DAY FIVE - Friday, December 28


A MEETING IN MAMMOTH

Today's first stop is at the long pullout on the Blacktail Plateau, looking at yesterday's carcass. The weather is much like yesterday's, too: clear and cold.

Rick is here, which, unfortunately confirms that the Lamars are still not back. We do have a coyote to watch, so that's something. Then a second coyote appears, running in the sage quite close to us. He is headed for the carcass, too, which tells us the wolves are elsewhere.

And indeed they are. They are suddenly spotted on the south side of the road, so I head to the S Curves.

I set up my scope and look to the south. About a half-mile out is a snow-covered draw, lined with willows, their russet branches poking out of the deep snow in a zig-zag line. And suddenly I have a wolf in view. Yay! Oh, and there's an elk, too! In fact, the elk is being chased by a wolf, no, by two wolves! Whoa.

The three animals run towards me in snow so deep it seems that they are all moving in slow motion. The larger of the two wolves is closest to the elk. It catches up and makes contact, drawing a slow-motion kick from the elk. The second wolf draws near on the elk's opposite side and makes brief contact. The elk turns left, following a curve of the creek, and all three disappear from view.

I expect to see them re-emerge somewhere but they don't. None of us knows whether they made a kill or not and we do not see any birds in the area. Chloe suggests that the chase may have left them too tired to eat; they may just be resting, catching their breath.

While we wait for something to appear, there is talk of the Junction Pack in view at Slough, so I decide to head there. It's a beautiful drive and I get to Slough just in time to have a two pack day.

A carcass was found on a hill opposite the Slough lot, and the Junction Butte pack were seen feeding on it earlier today. Most of the pack has already left to bed down among the trees. But but luckily for me, Jeff is here and quickly shows me the only wolf still in sight: the mangy-tail gray pup. The poor thing is gobbling down what it can, apparently happy to have some fresh meat.

This pup seems to be somewhat on the outs with its pack. Laurie has suggested that the pup may smell bad due to its severe mange. Or the pup may have learned that staying behind allows it to feed regularly while avoiding the wear and tear of roughhouse play from the healthier members of its pack. He is a fighter, this little one, and I hope he can last another few months when warmer weather may afford him a chance to fend off the mite.

After about 15 minutes of steady eating, the pup moves off into the trees where the rest of the pack went earlier.

So, I head back west and rendezvous with C & B at the S Curves. We have a date back in Mammoth: a business meeting with Dave Hallac, Chief of the Yellowstone Center for Resources.

We meet him in his office behind the Albright Center. Dave is very generous with his time. He is very smart, gracious and forthcoming and I get a much better understanding of what a hard job it is to manage so many conflicting interests regarding wolves. I feel Becky, Chloe and I present our views well, and that a meeting of the minds occurs, even if progress will not be swift. I am glad we have a chance to talk.

After lunch at the Dining room we head back to S Curves where we are lucky to find the Blacktail alphas again. They are bedded up the hill and east of the willows where I last saw them. We now see birds flying in and out of the draw, so it looks like the elk did succumb after all. Again I see gentle affection between the alpha pair.

After a while, we move on to Slough hoping for another view of the Junction Pack. Unfortunately, they have just gone out of sight, and were last seen heading up toward Divide Ridge.

We spend a good hour trying to locate them again but have no luck. As we are about to pack up to head to Lamar we see a familar van. It's our dear friend Brian C, who has been battling cancer for the last several years. I certainly did not expect to see him here, so it is a very welcome surprise. He looks good. Welcome Brian!

Eventually we do head to Lamar to try to find the Junction pack from the other side, but they remain in hiding.

So, we make it a fairly early night, caravaning back with Brian, hoping for more wolves tomorrow.

TODAY I SAW: bison, coyotes, 2 bald eagles, elk, ravens, 3 wolves from two packs (including the Blacktail alphas, 693F & 778M and the mangy gray pup of the Junction Butte Pack), and the spirit of Allison.




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