Itís a clear and sunny day and it feels quite warm. Iím on the road a bit late, at 6:20AM.
As I near the Institute I see several cars pulled over and all the scopes facing south. They have a grizzly! I join them and watch a fairly big fellow on Amethyst bench heading east. Thatís a nice way to start my day. After a bit I decide to move on to Slough to get my puppy fix. It takes me a while to navigate through a huge bison jam at Fishermanís but I get there around 730AM.
The reliability of pup sightings here this year has caused big crowds, and people have created several new ďparking lotsĒ along the campground road. There is room for me here and as I get set up, I can tell by the level of excitement among the visitors that wolves are being seen.
I quickly find a gray adult between the eastern trees and the crescent rock. I notice a long row of scopes on Bobís Knob and another row on a sage hill east of the dirt road (north of Daveís). Rick and Doug are over there, so I pack up and head that direction. Itís a short walk over sage covered hills with a dip about half way. We have nicknamed this low ridge Dougís Hill for stalwart Doug M.
As I pass Bobís Knob, two pronghorn fawns burst over the ridge and run past the line of people. Mom parallels their course on the next hill, keeping an eye on them.
I keep walking and eventually join my wolf watching friends: Lizzie, Dorothy, Chloe & Becky and of course, Doug M and Rick.
For the next several hours I enjoy watching the Junction Butte pack and their darling pups. Both moms are here, 907 & 969, and I can now identify the limping gray female yearling, the black male yearling and the drab gray yearling. Later I see 911M move down from the eastern trees to the spring meadow. He takes a very long drink.
Everyone is fond of 911 because he remains scrappy despite the fact that he is old and injured. And his tolerance of 890M has earned him fans, as well. These two males (are they related?) have swapped alpha duties back and forth for several years but neither has ousted or injured the other.
There are 8 Junction pups; four black and four gray. Both mothers are gray and we know two grays cannot make a black. So, because 890 is black and 911 is gray that means 890 is the likely father (at least of the blacks pups), even though 911 was alpha male during the mating season. Now it seems 890 is back in the alpha spot and itís his turn to tolerate 911. I have to ask Laurie to remind me how closely related they are.
The pups are now nearly 12 weeks old and becoming very adventurous. This morning I see 5 of the 8 (2 gray and 3 black). One of the black pups went on its own adventure up above the spring meadow. Some pups look a good deal larger than the others which leads us to believe there are two litters, one for each mother, born as much as two weeks apart.
Anytime either of the moms pays a visit to the sage den, pups pop out and join her, standing nearby. At one time I have 6 wolves in my scope, mom plus 5 pups. Then 911 gets up and comes down for his drink of water, accompanied by a gray and a black yearling.
The sage den is located on a sloping hill below the eastern trees. You can see several trails on the hill; routes that the wolves have worn into the dirt from the den to the cool shade of the trees.
Below the sage den hill is a gully into which the wolves disappear from time to time. The rim of the gully slopes down to a meadow that features a small spring. All wolf mothers tend to choose a den site that is in close proximity to a fresh-water source, and this is theirs. The spring meadow is always damp, and there are rivulets and little pools of water for the pups to play in, along with high grass to hide in and scattered boulders to climb on.
Some of the older wolves like to bed here, too, as the mud offers cool relief.
There are two thin-trunked aspen trees that grow here as well, that we call the goal post trees. When the wolves are not active we watch other goings on in this beautiful area. An osprey makes several dives above the creek but itís not fishing. It has weeds in its talons - some kind of nesting material.
We also see a beaver lodge that looks fresh, but alas, I never see a beaver here.
I hear two howling sessions this morning. I especially love to hear the pups join in with their high-pitched yips.
Then someone notices a large herd of bison behind us, across the road to the south. Itís a major migration steadily uphill towards Divide Ridge. They are all running, both cows and calves. It looks amazing, like a living diorama of the past.
It starts to get hot and I worry about over-exposure to the sun so around 11:30 I pack up and head back east.
The confluence looks particularly gorgeous as I pass it and at the Soda Cone I notice a pair of geese with goslings that are trying to get down to the creek. I watch them until they arrive safely and paddle away. After a short rest I drive back to Pebble to join the celebration of Ray & Darís 50th anniversary. The party is well attended with lots of pot luck donations. I congratulate Ray & Dar, and chat with Bill W, Chloe & Becky, Tonya, and two LE rangers, Brian Chan and Mike Ross.
We set up scopes and find several goats on the cliffs to the north and to the south.
And now itís back to Slough for more pup watching.
The trouble with evenings at Slough is that the sun is right in your eyes. We wish we had a few clouds to help us but this evening the sky is quite clear.
Still, I manage to see one black pup and one of the black yearlings. I have them in view long enough to show them to lots of people who have never seen a wolf before.
The black pup roams around under eastern trees. He finds something there and gnaws on it. Then he moves back down the hill, shadowed by a black yearling. They both disappear into the gully. I keep expecting them to come back out but they donít. They probably bedded down in there.
I also see a pair of hawks, a blue bird kiting into the wind, various pronghorn & bison.
On my way back around Soda Butte East, I see people ahead of me driving very slowly with their flashers on. I fantasize they have spotted the Lamars. They pull into a lot so I join them and ask what they are seeing. A grizzly! I set up Layla and show them their bear through her big eye. They love it. They are a nice family from Oregon and have several pairs of binoculars but no scope. We have a nice chat and it seems a great way to end my night.
But I have one more sighting after this. At Soda Butte Picnic, I see a moose running through the meadow. Nice.
Today I saw: 2 grizzly bears, a blue bird, bison, elk, geese and goslings, hawks, an osprey, pronghorn (including two fawns), 1 moose, 11 Junction Butte wolves (including 907, 969, 911, three yearlings and 5 pups) and the spirit of Allison.