Hiking Blacktail Road & Wolf Puppies Make An Appearance

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Day 3

Tuesday, May 16, 2023

It was colder this morning than yesterday; 30º at 6:30, though it was still clear and sunny and it didn’t warm up as quickly.  The cow moose and her calf were tucked into the trees, grazing on the hillside overlooking Round Prairie.  We would have missed them if we hadn’t seen a photographer walk over toward them, his lens in hand.  Round Prairie looks much the same, but the flood washed over Soda Butte Creek, transforming the woods at the western edge.  The road past Trout Lake pullout was washed over and had to be rebuilt.  The woods – well, the trees were washed away.  The creek is wider, the sandbar closer to the road and Pebble Creek Campground is devastated, converted to a parking lot for construction vehicles and workers.

Today was much quieter at the Junction Butte den site.  When we arrived only 907F and a collared black wolf were visible.  I thought the black might be 1276F; 907F milled around and went into the den at least once.  After a while two black wolves trotted in from the west carrying something in their mouths.  They greeted 907F and 1276F, all the wolves wagging tails, and it looked like both 907F and 1276F received a feeding.  There was a brief howl with coyotes yipping and singing in the background.  It was during this time that some wolf watchers reported seeing two puppies come out of the den.  We must have been focusing on the howling wolves because we didn’t see any puppies and the wolves weren’t near the den at that time.

After a while, we left the den site and drove up Tower Road to watch the black bear sow and cubs.  A volunteer ranger said the cubs are one year old and the same black bear cubs we saw last spring, the bears that were getting stressed out by the crowds then.  One cub is particularly sensitive and climbs a tree when scared easily.

After watching the bears, we drove as far as Blacktail Ponds and took a short hike up the Blacktail Road which is closed to traffic right now.  The road winds along the edge of Blacktail Plateau through rolling hills and woods ending at Petrified Tree.  We didn’t go that far, but this is a beautiful hike with great views and opportunities to see wildlife.  We saw one bull elk, but there was lots of bear, wolf, coyote and bison sign.  Going back through Little America, another black bear sow and her two coy had cars lining the road.  The bears were deep in the woods under Specimen Ridge and had been playing in a nearby pond.

Back at the Junction Butte den a solitary black wolf milled around the flats below the den site.  A gray wolf and a black wolf exited the den, maybe the two mothers, and walked up the slope to the trees where they bedded in the shade.  Sleeping wolves are hard to see; we counted nine in all which means 12 wolves were probably there.  We hoped to see puppies, but not today for us.

The large grizzly was foraging at the Confluence when we passed by; it seems he is a regular there.  Wildflowers are beginning to sprout:  silky phacelia, phlox, shooting stars, violets and dandelions.  It was cooler today and rain threatened a couple of times, but it only sprinkled lightly.

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