After a great evening in Silver Gate with Laurie & Dan and a comfy night's sleep I am up once more in the still-dark.
We get a bit of rain and it feels pretty cold.
My first stop is Exclosure, where I see Rick and Doug already in place, looking out towards the rendezvous. Aha! Looks like the Silvers may be in view. I grab my day pack and hike uphill in a light rain and a steady wind.
Once I get set up Rick directs me to look below us, in the confluence, where the very light-gray alpha female is feeding on that same old bison carcass, on the west bank of the river. She is so light she really does stick out!
But she is not the only Silver Pack wolf out and about this morning. Her daughter, 753F is further to the west, roaming the sage-covered flats in a meandering fashion that I recognize. It is a style of hunting predators use to find elk calves hidden in the grass or sage. The presence of a few very nervous cow elk confirms my guess.
In fact, both cows challenge 753 from time to time, sending her scurrying with tucked tail out of reach of those deadly hooves. The light rain turns to light snow and I re-position the old sweater which protects my scope in these conditions.
The alpha female leaves the carcass and heads west and soon I happily witness a lovely greeting between the two wolves. 573 is so happy to see her mom, she wraps her front paws around her neck. I have heard tales of how affectionate this young female is and it is delightful to see it with my own eyes.
Now the alpha female heads south, following the Lamar upstream. For a while 573 is right with her but somehow I lose the darker gray amid the sage. Ahead of her rises a forest covered slope, with some bare-trunked trees. I recognize the area. It's where I last saw the "old guy" disappear into last night.
The white wolf reaches the tree line and heads up hill as though she knows exactly where she is going. Suddenly we see birds flittering about in that spot. Aha! Then a dark-colored bear suddenly runs away to the left, looking back a few times.
It seems as though the alpha female has spooked the black bear off something it was eating. We also notice a lone cow elk in the flats below this forested hill, looking bereft, and there is speculation that perhaps the bear found and killed an elk calf, and the Silver alpha just discovered it.
Regardless of what happened, the alpha female begins to eat and shortly thereafter, I see 573 in there with her. It is remarkable how her darker color kept her unseen for so much of her journey. The white wolf is quite visible, though.
They are now pretty far away, and not easy to see in the timber, so I scan the rendezvous for any sign of other members of the Silver Pack. Nope.
It is still quite early, though, and as this is my last day I am still hopeful to catch a glimpse of the 06 female, who has sort of become my new favorite female wolf. So I pack up and head down the hill.
The snow turns back to rain as we drive west. At Slough I find that the signals indicate both collared males are in the diagonal forest, but alas, not currently visiblt. It is an excellent hang out spot for them, because there is shade, a little stream, and plenty of fallen logs for the pups to play on.
After about an hour of no wolves, I am tempted to head back to Exclosure to see if more Silver Pack action has developed, but instead I decide to try again to see the grizzly with four cubs out in Swan Lake Flats. People just keep talking about her and word is, she was seen at dawn this morning.
So that seals the deal for me. This trip has been lovely as usual, but wolves have been scarce and bears plentiful. Sometimes you just have to go with the flow, so I say, OK bears, here I come!
I say goodbye to my friends in this pullout and head toward the road. There are more folks in "upper Slough" so I hop out to say goodbye to them. But then a shout goes up. Someone has spotted a grizzly on the open green slope of Specimen across the road from here.
It's a grizzly, a fairly large one. But then I see a second bear, ahead of this large one. And then a third! All adults. Suddenly the third bear begins to run - it is being chased by the first bear, the largest of the three.
At first it looks playful but soon I realize the bear in front is running for its life. Then I see the second bear join the first, largest bear in chasing the third bear. What's going on here?
Then the pursuers both stop. They seem to interact with one another, withoug making contact, so it appears they "know" each other in some way. The chased bear finally stops, and turns around, looking at his pursuers as if to say "why are you chasing me?"
I wonder if I am seeing two males tussling over the attentions of a female? Then someone suggests that the chased bear could be a grown cub, that its mother is being courted by the largest bear, and that she joined in the chase of the cub for a short time.
