Saturday, May 20, 2023
Today, our last day in Yellowstone, was the warmest day of the trip; it was 33º when we left the cabin and warmed up to 75º. As we passed Lower Barronette, a cow moose grazed alone at the edge of the willows. Soda Butte Valley and Lamar Valley were pretty quiet as we drove through. Bear watchers were out and had spotted a couple of bears in the sage flats of Soda Butte Valley, but we couldn’t find them and moved on. We stopped at the Confluence to look for otters where the water is fast and muddy. There weren’t any otters, but we did see a pair of harlequin ducks floating in the Lamar River, an unusual place to see them.
Most of the day was spent going back and forth to the Slough Creek den site. Smoke from previous days has dissipated and it was sunny and clear, but it was a little slow at the den. A few wolves, at least four, including 907F, walked around the den site area and would bed, get up and bed again. We tried watching from different locations, but could not find a better view. We were waiting to see puppies and about ready to give up when a couple of wolves ran down the slope to the den and a couple of puppies appeared under their feet. The wolves wagged their tails, noses down and licked the puppies. The sighting lasted only minutes before the puppies disappeared into the den.
As the day warmed, the wolves disappeared into the trees and sage. Bison sprawled out in the grass or cooled themselves by standing in streams. We took a break from watching the Junction Butte wolves to go back to Lamar Valley where crowds gathered west of the Institute watching four wolves in the old Druid Rendezvous site, three grays and a black. We assumed it was the Shrimp Lake Pack, but a man nearby said he believed they were from the Junction Butte Pack. Visibility was terrible with the heat waves, but we could still see a black wolf get up every now and then. Rick McIntyre confirmed we were looking at six Junction Butte wolves in the rendezvous, though we only saw four. We tried to show Rick the black wolf, but the wolf kept lying down.
Rick also confirmed that the Shrimp Lake Pack has four members, three gray and a black and that they have denned. A black female yearling was missing on Thursday when we saw the pack and was probably back at the den. We then heard the Shrimp Lake Pack was seen around Soda Butte Cone so we headed there next. Crowds were strung out, lining the road. The wolves were gone by that time, but the grizzly we saw last night was grazing in the willows at Round Prairie again.
Winding our way toward Mammoth, we stopped at the Junction Butte den site once more and turnouts in Little America, taking in the green slopes under Specimen Ridge and the sea of bison and calves beneath it. The black bear sow and her cubs at Calcite were hidden deep in the woods.
Swan Lake flats is clinging to winter. There is still snow on the hillsides and covering the trails, and the lake is frosted with a thin layer of ice. It’s also colder in this part of the Park by several degrees. Two swans lingered at the edges of the water, one diving in and the other resting in the reeds. Mammoth was crazy busy, being the nearest place in the park with any visitor services open. We checked on the great horned owls’ nest again and saw one adult sleeping, but no chicks visible. It seems some of the wildlife is late as far as babies being born. In past years wolf puppies were walking outside the den by now and exploring. We haven’t seen any goslings yet either.
The new road to Gardiner is a steep descent through hills where elk and big horn sheep watch from the ridges. I miss looking down at the Gardiner River, watching goslings along its banks and osprey fish in the rushing water, but we are grateful for this road. Last fall, visitors could not enter the Park from Gardiner without a guide. Because there was so much to see in the northern part of the Park, we didn’t make it to Hayden Valley this week and missed seeing bears we have watched over the years. We couldn’t ask for a better trip – great wildlife viewing and perfect weather. We’re looking forward to next time already.