I set off in the dark again, a little after 5.
Today there is a bit of fog, which actually makes the drive very pretty. In Round Prairie the fog thickens and I see two people in a pullout looking to the south. If I'd stopped, I would have seen the black bear they were watching.
But I drive on and start my day with other early birds on the rolling hills south of Hitching Post. This is getting to be quite a habit! Pockets of fog lie all around us, wafting in and out of the low spots, accompanied by gorgeous bird song.
While waiting for wolves I find some bighorn sheep up on Specimen, and then a grizzly, way out there. Bob Landis is here this morning and I chat with him for a while. I've always wanted to know where he shot that great footage of a grizzly chasing elk - he says it was up on Antelope. And he agrees with me that as the presence of elk has diminished in Lamar, the willows and grasses have grown like crazy.
Tracey and Kevin arrive so we catch up. A badger pays us a visit, popping up here and there, hunting ground squirrels. Around 8:30 or so I head to my car for some morning coffee - with cold milk, of course! Then the three of us decide to try scoping from Footbridge for a while.
We still see no wolves, but we do see another grizzly.
Then we head west to Dorothy's. Bill is here and we know he will find us another bear. He does - in fact, he finds a grizzly sow with a yearling cub. They are grazing and grubbing high on the A-Z slope, in an area with a lot of blowdown.
As people pull in, they ask what we're seeing so we show them. One family from Belgium tells us about their trip to Africa to see gorillas. Another family, from Norway arrives, so we show them the bears, too. The mom in this family has a hard time seeing the bear. Everytime it's her turn to look, the bear moves into cover. Finally, just as they are about to drive away, the bear comes out again and I beg her to try once more. FINALLY she sees it! Yay!
Kevin and Tracey head east and I decide to go west. I end up making the turn at Roosevelt, intending to go to the gift shop at the Tower Store. I have totally forgotten about the huge construction project going on along this road. But lucky for me, it's Sunday so they are not working. The extent of the annoyance for me is just rough roads and dust.
But the jam at the Tower Store is too much for me so I keep going. Once I get to the top it's so quiet and pretty, I know I did the right thing. Wildflowers galore, plenty of bird song and peeping ground squirrels. I scope a bit but do not find any large animals. Of course it's 11AM and starting to heat up, so that's to be expected, but usually there are one or two bison. Not today.
There are wild roses growing at the edge of the pullout. I remember coming up here after my Fairyland hike with Lori and Mark and they told me how to make rose-hip tea. For old time's sake I take a good look at Coffee Pot, and wonder if I'll ever get back in there to explore it again.
On my way back down a badger dashes across a slope and down into his hole. I hear and see snap-hoppers and watch a red-tail hawk soaring above.
It's so beautiful. I keep saying that out loud! I am just so glad to be here. It is so relaxing and smells so great. Well, untill long line of motorcyles suddenly comes roaring up the hill. Yeah, that's one thing I don't particularly like about July, although some of the people are nicer than you'd expect. 8~)
I stop at the Roosevelt store for a few items, including ice. Once my cooler system is restored, I drive slowly back through lower Lamar (Little America). I thread my way through a couple of bison jams. Boy, Laurie was right, all the bison in the Park seem to be in Lamar this summer, hundreds and hundreds - more than ever, I think.
At Footbridge I recognize Laurie's car so I stop. She and Dan and Kathie and Rick are walking back to the pullout along the Lamar River trail.
They went way out and slightly uphill to a place where you can see more areas in the den hills than are visible from Hitching Post. And it was worth it because they DID see puppies, plus Middle Gray and 859M. She says it was a very brief glimpse but they are sure now, that there are two pups and not more.
So now we all drive east. This time I find the pullout at Barronette empty. I stop and try to find goats on my own. And I do find them, much further east than before, on a high spur, right on skyline. A mom and two kids.
Back at Laurie's we yak about this and that and I ask Dan about the construction project. He says they are not only building a new parking lot at the Tower store and expanding the lot at Calcite, but they are shoring up the whole road because it's crumbling! He says they are totally replacing the old road bed. It's a long and dangerous job. I wonder why they leave the road open at all. I'd think if they didn't have to let tourist traffic through, they'd get it done a lot faster.
After dinner we head out again. It's about 75 degrees at 6:35. The bird song is constant and delightful and the air is clear.
The lot at Hitching Post is jammed full but I finally get a spot. On my way out I hear Bill H say "look up!" which I do, but I miss whatever is being seen. I get out to the hill and set up as quickly as possible. Some people begin to get brief glimpses of movement through the trees - a bit to the west of the "badger hole".
I get a brief glimpse of a moving gray and a moving black but can't tell who I'm seeing. Then there is nothing for about 5 more minutes. Then suddenly people start excitedly calling out glimpses, including pup glimpses (!) and I miss all of them. It's exciting and frustrating all at once!
Then someone notices cars stopped below 21's crossing. I see bison standing on both sides of the road in that area so at first most of us think the cars are stopped to take photos of the bison, but then someone else calls out "on the hill!"
And suddenly I see wolves! Above the road and the bison and the stopped cars I see a black, a gray, and then two more blacks. WAIT A MINUTE! Two more blacks? OMG! It's a puppy!!!!!
And now a second black puppy comes out behind the first one! Yay!
Three adults (Middle Gray, Black Female and 859M) were headed down 21's Crossing but have now stopped. The two black pups are on the next hill, higher than the adults, just above the cliffs. The pups look down at the adults and the road.
Oh! They are so sweet - little miniature versions of the adults. One is bigger and slighltly bolder than the other, and has a small white mark on its chest.
The bold pup had been pretty close to the adults, when I first saw the group, but then he stopped at the cliff while the adults continued. The second pup has now crept closer to the first pup. They are both very alert, watching the adults below them with intense interest.
Eventually the three adults move back up the hill, dissuaded perhaps by all the stopped cars. The smaller pup immediately turns and heads back uphill out of sight. The bold pup waits a bit, watching the adults. But the adults are not coming back to where the pups are, they are moving into a grassy area beneath some douglas firs. So the bold pup also turns and romps back uphill out of sight. .
The adults bed down, each by their own tree trunk. After about 5 more minutes, they lift their muzzles and begin to howl. Oh, nice! We all hush each other and listen. To my everlasting delight, the unseen puppies join in for a family sing-along.
After another half hour, the adults get up and start to move west, below the ledge trail. I look at Laurie and say Trash Can? She nods and we pack up to drive there.
I have noticed that often a pack howl precedes a group outing, such as a hunt or a territory check. That's what we think is happening now. One of their usual routes is along the ledge trail then down the west side of Exclosure Hill, across the road and river and out through the rendezvous. We park at Trash Can and set up on the little hill, scoping south east as hard as we can. Dan stays in the lot and covers the rendezvous.
But the light is fading fast and I just cannot see very well any more. A little after 9PM I fold up my scope and climb back down the hill, then follow Laurie & Dan back to Silver Gate.
Next morning we learn that the 20-something biologists, Ann and Ryan, stayed on the hill and did see the pack right around 9:30, as they came down the Exclosure Hill route. They ended up watching them until nearly 10PM! Nothing like having young eyes!
On my way to Silver Gate, I have two mule deer in the road just before Warm Creek but I manage to avoid them.
TODAY I SAW: 2 badgers, 4 grizzly bears (including one sow with a yearling cub), bison (and calves), mule deer, elk, pronghorn, 5 Lamar Canyon wolves (including Middle Gray, the Black Female, 859M and two black puppies) and the spirit of Allison.