DAY SIX - Monday, December 26

PEREGRINE TO SLOUGH

I start out this morning by warming the car as usual, letting it run while I finish my preparations inside. But when I am ready to go, I find my car has locked itself. The engine is running and I cannot get inside.

I try everything I can think of to get in but no luck.

Hmmm. I call Hertz. No help. Well they offer to send a tow truck (!). I know the Exxon station in Cooke opens at 7 so I wait inside the house while my car burns fuel. Hertz explains that this is a ďsafetyĒ feature on new cars; an automatic door lock. Iím not sure how that provides safety if it serves to lock someone out in cold weather. Isnít it fairly normal for car owners to warm up their cars in winter as I did?

Anyway a minute or so after 7AM I call Exxon. A woman answers and says she can help but she has to wake up the guy. I spend the wait time tamping down the snow in the driveway to make sure I can get out.

A bit before 8AM the guy arrives and $150.00 later, my car is open again. I thank him profusely.

Iím finally on the road in full light. Itís still cloudy but at least itís not snowing. A cold 9 degrees. By the time I get to Round Prairie the sun has come out, making the whole drive gorgeous. Winter sun on a fresh blanket of snow is amazing.

I stop at Footbridge to check the bison carcass. A horn still sticks out but the rest is snow covered. No scavengers.

I keep driving, wondering where everyone is. I find them in Little America. Cars line the road opposite the Peregrine hills. And best if all, it looks like Iím not too late.

Itís the Prospects again. They do get around! They are bedded to the north in two groups: one is visible from Boulder Pond and the other right here at Straightaway. Once I get my scope up I see five of them; three blacks and two grays.

All my friends are here: Larry & Linda, Kirsty & Alan, Coleen & Des, Steve and Robin, Doug and Rick. I overhear that Deby is very upset with Rick for following the draconian ďno stoppingĒ rule and that she has retaliated by posting some ridiculous nonsense online.

But Iím here to watch wolves and I donít like to engage with sourpusses or drama-queens. I get enough of that in New York! We are treated to some great howling between the wolf groups. There is speculation that they might have a carcass, but they seem quite restless to me.

One of the grays gets up and hops on a snow-covered boulder. Then he beds down on it, thrilling the photographers in the lot.

Then one of the blacks tops that by walking up the snow-covered hill and striking a dramatic pose right on the crest. He is then joined by a gray and they both sit on their haunches and howl for a bit, then bed down in clear view.

I remember during my fall visit we thought some of the Prospect males were looking to find a mate and start a new pack. That hasnít happened yet but there seems to be a bit of an ongoing disagreement in the Prospect Pack, as evidenced by the split in the two groups today. As Laurie said to me in October that she thinks the restless males are looking for females and dragging the family all over the Park as they explore. Whatís curious is that the Junctions are ripe for merging, and still have no alpha male, so why have the Prospect males not yet made the break?

Perhaps mating season will strengthen their resolve.

Someone notices a bull elk on one of the knobs of this hill. The elk appears to be hiding, not very efficiently, under a tree. On his way up the hill, I saw the gray wolf glance at the bull but ignored him and continued up to the crest. We joke that the bull is thinking to himself ďhah, hah, itís working!Ē

The day has turned fine. No wind, bright sun and a very tolerable 10 degrees. Then I hear a radio report of otters at Picnic. I have not seen otters yet on this trip so I pack up and head there.

And luckily I arrive in time!

With my binoculars I can see four animals resting on the ice several yards from an open water hole. One is large (probably mom) and the other three are smaller, and similarly sized, probably siblings. Numerous people have hiked out in the deep snow to see them a bit closer. I do the same. The otters squirm and roll and scratch their backs on the ice, but all too soon they run back to the water.

All four dive in but their heads pop out again. Then one launches out of the hole onto the ice. He has a fish! He romps away with the fish in his mouth and stops to eat it.

He gobbles it down and then bounds back to the hole. He dives in. And just that quickly, they are gone. None of them re-surface. They must have swum back upstream.

I wait a while longer but they do not return, so I trudge back to the car.

I drive back to Straightaway, marveling again at how beautiful the sun makes the snow and how different today is from yesterday.

The Straightaway lot is deserted but I pull in and set up anyway. The wolves are no longer where I last saw them, so I scan for their tracks, hoping they will lead me to their new bedding spot. And they do!

Roughly two hillsides to the east I find three bedded wolves. Two blacks and a gray. You can see their tracks in the snow and that the tracks end in a lump of fur.

But still, to be sure, I wait for a head to pop up before I call it in. Once I do, Steve and Robin arrive and together we show bedded wolves to lots of other visitors who stop by and who otherwise would likely not have seen wolves at all.

