My last morning starts in the usual way, with dozens of birds singing like crazy in the dark.
I arrive at Slough at 5:45 and set up for my last morning on Dougís Hill. To my delight, the Junctions really put on a show today.
890M, 907F and the black female yearling are spotted in the flats. The yearling is resting on her belly, chewing on a big leg bone, while the two collared wolves are heading away to the west. I follow them past the Marge Simpson tree and keep them in view for a while. They are heading to their current carcass.
There are other wolves in view, bedded near the sage den area so I keep checking back and forth.
The black yearling picks up her leg assembly and starts to carry it towards the den.
While she proceeds along the low route, I hear that other wolves are visible above her. I find three adults: mama 969F, the limper and the drab female yearling. They are moving together away from the den area past the western trees. And they have pups following them: at least four - 3 black and 1 gray.
This group proceeds along the trail to the west, past the burnt stump and into the next meadow. Now mama leads them downhill towards the flats. This is the furthest west and the lowest any of us have ever seen them. I notice a fourth gray adult is now with them. Itís the un-collared male yearling who was so playful with them yesterday. We have hopes that they will meet up with the black yearling carrying her leg but alas, their routes do not intersect.
But itís a wonderful journey to watch. The adults and pups stop in many places, nose around, interact with each other, and all the while the pups are cavorting and play fighting. They are in clear view for a really long time and I keep thinking THIS is a perfect sighting to share with first time visitors. Curiously, there are fewer people up here with us on the hill today. But perhaps they are staying closer to their cars and seeing the wolves from there?
In any case, instead of constantly stepping away from my scope to share the view, I am able to watch this sighting uninterrupted. There are two howling sessions, both really nice.
The pups explore the rocks, stand on the cliff edge, and snoop around for marmots and ground squirrels. They are training their noses to guide them, but take plenty of breaks to play.
They make it all the way down to the bottom of the hill. Mama stops here, as do all the adults. It seems as though the adults do not want the pups to cross into the creek flats. Hmm, interesting.
While mom checks things out, the pups are perfectly happy to stop and play right where they are. One of them starts to dig and the others quickly join in, including the male gray yearling. A few of the adults bed down for a quick rest.
After about 10 minutes, the adults turn around and head back east. I wish I understood why they stopped in this particular spot, why mom did not lead them further, but it remains a mystery. It takes the pups a while but finally they seem to understand they are not going any further, so they turn for home, following the adults.
It is unmistakable that there is some kind of understanding that this is far enough. Laurie had predicted they would turn around from here. She nailed it!
969 takes a slightly different route home than she did going down; a steeper, rockier route. Perhaps she is laying down scent so the pups can find their way back if they get lost? Itís great fun to watch the pups negotiate the new terrain. It seems to tire them out a bit. Aha, maybe this is momís intent?
Finally they get to the rocks just below the burnt stump which they are now quite familiar with. The pups begin to run downslope from here, back to the comfort of the western trees and the spring meadow.
In the meanwhile, the black yearling has made her way up to the den via the lion meadow route. She is now resting in the spring meadow. I donít know where the leg ended up!
Suddenly 911 appears near the gully. The happy pups rush to greet him and they all disappear, well, except their tails, into a tail-wagging pile in the gully. 911 finally escapes and walks slowly past the goal post trees into the sage. The pups still are mobbing him which he tolerates with grace. Finally they all settle down. Those four pups must be pooped!
Now itís the turn of the other four pups. 1 black and 3 gray pups who missed the early excursion take their own journey below the spring meadow down into the middle part of the lion meadow.
The black pup in this group has found a stick which he holds in his mouth, parading around with it. Such behavior is apparently quite enticing to other pups. Three grays, including the little homebody, chase after him trying to get the stick. One of the grays is successful and now takes his turn parading around with the stick while the other three chase after him!
It is unbelievably cute to watch. Iím happy to say that lots of folk get to see these little darlings.
At one point during this sighting, twin pronghorn fawns come bolting up on our hill from below, without an adult. They hang around a while, seemingly curious about us. Even though the fawns are REALLY close, many people just canít stop themselves from trying to get closer, which, of course, pushes the youngsters away. Finally mom arrives and leads her reckless charges back to the safety of the herd which has been watching the whole thing from the next hill.
The wolves have all begun to settle down. I reflect on what a fantastic morning this has been. Iíve had 11 straight days of puppy watching and this one was best of all. I decide to leave on a high note.
I make my round of farewells to all my friends and head west.
There is a black bear jam just past the Tower Ranger station. Itís a sow with two cubs. I see them briefly through the trees, but there is nowhere for me to stop safely so I continue on.
Itís a beautiful day, cool air, bright sun, not too hot. I love seeing the yellow flowers blooming all through the Blacktail.
Itís been a wonderful, puppy filled trip. Thank you, Yellowstone!
Today I saw: a black bear, bison, cranes, coyotes, elk, pronghorn (and two fawns), 16 wolves from the Junction Pack (including 890M, 911M, 969F, 907F, the limper, the drab female yearling, the grey male yearling, a black female yearling, and all 8 puppies) and the spirit of Allison