DAY FOUR - THURSDAY, JUNE 7

926F AND THE THREE BEARS

Despite getting 8 hours of sleep last night I still feel tired at 5AM!

I talk with my housemates this morning as we prepare our food for the day. They had a banner day yesterday! In addition to seeing 996 at Slough, they also saw several members of the Crevice Lake pack at Hellroaring. Then they went south and saw a bunch of the Wapiti’s on a carcass in Hayden. And they also saw the grizzly bear mom and daughter, Raspberry and Snow.

So, here I go, hoping for another chance to see Yellowstone wolves. It seems quiet through Lamar so I stop at Coyote to say hi to Bill. He is without a single bear sighting today, and I know he feels especially bad because today is his buddy John’s last day.

I scope with them for a few minutes and we see elk on skyline but they leave the pullout, heading east in hopes it will change their luck. I remain and scope to the south, looking for wolves. The radio tells me that so far, nothing has been seen at Slough. I scan Jasper Bench and Divide Ridge and all the places I have ever seen wolves. Nothing.

I am just about to pack up when I decide to take one more look at the elk on the north side. Hmmm, they are still looking downhill. I swing my scope in the direction their faces are pointed….and I see a bear! A grizzly. Large and black. And, hey wait! There are two bears there! The other is smaller and colored like a “typical” grizzly, with the silver “vest”.

I call Bill and enjoy watching them. I suppose I am looking at a mom and her big cub. The cub seems fairly independent of mom.

When Bill arrives, he takes one look and pronounces them a courting pair. Well, how about that! I ask him to tell me how he knows. He says it’s partly size and partly behavior. That usually dark bears are boars and lighter bears are sows. But what I put down to “independent” behavior from the cub was actually the female (smaller) going her own way, which the male (larger) will then follow, at a bit of a remove. This is pretty much opposite behavior of a mom and cub, meaning, mom (larger) will move one way or another and the cub (smaller) will follow.

And sure enough, as I watch this pair, grubbing and grazing on the hill, the smaller bear is consistently followed by the larger bear.

The elk herd is still on skyline, too, 15 or 16 of them, and I count 11 calves! I am always happy to see elk calves!

But I need to find a wolf, so I say goodbye to Bill and head west. When I reach Slough I see Rick leaving, so I follow him a while, but he decides to go south to Hayden.

I end up joining Doug at Curve. We scope from here a bit but he is thinking of heading east to try for Lamars. I ask if I can follow him and he says yes.

We run into Bill again around Mid-point. He shows us the grizzly sow with one coy way up high, and then shows me a second adult bear, a big boar, on the other side of Amethyst.

Doug radios that the helicopter is back, this time circling Mt. Norris. I drive to Footbridge and find it jam-packed with visitors, parked every which way.

I don’t see anything in view so I talk to a few visitors to see what’s up. Apparently, people have been seeing a grizzly mom with two yearling cubs up on the large hill opposite the pullout (Dead Puppy Hill).

This may be what the helicopter sees, too.

I also ask if anyone has seen any wolves this morning. A German couple says, yes, about a half hour ago. They point towards 480’s crossing and tell me they two back wolves cross the road and then the river. They say the wolves disappeared into the forest, heading south.

You can imagine how happy I am to hear this! I relay this to Doug and we set up our scopes on the eastern end of the pullout. Doug finds the bears on Dead Puppy about half-way across, heading west.

Finally the helicopter swerves away. Just then we hear a cry, the bleat of an animal in distress. Three things happen at once. I hear someone say the bears are running. I hear Doug say a wolf tugging on something. And I see a golden thing moving from west to east between tree trunks at the far eastern end of the slope.

Then the golden thing bursts out from the trees running, chasing a black thing. It’s a grizzly chasing a wolf! And the wolf is 926! Then the bear inexplicably wheels and runs back into the forest whence it came.

926 also wheels and dashes to the edge of that forest…wheels again and emerges with an elk calf in her mouth! She carries it about 20 feet from the trees when the bear returns, charging her. 926 drops the calf and evades the bear. The bear picks up the calf and violently flings the poor thing back towards the forest. The calf sits there, legs splayed and useless, head drooping, still alive but unable to move.

Wolf and bear face off, then the bear charges past the calf back into the forest. The wolf rushes straight to the calf again, seizes it by the shoulders and carries it again about 20 more feet. Now, three golden forms come charging out of the forest: the grizzly mom and both yearling cubs.

This is too much for the wolf. She drops the calf again and this time the stand-off is three against one. 926 faces them so fiercely! Then here comes the poor elk mother, trying to trample the bears. The cubs fend her off and the sow charges 926 again. This time she evades the bear by running to the west. She stop and looks back at the bears as the whole of humanity in the Footbridge lot watches breathlessly.

The mother elk knows it’s hopeless and stots away to the east. Mama grizzly goes back to the calf, which is now dead. She drags the carcass just behind the trunk of a lone tree and gathers her cubs.

