Today we see mule deer crossing the road into the parking lot of the Best Western. It feels slightly warmer.
By the time we get to Lamar it is snowing again. Hmmm, looks like visibility will be a bit difficult today. We get first light at Rose Creek around 7:30 and hear a radio report of a wolf in the road near the confluence. Shortly after Exclosure Hill I see brake brake lights ahead. I stop and as I glance to the left I see a shape on the hillside. It's a black wolf, bedded there, and I think it's chewing on something. Chloe says she thinks it just grabbed a duck from the river. The wolf stands and moves closer to me and higher on the hill with the dead duck in its mouth. Chloe and Becky drive on and I am not sure what to do.
A car comes driving west and slows down as it sees the wolf. It stops and someone inside takes several flash photos of the wolf out the passenger window. The wolf seems to react to the flash and stands up, leaving the dead duck on the hill. The car moves on and the wolf walks in the opposite direction, east, moving on a diagonal towards the road. I am still stopped in the road with no-one behind me, watching the black wolf as it moves away from me.
I decide to stay put rather than rush the wolf, because it looks to me like it wants to cross the road again.
The wolf reaches the road and trots nonchalantly along it to the east. I ask over the radio if there are any oncoming cars. Chloe is at the next pullout and assures me no one is coming. The wolf continues east, sniffing here and there until it reaches the guard rail. It stands there for a split second, then in one muscular leap, clears the guard rail and disappears over the side. I am glad the animal is off the road, but I didn't expect it to go that way!
Chloe radios that I am clear to proceed so I do and soon join them at the confluence pullout. We see the black wolf already across the river, trotting without a care in the world, heading on a route towards her family, which is probably still bedded on DPH. I learn from the others that this road-savvy wolf is Dull Bar.
Chloe, Becky and I hang out here a while, watching the wolf follow the river corridor and search for any sign of otters. We find not a single track. So we head on to the Footbridge. We discover that the Druids are no longer visible on DPH and are probably headed east. I want to stay to watch Dull Bar arrive. I figure that if any of the Druids are still nearby, her presence is likely to rouse them from wherever they are hiding.
Dull Bar travels fast and in no time at all I see her appear on the old riverbank to the west. She stands there, wagging her tail sweetly, but no wolves come to greet her. She proceeds, nose to the ground, not to the carcass but along the base of DHP. I looks like she is following a scent trail. She doesn't hesitate a bit but continues at a brisk trot along the base of the hill, headed east.
I now pack up and head east myself, joining the others at what we call Soda Butte East. Becky and Laurie have found the Druids, although they are in the trees and barely visible. There seems to be another carcass out of sight and we can see just a few heads and tails from time to time.
Dull Bar continues moving east on a clear path to her family. We know a reunion is about to occur, but we also wonder if we might see 569 dish out some discipline. It is widely believed that Dull Bar has been out all night with one of the gray suitors.
Sure enough, when Dull Bar gets close, a few pups come racing out to greet her. She comes in with tucked tail and 569 does stomp on her a little. She behaves in a properly subordinate manner, though, and they let her up pretty soon.
There is a lovely howl and then the next half hour is spent watching bits and pieces of wolves, interspersed with soft, friendly chatting. Alas for me, the time has come for me to head back to Bozeman. I say good bye to all my wolfer buddies and wish everyone good sightings, then head west. It's early enough for me to make a fairly slow exit, stopping wherever I see fit.
First I stop at Hitching Post, because I've heard that someone has seen a badger digging in the snow. I see Bob and Dan carrying their gear, but cannot find the animal they are watching. So I head on to Dorothy's and scope there a while. I find several bull elk as well as substantial cow and calf herds too, along with one intrepid coyote.
Next stop is at Slough Creek, where I find Rick with Calvin and Lynette. They do not have the Sloughs but they DO have 527 and her "group". 527 is a black female who has been "kicked out" of the Slough Pack by alpha 380, and who has been keeping company recently with an "unknown" gray male and with Sharp Right, a gray female who is also a "former" Slough wolf.
These three wolves are bedded on a slope south of the Slough parking lot, near some aspen trees. The gray male and 527 are bedded close together and Sharp Right is shadowing them. It makes me sad that Sharp Right is on the outs with her pack. I kind of got to know her over the last few years and she always seemed a dependable wolf - active in hunts and good to the pups. It is a mystery as to why she and 527 have fallen into disfavor with the Slough alpha female, but these things do happen.
I head further west and stop at Elk Creek. The sun finally manages to come out, and seems to re-paint the terrain in gorgeous bright white, changing every view. The air seems crystal clear and visibility is exceptional. So I decide to stop at Hellroaring, too. I scope all the usual places where I have seen wolves before (although I have never had that much luck here). Another car pulls in and parks. I turn around and see that it's Rick. He gets out his telemetry and shortly afterwards, suggests that I look at where he is pointing.
He's found the Oxbows!
I follow his instruction and get them in Layla's great eye and watch a young wolf tugging on fresh meat. I see many, many birds flying out of a gully, which I swear I had scoped just moments before and found nothing of the kind! Then Rick helps me find 6 other wolves bedded to the left of where the carcass is. That makes 7 Oxbow wolves!
I wish I could stay longer to enjoy them, but it's a nice send-off. My last canid sightings are two coyotes in the road near just before the S-curves. The rest of the drive west is smooth and easy and the sun stays out the whole way. I have time for another short visit with Allison and tell her how happy I am to have had such great Druid luck.
Another wonderful, wolf-filled trip to Yellowstone is over, but will not be forgotten.
Today I saw: bison, coyotes, 3 mule deer, elk, 21 wolves (11 Druids, 527, Sharp Right, the Unknown gray, and 7 Oxbows) and the spirit of Allison.