Monday, June 5, 2017
Today the park was as busy as I’ve ever seen it – which would be just before Memorial Day several years ago. Yellowstone Picnic area was full when we tried to park! Somehow we managed to squeeze into turnouts to watch the Junctions. The pack apparently got a bison calf last night and had bedded in the sage.
Slough Creek in the morning before 8 a.m. was not too crowded and the mosquitoes seemed to leave us alone. A gray female zigzagged up the hill to the pine trees followed by four puppies. The pups swarmed under her legs, trying to nurse as she stood there tolerating the commotion. A second gray wolf climbed up the hill and the puppies ran up to her, licking her muzzle soliciting food. She greeted them and the puppies toddled up the hill, following her into a shady corner of the pine trees. The other female laid in the sun with one puppy nearby exploring his surroundings. He wandered down to the den where he found something to tug and chew on. Later, two other collared adults appeared, climbing up the hill one by one and were greeted by pups tumbling down the hill. These two other wolves were 966M and 964M. One – who could be the father – laid down and let the pups crawl all over him. Eventually all the wolves disappeared in the grass and sage or the shade of the trees.
We hiked to Hellroaring Creek today, a new trail for us. The trail winds down a steep slope to the Yellowstone Black Canyon and passes through wooded areas flooded with balsamroot. It crosses the Yellowstone River via a long, sturdy suspension bridge high above the river and opens into meadows filled with lupine, American Bistort, and phlox. Sticky geranium and forget-me-nots line the trail in wooded areas. Hellroaring Creek runs high and fast; a sign warned that fording is dangerous. The sun was hot, but a strong, cool breeze from the river kept us cool and most of the mosquitoes away. We met a young couple from Switzerland hiking to a back-county campsite. The young man told us he dreamed of coming to Yellowstone since he was a little boy. Going back up the trail was not so easy, but the hike was worth it.
On the way to Tower Junction we ran into a black bear jam near Elk Creek – the bear ran across the road right in front of our car. Our first black bear this trip. After trying to park at Yellowstone Picnic area, we drove to Specimen Ridge Trailhead and ran into another bear jam, this time a black bear sow with two cinnamon cubs of the year. The family foraged in the woods below the trail, climbing over logs far enough from the crowd to keep rangers happy.
We had the osprey nest to ourselves for a while this afternoon. The well-made nest sits high up on a pine tree above the Lamar River, crashing past, overflowing with spring runoff. The female osprey sat patiently in the nest, her white head and dark eyes peeking out over the edge. Her mate suddenly appeared flying past the nest and soaring down the river corridor. Frequently he perches on a long stick extending from the nest and looks down into the water. It’s hard to imagine him catching any fish at all with the river running so fast and high.
As evening shadows fell we watched the Prospect Peak wolves leave the den to hunt, heading west in single file leaving one adult with the pups. The babysitter sat in front of the den and then walked up the hill to the trees. No one knows who the alpha pair is in this pack now. After the deaths of 821F, the alpha female of the Prospect Peak Pack and 911M, alpha male of the Junctions, these two packs seem to be in flux.
On our way to the lodge we pulled over to watch a pronghorn doe on the slopes near Trout Lake. One fawn, only hours old, followed her through the sage on unsteady legs. The doe looked nervous; the fawn, like it was dropped in an alien world and wanted to go back. I read that pronghorns typically have twins and am wondering if there is a second fawn.