DAY FIVE - WEDNESDAY, April 30


A WHITER SHADE OF PALE

I begin the day heading up to Cooke for gas. A light, slushy snow is falling. However, when I reach the pumps I find them covered up. Hmmm, I thought they were open 24/7? I find out later that the pumps shut down during the power outage last night. Once the owners got up they turned them back on.

The road is wet but clear, although the slush builds up on Jenny and turns to ice. As I near the Footbridge I can see a scary-looking thundercloud over Druid Peak. Looks like we are going to have some visibility issues today.

I soon find myself down at the first lot of Slough watching a morning mini-drama, featuring the Dark Female. She is running northeast from the den, tail tucked, chased by alpha female 380. Several other wolves join the chase: beta female 526, Hook, an uncollared black and the uncollared gray.

Once the Dark Female passes the horizontal forest and heads for the next ridge, 380 slows down and 526 passes her, taking the lead. The Dark Female looks back several times and when she recognizes 526 in the lead she noticably slows her pace, then moves downhill towards the flats. As 526 catches up to her she slips and 526 stops. The Dark Female quickly recovers her feet and the two black females stand there facing each other, about four feet apart. They both look back to check on 380, who is still far back and not paying close attention.

These two wolves seem to agree to a truce as long as 380 isn't close enough to find out. The Dark Female turns and heads east while 526 reverses her direction and heads back uphill towards 380. They have a greeting and I swear I think 526 makes up a story about how she really pummelled the Dark Female and 380 buys it, because the next thing that happens is they all head back home.

I look over to see the poor Dark Female bedded on a slope, looking back at her pack. After a while, she gets up and sneaks back towards the den, following the very trail 380 took. However she stops well outside that area and beds again.

I hear a report that the Bonnie and Clyde wolves are out again, near the road around Exclosure. Rick goes that way. I stay in the lot with Elli and Jean because we know other Sloughs are in the area and will probably soon be returning from whatever they killed last night. I enjoy this spot so much and have fun finding other critters, including geese, red-tailed hawks and a coyote.

All this time it is snowing on and off, sometimes hard, sometimes lightly. Visibility goes in and out accordingly. At one point after I have been standing by myself a while, peering through my scope, I lower my head briefly to rest. Out of the corner of my eye I see fur...and suddenly realize a coyote is standing inches from me. I instantly flinch away to the left but he flinches even faster to the right so in one move we are now four feet apart. If I had absently lowered my hand to my pocket I might have touched his ear! This is not good.

I lift my scope and tripod over my head yell loudly GET OUT OF HERE! He bolts away about 20 more feet, then turns back as if to ask what the heck is wrong with you, woman? I yell again and stomp in his direction, fully intending to scare him. This works and off he goes, thinking me quite ungrateful, and probably insane, to boot.

I know it's not his fault - such behavior in a wild animal is learned and this coyote has probably been fed many times by thoughtless people, trying to get a close-up photo. One day he will bite the hand that feeds him and then there will be a hue and cry to have the poor thing destroyed.

Shortly after this escapade, a photographer named Larry T pulls in. He gets out and we chat a bit, having met yesterday. I tell him we are waiting for more Sloughs to show up. He says, well, there's one, right there. And sure enough, there is. In fact several wolves. Thanks to Larry, I see 629 (the former Druid), who is carrying a bone or a stick. Three other blacks, including one I start to call the Burmese Black, travel with him. They come from the flats as if they just crossed the river and are now heading up the hill past the leaning tree on a diagonal route to the den. Every time 629 stops, the other wolves try to tug the bone from him but he manages to keep it.

Then suddenly someone says "grizzly" and sure enough a dark grizzly is walking right past the den area from east to west. The bear seems oblivious to whatever wolves may still be near the den and just continues on his way, soon disappearing into the trees above the den hill.

When 629 and his escort of yearlings arrive at the den a baby sitter yearling comes out to greet them with a wildly wagging tail. 629 lets this yearling have his bone. He moves on to the den and sticks his head in. Then moves to the right and investigates the "new" den that 630 was digging in yesterday.

