This morning I head straight up to Washburn. Unlike yesterday's fog, today is sunny right off the bat. I find elk all over the place, and I find Calvin & Lynette.
They quickly help me see two grizzlies, four mule deer, and many more elk. But best of all, Calvin has found a fox den on a rocky butte way out there. With their help I am able to see two adult foxes and two of three kits running around. They are as cute as can be, although very small at this distance.
We hear a lone wolf howl but no sightings. The Agates are out there, somewhere, tending their pups. We know they have a litter, in fact, the reports are that it is fairly large, but they are still in dense cover. Although I don't see any Agates, it is gorgeous up here.
Later in the morning as I head down to Tower I see a black bear feeding at the side of the road, holding up traffic for about a half mile in both directions.
I eventually get back into Lamar and stop at Coyote. There are Slough wolves in the neighborhood and I decide to wait here until I see them. They reappear at the back of Jasper Bench, six wolves, two gray and four black. The grays are the alpha male and the female Sharp Right - I never find out who the black wolves are.
They move up the back of that bench onto the next hill, known as the A to Z meadow. They begin to chase a bull elk. The bull has no trouble staying ahead of them and they soon give up. The elk puts on a display of pronging in celebration.
The Sloughs roam around a bit more but now begin to bed on the slope among some trees. I move up to Dorothy's and run into Laurie and Betsy. They stay to watch the Sloughs in case they get up and move elsewhere. The Sloughs have pups too, quite a large number. They have denned somewhere in the area known as the "secret passage" which is out of sight of any pullout.
A bunch of us head up to Silver Gate for some yummy breakfast at the Grizzly Pad and make it there just in time! After breakfast I arrange to stay at the Silver Gate motel for a few days. On my way back down I see snowmelt running alongside the road and a fat gray squirrel hops across the road.
I see mulies feeding on the roadside a little east of Barronette. Gerry and Kat and I stop to look for goats. We find one billy goat and four bighorns - one of them a ram with a full curl. Another fat squirrel crosses the road and then we stop for a black bear jam right in the road. It's a section of road with no pull overs - but since it's a straight section with good visibility and little traffic we stop where we are and watch for a bit.
Our next stop is the coyote den. We find four little darlings asleep on the edge of the den entrance in a little tawny huddle. One little pup gets up, all wobbly legged and shakes his over-sized head, realeasing dusty sand that drifts over his litter-mates.
It's become quite a beautiful day.
We get back to Dorothy's and find Laurie & Betsy still here. The Sloughs are still visible, bedded under the trees. The temps climb up to 51 degrees, the warmest yet, so far.
Calvin and Lynette arrive and we three decide to climb Cardiac Hill. As soon as we get set up a stiff wind comes up, making it hard to stay on my scope for very long. We each employ various articles of clothing as wind breaks but mostly we just put up with it.
First we watch a bull elk approach the area where the wolves are asleep. We all expect a reaction from the sleeping wolves but see no movement. I begin to wonder if the wolves gave us the slip, although the cautious behavior of the elk indicates they are still there. Still, we wonder if the elk could be reacting to the SMELL of wolves having recently been there. I wonder if the shapes I have been looking at are only logs and shadows because they still do not move. Then again, the light is tricky this time of day, they are VERY far away and the wind is making a steady focus next to impossible.
The bull elk moves uphill of the trees and out on the eastern side. Only when he moves off a considerable distance do we finally see movement from the Sloughs. What a relief! The wolves in this group are the alpha male, Sharp Right and four blacks.
The wind continues to be fierce but at least the sun is warm. In addition to the wolves and elk we also see two eagles above their traditional nest on the timbered north-face of Jasper Bench. We do not see any chicks this year. We also see two hawks circling, and bison, pronghorn and elk.
Then Calvin sees a bear, no, two bears, way up high. We think they are grizzlies but Betsy believes they are black bears. As we are watching the bears, those tricky Sloughs give us the slip. We look and look but don't find them again. We see running elk but can't find any wolves behind them.
The wind finally blows hard enough to convince us to head back down. As soon as we arrive at the parking lot there are reports of wolves being seen. Or at least one! A gray wolf appears on the western end of Jasper Bench. It's the referred to as "probably 491". He is a collared gray but his collar is not working. He looks a lot like a former Slough wolf but no one is absolutely sure. Note: This wolf was later found to be Idaho wolf B271 - whose father had been born in Yellowstone and later dispersed to Idaho.
He crosses the river heading north toward the road but the number of people watching there seem to change his mind. He turns back towards the river. I watch him swim the river and get out the other side, barely stopping to shake the water off. He heads uphill and disappears into trees. Shortly after this we see elk running on the slope above. We wait for the wolf (or wolves) to re-appear but they don't.
Next I notice a heard of bison coming down the Jasper drainage towards the Lamar - a large herd of cows and calves, obviously headed to the river. I love watching them cross the water. The babies are now old enough to be pretty fearless and they make it across easily.
The light is going and the clouds are thickening. As I drive east to Silver Gate a driving rain and snow storm arrives. Just as I pass the Soda Butte Cone the entire valley is lit up with HUGE lightning, followed by ear-splitting thunder. I think of those poor little coyote pups. What must they think of such a loud noise?
This is what the wind was bringing and I worry about downed trees as I drive further east into thick forest. But I am spared and arrive at Silver Gate safe and sound.
The storm is finished and all that is left is a light rain, to which I fall asleep.
Today I saw: antelope, 4 black bears, 2 grizzly bears, bison, 9 coyotes (including 8 pups), 2 bald eagles, 4 foxes (including two kits), 1 mountain goat, 2 hawks, 4 bighorn sheep, 2 squirrels, 7 Slough wolves, 4 Loons and the spirit of Allison.