trip report day 3 part 1

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    Posted by michael in tucson ( on July 08, 2005 at 18:22:24:

    5-31-05 Day 3

    Karlie and Hayden sleep in. I am on the road and in the park at about 5 AM. It is still very dark. It snowed last night and it is overcast right now, the sun has not yet cleared the Beartooth or Absaroka Ranges. What light there is seems to come from the snow on the ground. There are two large dark animals at Warm Springs. I pull into the parking area and identify a cow and bull moose. There are lots of elk and deer very close to the road as I continue west. Slow is the way to go. I pull over at Round Prairie and glass but see nothing. I stop next at the Footbridge. It is getting light enough so I look for bears on Mount Norris. I continue west, and stop at Trashcan. There is another car pulled over and the guy is looking toward the flats on the south side of the Lamar. I can see bison moving and then I see two black wolves, I think Druids. I get out the scope and begin to watch as the two work through a group of nervous bison cows, youngsters and calves. I am quickly convinced that I am watching 302 and 480. At first they move slowly and then pick up the pace. Surprisingly the bison begin to run, I expected them to stand their ground. Now it is a chase, and surprisingly I am able to follow it through the scope. One of the wolves leaps at a bison calf's tail and just misses. With the miss the pace slows and as quickly as it began the chase is over. The bison bunch up and the wolves continue west at a slower pace. They now are moving back and forth across the sage and have the attention of a group of elk cows. It appears that this is an opportunistic morning hunt with bison and elk calves on the menu. As if on cue both wolves stop moving west and now head south. I watch for about thirty minutes until the wolves disappear into the treeline. Wow! I got to see Druids ( I verify that they were 302 and 480 later). Like many others, my wolf watching has been defined by the Druids. While it is not the same as watching 21, 42 or 253, I still have a strong affinity for them and I feel terrific as I again head west.

    Next stop is Coyote. There are two vehicles here and everyone is looking north of the road. I donít even use the binoculars but set up the scope quickly. This just feels like a bear.
    And there it is a good size grizzly, wandering through the snow covered sage. All the tell tale signs of a search for elk calves are present, the pair of elk cows giving the bear all of their attention, the precise back and forth wandering by the bear, the bear stopping and watching for movement head held high. This bear has company, a coyote and several ravens follow him at a distance as he continues the search, and then he just disappears from the scope. Huh! Then I see movement, itís the bearís head, but where is the body. Wow, what camouflage, the bear has turned and his other side is covered with snow, he blends into the snow covered sage. I continue to watch until the bear and his crew are out of sight.

    It is almost 7 AM when I arrive at Slough Creek, park in the first parking area and climb the hill across the road. Emily is set up and I set up my scope nearby. There is a group from the Institute set up and I recognize the guy in charge. I know I have been introduced before by Mike but I am drawing blanks. Eventually he comes over and we introduce ourselves. Duh, itís Norm Bishop, and yes I was introduced to him last year. Emily lets us know that there are pups visible at the den. There are five pups moving around near the den and an adult bedded nearby that I never do see. The pups put on a great show, interrupted by a coyote chorus. Four coyotes are at the top of a nearby hill and they let loose with some terrific music. All of the major coyote yip, yap, howl and yowl chords are included and everyone is impressed by the music and the ability of these dogs to take our attention away from the big dogs, if only for a short time.

    Musical interlude over, itís back to the wolves. Suddenly adults begin to show up at the den and a riot breaks out. Pups are everywhere, crawling all over the adults, licking every snout they see. Some of the adults regurgitate others just lick back. I notice that Rick has shown up and he and Emily are counting the pups. I try to count and get to twelve before I lose track of pups counted and those uncounted. Emily and Rick have no problem and both get a count of fourteen. Amazing, fourteen wolf pups, more at one time than I have seen in years of watching wolves. Eventually there are also five adults present including the alpha female. The hill almost hums with human excitement. I have had my eye plastered to the scope for a long time, I give it a rest and let some of the people from the Institute share it. I talk with Rick for awhile and find out that it was definitely 302 and 480 that I watched this morning. He lets me know that they reappeared and are again in view. Back at the scope, I watch as two adult wolves lead the pups up the hill and to a bare spot under some conifers. The adults are Stripe and 380F ( I believe that both are the mothers of some of these pups). The adults lie down and the pups, well the pups just never lie down. Someone sees a bear to the south so I move the scope and find a grizzly sow with two cubs almost as big as her, probably two year olds. They are on a slope above Crystal Creek busily searching for food. There is some discussion among the Institute people if they are black bears or grizz, but I cast a very definitive vote for grizz and let several people view them through my scope. It is now almost 8:30 and I need to head back to my family.

    There is a group of people on the Confluence Hill and I canít pass by without getting another chance to see the Druids. I climb the big hill and set up the scope just in time to watch 302 and 480 disappear into the treeline east of the rendezvous site. My short sighting is adequately compensated by the appearance of a big grizzly moving east along the same treeline. He seems to be following the wolves and soon also moves into the trees. Back on the road I see a yearling moose just west of Warm Springs, and I even remember to take a picture. At Warm Springs the cow and bull moose are still busily eating. I decide to go and get Karlie and Hayden, hoping the moose will still be here when we return.

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