The sky is cloudy as we head down the road to Lamar Valley. It's a fairly normal 22 degrees. In the glow of my headlights I can see various tracks in the road, most likely deer.
The tops of the mountains are shrouded and I prepare myself for a poor-visibility day, but when I reach Round Prairie, I am delighted to see the sky has cleared.
However, there are no wolves to see. We drive all the way through the Soda Butte Valley, past the Confluence and the Institute. Finally just beyond Dorothy's we see Rick's car in the B & B pullout, along with many others.
We find the Lamar Pack bedded just below skyline in the Secret Passage area, among some evergreens and rocks. We see a good deal of bird activity and we suspect they have a carcass over the hill.
I can identify 755M, 754M, the 06 and the light-gray yearling, plus all five of the pups. The adults seem a bit unsettled. Usually after a meal they have no trouble sacking out. But I note that the 06 has her head up, facing downhill as if keeping her eye on something. And the males have their heads up, too. I wonder if it's due to the presence of the Mollies.
Of course, the pups don't care. They play and romp and bounce around as usual.
About a half hour into this sighting, 754 raises his head suddenly, and, from his bedded position, begins to howl. The rest of the pack joins in and we love hearing the symphony. Chloe wonders aloud whether he might be replying to howls from other wolves?
The sighting this morning is pretty static, with the appealing exception of the pups. A while after the howling ends, I see the 06 put her head down to get some shut eye. She is bedded beneath a douglas fir, with low-lying branches that probably make a nice shelter. She is, as usual, a bit removed from the rest of the pack. She's picked a high spot with a great view.
Her mate, 755M, is bedded near her, but not too close. He knows better than to crowd her. 8~)
Rick has been gone for a while and we have not heard from him, so we are pretty sure he is seeing something worth his time. I volunteer to head west to find out what's going on and bring back news to Chloe & Becky. But half way through Lamar Canyon I pass Doug going east and he makes a report over the radio. The Mollies are in Little America!
I know that news will bring Chloe and Becky so I continue west. I meet up with Kathie at Boulder. Alas, I am too late for the sighting they had. At first light, the Mollies were spotted on Junction Butte and they soon moved south. Half the group made it across the road, despite Cliff and some other visitors making it hard for them. The other half was prevented from crossing. They were last seen moving away from the road to the north.
While Kathie and I are talking, four of those wolves re-appear - three grays and a black - on the Junction Butte skyline. They very quickly run down the hill toward the back of the Butte and disappear into the trees, heading towards the river. We assume they are Mollies, which turns out later to be correct.
Kathie, Chloe, Becky and I make several attempts to find where these wolves went, and to find whatever other wolves might still be on the north side of the road. We try Boulder, Curve and Wrecker, but the wolves elude us. Just as we resolve to head to Elk Creek and look back from that angle, we hear howling. Our scopes come back out and we try again.
The howling is quite close, perhaps near the confluence of the Yellowstone and the Lamar. Several photographers walk down the trail above the river in an attempt to find them. The wolves remain maddeningly out of sight.
Then Kathie calls - she has them from the Yellowstone River bridge. We join her there and settle in for what turns out to be a long sighting.
After watching a while, we are convinced that these are Mollies, and most likely, a group of pups (the pack has 8 surviving pups this year). We see three grays and a black, and then a second black for a count of five. They are restless and keep moving and re-bedding around a low, rocky hilltop.
They continue to howl on and off for the next three hours. We never hear any response from the group that crossed earlier.
One black wolf, with a small white spot on his chest, is a particularly vigorous howler. When the others are silent, he continues to pour out his heart. "Where are you? Where are you? We are here!"
The group becomes active again and we see some charming play behavior. Several wolves begin to explore the area around the rocky hilltop, sniffing here and there. At one point I notice a very pretty gray wolf coming downhill towards the others. I don't know if this is a new wolf or just one that we lost track of for a while.
Anyway, the two black wolves see the gray and move towards it, displaying very submissive postures. The pretty gray jumps on one of the blacks and gives it a sharp holding bite. Uh oh! This pretty gray could be an adult. I wish I understood what the black pup did to deserve the reprimand?
But the gray quickly relents and the black gets up quickly, tearing around the hillside with his tail tightly tucked. Several other wolves give chase. They catch the black and roll around, which looks like play but might be some sort of additional reprimand. The black is not hurt, just disciplined.
Next thing we know, they are all bedded again, so whatever the infraction, it is now forgotten.
Many visitors stop to ask what we're seeing, so we show them. I bet there are about 200 people, kids included, who get to see wolves from here, and many of them see their first wild wolf!
We have a temporary visit from some bison, too. A fairly large herd of cows and grown calves heads down the road from Tower flats, past us and over the bridge. It is a sight to see! I love to hear their grunting and mooing as they cloppity clop along.
Around 3:30 we notice that some of the pups are again exploring the rocks below their perch. Some are looking downslope rather intently. Hmmm. Then suddenly we see a black wolf coming uphill towards them, from the exact spot where they had been staring. Aha! This is a third black! Soon more wolves appear, coming up from below. The two groups meet in typically boistrous fashion. We notice that one black in this group has a collar - which means it must be 779F, the only collared black in the Mollie pack.
The consensus is that these wolves were likely feeding on the remains of the bison carcass from two days ago. On Christmas Eve, the Mollies chased a bison cow in Little America. They injured it, but she sought refuge on the road and the Mollies gave up the chase. After dark, Kara found the bison dying right in the road near Wrecker. She called the Ranger who came and put the animal out of its misery, then dragged it down to Wrecker pullout. She blocked the pullout overnight. In the morning, the dead bison was pushed over the edge of the cliff into the river. We can see the slightly bloody slide marks on the cliff from here. It is thought that the carcass floated downriver a bit and the wolves probably found it again last night.
Eventually all the Mollies move over the hill and out of sight. So we pack up and head east, hoping to see the Lamar Canyons before we turn in for the evening.
We scope at Slough and at B & B but we don't find them. We hear a story from some other visitors about an incident that happened with the Lamar Canyon's after we had left this morning.
Apparently, two groups of visitors, including a couple with a child, climbed up a hill in the Canyon to see if they could see the Lamar Canyon pack feeding on their carcass. Well, of course, they pushed the wolves off their meal, and entirely out of the area. One group was cited and the other got a stern lecture.
So we figure we will probably not see the Lamar Canyon pack for a while.
A sliver of a moon glints above us as we travel east. We stop at Laurie's to invite Kara to come with us up to Cooke City for pizza. She accepts and we have a nice time at The Miner's Saloon, swapping stories.
And on our way back we see a pretty Silver Gate fox.
Today I saw: bison, coyotes, deer, elk, a fox, 8 wolf-watchers, 21 wolves (including 10 members of the Lamar Canyon Pack and 11 members of the Mollie Pack) and the spirit of Allison.