My last morning starts nicely with fresh fox tracks in the overnight dusting of snow.
I'm about 10 minutes ahead of Laurie but Rick and Annie are still ahead of me. A light snow is falling but it turns to rain at about Round Prairie. The temperature reads 37!
We assemble quietly at Footbridge while Rick checks signals. We hear a coyote chorus greet the dawn. Then another band responds from further away. I hope for Druid howls but hear none.
Then Laurie calls out that she has wolves. She is looking to the east of the rocky knoll. I train Layla on that spot and see the wolves she sees. Right away I see they all have fluffy tails. But it is not 697 nor his buddies. We see six wolves: four grays and two blacks. None are collared. They all look mange-free and healthy. But what I find striking is that they seem very calm and methodical, not tense or excited, which is strange to me, since they are in another pack's territory. They roam the area, noses down, sniffing, sniffing, reading the story.
Laurie wonders if these are the wolves she's heard about from various visitors. She has had reports of sightings in the Round Prairie area of several uncollared wolves, with more grays than blacks. Rick is not getting any Druid signals in the area at the moment, so they may have moved north or west.
So I wonder if perhaps they have visited before. In fact, could they be former Druids? But we don't have them long as soon they head upslope and a little to the east and then we lose them.
Rick gets 697's signal to the south, which means he is now probably heading that way to hook up with his buddies. Then about 9:30, two black wolves are spotted coming down the usual crossing hill. They are both Druids. One of the two is scared back up the hill by a stopping car but the other crosses the road and heads to the south, towards DPH.
It's the female yearling. I watch this skinny-tailed black make her way across the flats and up the usual trail at the western end of DPH. Every once in a while she looks back for her missing companion, but continues on her way with unmistakeable determination.
Eventually I lose her in the trees of DPH, so I move west to the Hitching Post, where I find a lone coyote sitting on the hill opposite the lot, where I saw the golden eagle a few days before. I head further west to Confluence, where I see the female yearling show up on the carcass. She picks up a bone and disappears again, which is something of an indication that this kill was made by Druids after all.
The elk herd is still up on Mt. Norris. While I am watching them a golden eagle flies past my scope and I hear the beautiful song of dippers in the river. I hear a report of a black wolf seen to the east, near the Trout Lake pullout, so I drive back east. I am too late to see this wolf, but Laurie gets a glimpse.
I head up to Round Prairie in case the pack of six has made its way there. I don't see them but I do find a mousing coyote. On my way back I learn that I just missed another black wolf on the north side of the road that Laurie and Rick think was Dull Bar, who has not been seen for many days.
And I miss a third wolf sighting, of the Thin Female returning west over the rocky ridge. Rick thinks she was the wolf who spooked back up the hill earlier. Ah well. It's about 11:30 and I'm afraid that means it's time for me to head back to Bozeman.
I say my goodbyes and drive west in the rain.
My last stop is at Hellroaring, where I pull out Layla more as a farewell viewing than a serious attempt at finding something. But no sooner am I set up than I see a black wolf! This wolf walks to the right and disappears behind a low hill. Then I see another black wolf, standing on the other side of the low hill. This wolf looks intently up hill to the north. And there's another wolf! A gray comes bounding down the slope.
The standing black's tail begins to wag with excitement. I watch the gray come in and the two greet happily. The gray disappears behind the low hill and the black beds down. Suddenly I notice a lot of bird activity and realize I've stumbled on a fresh carcass.
Some other visitors pull in and I happy share my lucky sighting. Each of them sees their first wolf today! One of the blacks gets up and begins to lope uphill through yellow grass, heading north and slightly west. I follow him until I lose him in the trees. My impression is that he knows exactly where he is going.
I find out later that I was watching Blacktail pups. The adults were probably up the hill and the pup was probably returning to them after his second breakfast.
I can't think of a better way to end a trip to Yellowstone than this. I hop back in Greta and drive the rest of the way west. It's a warm 40 degrees as I head down Gardiner Canyon. A rainbow appears, arching gracefully above the canyon walls. This becomes my exit gate and I drive into bright sunshine!
TODAY I SAW: antelope, bison, 4 coyotes, elk, ouzels, 10 wolves from three different packs including 6 Calm Pack wolves, 1 Druid wolf (the female yearling), 3 Blacktail pups, and the spirit of Allison.