In the deep dark of not-yet-morning I walk the hundred feet or so to the campground restroom. The stars above are bright but I wave my little flashlight here and there looking for eyes. None. Yay.
A little while later, I knock gently on the camper next to me and tell Becky & Chloe I am going to head on out and will meet them at the Overlook. I try driving out of the loop with just my parking lights but I can't see well enough so I turn on my headlights. Sorry campers!
There is a lovely mist rising from the river as I wind down the road into Hayden Valley. The birds are up, making much song.
Oh, what a gorgeous morning! There are many bison grazing the green grass at Otter Creek and lots of geese on the banks of the Yellowstone. I am the first to arrive at Grizzly Overlook and a few minutes later I am joined by Becky & Chloe.
I find a grizzly sow with two yearling cubs - probably the same family we saw last night. But they have moved all the way around past the Canyon Pack's rendezvous and are now heading uphill on the same slope where we saw the adults hunting last night. They graze and grub peacefully, and eventually all three disappear into the trees.
We see elk, sandhill cranes, pelicans and a lone bald eagle. A great start to the day. Of course, what we want most to see are the Canyon pups. So far they remain out of sight. We talk about our hope that the adults might come back with a meal, which might prompt a pup appearance. Then we wonder if the adults are already back and sleeping off their dinner?
A visitor tells us a story about last night - he saw the wolves chasing elk at Nez Perce Ford, which is quite a ways south of here. He says a mule deer buck ran out from the trees and down the hill, crossed the river to an island. The wolves made a prolonged effort to get it but eventually gave up.
I offer to drive south to see if I can find a carcass while B&C decide to remain here. I go as far as the Mud Volcano but not finding anything obvious, I head back to the Overlook to report.
We scope a while longer and the day grows quite hot. The scenery is stunning and we also find a great blue heron and a pair of mousing coyotes. But no wolf pups and no wolves.
The three of us decide to head south. We stop at Nez Perce Ford and look around. We see the island and re-create in our heads what the man told us he witnessed. But we see no birds or any sign of a carcass.
The area is quite flooded at the moment. You can see the tops of picnic tables just above the water line! It's a very pleasant spot, and an historic one, and I make a note to visit again in other seasons. We watch a goose with seven gosslings meander in and out of the flooded bushes.
We continue south and stop at the Fishing Bridge store to have lunch at the cute little retro counter there. Chloe examines my bandana and finds two more mistakes on the map - that's FOUR altogether!
We decide to drive to Sedge Bay - there is still ice on the Lake, huge chunks. The churning ice-waves make a weird sound. We decide to keep going east and end up driving all the way to Sylvan Lake.
I don't know when I was here last - long ago! There is still a LOT of snow along the way, and Sylvan Lake is ringed with ice. I notice a steady stream of bubbles about 10 feet from the shore. It could be a thermal but I don't remember anyone talking about a thermal on this lake. I wonder if it could be air bubbles from melting ice, or methane? It's a very steady bubbler, so I still think it could be thermal.
An osprey calls from his high perch in the tall pines that encircle the lake.
All along this drive there are dozens of cascades gushing down the hills. The melt is still going on!
We head back down and then Chloe suggests we head up to the view from Lake Butte. I admit I have never been here before so it is a real treat!
The day is crystal clear and thus perfect for such a spot. We can see the Tetons and Mt. Sheridan, all still full of snow. This sight makes me yearn for the Tetons in a big way.
Now we head back to Grizzly Overlook. I have a notion to find a spot to take a nap but when we approach the pullout, we see Dorothy waving. Wow, what timing we have. She has wolves in view!
It's so crowded, I give up on the pullout and find a safe spot off the road on the right. I haul my gear back to the lot.
We sneak downslope a bit so we don't block anyone already set up and sit in the grass. I train my scope on the point and immediately see two adults, the black female and the alpha female. Both their heads are lowered, because they are looking intently at.... PUPPIES!
I can't stop myself from squealing! There they are! ! Three little darlings, two black and one gray (gray puppies usually look brown when they are small). Oh, they look so sweet, so tiny and bouncy. The black female yearling plays with them in such a loving, attentive way. Then a third adult appears, a gray yearling. This wolf joins in the play.
