I love waking up in Roosevelt.
The drive out this morning is lovely as usual and again I meet no other drivers until I get to the Institute.
When I get to the confluence I see Rick’s car but I don’t think I’m up to climbing that hill this morning. I head for the Hitching Post. I see Brian Connolly here so I happily join him. We catch up and he tells me John and Carlene were out here Monday night looking for me. I’m sorry I missed them.
Just when I finish setting up we get howling! Now that’s how I like to start the day!
It’s coming from the carcass area. And then we get a response from the den, including the high-notes from what sounds like a variety of pups. Very nice. Brian tells me that 7 pups have now been spotted at the den. He also says that the two other pups that had been seen at the r-v have not been spotted for several days and there is some concern.
In the carcass area this morning I find the black bear still on his prize. There are also four wolves nearby, two collared blacks (one larger than the other), a grey Brian says is 376F and the lame grey female. In a bit of a repeat from yesterday morning , they are seen snatching bites in between lunges from the bear. Then we see another grey wolf come down the hill and cross the road. I get a good long sighting of this collared wolf as he makes his way across the flats toward the carcass. He is later confirmed as 373M.
And also like yesterday, I see a charming interlude of play among the wolves when they take a break. And then, wonder of wonders, the black bear actually decides he has had enough! He moves off, moving VERY SLOWLY. Well, no wonder, he has stuffed himself for three days!
We hear over the radio that 302 may be leaving the valley. There is a report of him far to the west. Brian and I discuss 21’s probable fate and what we know of the presumed “struggle” for leadership of the Druids. Both 253M and 302M have shown signs of alpha behavior, and of being treated as such by other members of the pack. The speculation goes like this: although 253 is the most likely successor to 21M, he is thought to be closely related to alpha female 286F and, in fact, most of the breeding age females, so any or all of them might reject him as a mate come breeding season. 302M doesn‘t have that liability. Of course, there are other factors that determine alpha status. Who will exert dominance over the pack? Who will the pack consistently follow? Who will teach the pups to hunt? The one thing that seems to be consistently observed is that 253M and 302M are avoiding each other.
Then my attention is drawn by a collared black wolf that moves away from the carcass area and into the flats. He looks to be heading back to the den along the “route“ referred to as “21’s Crossing”. I get choked up remembering the many times I saw the Big Dog himself make his confident way across these flats. Only he usually had a bone or a stick in his mouth, a toy for his pups. I get a very good long sighting of this wolf whose collar is golden and seems to have slats in it. I watch him stop at intervals to mouse. Then he wades the river, shakes off and makes the final run for the road. I always experience a moment of agonizing tension when a wolf gets near the road, as I have an annoying capacity to imagine the worst. But this black wolf seems aware of his surroundings and makes it across with no trouble, to the delight of the occupants of two cars who happened to be at the right place! One of these days I will be the person in the car who gets to watch the wolf cross in front of me!
The black wolf makes his way up the gully path towards the den. At the top of the hill he stops to take a look back. As if satisfied by what he sees, he turns his head and disappears behind the hill.
This morning is full of great sightings and Brian and I spend a good deal of time sharing our scopes with the dozens of people who come out to look. Brian seems to spend a lot of his time this way, encouraging people and educating them as well as sharing his equipment. I try to emulate him as best I can. And then whenever the wolves bed or go out of sight I scan for other creatures. I find bison (of course) as well as pronghorn and two pairs of cranes. There are also ground squirrels all around us, peeping, chirping, dashing here and there. We talk of their creepy habit of feasting on their road-killed relatives. Ewww!
The sun has warmed us out of our hats and gloves and is working on our coats. I start to feel hungry and realize I have not yet partaken of my favorite meal in the Park, Roosevelt breakfast! I try to talk Brian into joining me but he has some errands to do. He shows me a copy of his book that has been published in German. He tells me, amusedly, that he now owns a book that he wrote that he can’t read.
I head west and when I reach the little grade near Dorothy’s I see a beige and black creature waddling down the hillside toward the road. I slow down and see the belligerent face of a badger. He changes his mind about crossing the road and heads back up the hill. He stops and turns to sneer at me as I pass, no doubt cursing me in his grumpy badger-language. Then a few minutes after that a very pretty blonde and brown weasel dashes across the road in front of me. I know weasels love ground squirrels for breakfast, and this valley is chock full of them. I hope he catches some of he cannibalistic ones!
Breakfast at Roosevelt is excellent and I have a relaxed time catching up on my notes and looking out at the view. After breakfast I head up to Dunraven. I enjoy the views in this section of the Park, too. There is a scope set up at the Osprey Nest pullout and a Ranger here with a van full of students. I decide to save this stop for the way back down. As I pass the Tower store I am surprised to see it nearly deserted! Then before I‘ve gone another mile I see two pick-up trucks pulled over. I tuck in behind them and guess rightly that there is a bear somewhere near. It is a black sow and two darling cubs. They are on the hillside below the left side of the road. I slip over to the edge of the road and happily watch mama bear lead her two rambunctious youngsters through the forest. The cubs play follow the leader along a moss-covered log, then mom finds a tree she likes and stands up to scratch her back on it. Oooooh that feels good!