I also find elk and bighorn sheep up on Specimen from here. And we are visited by a gorgeous ermine that leaps and soars over the snow with enormous energy. Beautiful tiny thing.

Around 1:30 the wolves start to stir. And guess what? There are not just three wolves here; there are five. Then another black appears, for a count of six; four black/two gray.

They all get up and stretch. Hmmm, looks like they are about to move again. And they do, slowly, one by one, heading north and slightly east. Kara arrives just in time to see the last black before they all go out of sight.

They seem to be moving with purpose, not just looking for a different bedding spot, so we try to figure out where they might be going and thus, which pullout to try next. Steve and Kara both think Lamar Canyon west would be a good bet because of its elevation.

We reconvene there and climb the low hill across the road. Kara and Steve help me get a clearer sense of the terrain from this angle. Even better, Steve finds the wolves. They are traveling east towards the Slough flats, just approaching the Marge Simpson tree.

We all want a closer look so we drive to Slough and trudge out to Bobís Knob. By the time we get out here a wind has kicked up. And I mean a WIND! It seems to be gale force at times, smack in the face, which makes scoping quite unpleasant. Itís nearly impossible to hear each other much less talk over the radio.

But we do find the same six wolves: four black and two gray, the male-led group of the Prospects.

There is an old carcass just below the creek bank. Four coyotes are scavenging it. Suddenly the wolves charge in, displacing the smaller dogs. One of the coyotes trips and falls over the bank. The next time I see that coyote, it is limping badly on its front left foot. Oh, poor thing!

Luckily, though, the wolves do not pursue them, but just wanted to flush them off the carcass. I see the four coyotes again well east of the wolves, walking along the frozen creek.

The wolves sniff around the carcass and remain on the far bank, then bed down on either side of a dead tree. One black takes a short walkabout on his own but comes back to the group fairly quickly. I put up with the wind as long as I can but my face is starting to complain!

We pack up and start to hike back to the lot. On our way we meet a couple who ask if the wolves are still in view. I say yes, but that the wind has driven us back. The woman decides to brave it anyway and keeps going. Just then the four displaced coyotes come up on the trail ahead of her. She gets nervous and starts to run back to us. Kara and I call to her ďdonít run, just step aside, they want to use the trail. One of them is injured.Ē

But the lady canít hear us due to the wind. She does finally stop running though and begins to take photos. The coyotes pause, then turn around and go back the way they came.

Between the wind and the coyotes, the lady decides to turn around herself. When she gets close enough to hear us, Kara explains what we were trying to say. The lady feels bad because she noticed the injured one. Well, maybe she will just step aside next time.

The radio crackles with a report of howling to the west. Then a collared gray is spotted from Aspen west pullout.

I join Steve and Robin who are already here. We hear the howling and see the collared gray low along the frozen river. But this wolf is not the one howling. Itís coming from above the river, from somewhere in the sage, hidden from us for the moment.

Steve thinks the collared wolf on the river looks like 821F, alpha female of the Prospects. We watch her climb up the steep river bank. She howls for a few times, then walks north through the sage. Moments later she meets up with another gray, very likely the one who was howling earlier. They head northeast together, obviously pack mates.

Steve speculates that these two grays are part of the second group of Prospects who were bedded near Boulder Pond. He predicts that they will likely scent trail the group from the Peregrine Hills who are already in Slough flats.

So, we go back to Slough to brave the wind once more. Luckily, it has died down a bit. The wolves are still visible but have moved a bit further south than they were before. It doesnít take long for the rest of the Prospects to arrive from the west, just as Steve predicted. They get really close to their sleeping pack members before the sleepers realize they are near.

Boy, if this had been a rival pack approaching, there would have been some injuries! But they are not rivals and once the sleepers lift their heads, I witness the kind of joyous reunion I always find so endearing in wolves. They rush to each other with body slams, nuzzling and ferociously wagging tails, and a few endure a friendly pinning, too.

My count is now 10: six grays and four blacks which means were are missing one gray. One of the wolves in this group is the venerable 763M, who started this pack years ago with 821F and her two sisters.

The Prospects seem very comfortable here; but they seemed comfortable in the Lamar, too, two days ago. They seem to be a very bonded pack. They settle down pretty quickly into various bedding spots.

But then the wind kicks up again, making it really hard to talk and scope. So for the second time today I abandon a spot even though wolves are in view.

As I head east to Silver Gate I notice the sky behind me looks pretty ominous. Hmm, we may be getting more snow tomorrow.

Today I saw: bison, elk, an ermine, bighorn sheep and 10 wolves of the Prospect pack (including 763M, 821F, plus four grays and four blacks, and the spirit of Alison.)




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