Then the alpha female moves off to the west and disappears from view behind a low hill. A little while later a black wolf comes out from that area - I soon recognize him as the alpha male. The pups run to him and soon surround him. He also is very attentive. Ah, such a good dad! But they move out of view again.
A little while later, the four adults are seen again as a group, heading through the high sage to the west (towards the road). The pups then set off behind the adults in the same direction; well, two of them at least, the gray and one black. Chloe sees the other black pup heading in the opposite direction with a gray adult.
But I keep my eyes on the pups. They are so darling, mimicking the adults! For the next half hour we watch the two pups take a walkabout through the sage. They are so small they are hard to spot, but we catch enough intermittent glimpses to follow their progress.
The adults are now far ahead and out of sight from out angle. The two pups go further afield this evening than anyone has seen them go. They are having a wonderful time on their journey of discovery. A raven pays them a visit and they alternately chase it and run from it. The gray pup seems to be the boldest, but the black is no slacker, either. Every once in a while I see him leap straight up in order to see over the sage. I remember the first time I saw Druid yearlings do this. It's so cute!
They travel about half-way across the meadow. We get a little worried for them because of the many bears in the area. But then they seem to decide they've had enough and we see them heading back. At one point something spooks them and they run really fast, which makes me laugh out loud.
We see them arrive in the grassy area where we first saw them and then we see them cross behind some trees, and then we lose them behind a hill.
The whole time we are glued to the pups, we were overhearing reports from arriving visitors that the adults crossed the river and the road (thrilling some lucky visitors) and then began to chase a bull elk on the western side of the road. The bull got away and three of the four wolves continued west. The fourth adult, a gray, never got across the road, apparently due to the enormous number of vehicles in the valley. Frankly, I am surprised any of them got across at all!
The Canyon Pack is unique among wolf packs in the Park in that they are extremely used to the road and to crowds, but they seem utterly disinterested in humans. They go about their business despite the frequency of human interference, whether inadvertant or purposeful.
Unfortunately, people often mistake their obvious nonchalance as being habituated (in the perjorative sense). However, I think of habituated wildlife as being interested in human activities (such as coyotes begging from the road, or bears seeking garbage or hand-outs). The Canyons tolerate human presence, but do not seek it. To me that's an important difference.
Once the pups are back, we watch several elk come toward the rendezvous area, walking in the river, behaving a little strangely. One lopes all the way up to the far slope and seems very nervous. I suppose the smell of wolf in the area is disconcerting to her!
A funny thing happens while we hope for another glimpse of the pups. People intermittently call out excitedly that they see a white wolf in the rendezvous. It is confusing, because most people know the alpha female of this pack is a white wolf, but it is also a fact that the alpha female is already across the road, hunting to the west. Could she have returned through the wide sage meadow without being seen?
But we finally determine the solution to this conundrum. As you look at the rendezvous area from Grizzly Overlook, you can see Sour Creek snaking it's way through the meadow directly behind the point of trees. In Sour Creek are large, off-white masses of foam, generated by a cascade a bit up-river from this spot. These masses of white foam alternately look like ice chunks floating in the river. As each foam blob flows down the stream, it looks for all the world like a wolf walking in deep sage (as if you are seeing the wolf's head or back but not its legs). The shape and the speed of movement is very convincing as a wolf moving through sage.
Each of us is tricked by this optical illusion at least once. But before the majority could be convinced, there were very funny "who's on first" type conversations, one party tries to convince the other that he or she has just seen a wolf. It takes a while but eventually we realize the truth. We have a very good laugh about it.
We are just beginning to talk about heading in for dinner when a young man in the pullout spots a gray moving through the sage, almost at the spot where the pups turned around.
I see him! This is the gray yearling who never made it across the road. We watch the wolf move through the sage causing a variety of evasive behaviors in the remaining elk in the area. The gray never sets his sights on any of them but travels steadily back to the rendezvous and disappears into the forest.
So I never get my nap, today, but I'm not complaining!
Today I saw: 3 grizzly bears, bison, coyotes, sandhill cranes, mule deer, bald eagle, elk, geese, a great blue heron, pelicans, 7 Canyon wolves (including 3 puppies!) and the spirit of Allison.