DAY FIVE – Tuesday, June 28


THREE WOLVES

I am out at my usual time this morning. It feels a good deal warmer today.

I see some deer in the woods just before Baronette. Probably those same white tails from last night but since I didn’t stop, I can’t be certain.

Things are quiet at Round Prairie and in the Soda Butte Valley, but as I pass the Soda Cone I see Becky & Chloe’s van pull over at Western Curve. They turn off their lights. Hmm. There is no one behind me so I slow down and stop parallel to them, rolling down my window. Chloe whispers that Rick thinks 926 is in the area and asked them to look around.

I turn around at Footbridge and pull in behind them. Chloe and I look to the north while Becky looks south. In just a few minutes, Becky has wolves!

Chloe and I turn our scopes around. I recognize all three: 926F, 965M and Little T. Hmm, still no 993M. They are trotting in a line above the old river bank, across from the Soda Cone. We call Rick but he does not respond. He may already be on his way to Gardiner where he has a meeting this morning.

The Lamars drop down into the flats, continuing west, sniffing here and there, moving at a pretty good clip. 926 gets frisky with 965, body-slamming him, racing around at top speed, wheeling and racing back like a giddy teenager around her celebrity crush. He seems happy to receive her attention and wags his tail consistently but he does not quite match her enthusiasm. Little T looks a little embarrassed by her mom’s behavior. I remember seeing 926 flirt this way with her first mate, Big Gray, but she was two or three years younger back then.

We talk about the bad luck she has had with alpha males, and wonder if she is just trying to do what she needs to do to hang on to this one.

The threesome continues steadily to the west, but instead of following the line of the river, they hug the base of Dead Puppy Hill. We move to Footbridge for a better angle on them, joining a dozen or so people who heard our call. The light gets better and better as we watch their progress.

Since they are relatively close, I pull out my phone to take a video. As the wolves travel, 965M is in the lead, then 926F with Little T trailing. But when they reach the western end of the flats they reach a wide bison trail that leads up the old riverbank. At this point, Little T takes the lead.

Happily for us, when the three wolves pause at the crest of the hill, they stop and pose in the sage a while, sniffing and scent marking, as if trying to decide where to go next.

Eventually 965 takes the lead again through the sage and the females follow. We track them through the middle flats toward the Lamar River/Cache Creek trail. We lose them at the boundary of the flats and the upper trail. They are probably still visible from Confluence hill but I’m not sure I feel like climbing up there today!

But someone near Confluence radios that they have crossed the Lamar and are headed towards the old Druid rendezvous. I see several pronghorn and a few deer start to run from that area where they had been peacefully grazing.

As they go in and out of sight, Chloe and I start to analyze what we’ve just seen. No sign of 993M, major flirtation by 926 with 965; double scent marking, a lot of it, by both of them. That plus what seems to us like a carefree attitude by all three, in particular 926. All these observations support the theory that she does not have pups to tend. She may have given birth back in April, but perhaps they did not survive? And we still don’t know what happened to 993M. In years past, when 926 has had pups, she has maintained an “all business” attitude that seems missing today.

We pack up and move over to Trash Can and look for them in the R-V, but we are not able to find them again. So I decide to head to Slough.

It’s nearly 8:30 when I arrive and I think perhaps I’ve missed the action, because all I see is a single gray pup at the sage den. Then mama 969 comes in from the east with food. Aha! She arrives at the eastern trees and walks diagonally down to the gully below the den with five or six pups bounding excitedly behind her. She puts her head down. The pups gather and scarf up the food she leaves, wagging their happy tails.

Now mama 907 shows up in the same spot. Looks like the hunt was successful. The wolf to pup conveyor belt is running. The heroic limping gray yearling is the next arrival. She greets the two females, then goes mousing near the western trees. She catches something, then wanders back past the goal posts and up to the eastern trees again.

Now 969 walks over to the crescent rock, looking to the east as if hoping a few more wolves will come back to feed these hungry pups. She howls as if to say “no more breaks! Hurry up!” When the female howls, the pups howl, too. They are just too cute. I see three pups balanced, muzzles to the sky, balanced on the den porch. They howl again and then disappear back inside.

Now the un-collared gray male yearling shows up with something in his mouth. He heads to the den and I expect the pups to rush out, but instead the adult disappears inside the den and comes back out a little later without the morsel. He settles down on the den porch, resting from his labors.

969 keeps her vigil near the crescent rock, looking east, as if willing the other wolves to arrive.

On the burnt stump hill there are bighorn sheep, some grazing, some bedded. There are pronghorn roaming the rolling hills, and a few deer below the diagonal forest. And of course, the usual cranes in the river bottoms.

The morning has been cool and overcast but now the sun has risen and it putting out some heat. I could use a trip to Tower today to stock up on sandwiches and to get gas. Plus I need to clean the bugs off my windshield – the result of my drive through Paradise Valley in the evening.

So I bid goodbye to the Junctions and head to my car. When I’m at Tower I run into Bill W so we sit on the porch and chat about Broadway shows.

I am now headed back to Silver Gate for my nap. There are many pronghorn and bison in Lamar and a few deer again in the road just before Moose Meadow.

After dinner Laurie rides with me for an evening look at the pups.

At Footbridge we see a cow bison with a brand new baby – a very late delivery, as most bison cows give birth in late-April and early May. The umbilical is still attached and there are two “teenaged” cows with mom as well, perhaps the baby’s yearling and two-year-old sisters? They seem very interested in the tiny calf.

Just as we arrive at Slough a rain squall hits with some gusty wind. Once it passes, we set up in the lot. But I’m glad because having clouds makes it easier to see and the wind keeps the bugs away.

Tonight we have 3 black pups romping in the spring meadow. The grass is so high you can only see their backs and heads. We talk with some nice people from Denmark who are very excited to see these wolves. We also watch a bored kid from another family, maybe 10, walk away from the cars and people and start down the trail towards Bob’s Knob. Just then bison crests the hill. The boy stops in his tracks. He turns around and walks quickly back to the lot. The bison plods his way across the edge of the lot and into the next sage meadow. The 10 year old is not bored anymore!

Laurie finds a black bear east of the diagonal forest and I wonder if it could be one of the three bears we saw the day before? But he does not approach the den area and moves higher on the hill then back to the east.

The pups have quieted down so we head back to Silver Gate, happy to have only one bison jam to deal with on the way.

Today I saw: 1 black bear, bison (and a newborn baby), cranes, coyote, deer, elk, geese, pronghorn, bighorn sheep, 13 wolves from two packs; 3 Lamars (including 965M, 926F, and Little T) and 10 Junctions (including 969, 907, two gray yearlings, 6 pups) and the spirit of Allison.



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