I scrape a bit of frost off my windshield and the heater does the rest. I am on the road a little after 6AM. Itís nice and dark with a clear sky overhead and the roads are dry.
I stop at Hitching Post to listen for howling. Rick pulls in and tells me he has a signal for the Beartooth male but not 926. He says the maleís signal is deceptive because itís particularly strong even when heís far away.
I notice a flashing light on a truck stopped at the confluence. Itís not a ranger but a utility guy, clearing some fallen rocks from the pullouts and the edge of the road.
I drive further west and hear Calvin call from Curve. He have wolves!
Cars are stopped at both Boulder and Curve. The wolves are on both sides of the road. Itís the Prospects.
I join the cars at Curve and try to be quiet as possible as I set up because the wolves are very close. I say a quick, silent hi to Annie who is scoping from her window mount! She grins back. Itís so great to see her!
In my binocs I see a beautiful gray walking through the sage to the north. I see two more grays a little further east of the first one. They are howling. Some of the pack is still on the south side of the road.
I stay on the ones to the north but they begin moving further away, towards the buffalo ford. After a short lull, three coyotes show up Ė temporarily confusing things until one perches on a rock and shows us by his behavior that the wolves are headed away from them.
We get a radio call from people watching from Boulder east. They have two grays and a black to the south, coming down the hill and about to cross north. They watch this group travel well to the east until they are finally comfortable enough to cross. We anticipate them coming into view from here, but I only see one black, loping towards the ford to join the others.
I turn to the ford area and see two grays down there. Laurie says one of them is 821F, the alpha female. Then 763M appears. He is more gray than black at this point. Another black is 966M (missing his collar). He is technically the alpha male now but 763 is beloved and allowed to stay with the pack. They are soon joined by 3 more grays and my loping black.
These 7 wolves begin to travel in a line to the west. It looks like they are taking the trail to Junction Lake but they fool us and turn north towards the trough.
At least two wolves are still to the south. A black and a gray. I think the gray is 964 but I donít know who the black is. They both might be males, and we speculate that they could be interested in the Junction females. Laurie thinks these males are looking for love and dragging the family all over the place while they do so. She thinks the alphas have now re-asserted control and are leading the family back home, knowing the males may not follow.
Currently, the Junctions are short an alpha male. At the end of the summer, 890 inexplicably went back to the Mollies; 911 was killed in September by some of these same Prospect wolves. Since then, the two mothers, 907 and 969, have been leading a bunch of pups and yearlings; they could use the help of some sturdy Prospect males.
Rick says he is getting Junction signals to the south, so it seems these two males know what theyíre doing. Two of them are seen on the forested hillside to the south. I am able to see 996 bedded near the trunk of a tree. I never manage to see the gray up there with him.
There is some talk of moving to Elk Creek to try to find the Junctions but then someone suggests Antelope instead. That sounds good to me. The Dunraven road is still open this week, partly due to the good weather and partly because of construction between Swan Lake & Norris.
Laurie tells me that the Canyon wolves (712 and the white alpha female) were seen at Grand Prismatic on a carcass recently.
The sun has come out, and it feels warm at 20 degrees.
On the way up to Antelope, a small herd of elk with a calf of the year crosses the road near the service road. There is a really pretty young spike with them.
We stop at the first high lot that offers a view to the east and set up. The sun feels even warmer up here. Rick is getting strong signals so we all look intently. Laurie and Pauline find wolves. They are south of the river, up on a high meadow of Specimen.
The angle of the sun prevents me from seeing colors. They all look black to me. They are strung out in a line and we count 9. Laurie thinks there might be a couple more.
There are two groups of elk on the same meadow watching the wolves travel through, heading for an area of re-growth. The day is perfect, clear blue sky without a cloud. This time of year itís rare to have a two-pack day, so although this sighting is very short, I donít complain.
They have entered an area where we are not likely to see them again, so, back down the hill we go. Laurie & Pauline drive on to Silver Gate while I stop at Dorothyís. I find some coyotes, a large flock of mystery birds and of course, many bison.
I talk with Rick a bit and discover that the screenwriter for Nateís book DID come out to see wolves yesterday morning, in the snowstorm. He did not connect with Rick and he has not been seen since. As an LA guy, I bet he didnít much care for the weather!
I scope a while longer, then head to Silver Gate. I have a great evening with Laurie & Pauline.
Today I saw: bison, deer, elk, 17 wolves from two packs: 8 Prospects (including 763M, 821F, 966M, 996M, two grays and one black) and 9 Junctions (including 907, 969 and 7 others)