DAY FIVE - Thursday, December 29


THIRTY SEVEN WOLVES!

I sleep in a bit this morning - last night we discussed doing this so we would be travelling through Canyon at first light.

It's a warm 37 degrees in Gardiner, raining lightly. Once we reach a higher elevation, though, in Mammoth, the rain changes to snow. In fact, there is a lovely fresh covering of the white stuff all over the parade grounds.

Our first stop is the Nature Trail. Visibility is dreadful, but we have the companionship of Calvin & Lynette, as well as Richard, Mike and Karen so we scope anyway. I can't help but wonder if there is better weather and better visibility elsewhere.

Soon we hear a report that the Blacktails are to the south of us, on the move. The weather worsens, preventing us from finding them.

We decide to head east.

My tires grip the road just fine, but the wind-whipped snow repeatedly cancels visibility, so we have to be extra careful and go very slow.

As we near Tower we hear crackling on the radio so we know something is up. In Little America, Boulder pullout is full of cars, and I grin when I see Laurie's! Yay, she's back!

Chloe & Becky and I find room at Boulder East. But as we pull in another heavy squall descends so I just sit here a while with the engine running and the wipers on. After about 10 minutes the squall passes and I can again recognize the features of Mom's Ridge.

I hop out and begin to scope. I donít know what is being seen or where to look so I start with the bison ford area, where I have often seen wolves in the past. And suddenly, I see one! A black wolf, visible against the snow and sage, facing west.

When I call it in I learn that this wolf is in a different area from the wolves the crowd has been watching. Their wolves are up in the rocks of Mom's Ridge.

But before I can attempt to find them, another squall moves in, robbing us of visibility. I hear Laurie over the radio refer to "the carcass". Chloe and Becky and I look at each other and say aloud, "what carcass?"

Once the squall passes we get better directions. The Mollies were first seen in the rocks on a carcass. They have now moves off to the right (east) and are bedded, all 19 of them. Once the snow veil lifts again I find it. Part of the carcass looks wedged between rocks; it looks like the remains of an elk. I see ravens, two coyotes and a bald eagle.

Alas, my mystery wolf is gone. I wonder if it could be an Agate wolf, or a roaming Blacktail wolf? We never find out. The only thing we are pretty sure of is that "my" wolf was not a Mollie wolf.

More bad weather comes in and we get a report from Doug M, on his way back to Silver Gate. He says otters are visible from Picnic. With such bad visibility here, Becky & Chloe decide to head that way to see them.

I stay here and when the veil lifts again, I find the Mollies starting to get up from their bedding spot. I expected they would head back for another go at their carcass but instead they move higher up on Mom's ridge.

I am able to count 16 of the 19; between the snow, the distance and their non-linear roaming I never do see the full pack.

Becky & Chloe return after a while. They DID finally see the otters, although from a distance. I show them the Mollie wolves, most of which are still visible as they move up the hill.

Once the Mollies go out of sight, we head east.

We stop at Crystal for a while, scanning the high slopes west of Druid Peak, trying to see if we can find the Lamar Canyon pack. Laurie & I find a very large herd of elk. Aha! So this is where the elk are!

Then Jeff calls from Slough, telling us he has found the Mollies again. At Slough we spend more time socializing with Laurie and Dan than watching the Mollies! But they are quite far away and it is difficult at that distance to see much behavior, which is what I always find interesting.

It's now noon and the day has become much more pleasant. The temperature has warmed up to 30! Then we get a call from Rick to head east. We gather at Coyote and turn our scopes up on the northern hills. The Lamar Canyon Pack has been found!

As much as we enjoy seeing the Mollies, their presence on the Northern Range is worrisome. So we are especially happy to see the much-admired 06 and her family again.

My first view of them is on a curved ridge, below skyline. Several of the wolves sit on their haunches looking east, while a few are walking that direction, going out of sight, one by one. 754 is still in view. He is howling from a bedded position, as he likes to do.

For a while he is the only wolf in view, but then the others re-appear, popping out from behind the ridge, one by one, until I have all 11.

They bed a while and we show them to countless visitors who stop. When the action dies down, I turn my scope the other direction I look up the valley. I find an ice-covered pond with a section of open water, parallel to the pullout at Mid Point. While I am examining this spot, I see two small dark things pop up in the water and then move out on the ice. Otters! I'm seeing long-distance otters! Woo hoo!