There are only six of us with this nice sighting to ourselves. When we see mama bear head decisively up the hill we all back off and let her come. She crosses the road, looking both ways and her sweeties cross right beside her. Once on the other side, one of the cubs dashes up the first tree it sees, climbing about six feet in less than a second. Then it drops from the tree onto its sibling, which squeals with over-done outrage. The two tussle for a few moments then gallop off after rapidly disappearing mom, their black coats messy with dead leaves and dried grass.
The woman next to me tells me she and her husband live nearby but they never tire of seeing bears in the Park.
I drive on up the hill and the grey weather returns. Rain begins to plink on my roof and windshield. This only makes the views up here all the more beautiful, as the green slopes contrast with the grey skies, dominated by the sense of such great open-ness. I stop here and there to scope for bears or Agate wolves. The drizzle is soothing and pleasant but it does obscure visibility a bit. It feels quite dreamlike up here, as if the bands of rain and drifting fog are forcing the peaks into a game of hide and seek. It feels positively Brigadoon-ish.
On the way back down the sun returns so I stop to look at the osprey nest. Just as set up, a hard and sudden downpour chases me back into Liera. I wait a while but then decide to come back another time.
I am feeling overwhelmingly sleepy again and decide that the time has come to rectify it with a good dose of REM sleep. I remind myself that I am on vacation, that I can do anything I want, and if I sleep away a whole afternoon and miss some animal sightings, then so be it! I head to my cabin, put the “do not disturb” sign on my doorknob and zonk out. I remember thinking “I’m so tired I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s dark when I wake up”. But three beautiful dream-filled hours later I open my eyes. It’s a little past four and I feel like a new woman! Hooray for sleep!
The cabin area is deserted except for the housekeeping staff. I take a shower, change clothes and try to figure out what the heck is up with my camera. I put the spare set of batteries in the charger and plug it in, still hopeful that I will eventually discover what I am doing wrong.
I think I’ll head out early for my evening of wolf and bear watching in Lamar. Once again I am skunked in the Dead Zone. I stop at Dorothy‘s to write and set up my scope just in case. I catch up on my notes and enjoy just sitting in the gorgeous spot. Then I hear some people at the end of the pullout say “those are her cubs”. I drop my notebook and aim my scope on the hill where they are looking. Ahhhhh! It’s a mama grizzly and three cubs of the year!
This may be the same family that Mark R spotted on my first night in the Park, or it may be another successful grizzly mom. I enjoy watching them as she digs up rocks and laps up the bugs underneath. I share the view in my scope with whomever pulls in and wants to see. The grizzly grazes the hillside in her casual yet systematic way. One cub is decidedly smaller than the other two and is consistently the most rambunctious but also the one left behind the most, as mom moves here or there. The two other cubs seem more “businesslike” than usual, so I feel better when I see a good three-cub wrassle as they head up a hill.
Nancy from Red Lodge pulls in and I show her the bears. We talk about wolves and what might prove to be the best spot for viewing this evening. We both settle on Confluence East again, despite the steep hill. The bears have moved over to another hill and are much harder to see, so I return to my writing. Then, just as I am backing out, I see Jake & Leslie pull in. They have come to deliver a message from John and Carlene, with whom they are going to spend the evening. I get directions to the new house and ask them to assure John that I will come to see them tomorrow for sure. It was really nice of the kids to come all the way out to Lamar to give me that news.
I drive east and park at the confluence. I put my scope in my backpack this time which makes the climb easier. There is a couple up here with their son, sitting in camp chairs with two scopes, very friendly and helpful. Once I stop huffing and puffing I ask them if they saw the grizzly action last night. Oh, you betcha. We have a great talk about it. They say they have a wolf out there in the r-v, in the shade of a pine tree. I set Layla’s great eye on that spot. I don’t see the wolf but I do see a big black bear wandering in from the west. I keep watching and then finally I see the wolf when he gets up to avoid the bear. The wolf moves into the timber and the bear keeps going.
Then I find a grizzly much further out beyond the river. Could this be the same one from last night?
Craig and Janine come up so we compare notes and talk more about the grizzly from last night. They tell me a story they heard about 253M from yesterday after I left. They saw him come dashing down the slope beneath the ridge trail, a little west of where we are now, so fast he seemed to be sliding, with rocks tumbling all around him. They say he crossed the road and swam the river, and ran through the flats, all the while looking back as if something was chasing him. No one saw what that thing might have been. My first thought is that it was some kind of strife in the pack, like a fight with 302 or some serious opposition from some of the pack. But why would Druids chase 253? Then I wonder if he was surprised by a snake or a bear or even a cougar?
With no wolves in sight I scope around for something else. I find sheep on the eastern slopes of Norris, then hear a report of a blonde grizzly on the open meadow south of Amethyst. I look but I don’t find it. Nancy comes up to join us and we fill each other in. We talk about the odd 253 incident and she tells me of her possible cougar sighting out in the flats.
