I leave later than usual this morning, at first light, in order to increase my chances of seeing activity on the way in. Nothing is stirring, though, until I stop at the Blacktail Ponds.
Yesterday morning, Calvin and Lynette found the Blacktails on a carcass here, fairly close to the road. I am hoping a few of the Blacktails might have made a return visit, but they are not around. Instead I find three coyotes and a golden eagle tugging at the leftovers. A fourth coyote trots down the road from the east.
I realize I have probably missed some good wolf action in the east, but I tell myself I can't be everywhere at once!
I decide to stop at the S-curves as long as there is decent light. Maybe I can find the Blacktails myself? First, though, I have to find the pullout!
All the accumulated snow from all the snowplow piling makes a virtual wall on my right. Eventually, I find both a spot for my car and a clear line of sight for Layla so I get to work.
To the south I find bison and several bull elk, pawing through the snow to find something to eat on the rolling hills. I scan to the north side and find only snow and rocks.
Then I hear a howl.
There it is again! It is definitely a wolf's howl, and only one voice and it seems relatively close. But where is the wolf? Could I really be this lucky?
You have to understand, nearly every time I have driven by this spot I have fantasized about just such a thing happening! And now the day has arrived.
I stand very still, hoping to hear the howl again so I can more accurately pinpoint the location. The wolf accomodates me and I train my binocs on the low series of ridges below the rocky outcrop called South Butte.
Nothing moving there but a pair of blackbirds. Wait. Huh? I stare at the spot. Two tiny black triangles poking up from behind one of the ridges. Could those be ears?
I am aware of how much I WANT to find a wolf today and I try to tame my emotions and observe calmly. I have mistaken rocks for bears, bison calves for wolves and a tree for a human, so my imagination can EASILY transform two black birds sitting on a snowy hill into a set of wolf ears!
And yet, the birds are identical in size. Oh! They both just... disappeared - in unison. Hmm, oh wait! They're back! The two black birds turn right - in unison, then left - in unison. YAY! Those ARE ears! My next wish is for the black ears to rise above the ridge. And they do....they grow into a head with a muzzle, a chest, a back and four black legs!
A lovely, long-legged black wolf now stands on the long white ridge, looking right at me. The wolf howls!
This wolf is hoping someone will answer it's howl but no one does. It turns slightly to the north and howls again, listening for a response. I realize it is not really looking at me, but beyond me, more towards the slope of Mt. Everts, in the area where the Blacktail Ponds are.
Most likely, this wolf knows about the carcass and is trying to see if any of its pack are still in the neighborhood.
Kirstie and Alan pull in and we watch together. Kirstie notices the wolf is collared and soon recognzes her as 752F, a Blacktail yearling, who has been seen away from her pack somewhat frequently in recent days. There is a struggle going on in the heirarchy of the pack, brought on, probably by the onset of breeding season.
It's a stressful time for wolves, especially those who find themselves on the outs. But it may be the thing she needs to go off on her own to seek a mate, and that could turn out well for her.
752 howls off and on for another 15 minutes, then trots off with determination to the south. We lose her and re-find her several times, and then she turns slighly east and goes behind a ridge.
For once I am in exactly the right place at exactly the right time. From now on, every time I pass this pullout I will stop to look!
Kirstie and Alan fill me in on other happenings this morning. They say the Lamar Canyon pack is pretty much where I left them yesterday, on the eastern side of Jasper Bench.
Perhaps I will not be too late to miss them entirely.
I head east with wave and a thank you to Kirstie & Alan.
Once I reach Lamar, I learn the pack has only recently gone out of sight. When last seen, they were approaching the Amethyst drainage. Another squall has arrived, ruining the visibility.
Judging from the general direction they were going whehn last seen, I believe they will head east, perhaps toward the rendezvous. So we split up and I head to Mid-Point while Gerry goes to the Institute.
Luckily for us, Gerry has the good sense to look up high, because after about an hour of fruitless looking, he finds them!
I join him at the Institute and see them just below the summit of Amethyst. They have surrounded a single bull elk. Another squall comes in, making the sighting quite ethereal. Through the falling snow, it looks to me that the wolves are quite hesitant and the elk looks strong. He just stands there, seemingly unafraid, his formidable antlers at the ready. The wolves soon give up and continue up the slope.
They disappear over the back edge but soon a herd of bighorn sheep appears, dashing over the summit heading for the cliffs on the north-facing side. Next the wolf-pack appears running over the summit - a sight I wish all wildlife enthusiasts might see some day.
The wolves belatedly follow the sheep, but the sheep have already reached safety - they are perfectly comfortable on the cliffs and have the advantage. The 06 pauses a while to assess her options, then moves uphill and beds.
The pups are still revved up, so they mill around, looking longingly at the sheep just as they looked longingly at the bunched elk yesterday. You can see they are still eager to hunt, despite the sheer drop offs.
The 06 looks restless, though, and it's not long before she heads deeper into the trees, with purpose. Soon we can see her moving down the mountain, breaking trail for them all, sending the snow flying.
I have never seen wolves so high on Amethyst before and it is a joy to see them. It is also fun to watch them plunge downhill through deep, soft powder, spray flying, leaving a track visible between the trunks. Of course, we lose them pretty quickly.
We re-assemble at Mid-Point but all we can really see from here is the trail they made. None of us see any wolves moving. They might have bedded, or they might be anywhere!
We enjoy the day and the company, though, chatting away.
After a while, I suggest to Gerry that we take a hike out the Slough Creek campground road, and come back later to see if we can find these wolves. He seems up for that so we head west.
In the Slough lot we meet a friendly couple from Utah and talk about our wolf sightings. As I am gathering a bit of stuff for the hike, the man calls out that he has an animal in view way up on Specimen Ridge. He wants me and Gerry to confirm what he's looking at.
We gladly do so and both Gerry and I agree, he has found a wolf! It is a single animal, gray with a dark back and we think we see a collar.
After a while, Rick arrives and tells us the wolf is 586M, the beta male of the Agates, born a Mollie.
586M is one of the wolves who ousted Big Blaze (one of my favorites) from his alpha male position last year in a mating season fight. At the time, because no one saw him for several months, it was thought that Big Blaze had died of his wounds. But happily we were wrong - because he found his way back to his brothers, the Blacktails, and is considered the beta male of that pack.
586M is also the same wolf who survived an encounter with the Lamar Canyon wolves, when he mistook them for his pack. He is in undisputed Agate territory right now, though, and moves around up there with a confidence that seems almost carefree.
He spooks a large band of bighorn sheep which go running for their lives to the cliff edge. Good lord they run fast! 586 follows them, somewhat half-heartedly, but the sheep reach the safety of the cliffs well ahead of him.
For the next hour or so he wanders in and out of view, often on the skyline. There is a herd of bison way up there and he seems somewhat interested in them. He wanders close to some of them, close enough to elicit a raised tail response, but then he backs away. He does a lot of sniffing.
Many visitors stop in the pullout and get to see him.
Evenutally we lose him to a late-arriving snow-squall. We wait a while, hoping it will clear, but the sky promises otherwise.
I decide to call it an early night and head west.
I stop again at Blacktail Ponds, but find only a few birds on the carcass. By the time I reach Mammoth the snow is coming down quite heavily, so I head to my snug, little room.
Tomorrow is my last day (waaaaaa!)
Today I saw: bison, 4 coyotes, a golden eagle, elk, bighorn sheep, 9 wolves from three packs: (752F of the Blacktails, 586M of the Agates and the entire 7 member Lamar Canyon Pack (including The 06, 754M, 755M and 775F) and the spirit of Allison.