DAY FOUR - Thursday, December 27


BLACKTAIL ALPHAS AND EMPTY LAMAR

Today starts with brushing a light layer of snow off the windshield.

My first stop is again at Blacktail Ponds, but the wolf we saw last night is not here. We see only a single raven and fresh snow.

Next we stop at the long pullout on the north side of the road, to scope the open hills and sage flats. Kira from the Wolf Project pulls in a few minutes later. I let her know we don't have anything yet and she says, well, they're out there.

I realize with delight that she means she's gotten signals! I spread the news to B & C and soon two "suspicious lumps" on a snowy knoll turn out to be wolves! Yay!

The Blacktail alphas are curled up near each other on a long, low hillock, straight out from the pullout. As the light improves, I begin to notice a good deal of bird activity all around them. Aha. Looks like they have a carcass. There are bald eagles as well as dozens of magpies and ravens.

The wolves are asleep, so I watch the bird activity. I notice a bald eagle perched on a stump, as if patiently awaiting its turn at the carcass. Then I see a second eagle flying towards the perched one. Suddenly the flying eagle dips down and smacks the first eagle with its talons, knocking it off its perch into the snow below. The second eagle continues its flight, while the other hops around in deep snow, trying to recover its dignity. Eventually it flies off, too, seemingly none the worse for getting clobbered.

Something about it strikes me as not so much a demonstration of ill will but more like a running practical joke between them.

After a while, the Blacktail wolves get up and stretch. They howl, too, which sounds gorgeous. They are both good-looking wolves, 693F and 778M. They are quite bonded to each other, too. I see a lot of body-rubbing and nuzzling of each other's muzzle.

Then 693 makes a move I find quite endearing. After wiping her muzzle in the snow, she leans forward then flops on her side, sinking into the soft snow, rolling completely on her back, paws in the air. Then she slides slowly down the slope almost out of sight. She soon rights herself and appears again, shaking off the snow and bounding back up to her love to nuzzle him again.

He nuzzles her back and they both re-bed. 778M then turns his gaze straight toward me. Oh, he is a handsome wolf! I am reminded of what the Ojibwa man said last summer, that the wolves watch us just as we watch them.

For the next half hour, these two alternate between napping and howling. But there should be four wolves in this pack, so we continually scope around, looking for the other two. In doing so, I notice a herd of elk on a distant hill, across the Yellowstone. The elk suddenly dash downhill and bunch up at the bottom, looking nervous. I strain to see what might be after them but see nothing. The terrain they are on is high and rocky, so I wonder if they might have been spooked by a mountain lion?

The Blacktail alphas stand again and stretch some more. Then they turn and disappear into the gully. I think they are going for a second breakfast but it turns out that they've given us the slip.

Try as we might, we see only birds. Then a coyote appears and begins to approach the carcass. That pretty much seals the deal for me: the wolves are gone.

Then someone finds Cut Tail from a pullout further west. I drive down there and watch her a while. She is howling, presumably to the alphas. She sits on a hill by a tree and watches us. Looking off in the direction the alphas were last seen. Then she heads south, totally ignorning a big bull elk grazing alone.

My next stop is the S Curves. The alpha's carcass can be seen from the far end of this pullout. It looks to me that there is still abundant meat available, so maybe the alphas will return for another helping later in the day.

But I find myself drawn to the east in the crazy hope that the Lamar wolves might return to the valley right when we get there. The sun has come out, making the scenery especially beautiful.

But once again, Lamar is empty.

We stop at Dorothy's and find a coyote mousing in the flats. It might be the same one as yesterday. I see him catch one little something and scarf it down. Good for you, coyote!

We decide to drive up to Round Prairie. It's one of those days in which the sun is out and yet it's snowing. The valley is gorgeous.

But it's a very strange experience to find ourselves on a Christmas visit, so bereft of wolf sightings. I say to myself more than once, maybe this is the "new" Yellowstone.

Near Pebble Creek campground you can see an area of disturbed snow where an SUV went off the road yesterday. The people were only bumped and brused but the SUV ended up nearly on its side.

We go back west and stop again at S Curves to watch the carcass. A number of people join us and we show them the spot and tell them wolf tales. Just about everybody has heard about what happened to the 06. It's amazing how well-covered that sad news has been.

We stay here till dusk, and see several bald eagles and two coyotes, but no wolves appear.

We head in around 5:15 and have a nice dinner at The Mine.

TODAY I SAW: Bison, coyotes, bald eagles, golden eagles, elk, ravens, 3 wolves (all from the Blacktail Pack: 693F, 778M and Cut Tail) and the spirit of Allison.




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