Friday, June 9, 2017
The weather turned today. This morning it was 40 degrees and even when the temperature reached 63, wind and clouds made it feel cold. It was a big change after a week between 40 and 88; it reminded me of the bad weather during our last two trips and how lucky we’ve been this week.
The local fox kits were cavorting on a nearby woodpile this morning. How old are they? Maybe six or seven weeks? Cautious and curious, they stare at us as if they want to approach, but their parents have taught them well. They keep their distance and duck into a hole when startled.
Lamar Valley was quiet with only a few vehicles parked at turnouts and spotters looking for the Lamar Canyons or the Junctions or anything else. The Lamar Canyons have not been seen in a few days, maybe a week. It is believed they denned and have puppies, but since there are only four of them, the chances of seeing the wolves going back and forth are slim. When they have been seen, they looked like they were doing well. 949 has gotten over his mange and has a beautiful, thick coat now.
The Junctions were not at their rendezvous this morning, so we went on to Slough Creek. The puppies were in and out of the den, in the grass, and crawling over a burned log. Two adults at the den site promptly bedded leaving only ears and a flat body to call wolves. The puppies popped up and disappeared quickly. We tried to explain this to other frustrated visitors who had not seen the wolves and wanted to so badly. A woman with a French accent approached us and asked about the wolves. We put her on the scope and I think she was able to see them, but I know she hoped the view would be better. The wolves are so far away on that mountainside and so difficult to distinguish from rocks, we suggested a view from the lower lots might be better. We instantly regretted this advice when we noticed her family was pulling a trailer down the narrow gravel road.
Even we gave up on the Prospects after a while to look for pronghorn babies and badgers and found a black bear sow and two cubs climbing the slopes on the west side of the Yellowstone bridge. We wondered if this was the sow we saw yesterday at Tower since we never saw her second cub. There are a number of black bears around. At Elk Creek there is a sow with two cubs of the year and the cinnamon black bear with one coy. We even saw a black bear strolling along the shore at Floating Island Lake and another in the woods west of there.
Today we planned to hike the Cache Creek trail. The trail was dry and mostly flat in the beginning. A huge swan floated in the pools off Soda Butte Creek, swam up a channel and walked onto the marshy flats. The trail curves toward the Lamar River where it became so marshy we had to walk around it. We tried to find a way to get back to the trail, but everywhere was too wet or too steep and our hike was aborted. It was not entirely disappointing. After a week of long days, a little rest was welcome and the short hike was pleasant. On the way back a sandhill crane flew in and seemed to challenge the swan who swam towards it. The sandhill trilled and the swan turned away. Not sure what was going on; perhaps one – or both – were protecting nests.
We went back to Slough Creek, set up the scope and sat in the car, waiting for puppies and adults to get up. We looked for badgers in the nearby meadows and admired the wildflowers. After loafing a while we walked around Yellowstone Picnic area and started up the trail, not paying much attention to the crowd on the road. We thought they were looking at sheep until we spotted the black bear sow we saw this morning with her cubs headed down the trail towards us. We quickly backed down the trail, more afraid of what the rangers would do to us than the bears. The bears went up through the woods and traveled along the ridge, eventually crossing the river and climbing the slopes opposite the Yellowstone Bridge.
Later in the afternoon the cow moose and her calf emerged from the woods at Soda Butte Creek. They walked along the edge of the creek eating willows, the calf breaking into a lope every now and then. After remaining hidden in the trees for days, it felt lucky to see them.