DAY FIVE - Monday, July 24

A WEALTH OF WAPITIS

Laurie and I had a bad time with mice last night. We try various solutions to catch the little buggers and hope for the best.

I take my time driving through Lamar but alas, there are no Junctions to view. I stop at Dorothy’s and find things exactly the same: the cow is dead and the poor calf still trying to nurse.

A coyote trots by, out for his morning walk. He sees the dead bison and the calf. He watches from a distance for a while, as if in disbelief that he found such an amazing treasure on an ordinary morning. He leaves, presumably to go get reinforcements.

This is my last day so I decide to go south. But on my way over the top I see Rick and Kathie stopped at a high pullout. I join them and learn Rick has a good signal for Junction 1048. We don’t find him but we do find a single un-collared gray with an unusually short tail. Hmm, who’s this? We watch it tool around at the bottom of one of Washburn’s slopes. More and more people pull in and we show them this wolf. It becomes a fairly long sighting as Mr. Solo travels in mostly open country, heading uphill.

Then finally the lone gray heads into deep forest and doesn’t come out. So, I pack up and continue to Hayden.

As I near Canyon Junction, I hear radio reports that indicate wolves are in view. I hear someone say “bedded near the Point of Trees”.

I see a lot of people at Alum but Rick continues toward Grizzly Overlook, pulling off the road about half-way there. We suggests we set up in the meadow.

I find a shaded spot because it is already hot. As soon as I set up a see five adult wolves, three blacks and two grays, moving in the open sage flats, quite a bit west of the Point. One gray is collared, 1091F, mother of the pups. The other gray is her younger brother, a yearling, one of 755’s pups born last year.

The blacks are 1015M, an un-collared black male and a female black yearling (litter-make of the gray yearling). I am so happy to see these two yearlings because I watched them last summer, when poor 755 was forced out of his own pack. I am glad his legacy still remains.

The yearlings play together, rough-housing quite adorably, all over the place, chasing and tumbling. I note that the female is no less robust or daring than her brother.

The three adults bed down in thick sage and are nearly invisible, save for an ear or a tail flick now and again.

From this viewpoint, part of the Yellowstone can be seen. The wolves are on the far side of it, but in the river itself are a dozen elk. They are aware of the wolves but not “alerted”. There are also bison and at least four pairs of cranes in the meadow.

The adults begin to howl and then get up for a rally with wildly wagging tails. The yearlings happily join this rally and I watch 1091 flirt with both males. Both of these black Mollie wolves are gorgeous specimens. If I were a wolf, I’d flirt with them, too!

One black and 1091 eventually re-bed but the un-collared black takes a walk east towards the point. The yearlings continue to play. The black heads for the river bank and before long, her gray brother is taking notice. The elk take notice, too, changing positions a bit, but still seem fairly calm. The black wades into the water half-way up her legs.

There is a tour group of first-timers with a guide scoping near me. They think the yearlings are about to catch the elk. One add fellow in this group seems somehow convinced that the black male wolves are actually bears.

The black yearling eventually moves past the elk, still wading in the shallows, while the gray maneuvers himself closer & closer behind the group.

While this is going on, the un-collared black re-appears, on his way back from his solo journey. He seems to become interested in the elk. He makes his way towards the water in a semi-stalking posture. The elk move quickly into deeper water which they know is safer for them. Suddenly I see there are a lot more elk in this group than I first thought. About a dozen more heads appear as they climb the near bank of the river. They look fully aware of the adult wolf’s interest. And none too happy about it.

And just that quickly, the wolves lose interest. The adult black turns and heads back to the other two bedded adults. The yearlings climb out of the river and up the bank. This “dance” is likely played out over and over in Yellowstone. The wolves test the elk to see if they are paying attention. When they behave like healthy elk, the wolves give up.

The yearlings now turn their attention to a bull bison rolling in a wallow, sending up a huge dust cloud. The two young wolves are obliterated from view for a moment. When the dust settles, they are heading west and go out of my sight. I worry they might be going for the road, but they come back quickly.

When the un-collared black reaches bedded 1091 and 1015, he suddenly jumps in the air, startled. I think 1091 snapped at him!

Now all the adults get up and stretch and start to move slowly back towards the Point of trees. There is some very deep grass lining the twists and turns of Sour Creek, and when the wolves reach it, they go in and out of view. Eventually I lose them all. But just then someone at Grizzly Overlook radios to us that pups are visible!

I have to move my scope further north, and into the sun in order for me to see the two trees area. Once I get re-settled I’m able to pick up the adults again in the very thick grass around the channels of the creek.

Then I find the pups mid-slope on a sage hill a good deal left of the two trees. They are nose to tail in a line with the black one bringing up the rear. Oh, they are just too cute, mimicking the behavior of traveling adults, but giving away their inexperience by being so close to each other. They are making their way back to their comfort zone at a pretty good clip.

The black yearling leads the adult group towards the pups. She is far ahead of the others. I watch the pups a while then I scan back to look for her. She has reached the middle sandbox and is gaining on them. But then the pups angle upwards to the tree line. They pass a distinctive split-trunked tree (a V-tree). The black pup stops and beds in front of this V tree.

Now I see the black yearling further uphill of that V-tree. She’s passed the pup! Suddenly the pup jumps up and runs after her into the forest. Oh shoot. I had hoped to see a reunion between the yearling and the pups. Looks like it may be happening inside the forest, out of our view. I turn back to scan the deep grass area and find the gray yearling. He chases ducks, tools around a bit, and then makes a beeline for a certain spot. That spot turns out to have a bedded black in it! I see greetings and wagging tails.

At this point I am just about melting from standing in the hot mid-day sun. Plus my knee is complaining after all this roaming about on uneven ground.

So I think I’d better call it a day, get back to Silver Gate and ice this sucker.

On the way back I enjoy views of wildflowers on the mountainsides. Enormous swaths of mountain sunflowers dress the hills on the Canyon side of Dunraven, drawing dozens of photographers.

On the Tower side are stands of gorgeous pink fireweed, deep blue lupine, various nameless white flowers plus scarlet and salmon paintbrush. And I see goldenrod, blue forget-me-nots and harebells, plus sticky geranium and even some asters.

Back in Lamar, I stop at Dorothy’s to check on the dead bison cow and her sad calf. The situation is the same. The poor calf is still alive, bedded now at a distance from mom.

I do not go out tonight in favor of icing my knee. We decide to have a pizza party with Kathie & Rick. Mostly we talk about Nate’s book.

Today I saw: bison, a coyote, elk, 11 wolves from two packs; 10 Wapitis (including 1091F, 1015M, the un-collared black, two yearlings and five pups) and Mystery Wolf (a short-tailed un-collared gray), and the spirit of Allison



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