At first I thought I'd found ducks but the more I watch, the more I see they are definitely otters. They keep diving into the water, then popping out again, and moving with that recognizable hump-backed gait. I also find two coyotes as well as the usual elk and bison.

Then I turn back to the wolves in time to catch a bit more action. Two pups get up and rouse several of the others. The group starts moving to the west, and the leaders break into a run. I wonder if they are near the spot where we saw all the elk earlier?

Then the wolves stop, just at skyline, and, surprisingly then turn back. When I see them run east I realize I am watching pups, who are just being rambunctious. The group of five runs back east and soon reunites happily with those that never made it that far west. They have a non-howling rally, then bed again.

At about 3:30, the Lamars get up and stretch. This time it's not the pups moving, it's mama. She leads them east. We notice two bull elk on the hill above them, but the pack either does not see them or chooses to ignore them.

For the next hour we lose them and find them again, in various spots on the high northern slopes. I learn a lot from following Laurie from pullout to pullout, discovering what angles can be seen from which spots. She knows their usual route and has done this dozens of times.

From Fisherman she finds them on the skyline of a mountain that, from this angle looks flat-topped. They remain visible about 2 minutes. Then we find them again, far to the east from Mid Point. Looking northwest from here she finds them just below skyline on the same mountain.

It's a long view but nice to see, especially because the pups begin to play. The romp and chase each other, making the snow fly. Then they stop, sitting on their haunches, while other pack members stand on all fours, all looking intently downhill. I wonder if they are looking at elk down there. I do a quick count and find 10. Hmmm, I don't think I see the 06.

Suddenly they all take off downhill at a run. We lose them in the hills behind the Institute. Laurie and I joke that the pack was probably watching the 06 pick out an elk, chase it and catch it. And once that was done, they took off to help her!

Well, they are now out of sight and Laurie says we will not likely see them again for a while. It's been an awfully nice "welcome back" day for Laurie and Dan. But the sun is westering and itís time to go our separate ways.

Becky and Chloe have already left - they had an appointment in Gardiner, tending to a burnt-out headlight.

On the drive back I marvel at the beautiful light. The sun has finally banished the snow-clouds and the sky has become gorgeous!

At the Nature Trail I see Richard's truck so I pull in. He has the Blacktails for me! I see nine of them to the south, near the House Rock, with several bull elk in the distance. Most of them are bedded, while a few of them (probably pups) do a bit of romping and roaming.

It takes a while, but I manage to identify the alphas (778 and 693, plus Medium Brown and Big Blaze. I am pleased to see that he has finally reunited with his pack!

Apparently they have a carcass nearby. Richard says that earlier today they were further west and closer to the road. He says they caused a huge traffic jam when they crossed the road! The light is fading, making this sighting much more difficult. However, visitors continue to pull in, asking us what we are seeing. One family has a little girl who is having trouble seeing through the scope.

I lower Layla to her eye level and instruct the girl to just stare at the field of view. I take a lot of time describing the details, to help her with the unfamiliar perspective. I ask her, do you see those three black rocks? She says yes. I tell her, those three rocks are each wolves.

Then the ears on one of the rocks move. Her mouth drops open and she cries "I see it! I see it!". This makes me cry of course. Her mom is so grateful and they go away happy! Yay!

And if that isn't enough, Yellowstone gives us a beautiful sunset. Wow. What a day!

I pack up and head on to Mammoth, where I find a phone message from Becky & Chloe, telling me to come to the auditorium behind the hotel. I find them there, with Bob Landis, who is giving a film presentation to a group, showing them some of his wonderful footage.

He tells us some of what we're seeing will some day find its way into a new film. He has some great shots of bighorns clashing heads, of otters playing and otters interacting with coyotes. And he has a wonderful segment of one of the Druid pups (from 2007 or 2008 I think) chasing its tail.

Bob confirms he is working on a film about the 06. It could easily be a full year from now before it's ready, but, boy, I look forward to seeing that!

After we say our thanks, we head to the Super 8, where we cobble together a pot luck dinner in the motel lobby, and then we hit the hay!

Today I saw: bison, elk, coyotes, a bald eagle, elk, 2 otters, 11 wolf-watchers, 37 wolves (including 16 Mollies, 11 Lamar Canyons, 9 Blacktails and one mystery wolf) and the spirit of Allison.




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