Round Prairie Sunrise

Wolf Puppies and Yellowstone River Hike

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Day 2

Sunday, May 15, 2022

            It has been an unusual spring in Yellowstone with snow and rain continuing late into the season.  The Beartooth Mountains, covered with snow, look so pristine, so pure white.  The Park needs rain for trees, plants and other vegetation, water to fill rivers, ponds, and lakes.  Rivers are swollen but still not where they need to be because there hasn’t been enough snowmelt yet to fill the waterways.  The Lamar River is low and has some catching up to do

           The Junction Butte Pack has denned in two places this year:  in the “natal den” on the sandy slopes above Slough Creek and across the road in the sage near Crystal Creek (the “south den”).  A second den is not new to the Junction Butte Pack, but denning in the shadow of Specimen Ridge is.  This is where Wolf 907F, one of the Junction Butte Pack wolves, has her pups.  It’s not surprising to me that 907 chose a den site away from the alpha female; in the past 907 has been frequently pinned by the alpha female.  We heard there are at least 6 puppies and there were six adults at the den this morning; plenty of wolves to babysit puppies and bring food to the mothers. 

          We saw only two puppies, a black and a gray and three adults at the south den.  A light gray wolf was lying in the sand next to the den entrance, while a black pup crawled beside her.  A black wolf then sprung up out of the sage and helped with babysitting.  The den is in a flat area of sand, grass and willows, far away from the road and any human interference.  I believe the light gray adult was 907F.  The pups disappeared quickly into the den, but the adults remained outside, sunning themselves in the grass and sage, getting up only occasionally to walk around.

          The grizzly we saw yesterday was in the same spot today, guarding her carcass, a bison calf.  She is a big bear; at first, we thought she was a boar.  Like the wolves, the bear didn’t move around much, but slept in the sage.  Using her great paws, she covered the carcass with dirt and then lay on top of it.  Every so often she lifted her head to sniff the air and got up to walk around and eat a little grass.  Being close to the road, she gave us and a lot of other visitors some great bear viewing.

          It was 30º when we entered the Park this morning and gradually warmed up to a high of 67º late this afternoon.  It was a beautiful day with a cold but sunny morning and a warm, breezy afternoon.  We hiked Yellowstone Picnic Trail overlooking the Yellowstone River.  The cliffs above the canyon are a blend of soft white mixed with gray, brown, and rose streaks.  Swallows flit back and forth high above the canyon.  Big horned sheep often graze in the meadows along the trail, but today we saw only one ewe far below us in the canyon.  We usually see marmots here too, but today we didn’t see any.  Marmots typically emerge from hibernation in late April and May.

          We drove up Tower Road and then as far west as Floating Island Lake looking for wildlife.  The bears that inhabit the Tower Road area were not out which is a little unusual since Tower Road is always crowded with cars and people coming to see the black bears and their cubs.  We did see a small black bear off the road just west of Petrified Tree.

          Some wildflowers are just beginning to sprout.  I didn’t expect to see many considering the recent cold, snowy weather, but today we saw silky phacelia, shooting stars, and sagebrush buttercups.  On our way back to Silver Gate we stopped at Round Prairie to look for mountain goats and practice taking photos through the scope with my phone.  The rocky cliffs are still partly covered with snow making sighting problematic, but we did find one mountain goat lying on the edge of a rock.

          After leaving Pebble Creek and Round Prairie, we found two beautiful cow moose with thick silvery brown coats grazing at Lower Barronette.  Though they were almost the same size, one was slightly taller and heavier, perhaps a mother and daughter.  They looked like they had a good winter.

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