But 926 is not done. She sneaks back through the sage and continues to threaten the bear family. Doug and I are convinced that SHE is the one who nabbed the calf and these bears just stole it from her. 926 bares her teeth at them. We can’t hear her growling but I’m sure she is. One of the cubs leaves the carcass and swaggers towards her, very bold and confident. 926 yawns (!)

Mama griz won’t tolerate her cub being dissed by a skinny black wolf, so she leaves the carcass to charge 926 again. The wolf evades her easily, this time to the east.

The bears go back to the carcass and concentrate on feeding. 926 sulks a while, thinks over her options and decides to wait them out. She begins to trot to the east, turns up slope and into the forest. I can almost hear her grumbling and cursing.

People in the pullout are beside themselves. One lady watching with us has never seen a prey animal killed, much less in such dramatic fashion. She starts to cry. I do my best to comfort her. You can’t help feeling for the poor calf, and the mother elk. I tell the lady it is the circle of life, that 926 has pups to feed, that this grizzly mom is feeding her babies, and that this is the role that prey animals must play.

I tell her it is to her credit that she has such empathy and I think I help her a little. It is awful to see an animal die.

The bears feed for about 15 minutes, then go into the woods. Just when I think they are asleep in there, they come back out and feed some more. They go in and come back out once again, then move deeper into the trees, I suppose for a nap.

Things quiet down and none of us can see 926 anymore. So I pack up and go back to Slough. I thought Rick had gone to Hayden but I find him here with Clair so I scope with them a while and tell him about 926 and the bears. We decide to go back to Footbridge in case 926 comes back to grab some scraps, once the bears are bedded.

I find no space at Footbridge so I pull over at Western Curve. I talk to a family who is looking to the south. They have just seen a black wolf in the area slightly east of where I saw 926 disappear. I thank them and set up my scope.

I find her almost immediately because she is moving from east to west. I call Rick. He joins me, as does Clair. We watch 926 move steadily west aiming for the calf carcass.

She finds something and carries it east. She stops twice to cache. Then she continues east, getting closer and closer to the river, clearly intending to cross. She finally goes down the bank and starts across, splashing through the shallows at first, then eventually swimming. I lose her behind the hill of Eastern Curve but people who stop later show me video of her on the north side so I know she got across.

I am just packing up to go when someone calls “there’s another one!” I turn back and sure enough, it’s Small Dot. Rick is in his car so I call him back to his scope.

Small Dot looks beautiful. I suspect he was up in the forest the whole time. He trots from east to west heading straight to the carcass spot. He finds something about 100 feet from the tree (perhaps what 926 cached) and lies down to eat it. I am so happy to just watch him eat, sharing my scope with various other delighted visitors. Although most of his body is obscured, his head is always visible so people know what they are seeing. After a while he moves to the small pile of bones and hide. He sniffs it really well and then he lifts his leg and marks it! Take that, grizzlies!

Now he turns and trots east, initially following 926’s route. I think he means to cross the river and the road to go back to the den but by this point cars are blocking his path from 480’s crossing to eastern curve. He stops and howls. He backs up and stands there, staring to the north, trying to figure out how to deal with all these cars in his way.

Two cranes fly in and land somewhat near him, so I show them to people.

Finally Small Dot turns and heads west at a good clip. He returns to the carcass area. Sniffs all the bushes near there, then continues west right at the tree line. Suddenly, out of the forest come the bears! I guess he woke them up.

All three of them stare daggers at the wolf. He sees them but shows absolutely no concern. Mama griz will not have her family be dissed so she charges him. Small Dot lopes away easily and mama does not pursue him further. Instead, she and her yearlings go back inside the forest.

I think Small Dot wants to cross between Footbridge and Hitching Post but I lose track of him before he gets that far. I could have driven to Footbridge to make sure he gets across, but there is no ranger here to manage all the cars and people. If I get into the middle of that and some visitor does something stupid, I will probably say something out of line, so I remain at Western Curve, trusting that the wolf will somehow figure it out.

Luckily for me, the bears offer a nice distraction. They come out of the forest near the carcass again, sniff around and then walk past the remains, heading east and upslope, like 926 did this morning.

Once they are out of sight I pack up and drive to Silver Gate. I need to check in with my office before the end of their day.

I keep my fingers crossed for Small Dot getting back to the north safely.

After a rest I head back out, hoping that Little T might come out to see what might be left for her. Footbridge is just as jammed as it was earlier but I get lucky and find a space.

A man tells me the bears are being seen on occasion up high, but it turns out he is repeating someone's story from this morning. The bears are actually back near the carcass site. They go into the forest again and are seen intermittently in the thick willows. A rain squall comes in and clears the lot.

When it’s over, the bears come out and start to wrestle with each other, and mom, too!

I belatedly see Maureen & Rick at the other end of the pullout with Bill. We scope a while and catch up. I find someone with video of Small Dot crossing the road so I am comforted by that.

Then I head back east around 8:30.

Today I saw: I saw: 8 grizzly bears (including 3 cubs), bison, cranes, mule deer, elk, pronghorn, 2 wolves (926 and Small Dot of the Lamar Pack) and the spirit of Allison.

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