Thursday, May 18, 2023
It was another cold morning; 31º when we reached Round Prairie where a bull moose grazed on the hill overlooking Pebble Creek campground. Round Prairie is quiet at this hour; the sun has been up for a while and the construction crew is not active yet. The grizzly sow and her 2-year-old cub were foraging at the edge of Soda Butte Valley. Crowds were heavy at both Hikers Bridge and Hitching Post so we drove on, passing a large group of photographers and visitors near Midpoint in Lamar Valley who seemed to be watching a carcass surrounded by bison. We assumed it was a calf or bison that had been killed and the bison had come to say goodbye, but it looked like they might be looking at more than a carcass so we stopped. Tim immediately spotted a gray wolf in the sage across the river. As we looked further there were three wolves, all gray, one collared. They were milling around the sage across the river from the carcass, chasing ground squirrels. One wolf, gray with tinges of red-brown seemed restless. He would sniff and go back and forth from one direction to another, looking across the river. The others sniffed around but seemed more relaxed and lay down in the sage. It didn’t take long to realize this group of wolves was the Shrimp Lake Pack we were waiting to see. There are four adults in the pack, three gray and one black. 1228F, the only collared wolf in the pack, is the alpha female, born to the Junction Butte pack.
The wolves stayed in the sage for a long while, but kept patrolling the river corridor, wanting to get back to the carcass. They walked along the edge of the river bank and finally went down the cutbank to the water, stepped in and swam across. Two wolves crossed; they know the river well, choosing their points of entry carefully, places that are not too deep and they can swim across. When they reached the opposite bank, the wolves went straight to the carcass and began tearing pieces off.
Photographers and visitors moved too close to the wolves and the wolves were obviously nervous. One wolf grabbed a piece and ran off while the other ran off with nothing. They trotted into the sage, zigzagging around bison. We never saw the third wolf cross the river and lost the two wolves in the sage until someone yelled “There’s a wolf on the ridge!” An uncollared gray was standing on the mountain ridge across the road on the north side, high above the valley. Howling. A frustrated howl, even barking which is a sign of distress in wolves. The wolf kept howling though no one howled back. Then we spotted 1228F climbing a ridge making her way toward the howling wolf.
The third wolf was still in the river flats trying to figure out how to get to the others. It went back and forth between bison and carcass. The other two wolves disappeared, probably returning to the den while the stranded wolf headed east along the river bank, swam across and continued east. We later found out the howling wolf is the alpha male of the Shrimp Lake Pack and the third gray wolf is a yearling.
It was much warmer by 10:30 a.m. as we headed to Slough Creek, but a haze spread over Little America. Smoke from fires in Canada settled in the air, filtering the light. Visibility at the Junction Butte den site was poor. We could barely see anything, but we stayed and looked for badgers and checked on the sandhill crane in her nest. After about an hour, we gave up.
We hiked around Roosevelt Lodge finding a pine marten’s nest – or what we think is a pine marten’s nest. From there we went to Hellroaring and looked for pika. Wildflowers are sprouting everywhere – bluebells, yellow bells, sugar bowl and larkspur. Also shooting stars and American Pasqueflower. Happily, arrow leaf balsam root is beginning to bloom in Lamar Canyon.
On our way back through Lamar Canyon two grizzly sub-adults were grazing and grubbing in the willows near the Confluence. They are healthy looking bears; all the bears look good. As we drove east toward Silver Gate, the air cleared of smoke. A red fox hunted in the meadows across from Barronette Peak. He tilts his head to one side, listening, and then pounces.