Iím out early again today and the birds are singing up a storm!
There seems to be no activity in Soda Butte or Lamar valley, so I continue to Slough. I spend the next three and a half hours on Dougís hill with Rick, et al watching the Junctions.
We start out with many of the same usual characters; 911M, the limping gray, 3 black pups and 2 gray pups. I donít see anything to indicate that last nightís hunt was successful. They may still be at it because the only adults I see are 911M and the usual limping gray babysitter.
Itís a beautiful morning, slightly chilly.
The crowd is just as large as yesterday, but for the first hour we have little to show them; just the bedded gray who lifts her head now and again.
Someone is clever enough to look in the opposite direction and finds the grizzly sow with two cubs up on Divide ridge, so we watch those bears for a while. We hear sand hill cranes calling and eventually find them roaming the flats, along with a pronghorn or two. We watch a single elk wander through the den area, between the eastern & western trees. The yearling baby sitter watches attentively but never even stands up. The elk moves on.
A very light cinnamon black bear is spotted roaming the slope near the diagonal forest. At first I think it is a grizzly due to its blonde color, but itís not. Black bears come in many colors. I see some of the pups pop in and out of the den, but mostly they remain out of sight.
Rick leaves to check on other wolf packs. I decide to visit Laurie & Dan who are scoping from the lower lot. While I am on the move, 911 gets up and travels east, followed by several pups. By the time I get set up again the last gray pup disappears over the lip of the eastern trees.
Then the limping yearling appears near the crescent rock. She suddenly charges downslope with a determined purpose. At first I think maybe another wolf has arrived with food but then I see a bear Ė a black phase black bear Ė right in the middle of the spring meadow. How did that bear get there? Then a cinnamon bear Ė most likely the same one we saw earlier, appears on the sage slope west of the spring meadow. Clearly, I picked the wrong time to be distracted!
The yearling boldly charges the cinnamon bear. That bear wheels and chases the wolf for a few strides until the courageous yearling turns the tables on the bear and this time she trees it Ė right up the left goal post tree! Hah! I had no idea that tree was sturdy enough to hold an adult bear. It just looks like a stick from here.
Next, the yearling faces the black-phase bear, and that goes back and forth a bit. While the wolf occupied with bear two, the cinnamon bear sneaks back down the tree and lumbers off to the west. When bear two sees the cinnamon running, it takes off and follows to the west, leaving the wolf to escort them both, blond and black, away from her charges, over the burnt stump pass.
As the bears climb the hill they scatter a bunch of bighorn rams that had been bedded there. The wolf stops to watch, making sure these bears know just who is in charge here. Satisfied and rightfully proud of herself, she turns and limps back down to the meadow.
This whole interaction has been shared with many scope-less visitors who happened to join us on the hill. They are very excited. Many of them canít get over the fact that the wolf treed and chased away bear, and that the bears did not get the pups or the sheep. They have a new appreciation for the family values of wolves, especially limping ones.
Personally, I donít think the bears were ever after the pups, much less the bighorn. I think they were just wandering through. But it was certainly exciting to watch.
The heroic yearling wanders across the area over to the lion meadow, sniffing and looking, making sure no more bears are in the area. Then she moves further down into Slough flats and starts to mouse.
The pups finally reappear at the den, perfectly safe, perhaps even unaware that they were just admirably defended. The crowd is happy to see them. Then the excitement dies down and most visitors wander back to their cars.
About 10 minutes later, a THIRD black bear shows up in the spring meadow. This one is a brown-phase bear. The yearling is still down in the flats, mousing. It seems that no one except us notices the bear at all. We watch him amble through, scent trailing the other two bears, through the goal post trees and on past the burnt stump.
I have to laugh: one moment we are praising the limper for her heroism and the next we see her falling down on the job. Ah well, sheís just a yearling.
Itís gotten hot so I shed a few layers and head back to my car. Time for my nap so I drive on to Northeast. After a very lovely dinner, I am pleased when Laurie & Dan decide to come down to Slough with me in the evening. Itís a little warm tonight but quite beautiful. We scope for a bit at Round Prairie, but we only find bison.
When we get to Slough, itís much hotter than Iíd like, and the sun is making it hard to scope. But we see wolves anyway, so itís worth it.
911 is back in his cool spot. Three pups, (2 blacks & a gray) are out and about. First they howl which is so cute. Then 911 takes a long drink at the spring and a black pup run down the hill to him which is also really cute. Many people are charmed when a different black pup scrambles up a low boulder and stands there like heís king of the hill.
We donít stay long, but itís a very nice capper to the evening.
We head back to Round Prairie in hopes of seeing the Lamars. First we have to get past several bison jams. These jams ebb and flow all day long at this time of year. This is summer in the park; a combination of the wooly beasts with lots of calves being either on the road or close to it, and the majority of visitors being first timers. Itís new to them and very exciting. Often people just sit in their cars taking video, not realizing that they can take all the video they want without jamming up both lanes.
When both lanes are blocked and there is no way to slowly creep past them for a half hour, it can also get a little annoying.
We do eventually get to Round Prairie but instead of wolves we see two pretty white tail deer on the north side in the willows. One is a gorgeous young buck in velvet; the other a doe.
We have another white tail cross the road near Baronette.
Today I saw: 3 black bears, 3 grizzly bears (including 2 cubs), bison, cranes, coyotes, 3 white tail deer, elk, pronghorn, bighorn sheep, 8 Junction wolves (including 911, the heroic limping gray yearling, another gray adult and 5 of the 8 pups) and the spirit of Allison.