DAY SIX - Wednesday, July 5

A JUNCTION SENDOFF

Iím up early on my last day. Waaaa!

Poor Laurie was so tired last night from circular conversations with the Earthlink people. Each person she talks to tells her something different and contradictory and none of them fixes anything.

I have mulies this morning at Warm Creek, and then the white tails at Barronette!

Thanks to Bill H, my first sighting today is a grizzly bear with a single cub up on Amethyst. And after that we find a bunch of bighorn sheep in the same area.

Rick calls to ask for help scoping from Dorothyís or Coyote. He has Junction signals but no visuals.

I start at Coyote, looking north. Then we hear a howl to the south. I turn around and there they are, on the western end of Jasper bench. Doug finds them first, 7 wolves, 5 blacks and 2 collared grays, which is their current count.

At first I count 6; three are bedded and three are sitting on their haunches. They are all looking downhill. Then I see the seventh, a black coming up from below.

Now the full pack starts to howl! Nice! Then we have a rally and I see 969F pinning her sister 907F. These two go back and forth with dominance. Laurie says itís been going on all their lives. 907 doesnít like the pinning this morning so she walks off downslope to the west.

The males are doing a bit of pinning too. I guess they have not quite straightened out their hierarchy yet. One of the collared blacks (1047 I think) starts down towards the river. The others watch him a while, then begin to follow.

1047 goes all the way down and crosses the river Ė alas I canít see more than his tail when he does this due to folds and hillocks in the terrain. But he reappears heading across the flats in our direction. 969 follows 1047 and the other wolves fall in behind her. I see 907 return from her little pout and join the group as well. They are clearly on a mission.

I can tell they will be blocked from my view soon, to I pack up and drive east to Dorothys. Laurieís not here yet and I am anxious for her to get here. She really likes the Junctions and their internecine drama. I cross my fingers that they will stay in view a while.

As the wolves move across the flats they spread out. Itís a little hard to decide who to focus on, so I pick the leaders. At first it looked like 1047 wanted to continue north and cross the road but 969 is not in agreement. She is aiming for the river. More wolves appear willing to follow her than him.

Soon 1047 has been convinced. He angles back towards the river. Both of them now seem to be focusing on the various prey animals in the valley. There are bison and pronghorn and both herds have young with them.

Small groups of pronghorn start to flee.

Laurie calls in and I direct her to stop at the Institute, saying ďlook south!Ē

Shortly after this, two blacks and 969 assume a stalking posture. They are aiming for another small herd of pronghorn that has a single fawn. The other wolves do not seem to see this. 1047 charges and the herd bolt away to the east, with the tiny fawn out in front leading the way!

For a few seconds 969 and 1047 run full out, but the pronghorn put on such speed that the outcome is never in doubt. They zoom across the flats and the wolves quickly give up.

The fawn has led the herd toward the cottonwoods opposite the Institute, where many bison graze. But the fawn does not have the stamina of an adult and quickly tires. It now runs in the middle of the herd, surrounded on all sides by adults, but they are no longer in danger, if they ever were. The trailing Junction wolves catch up to the leaders, and although their hunting attempt was a failure, they have another rally, complete with body slamming and nuzzling, as if they are all victorious.

But then 969 pins 907 again and then for good measure, pins the poor Limper (a yearling black Ė one of the pups we watched in 2016). She has her legs in the air, but to me her pinning looks more playful than serious. Perhaps that is the Limperís strategy.

Laurie thinks she is alpha material and I agree.

969 is clearly in charge today. She seems to decide she wants to cross the river. She walks parallel to it a while, perhaps choosing her crossing site. She picks a spot opposite the Amethyst drainage and wades into the river. Once she starts swimming, she is immediately pulled downstream. Wow, that current is much stronger than I expected.

She finally nears the shore, passing several boulders until she gets to a spot thick with vegetation, which probably offers good purchase. She shakes off and heads quickly to the top of the bench, which is not very high at this spot. I remember hiking out to Fairies Falls (where Amethyst Creek joins the Lamar) years ago with Jake & Leslie. We walked along that very berm where 969 is walking now.

One by one, the other Junctions reach the river. Each on enters the water in about the same spot but each gets out at a totally different spot. One wolf makes the mistake of trying to exit on a boulder Ė nope, that wonít work. He gives up and finds a much better spot a few yards down. The Limper crosses in the most efficient manner of all of them; she is pulled downstream less than any of them.

Some of them do not bother to shake off, although most do. They each bound a few yards along the bank, then head uphill. 969 is leading them east. She seems to have an agenda.

I move east myself and end up at Hubbard because we can see that Picnic and Trash Can are already full. Itís a good view from here. I pull out my chair and get comfy.

The wolves find something in the sage that they like Ė perhaps an old carcass. They sniff and roll, goofing off with each other. Then, one of them seems to catch something - maybe a ground squirrel, so that draws the attention of the rest of them.

Boy, after three days of no wolves at all (except for yesterdayís brief sighting of the Lamars) watching seven wolves in good view for over an hour is pure heaven.

The Limper is often behind the group, but not always. She seems to have an undaunted spirit, and she is young and otherwise healthy, so should be able to heal. If I have learned anything from watching wolves it is that they are amazingly resilient.

There is a lone cow bison in view whose coloring is very blonde. We joke that she is masquerading as a grizzly.

The Junctions move gradually east, continuing towards the old Druid R-V. As we watch them roam around the foothills it sure brings back memories!

They are not moving in a line but mill around, taking various paths, sniffing all sorts of things. I see lots of scent marking and back scratching by 1047 and 969. Some venture into the forest, but then come out again. A lone coyote approaches from the east but he soon thinks better of it and gets outta there. Some move into the back of the fan, approaching the confluence on the old riverbank.

Linda and Dorothy have climbed Geriatric and have a better view than I do at the moment. I would love to join them but I donít think my knee is ready for that climb quite yet, gentle as it is.

Then suddenly the wolves start to run. Linda says they are chasing a deer! They disappear into the new-growth near the Opal Creek trail and donít come out again.

Well, Iím sorry itís over but it was certainly a superb sighting!

Laurie and I are both heading to Bozeman today, and it seems like now is a good time to depart. So we say our goodbyes and set off.

I see a beautiful blue heron flying through Yankee Jim. Iím back in the car with my A/C on, listening to non-stop Beatles.

My knee feels fine and Iíve had another lovely trip to Yellowstone.

Today I saw: 2 grizzly bears, bison, a coyote, mule deer, white tailed deer, elk, a great blue heron, 7 Junction wolves (including 969F, 907F, 1047M, 1048M, 996M the un-collared black male and the Limper (black female), and the spirits of Allison and Richard.



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