Two Wolf Dens, Bison, and a Golden Eagle Nest
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Tuesday, May 17, 2022
I wore insulated pants over leggings today, and I’m glad I did. It was cloudy and damp; standing out in the cold would not be fun. As we approached Round Prairie, we heard on the radio that was wolves were heading east so we hurried to Soda Butte and waited for them. It wasn’t long before we spotted four wolves traveling on the other side of the river; one black and one collared graying black and two collared gray wolves. I believe the graying black was 1048M. At first the uncollared black was leading and 1048 was taking up the end at a slower pace. He is the beta male in the Junction Butte Pack and I’m not sure how old he is. I don’t know who the two gray collared wolves were, but I suspect they were collared this year.
The wolves headed to the old Druid rendezvous at a good pace while we tried to outguess their movements. We stopped first at Buffalo Ranch to wait and spotted a grizzly at the edge of Amethyst Bench and two bald eagles, one across the river and one in the cottonwoods near Picnic. Trying to get ahead of the wolves we waited again at Fisherman’s. When the wolves still didn’t show up there, we went on to Slough Creek and Crystal to wait and watch puppies at the dens.
Black and gray puppies poured out of both den entrances and crawled in the sage. A gray yearling babysat the puppies at the south den while a couple of different wolves held that responsibility today at the Slough Creek den. At the natal den, puppies explored their surroundings, sliding down the slope to the grass around the trees. The puppies at the natal den are a little larger than those at the south den, so they must be a little older. I’m not sure how old the puppies are, but they must be at least four weeks old.
While we were watching the south den, a badger suddenly appeared from the hill behind us. He climbed toward us, a handsome, striking creature. Not expecting us, he quickly made a U-turn and waddled back over the hill. Another visitor also wandered into the area, a grizzly foraging in the meadow directly in front of our view of the den. This was most likely the five-year-old sow we’ve seen the past couple of days. Eventually she made her way to the other side of the road which caused a bit of a ruckus, but it looked like she crossed the road safely.
Later we drove up the Tower Road and found the Calcite parking area closed and the nearby turnout blocked off. We turned around, passing a black bear grazing peacefully in the grassy meadow along the road and asked a park volunteer why Calcite was closed. She said the black bear sow was getting frustrated because her cubs would not come down from the trees. Park staff probably concluded that crowds and traffic had frightened the cubs, impacting their behavior. It’s unfortunate because the black bears in this area have been remarkably tolerant of human presence.
This afternoon we hiked Lost Lake Trail. The trail was muddy and covered with water and ice in some places, but the small lake was full after the recent rain and snow and the water was very clear. Last fall the lake was covered with lily pads and in some places algae. There were lots of very recent grizzly tracks imprinted in the trail which kept us alert.
The golden eagle’s nest at Slough Creek is occupied this year. The female sat in the nest, stretching out her long dark neck, looking around, waiting. She is dark, a deep rich brown and sitting in the nest she appears smaller than she is. The nest is a jumble of sticks, grass and feathers. While we watched the nest with a group of enthusiastic birders, a small group of bison grazed close to us, weaving in front of our vehicles and forcing us to scramble around the cars out of the way. Tim grabbed his camera and I jumped in the car. When a curious bison sniffed the spotting scope, I was afraid he would knock it over so I opened the car door and quickly slammed it shut to scare him away. I feel a little sorry about that; the bison were only trying to get a drink from a mud puddle behind our vehicle. When the bison had moved off, we waited long enough to see the eagle take flight and leave the nest for a break.
We then stopped one more time at the natal den just as a gray wolf and a black wolf slipped into the den. The black wolf came out limping and made its way down the slope, bedding in the grass. Wolf watchers reported later that the black wolf was the alpha female who likely was injured during a hunt a couple of days before. She was followed by several puppies who crawled or slid down the slope to the grass. The puppies are getting more and more adventurous.
On our way back to the cabin we stopped at Barronette Peak where we found a mountain goat nursing a kid and a second adult on the rock slopes. The snow is melting, forming several waterfalls over the cliffs and also making it easier to spot the goats.