Hmm, that does make sense. The poor chased "cub" must feel awful. Talk about rejection! As it was galloping across the meadow, it kept looking back, as if it couldn't believe its mother wouldn't come to its aid!
Poor thing. I hope it finds a friend or a mate of its own in due time!
I head west and see more bears. Just above the Yellowstone River Bridge I spot a black bear sow with two coy, walking up the slope to the south. Oh yay! I love to see cubs of the year.
I have this sighting all to myself for about 10 minutes. Mom snifs and grubs as she climbs up the hill while the two cubs romp and wrassle, finding things to play with every step of the way.
The mama bear is so sweet with her two little darlings. They scoot up a tree, one after the other, then both fall, one on top of the other, squealing. Mama zips over to them, and once she sees they are all right, gives them some encouragement and off they go again. They chase each other up the hill and back down again.
Now they head for the tree again, this time making it to the top. They stay in the branches a while, swiping at each other. Then down they scramble again and gallop up the hill behind mama. Ah, to be a baby black bear in Yellowstone on a fine spring day!
On I go and after a short stop at Floating Island Lake to check on the sandhills I stop again at Lower Hellroaring. A young grizzly is visible in the treeline on the south side of the road. He moves out toward the meadow and into perfect photo range, then rolls over a log and laps up whatever he finds underneath. Then he/she moves up the hill into the forest.
The rest of the drive is fairly quiet but quite beautiful, and when I get through the Golden Gate and into Swan Lake Flats, I am relieved to see both large pullouts full of cars. At first my concern becomes finding a place to park, but I see there is plenty of room once I get into the pullout.
A young woman tips me off that the bears are still in view, but she recommends the next lot as being a better spot. She's right. I find a "front row" parking spot and enlist the aid of an affable gentleman from Idaho who gives me excellent directions. In no time Layla and I have the fabled mother grizzly in view.
However, I do not see any cubs at the moment. Word is that she has just killed an elk calf and they are all feeding. Indeed, I am viewing mostly her ample rump. Her head is down and she is between a large boulder and a stand of trees. The poor elk mother is a bit to the left, looking so sad and forelorn as they do.
The mama grizzly raises her head multiple times in the course of just a few minutes. She is VERY wary, even though she commands a wide and fairly open view of the terrain around her. The sun drives the rain away and I shed a few layers but I am not going anywhere until I see all four cubs!
After about 10 minutes, I notice movement on the ground that must have been made independent from her. Aha!
A small, dark shape moves to her right. This shape is followed by a second dark shape and soon they are clearly visible as two small cubs tussling.
Now the sow changes her position and I see a third cub where her lowered head used to be. This cub paws and tugs at something on the ground (presumably the calf carcass).
The sow half-stands, sniffing for danger and there is an approving sound from the crowd. She looks enormous next to them, but I wonder if she is really considered a large bear, or if it just looks that way because these are coy, and not two miles away, as most of my Lamar sightings have been?
Mama takes about three giant steps forward, which allows me my first glimpse of the tiny little runt. Oh! How cute! She looks half the size of the other three, and a tad lighter in color. It's very hard to keep track of them all. They are still half concealed by the boulder or the brush around the stand of trees, but I have now counted all four.
The mama moves away from the trees and I think I am finally going to get a clear view but then she circles back and moves behind the tree and lowers her head again. Two of the cubs dash into the open playing a game of chase, but then dash right back to mom.
I am so happy I tried again. I realize these cubs may not survive the whole summer, but it is a rare sighting and I'm glad to have witnessed it.
Now I pack up and head back to Mammoth, have a nice visit with Allison and change out of my heavy clothes. Down the winding Gardiner Canyon I go and on to Bozeman.
As usual, I wish I could stay longer, but will content myself with other folk's reports for the next few months. Next trip - September!
Today I saw: 4 black bears (including 2 cubs), 8 grizzly bears (including 4 cubs), bison (with calves), a coyote, sandhill cranes, elk (with calves), geese (with goslings), pronghorn, 2 wolves (both from the Silver Pack; the alpha female and 753F) and the spirit of Allison