DAY TWO - Tuesday, December 25 - Christmas Day

CAROLING BLACKTAILS

My day starts at first light - which at this time of year is 7:30AM. The temperature is a mere 10 degrees. The sky looks a bit worrisome, with the promise of more snow.

I brush a light dusting of the white stuff from my windshield and have time to dust C & B's too.

A few minutes later I am following Chloe up the Jardine Road where we end up parking in Mark Miller's driveway (thanks, Mark!). From here we have quite a good view of the carcass and the surrounding area. If a wolf arrives, we will see it.

But none do. There are several coyotes and many birds, including eagles, We can't see enough of the carcass to tell what it once was, deer, elk or bison. But whatever it was, if it was killed by wolves, we can't imagine why they are not still nearby.

I suggest that perhaps the animal was hit by a car and managed to make it this far only to die of injury. But still, if the Canyon pack or the Blacktail pack were in the area, they would likely have been drawn here. I learn later that the Canyon pack is not in Mammoth; they have been seen by snow-coach visitors in the Interior.

Around 10:30 Rick joins us and checks his telemetry, but there are no collared wolves around. We ask about the Lamars and unfortunatly, he says there is still no word of them.

So after 3 hours of wolf-less scoping we are now headed east. We hear a report of a possible wolf sighting from the Children's Nature Trail.

We arrive at the large pullout and find several people with scopes trained on a snowy hilltop about two miles away. I see two gray shapes, curled up near some boulders. At first I am relieved to finally see a wolf, even just a bedded one, but when I try to find out which wolves they are, I start to sense something is not right.

Aha, these two are not wolves, but coyotes. I have been fooled by great distance, and others visitors' enthusiasm. Oh well, we make it a social occasion and begin to share our cookies and other holiday treats. The wind takes a break which helps. But we are still wolfless!

Becky & Chloe and I talk about driving east, since we still have not made it into the Lamar, and soon we are on our way.

The Blacktail Plateau has received a good deal more snow than the Mammoth area (as is normal) and it looks beautiful. Floating Island Lake is totally frozen over, with a thick white comforter on top. There are several tracks across it and around it, probably coyote.

We set up at Elk creek and find....elk! That's nice. And then the sun comes out in full. As we continue on we get a call to come back west. Rick has Blacktail signals and our help is needed to try to locate them.

We rejoin Kara and Rick B at a spot called North Butte. First we look on the south side of the road, where Kara has found a "suspicious lump" under a tree. We all try hard to make a wolf, but it remains a lump. Then we notice that Rick M has walked out to a spot on the lower slope of North Butte and is looking directly east. A few minutes later he says he's found them.

Rick feels they cannot be seen from the pullout and encourages us to join him on the slope. I follow Des and Marlene, figuring the walk will warm me up. It's a long slog through fairly deep snow, but ultimately it's worth it, because I finally see wolves!

Way out on a windswept ridge I see two bedded grays. One is collared and the other is not. It's alpha female 693F and an adult female known as "Cut Tail" who ...has a short tail. Rick suspects the alpha male, 778M, and the fourth member of this pack are in the same area, but bedded just out of sight.

I think about how the The Blacktail pack has dwindled to only four, when once they were the dominant pack. For the last two years they were known for chasing the Quadrants, the Canyons and the Agates, killing quite a few. But now, a different chapter is being written.

Both gray wolves look like rocks to me. I know it's silly to doubt Rick, but twice now I have mis-identified coyotes as wolves, and I worry that I am falling for the power of suggestion yet again. But finally, I see an ear flicker and then a head comes up. Yay! It is a wolf!

Then 778M appears, walking up from behind the hill, just as Rick predicted. Rick thinks the Blacktails had been feeding on an old carcass in the area, and that they moved over to this hilltop to bed.

Just then, Chloe reports that she has found the wolves from the pullout. So, after a few last looks, I pack up and head back there.

We stay here the rest of the day, sharing our scopes with the many visitors who stop, as Rick has taught us to do. One family recognizes the three of us from the PBS "Christmas In Yellowstone" video that always airs this time of year. They tell us that the reason they are here now is because after watching that show, they said to each other "lets go to Yellowstone!" and they did! So we feel quite honored. 8~)

As the sun starts to sink, though, people start to leave. We are tempted to go, too, but we know this is usually the time that something happens. And sure enough, just before 5PM, all four Blacktails stand up. They stretch and lick each other, nuzzling with obvious affection.

778M (Big Brown) is such a robust and handsome wolf, a dark gray with lots of brown & cream. His mate, 693 is also gray but much lighter than he. Cut-tail, of course, is easy to recognize. The fourth wolf is a gray male yearling with some mange sometimes called "Huge".

These four wolves proceed to howl for nearly an hour, looking off to the east. We never hear a response, but figure that the Junction Pack is likely within earshot. Perhaps the wolves can hear things we cannot. Oh, how I wish I knew what they were saying!

Finally we head west, with a nearly-full moon brightening the drive.

We gather again in the lovely Mammoth Dining Room, decorated so tastefully for the holiday. There are seven of us to share the traditional Christmas buffet; Colleen & Des, Chloe & Becky, Marlene and me and special guest, Bob L.

The company is excellent. The conversation is largely about wildlife, and wolves, and especially the Lamar Pack. Chloe and I suggest that the reason the Lamars are still in Wyoming is because there are no packs left there anymore to challenge them. Bob is not so sure, and feels there could still could be wolves in the area. He reminds us that if the Lamars are still together, they are a large enough pack to intimidate smaller ones.

We also talk about hunting a bit and Bob makes an interesting comment, that the way we feel when one of us is the one to spot a wolf after a long time of fruitless searching is the way a hunter feels when he shoots a wolf. He says it is the same sort of elation or achievement.

Bob no longer hunts, but I find his perspective very helpful in understanding a situation with which I have little experience.

TODAY I SAW: bison, 5 coyotes, 2 bald eagles, 1 golden eagle, elk, bighorn sheep, pronghorn, ravens, 4 wolves, all from the Blacktail Pack (including 693F, 778M, Cut Tail & Huge) and the spirit of Allison.




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