Junction Butte Wolves and a Grizzly Share a Carcass
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Wednesday, May 18, 2022
It was another busy day filled with great wolf viewing and bear watching. This morning, 1048M, 1276F, an uncollared gray wolf and a black yearling were feeding on a carcass on the banks of the Lamar River, surrounded by ravens flying about. Also feeding on the carcass was a dark grizzly; it swatted at the wolves with its great paws as they lunged in to grab a bite. Though the carcass is a couple of weeks old, the wolves and bear were still finding something to feed on. After a while the wolves gave up and headed west over Jasper Bench. Across the river we could hear them howl with a pack of coyotes joining in. We have seen more coyotes this spring than in previous trips. Today, a light-colored male coyote hunted in the flats below Dorothy’s pullout, another trotting along the road, one on top of Jasper Bench and one swimming across the river at the Confluence.
We expected to follow the wolves as they traveled across the bench to Crystal Creek, but the wolf project yellow plane suddenly appeared circling overhead, circling overhead. The plane must have frightened the wolves because only the black yearling came over the top of Crystal Creek. At the south den four wolves cared for the puppies who crawled under their legs and through the sage. The adults wagged tails and played while watching the pups. It’s difficult to keep track of all those puppies, but at this point the count is nine. At the natal den, black puppies crawled up and down the slope through the sage while a black wolf and a gray wolf went in and out of the den. Again, it looked like the black adult (who we later found out is the alpha female) was limping.
While we watched the south den, a grizzly sow and two sub-adults made their way across a high meadow toward Specimen Ridge. Later in the morning this bear family would cross the road to the meadows on the north side and travel toward Slough Creek. One of the bear watchers told us the sow is the Junction Butte bear, a grizzly we have seen in this area for several years. We asked if the big grizzly sow we saw early this week was her daughter and he said no; only one of the Junction Butte bear’s cubs has survived, a male, who would be about six years old now.
As we drove back and forth, we saw two cinnamon black bears, one near Soda Butte picnic area and one along the Tower Road. The parking area and turnout at Calcite are no longer closed. The black bear with cubs wasn’t in sight, but people were standing around so she must have been there. We did see a black bear sow and two one year-old cubs in a wooded area between elk creek and Hellroaring. I don’t know the name of that particular location, but it is a popular spot for black bears and can be marshy.
We took two hikes this afternoon; the first through the stand of cottonwoods at Picnic down to the Lamar River. Even though the car thermometer said 60º, the wind made it feel cold. The cottonwoods have not leafed out yet and are still bare. Mallards floated along the banks of the river. Tim spotted something unusual – a goose nesting in the fork of a cottonwood. I have heard of geese stealing a bald eagle’s nest and we have seen geese or ducks nesting in the trees at Trout Lake, but it’s still a funny sight.
What started as a short walk to look for wildflowers from Hitching Post turned into a longer and more interesting hike. We followed the trail to the river and looped around toward Hiker’s Bridge, ending down the road from Hitching Post. We crossed the road and walked over the rolling hills to look for the lake hidden in the hills. The old Druid Pack den site is somewhere in the woods high above the road. We climbed steep game trails to reach the woods which were littered with deadfall. I’ve always wanted to see the Druid den site. I can’t say we found it, but we did find a few possible sites. Part of me felt like I was invading sacred space, but at the same time, it felt like a privilege to be in a such a historically significant place.
Down the road and across from Soda Butte Cone, a pair of coyotes have built their den in the side of the slope. We waited for almost an hour this afternoon without seeing anything except one adult trotting back to the den, but around 5:30 p.m. our luck changed. Five puppies played and wrestled in the sage, but only for a few minutes before disappearing into the den. Hopefully, the puppies will be there at a little longer – coyotes have a habit of quickly moving their pups as soon as they feel the den is no longer safe.
On the way back to Silver Gate we spotted a bull moose partially hidden in the woods near Warm Creek. There is also a family of three moose, a cow and her twins, living in Silver Gate in a marshy area along the road. Tonight we were lucky enough to find the family feeding contentedly on the willows.