Then the whole group beds under the eastern trees. Laurie and Dan return from watching some Druids and just then, out of the den comes 380. She rushes from one wolf to the other, asking for regurgitation but getting none. She tries and tries. Eventually one of the yearlings coughs up something for her. We all remark on how strange it is to see a group of wolves so unwilling to share food. Having watched the "old" Slough pack in this very same spot, I can remember the males, especially, bringing choice food back to the nursing females.

The flakes begins to get heavier and we begin to think of lunch. Soon we are diving east as the snow falls and falls.

As I reach the curve past Exclosure Hill, I see R in his truck with his scope facing south. I stop and he says he has a grizzly out there. Or at least he HAD a grizzly out there. Visibility has just gone from bad to nil and without a safe place to pull over, I decide to head on.

I head back to Laurie's for lunch and a nap, then drive back in at 4:30. It has been snowing steadily all this time! The trees are totally flocked again. The roads are still clear but there is a noticable gain of snow depth on rock tops and in the meadows.

My first stop is Footbridge because there is a wolf in view. It's Clyde, the naughty gray. He is quite close, just across the river beyond the western end of the pullout. The snow is falling so thick he looks ghostly, just dark enough to be seen against the newly-fallen white. There is something exquisite about watching him through this texture.

He rumages around in the flats, nose to the ground, scratching here and there, sniffing for morsels. He walks along the river and I think he is going to cross but he stands on the bank and cocks his ears first right and then left, like a fox does when hunting voles. Then he pushes on the ice with his front feet, like I've seen Polar Bears do, testing its strength.

It's so cute. He moves to another spot on the bank and pushes there as well. He starts bouncing really hard and digging and then he leans over and comes up with something and starts chewing on it. It's a piece of ice! He gnaws on it like it's a bone. Maybe it IS a bone, covered in ice?

And the snow continues to fall softly, shrouding his charming movements in a beautiful veil. Then he beds just beyond the ice with his tail curled beautifully around him. He raises his lovely muzzle to the sky and howls, as if begging for a playmate. He strikes me as a lanky teenager, bored with the task of having to stay so close to home while the pups are being raised. I think I hear a response in the distance, faintly, although it might be an echo. But in a minute or so he gets up and heads off toward DP Hill, disappearing into the gloom.

Oh, boy, I hope Bob's footage of this turns out, because it's going to be SO gorgeous!

I put away Layla and head west. The snow lifts a little and I suddenly notice lots of small birds - dozens of them - swarming alongside and in front of my car as I drive slowly through the confluence area. They fly with a magpie-style, in that drop-and-lift sort of way. They all land in the ditch on the north side of the road. I wonder if bugs are hatching out of the ice and my car's movement disturbs them enough for the birds to eat them on the fly?

They abandon me for a little while and then they return, in an even larger flock. They take to the sky, swirling, like a cartoon drawing of bees! I pull over and watch them. Some of them land on a hillside and finally I get a good look at them. Whoa, I think they are robins. What? Well this group is having quite the Robin Convention. This is a first for me. I wonder how it is related to the snow-fall? Now they are near my car again and I worry that I am going to hit them, they seem so oblivious.

But I don't and when I get more into the open, around Trash Can, they disappear entirely.

Oh wow, the Park is transformed again - the snow has given everything a radical new look, similar yet different than winter, I guess due to the angle of the sun and the level of humidity. And there are more changes to come. By the time I get to Slough, the sun has come out, which transforms everything AGAIN. The snow has finally ended just in time for magic hour!

I drive through Little America, amazed at how much water I see. The glinting sun reveals shallow lakes in all the meadows and ducks are swimming where I usually see bison grazing. And then I see my first pronghorn of the trip; well, the first one in Little America I mean. Then I see a group of four on the south side of the road and then six more on the north side. I also see a bald eagle and more sandhills.

I pull over at Aspen, thinking I will get lucky and have wolves come trotting out to me again. Well, that doesn't work but I do have a nice chat with Rick. I manage to see four Slough wolves far away near the den site but mostly I spend the evening enjoying the view from Aspen.

As the light begins to fade I pack up and head east again and guess what...it starts snowing again!!!!!

Today I saw: 11 antelope, 1 grizzly bear, bison (and bison calves), 3 coyotes, 4 sandhill cranes, ducks, 2 bald eagles, elk, geese, 1 red-tailed hawk, a crazy flock of robins, 12 wolves (11 Sloughs and 1 Druid), six wolfers and the spirit of Allison.




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