Watching Bears and Searching for Wolves in Hayden Valley

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Day 6

Friday, May 17, 2024

           The road over Dunraven Pass opened early, so we traveled south again today, but not before stopping at the Junction Butte den where one gray wolf was lying outside the den.  It could have been 907F who has taken to lying in the sage outside the den or another wolf. It was a beautiful sunny day, but very windy.  As the road winds over Dunraven the snow piles higher alongside the road, but the road itself is clear.  It is still winter near Mt. Washburn.  Approaching Canyon there is less snow in the woods, but at the junction of Cascade Meadows the meadows are covered in white.  We hoped to finally see the Wapiti Lake Pack at the den site they’ve used for the past few years in Hayden Valley, but there was no sign of the wolves in the trees or surrounding area.  Snow patches everywhere.  So quiet; not even a bear.  The area is marshy, dotted with small ponds.  The wind was terrible; so strong the tripod with the spotting scope shook.

We made a quick trip to Bridge Bay to look for grizzlies, but there, too, all was quiet.  We didn’t even see a coyote.  Many of the facilities and lodging are still closed, so there was very little traffic.  We expected to drive all the way to Lake Butte to see a bear, but cars were lining the road on the east end of Mary Bay.  Jam (Raspberry’s cub) was on the hillside foraging in between the trees and deadfall.  She really is a big, beautiful grizzly and looks healthy and strong.  Jam must be four years old now and appears remarkably well for a bear not long out of a hibernation.  She ambled over logs and grazed on tall grasses, gradually moving to the top of the hill and going over.

We drove back to Bridge Bay Marina to walk around a bit, then stopped at the Lake Hotel.  Lake Yellowstone is still frozen over with mounds of snow built up against the lake shore.  We stopped to look for the Wapitis in Hayden Valley and again had no luck, so we decided to look for them at Fountain Paint Pots on the west side of Mary Mountain Trail.  The pack has been seen there and at Old Faithful over the winter.

The drive was longer than we remembered and seemed to take forever, and then, the Wapitis were not there.  It was lucky that Dunraven Pass was open; at least we could get back to the northern range pretty quickly.  The black bear sow and her two cubs were still stopping traffic near Calcite, but moved to the hilltops on the other side of the road where the cubs were sent up trees. The young grizzly was still at Tower Junction this afternoon, grazing, grubbing and digging right next to the bison.  The wind had died down by then and it warmed up to 58-60º.  We have watched this bear all week now, and he seems to have grown fairly tolerant of the crowds.

The wind picked up again in Little America, so strong it could almost knock you over.  A small black bear was chewing on something deep in Lamar Canyon.  We watched only for a short while because of the wind, then stopped at Slough Creek to check the Junction Butte den.   It tends to be quiet in the late afternoon but sometimes a wolf will get up and walk around.  We didn’t see any wolves at first, but after looking hard, Tim spotted a dark gray wolf lying in the grass below the den.  We also looked for badgers and checked the golden eagle’s nest.  As we crossed Lamar Canyon, an osprey was chasing a hawk high above the osprey nest where the female watched and waited.

Everywhere we stopped, the wind stopped us.  Hard to set up a scope or even look without being shaken.  I’m grateful we were able to watch the grizzly at Tower and check our reliable spots – the den, the nest, and of course, Jam.  They saved what could have been a totally disappointing day.

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