This morning Becky and Chloe let me lead so I will have a chance to see the snowshoe hares they have seen each morning below the S-Curves. And sure enough I do see one, hopping right across the road!
Our next stop is at Elk Creek. Richard is here already but alas, the Blacktails are not. We are soon on our
way east after intercepting a radio call from Bob. He has wolves! And at Boulder we find them, too! The Agates are bedded on a snowy slope to the south, looking intently downhill to the west. To me it looks like they are watching the carcass in the depression below Junction Butte. Perhaps once the Lava Creek wolves had their fill, the Agates came down for a bite?
We get a lovely look at 472F, daughter of 21 & 42, and a favorite of ours. I also especially like seeing her consort, the alpha male, Big Blaze, because he reminds me so much of his father 480 and his handsome uncle 302. And I get a good look at the third member of this small pack, gray 715F, when she stands up to re-bed. She is especially distinctive due to her shortened tail.
I wonder if these two groups might be especially tolerant of each other, given the fact that the Agate females are closely related to the Lava Creek females. Also, both packs are small, so fighting will benefit neither pack, as long as there is enough food to go around?
We also look for the Lava Creeks up on Junction Butte. They are NOT near the carcass but their signals indicate they are close by - perhaps on the other side of the Butte?
We are about to head to Wrecker Grade to see if we can find them when Kara spots movement in the sage below the eastern flank of the hill. I see several black shapes. DRUIDS! They have appeared from the north and are contouring around the side of Junction Butte, heading for the carcass. How do they know?
There are already people in the closer lot, and the Druids do not stop, so we go there. I watch several of them climb the Butte to the top, but people say that several of them stayed low and headed for the carcass. It is not visible from here because it is in a gully and behind a large boulder to the west. But eventually I see a wolf back moving in a way that convinces me it is tugging on food.
The pullout fills with avid wildlife-watchers, happy to see a head or an ear, sticking up at skyline. Everyone speaks in hushed tones, aware that this is a pretty "close" view as sightings go. Some folks can't resist the urge to "get closer" by driving slowly along the road and stopping where I presume the carcass is more visible, but most stay in the pullout. The wolves don't stay long on the carcass, but whether their nervousness is due to the presence of humans or rival packs is impossible to know.
I see seven Druids in all, the same group that has been keeping company the last week or so, 6 blacks and one gray, namely: New Black, White Line, Thin Female, 690, Female Yearling and Dull Bar, as well as gray 691.
We watch them trek up the hill one by one, moving in and out of sage and then across the basalt scree and then into the trees. Several of them stand at skyline for a while, giving us great photo ops, before bedding on the southern end of the Butte. Kara is still at Boulder and she reports that the Lava Creek trio is bedded on Junction Butte, too - but on the northern end. It seems very unusual to me that two packs would be bedded on the same hill at the same time!
I can't help but wonder, if the Druids were in better health and if 480 were with them, would these two groups tolerate each other so close? Their current male leader, the New Black, is not very agressive, probably because he is barely older than a pup!
Snow begins to fall but we barely notice, except to remark how pretty it is. I love to see wolves moving in a landscape filled with falling snow! After about an hour, the Druids begin coming down the hill for another bite. This gives me a chance to watch some very interesting behavior between pack mates.
Most of them grab a chunk of meat and then move away uphill to eat it, rather than remaining at the carcass site. Several Druids seem to prefer to have her meal near a boulder, perhaps it affords some privacy or protection? 691 takes a particularly large piece, and when two of her pack mates come near, assuming she will share, she surprises them both (and me) by flashing her teeth!
They leave her alone and head back to the carcass for their own morsel. Other Druids are already heading back up the hill to sleep it off. Once they are all back up the hill and re-bedded, I drive back to Boulder to grab a peek at the Lava Creek Trio. And I scan for the Agates, but, alas, they have disappeared.
Then, to my delight, Calvin & Lynette arrive! I show them the Lava Creek Trio and update them on the activity we've seen. Becky and Chloe head east for awhile and the rest of us go back to the big lot, figuring the Druids will very likely come down again to feed.
Some bison walk through the carcass area and succeed in scaring the people back over to the lot! Then two coyotes appear, heading for the carcass, but they quickly abandon that idea as the Druids again start to process down.
The only downside to seeing the Druids this close is that you can see how ravaged they are by mange. It just tears at your heart. Poor 691 scratches like crazy. The Female Yearling looks particularly awful to me. White Line has a sort of lion tuft at the end of her tail and the Thin Female has only a bit of feathery fur left on the underside of hers.
We are all worried that 480 is not with this group. Rick says his collar might not be working anymore, which means we might lose track of him, just when he is living apart from the group.
Becky and Chloe arrive from their jaunt into Lamar. It was well worth it because the two Wyoming wolves crossed the road in front of them near the Soda Butte Cone! It was the two blacks we watched yesterday - they did not see 697.
They are in time to see the Druids finish another turn at the table, and head back up the hill. As sad as they look, at least they are getting a meal, so that makes us happy.
A full moon rises in the east and lights up the snow for our drive home. Tomorrow is my last full day.... Waaaaaaa!
Today I saw: bison, 4 coyotes, elk, 1 snowshoe hare, dozens of bighorn sheep, 13 wolves from 3 packs (3 Agates, 3 Lava Creeks, 7 Druids) and the spirit of Allison