Bozeman or Livingston if she is unsure.
I decide to try my luck so around noon I set off to the west, reassuring myself that the weather is usually better on the west side of the Blacktail. Then I develop a problem with my wipers; they are not keeping my windshield clear. I have to stop three times to spray de-icer. Still, I keep going. I stop a few times to re-assess and decide to keep going. But I only creep along. At Childrenís Fire trail I stop again. This is the point where I usually see a clearer sky ahead of me. Today the sky is gray and thick and daunting.
Hmmm. At this point, I am not sure Iíll reach Kirstyís before dark. So I decide to turn around, take my time and get back to Silver Gate before I lose the light.
The roads are very bad but I go slowly. I have to stop every 15 minutes or so to de-ice the windshield. I am relieved when I get through Lamar Canyon and the blowing snow seems to let up a bit. But as I approach Confluence it comes back with a vengeance.
I see Steve & Robin in the Confluence lot so I stop to chat with them. They cheer me up a bit and we drive to Footbridge to look at the bison carcass. We can see it well enough to know nothing is on it.
They head back west and I go east. I stop in Round Prairie and find three moose. They are large enough to see through the snow.
I continue to make my way back east, wondering if I will get stuck in Laurieís driveway overnight? Well, if I do, I will just have to shovel my way out.
I get back, safe & sound, and call Kirsty to apologize.
Today I saw: bison, elk, 3 moose, 5 wolves from two packs: 1 Junction Pack pup and 4 Lamars (including 926F, 949M, Husky Black and Small Dot), and the spirit of Alison