Yellowstone Up Close and Personal
31 December 2009 Trip Report
~ December 2009 ~
Thursday - 31 December 2009
We had our first sighting at Curve Lot in Little America. Rick had signals from Agate to the south and from Lava Creek to the north.
Rick spotted the black alpha male of the Lava Creeks. Close to him on a sage ridge was alpha female 471 and the gray called the 06 female (she was born in 2006). Then behind us in the same lot, someone saw the Agates. I saw Big Blaze, the gorgeous former Druid, nephew of 302 first. He was moving boldly between trees, heading uphill. Then I saw gray 715F. These two crossed a clearing and then I saw the grand dame - 472F. She did not trot, but walked steadily and determinedly, joining her pack mates.
I kept my scope on the Agates and turned around with my binocs to follow the Lava Creeks but they soon moved out of sight. Then to our delight, we heard howling. The Lava Creeks howled, and the Agates howled back. The Lava Creeks somehow made themselves sound like far more than three wolves - and we wondered if that was a survival tactic of theirs?
Then the Agates began to walk to the east and uphill toward some trees and I knew we would soon lose them. I kept an eye on 472, knowing that it may be the last time I get to see her. She is 9 years old now. Big Blaze and 715 began to trot near the grand dame moved at her own pace. She was once a black wolf, now turned white with age and I watched her disappear between the trunks of dark conifers.
Now the Lava Creeks re-appeared, heading through the sage towards Junction Butte. As I watched them. I was struck by the similarity in this pack with the Agates; they are somewhat carbon copies of each other. Each has a black alpha male, a very light gray collared alpha female and one additional gray female. However, there are differences one can notice if you see them often enough or close up enough.
Big Blaze is a very very black wolf, large and full of energy, with a full, feathery tail and of course, that big white blaze on his chest, like 302 had. 472 is a former black wolf, now gray with age, and her face is distinctly "Druid" in that she reminds you of both 21M and 42F, her parents. 715 is a very pretty gray, and is distinguished clearly by her short tail. We don't know what happened that caused her to lose the second half of it.
Lava Creek alpha 147M, was collared in Montana, but come to Yellowstone a few years ago. He had a case of mange last year that he has now recovered from. He is great looking and robust, but has some lighter shading on his sides and legs which makes him look different than Big Blaze. Alpha female 471 is very light colored, but thinner than 472 and the shape of her head reminds me of a white terrier (the Target Dog). The 06 female is a beautiful gray wolf, very robust and energetic, with a full tail.
Anyway, the Lava Creeks began to ascend the eastern slope of Junction Butte and I was convinced that they would eventually go over to the carcass, but wolves don't always do what I predict!!! They disappeared into the trees, and several of us moved over to the Specimen lot to watch them come down but they never did!
Then we heard from people at Boulder that they could see them bedded on top of Junction Butte. We went there but got a surprise. DRUIDS! They were spotted far to the north, on the other side of the Lamar River. It was the same seven that we watched yesterday. They were traveling across a sage hill where I have never seen wolves before. There was one section that was more snowy than sagey and the new black pranced through the snow to the far end, where he turned to the group of females as if to say - come on! Let's go this way!
But the females were not so sure and they hung back. They waited for a while, perhaps having a discussion about the best course. It took a while and the new male was not patient. He came back to them, pranced out there again by himself, wagged his tail a lot, and then trotted around them in a great big circle, sniffing a lot.
Finally White Line went over to him and seemed to whisper something in his ear. After that, she began a course that led north east. Soon they were strung out in a familiar wolf-parade, and the new male managed to get to the front as if it was all his idea! They eventually disappeared over a ridge top into an area known as "the Trough" where the are very hard to see.
So we turned our attention back to Agates. Rick got signals from Straightaway pullout to the south and we tried mightily to find them but they thwarted us. So we headed out east in search of otters. We heard many reports of them at Round Prairie, at the confluence and at Soda Butte Cone, but whenever we showed up there, they were not in sight. We ended up gathering at Footbridge almost out of habit - and suddenly there they were! Two, at least. One very large.
Otters are SO fun to watch, The big one caught several fish and hopped on the bank to eat them. I am always surprised that they have to chew so much. Then it had to clean its whiskers in the snow and one time rolled on its back with its short little webby feet in the air. Another time they both were on the bank, grooming each other.
Their antics kept the resident ducks on the wing - they wanted to land in the water but did not trust the otters. They swam back and forth in the open water and kept us running from one side of the pullout to the other. Many people got to see them and it was a first time sighting for quite a few.
After this we got a call that Calvin had spotted the Agates from Straightaway. We headed over there. The pullout was chock full! I missed seeing them down low, but I was able to pick them up in an clearing in the trees as they ascended the slope on their regular path up to Specimen Ridge. There is a "gap" where you can see many trails as all the animals use this route from time to time.
So it ended up being a lovely sighting of these three distinctive wolves. Big Blaze was in the lead and more than once he stopped and looked back to make sure his ladies were on their way - it looked to me to be a gallant gesture on his part. Then he began to lope easily up the steep hill. They all topped out and made me smile as they turned and walked along the skyline for about 50 feet before disappearing over the rim.
We headed on to Mammoth and made a valiant attempt to find the Canyon wolves but no luck. And later in the evening we gathered at a pre-arranged New Years Eve celebration at the K-Bar. And I'm happy to tell you they have improved their pizza. Get the Supreme! It was a grand time and so fun to get to know each other better. Of course, we left WELL before midnight (I was home at 9:00 PM) because we still had to get up early the next morning!!!
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by John William Uhler
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