Monday, May 16, 2022
It was noticeably warmer this morning; instead of 30º, it was 42º in Lamar Valley. After scanning the hillsides for wildlife, we headed straight for Crystal Creek trailhead to watch the Junction Butte Pack’s south den. There was 907F looking very regal lying beside the den entrance. It was hard to see her in the morning sun, its rays blocking or blurring vision. We watched her and a few other wolves walking through the sage and guarding the den area for a while before leaving to try our luck elsewhere.
We drove up the road past Slough Creek to see if another location would offer a different and better vantage point for viewing the den site, but our vision was blocked in one way or another at other turnouts. Though the distance to the den from another spot was shorter, a tree or rock hid the den site, so we watched for a little while from Slough Creek Road and then returned to Crystal. The pups were out of the den when we arrived, crawling over 907 and the other adults. We counted five or six adults (or yearlings) and five black puppies and two gray puppies lying in the sage near the den entrance.
We spent most of the day going back and forth between the Junction Butte dens and the grizzly sow in Little America. A good part of that time the bear slept next to or on top of the carcass, as she did yesterday, getting up to graze and then returning to the carcass, another bison calf she killed last night. The only difference is she is now on the south side of the road.
Just down the road from her, another bear foraged on the north side of the road where the grizzly sow was yesterday. This bear was a large black bear boar, about as large as the grizzly sow. He is a handsome fellow, with shiny black fur. All the bears so far look healthy and like they’ve had a good winter.
The black bears at Tower were out today in the meadow near Calcite; a sow and her two cubs of the year were foraging and playing in the deadfall. One cub tumbled over dead logs and swung from branches and the other cub climbed up a tree while their mother grazed in the spring grass. A second black bear suddenly appeared and the mother took off after it, chasing it through the woods. Her frightened cub shot up a lodgepole pine, almost to the top and didn’t come down, even after his mother returned. He stayed high in the tree like a fuzzy black ball stuffed between the branches.
The road to Slough Creek campground opened late this afternoon, so we were able to see the Junction Butte’s other den, the “natal den,” a hole in the side of the sandy cliffs above Slough Creek. Lucky for us, a wolf and puppies appeared at the den entrance almost as soon as we put the scope on the site. The wolf was a collared black with a sort of chocolate brown coat that is typical before a wolf gets its summer coat. A tiny black puppy weaved under her feet. The black wolf shook off some dust as she left the porch of the den and walked into the trees below and the puppies slid back into the den. We didn’t see her slip through the creek flats until she appeared across Slough Creek, her fur wet from the crossing, trotting through the grass and across the campground road toward Secret Passage.
On our way back to Silver Gate we were stopped by a crowd at the Confluence of the Lamar River and Soda Butte Creek where a grizzly sow and her two sub-adult offspring were foraging in the meadows near the willows. Now those are truly beautiful bears, their fur a rich brown that shines in the sunlight. They all look like they’ve been eating well and that they had a good winter.
It rained on and off today, becoming much colder by the afternoon. The Lamar River and Soda Butte Creek are slowly filling up; swollen, but not overflowing.