DAY ONE - Tuesday, December 27

PERIPATETIC PROSPECTS

This morning as I warm up the car, I take care to leave a window open so as not to repeat yesterdayís mistake.

Itís 12 degrees today, with a bit of wind, but itís not snowing as Iíd expected.

As I pass Soda Butte, I see what I think are moose out by the creek, but due to the new rule, I do not stop. Instead I drive on and pull in at Footbridge. From here I can see them at the tree-line, two big moose. I also see coyote in the flats. And I check the bison carcass, which is till snow-covered, still frozen, still unopened.

Then I hear the welcome crackle over the radio. Wolves are in view!

Kara is calling from Picnic. She has several grays and blacks on the north side moving towards the ledge trail. Hmm, the Lamars do not have any grays so itís not them. I drive on to Hitching Post and set up my scope.

I find wolves quite quickly, on the ledge trail, in almost the same exact place where I saw the Lamars chasing elk last week. Rick is here and confirms the Lamars do not seem to be in the neighborhood. No need to worry for them this time.

The wolves travel along the ledge trail, sniffing the ground. I see five in all; 2 blacks and 3 grays. Rick sees seven: one additional of each color, and IDís them as Prospects. He does not see either of the alphas, so I guess itís the splinter group, the restless boys. They sure get around!

They move around the big curve and head towards the heavily forested spot where we always lose them. A light snow starts to fall. A coyote howls and is answered by several others south of us.

The wolves have now disappeared into the area that leads to the traditional den. There is a lot of territory back there full of Lamar scent, so no doubt these wolves will want to explore it at their leisure.

After a lull, there is a report of otters at Confluence. Without any wolves in view I decide to make my way there. I find Becky & Chloe and Bob Landis here; itís been quite a while since Iíve seen these good folks, with whom it is especially nice to share the antics of such cheerful water creatures.

There are four in this group, just like there were yesterday. Probably the same animals but here they are much closer. Oh, they are so fun to watch!

Soon the otters move downstream so we tote our scopes (and movie cameras) along the edge of the icy road, following their progress. In addition, there are several bighorn grazing on the cliffs above us. The photographers canít decide which way to point their cameras.

Eventually the otters move far ahead of us, so we turn around and crunch through the snow back to our cars.

I learn from Chloe that a spike bull elk carcass has been discovered close to the road near Rose creek. People staying at the Institute could see it out the windows of the main building. She says Rangers have just moved it on a toboggan south of the road.

She says she supposes it was a fairly heavy load to haul through snow because they didnít go very far and it is now in easy view, just south of the Institute driveway. She believes that it was Prospects who made the kill, the same wolves we saw earlier on the ledge trail.

So once we get back to our cars, we reconvene at Picnic and scan the slopes on the north side to find them. Fairly quickly they are found, although at the moment, they look like rocks. They are about 2/3 of the way up slope, above the three trees. They are not very active, though, so itís one of those sightings where you hope for one of them to raise a head or change position.

Itís impossible to tell if we are seeing the alpha group of the Prospects or if some of the wolves who visited the Lamar den area have already circled back.

Rick does a great job re-arranging parking at both Picnic and Trash Can so visitors can get in and see the wolves through our scopes. Itís not a perfect sighting because they are sleeping and not close, but still, most visitors who are not used to seeing them are happy for a glimpse.

Then someone notices the otters have arrived at Picnic (behind us). The same four are running across the ice from one stretch of open water to the next. A coyote hangs around on the river bank, hoping to snag fish scraps they might drop.

Itís now noon and the day has warmed to 14 degrees. The otters have gone out of sight and the wolves are all sleeping. I figure itís a good time to head to Gardiner to replenish my food supply.

As I pass the Institute I slow down and glance to the south where I find the elk carcass Chloe mentioned. Coyotes are feasting on it, along with birds. For most of the drive I have a light snowfall and when I get to Phantom Lake the wind kicks up. The rest of this section has a lot of drifting and I notice the snow berms have grown really high.

I go slowly down the winding turns below Mammoth as itís still quite icy. Once I get my groceries in Gardiner, I check my email. Oh, I wish I hadnít. People have sent me links to the nasty rants Deby posted against Rick. It is beyond awful. Sheís lashing out at a man who has been kind to her. To me, Yellowstone is a wonderland and ought to be free of the kind of urban angst prevalent in human civilization. Deby is the only visitor I know who continually brings her personal miseries into the Park, poisoning the whole place.

On my way back I have almost constant ground blizzards and a lot of drifting snow, but I get through it just fine.

As I pass the Institute this time I see only birds. My guess is that the wolves will not come down from the north until nightfall. Although they are great travelers, these Prospect wolves are not particularly comfortable near the road.

At Confluence East I see multiple cars stopped. A badger is crossing the road! Once heís on the south side I can see him clearly. He looks like heís swimming in snow! He aims for the willows and disappears.

I stop again at Footbridge. About 30 yards from the fully snow-covered dead bison is a partially snow-covered live bull moose. I donít know where the second moose is.

A golden eagle lands on the bison and pokes at it a while, but it is frozen solid. The eagle gives up and flaps away.

I head on home to make it an early-ish night. At Warm Creek an ermine pops up over the right snow berm. Cute little thing. It dashes across the road and disappears.

Today I saw: a badger, bison, coyotes, elk, an ermine, 2 moose, 5 otters, bighorn sheep, 5 wolves of the Prospect pack and the spirit of Allison.


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