Wednesday, May 17, 2023
We left the cabin at 6 a.m. today to improve our chances of seeing the Shrimp Lake Pack. Maybe it wasn’t early enough, but it may be hard to catch this pack in any case because we do not know their patterns. Driving toward Pebble Creek we were greeted by a beautiful red fox carrying breakfast home to its den, probably a bird. The fox was gorgeous: long black stockings, fluffy red and blonde fur, thick flowing tail. When we entered Soda Butte Valley, there was a crowd of people at one turnout and others parked along the road watching the grizzly sow with her cub of two years, walking along the river corridor, grazing.
We continued on toward Slough Creek, but were stopped once again right before the Lamar River Canyon by a crowd watching another grizzly on Jasper Bench, feeding on a carcass. A single gray wolf milled around hoping to grab a bite. The bear simply ignored the wolf, who seemed intimidated and gradually made its way up Jasper Bench. We do not know who the wolf was, but since Jasper Bench is not far from the Junction Butte den site, it was likely a Junction Butte wolf.
The Junction Butte den site was pretty quiet until a group of three or four black wolves came trotting up the slopes from the west. There was a big greeting and a lot of wagging tails. With all the licking and submissive postures, it looked like a few wolves got feedings. The biggest excitement was the appearance of puppies. Two wolves came out of the den, one black and one gray and suddenly there was a group of wolves clustered around the den with heads down, tails wagging and puppies under their legs. It was as if the wolves were meeting the puppies for the first time. I think I saw two puppies, dark gray or black.
A group of four wolves sitting under the trees at the top of the slope began howling and others below howled. It was a happy sound. There was a big rally; wolves bunched up together and then ten wolves took off to the west, following each other in a long line. We watched them as they traveled along the banks of Slough Creek until we couldn’t see them anymore. We tried following them, looking from different pullouts in Little America, but they disappeared behind Mom’s Ridge and the Peregrine Hills.
Farther down the road, the black bear sow with two coy was visible in Little America near the Specimen Ridge trailhead. The bears were tucked into the woods, not easy to see unless told where to look. The cubs followed their mother, crawled over logs and went up a tree.
We hiked Lost Lake Trail today. The beginning of the trail was very muddy, even covered with water in some places. We had to jump across the stream a few times, but after a hundred yards or so, the trail dried up. I couldn’t help thinking about the black bear that denned here this past winter and her two coy, wondering where they went and if we would see them in this area. We passed a few bison who ignored us. Two Sandhill cranes courted in the meadow; the male fluffed up his feathers and gave a little hop, but the dance ended there. Still the female followed him and, on our return, the two were walking side by side. We noticed the sandhill crane at Slough Creek was down on her nest today. The male was not there, but he might be at another pond.
We rushed back to Slough Creek when we heard there was “puppy activity” and just as we parked it started to rain and hail, pouring for ten minutes or so. The den site was quiet after that with only sporadic movement by the wolves. One wolf would get up, walk around, maybe sniff the den, then bed down again. The puppies came out again, but we only know this because wolves mobbed the den with noses down and tails wagging. They are so hard to see at that distance, even in clear weather.
After the watching the wolves, we were treated to a grizzly sow and her two 2-year-old cubs grazing below Specimen Ridge. The bears are large and beautiful. All about the same size, they are hard to tell apart. One cub is very light, almost blonde. The bears ambled along together, the mother and one cub play-fighting.
The weather was chilly today, 32º at 6:00 a.m. and never reaching 60º. Clouds came and went; there were a few showers and the temperature dropped. I changed jackets several times and though it was cold and windy, it wasn’t uncomfortable. I like the change in weather after the heat in Austin.