As for the bison carcass in the confluence, there are only birds on it tonight. No black bear, no griz, no wolves. A lovely large golden eagle is feasting there, though. I remark on how I have not seen a single coyote on that kill in two days. I suppose that’s not so surprising given the Druid’s history of killing coyotes.
Someone spots wolves out in the rendesvous. I swing Layla around and see four of them: two blacks and two grays and then I see a fifth wolf, the poor lame grey. We have no radio up here tonight so I never learn which wolves we are seeing. But these five don‘t seem to have any plans tonight. They lie down and stand up and lie down again, sometimes interacting together in a heartwarming, affectionate doggie sort of way but mostly they stay bedded. Then I notice the largest black on one turn its head and then stand up. Then they are all up. Aha! Two more wolves are coming in from the west. They converge behind the hill in a greeting ritual, but I only see wagging tails and a few bobbing ears and heads. The lame grey limps her way across the foothill to join in. Then they head up the hill into the trees. A little later I see a single grey bedded on the foothill again.
JohnD comes up and we have a nice visit. He tells me about the fishing and I tell him about the wolves and bears. We talk about the Page and how nice the Memorial was. I show him distant sheep and distant elk and the spot where the wolves WERE but aren’t now, LOL! Then he finds a beaver, right down below us in the river. It’s swimming in the main channel against the current, making slow progress. The beaver follows the curve of the Lamar and gets to some rapids. It is shallow here and affords us an opportunity to see just how big he is! He just walks through the water here and moves quickly. Then we see another critter which I think at first is a baby beaver. But JohnD says it’s more likely a muskrat. And once it climbs onto the bank it’s skinny tail confirms it. I have lost the beaver so I follow the river until I find it again. And there it is, swimming between the lodge and the dam, just like a beaver oughta!
A coyote causes a momentary stir of excitement merely by walking down the middle of the road. He remains in sight a good long while until he finally ducks under the river-side guardrail and heads down the bank. Nancy finds a grizzly way out there on a green finger-meadow of Norris. JohnD says he needs to get back to his wife and baby so down the hill he goes. Of course, not two minutes after he leaves we get some wolf action!
It starts with a wandering grizzly, perhaps the same one from last night, and perhaps the same one I saw earlier this evening. Anyway, this bear is minding its own business, following the base of the hill at the tree line. This path will lead it right to the low foothills of the r-v. I am immediately worried for the poor lame grey which I last saw bedded on the western foothill. The bear’s presence has disturbed that wolf, but then out come several other wolves who have been unseen for a while up in the timber. Five of these wolves are watching the bear. Then, to my amazement I see a dark grey wolf and a large black suddenly streak off from the others, aiming right for the big grizzly!
They deliberately attack this bear! When they reach the bear they surround him. The bear whirls and snaps but the wolves are very quick and agile. They are very aggressive and keep up their harassment, forcing the bear to a sitting position. I guess he’s guarding his rump. He swipes and lunges at them but hey keep it up. A few times he makes a run for it and they stay right on him until he has to sit again. The wolves must till have pups nearby, for them to go after this bear so suddenly.
I watch amazed to see such cooperative behavior among these wolves. They are risking injury to protect their pups. Or perhaps this bear is known to them and has already cost a pup its life? Oh, how angry it must make the bear to be bested by these creatures! I never see actual contact from wolf to bear although they do get in pretty close. The grizzly makes a few lethal-looking swipes of its huge claws but doesn’t connect. The bear is kept at bay for 10-15 minutes and finally reaches a point where all it wants to do is get out of Druid territory. The light is failing but I can see that the wolves have forced him well west of the foothills. They finally let him go, and he does his best to regain his dignity.
I take this opportunity to get down the hill before it gets any darker. When I reach the car I see the beaver swimming in the main channel again. I pull into Hitching Post with the intention of remaining here after dark, in hopes of hearing howling. I hop up on Liera’s trunk and lean against the rear window. One by one the cars leave until I am nearly alone. I share the parking lot with only one camper. There is some kind of softly humming motor running inside the camper, not loud or obnoxious, but perhaps enough to discourage the wolves from coming down. I listen for other sounds and watch the new quarter-moon over Druid Peak.
I can hear several crane voices echoing throughout the valley, and crickets, too. And there is a soft trilling of unidentified night birds. I can also hear the snuffing of two bison as they graze their way behind me. As my ears become accustomed to the night music I hear the grass torn from the ground by bison teeth, and their low grunting and even the heavy sound of their hooves in the soft earth.
And then out come the stars to accompany the pretty white slice of moon. Ahh me. What heaven. I think about staying out here all night. It is awfully tempting. Dear Allison, what a lovely night to be in the Park.
I bid my friend goodnight and head home. Tomorrow I’ll do it all over again!
Today I saw: antelope, a badger, 5 black bears (including 2 yearling cubs), 7 grizzly bears (including 3 cubs of the year), a beaver, bison (including many calves), a coyote, sand hill cranes, a golden eagle, elk, a muskrat, bighorn sheep, ground squirrels, a weasel, 12 wolves (mostly Druids including 286F, 373M, 376F, and the lame grey female), and 5 Loons.