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Yellowstone Up Close and Personal

27 - 28 December 2009 Trip Report

by Wendy

Wolves near Canyon by John William Uhler © Copyright All Rights Reserved

~ December 2009 ~

Yellowstone Wolf ~ © Copyright All Rights Reserved Gerry Hogston

Sunday - 27 December 2009

Yesterday was another great day. Started at Elk Creek looking for Mollies but no dice. Traveled to Slough and saw the three Lava Creek wolves bedded on a snowy knoll on the south side. We thought that was going to be it for the day! Hah!

Decided to try to find Agate 472 (Rick had a weak signal) so we looked for her around the area of #9's old den (Across from the Peregrine Hills). While we were looking we heard the Lava Creeks had moved to the top of the ridge. We saw them way up on skyline sitting on their haunches - a delightful pose.

Then heard a call that four gray wolves had just crossed the road from north to south. We found them and watched them walk slowly up the slope. A large gray male, a white female and two gray pups. They are being called the "Silver Pack". When they got about 2/3 up the hill they began to stare to the east and the white wolf slunk to a stalking posture. Then suddenly all four took off running to the east. They were after the Lava Creeks! Those poor wolves get chased by everybody!

Next thing we know the Lava Creeks are headed down hill running for their lives for the road. I saw the gray male running fast and saw one of the pups skid to a halt (with snow flying!) presumably as he decided to NOT approach the road.

Our angle prevented further viewing so we headed back east. Got there in time to see the Silver Pack re-unite for some high-fiving, back-slapping and bonding. The pups moved up the hill to bed while the alphas bedded about mid-slope.

Apparently, the black alpha male of the Lava Creeks did cross the road but 471 and the 06 Female gave the Silvers the slip, knowing the area well as they do (these gals are Agates). While the Silvers were still bedding, these two females trotted right past us, through the sage flats. 147M circled around to the north and crossed the road south to meet his girls much further west in the #9 old den area.

Yellowstone Wolf and Buffalo ~ © Copyright All Rights Reserved Gerry Hogston

They perched on a snow slope and the 06 Female began to howl. She howled and howled, sometimes joined by her pack mates and sometimes just by herself. We thought we heard a response from the north one time, and she whipped her head around when she heard it. Eventually she got up and moved slightly east, crossed the road in view of everyone, climbed a hill on the north side and continued to howl. Her pack mates howled at her to come back. She finally did, and they bedded again on a different snow slope. About an hour later, she got up and traveled west, crossed the road and we picked her up again in the big snow flat on the eastern side of the Peregrine Hills.

The howling continued - it seemed to be a debate among them as to what action to take. The 06 won the debate, and both 147 and 471 finally began heading toward the road. With help from Rick and the Tower Ranger, both wolves were able to cross AND about 30 visitors got to see two wolves pretty close. They were last seen loping across the snow flat, following the 06 female and out of sight.

Well, after that excitement, I took a break with Chloe & Becky by driving into Lamar Valley - up to Round Prairie and back. None of us had set eyes on this most beloved valley since we arrived! It was serene and stunning as always.

On our way back we stopped at Crystal to see the Silvers again and found a surprise! Another gray wolf, uncollared, was on the slope where the Lava Creeks had been this morning. This unknown gray wolf was nonchalantly scent trailing those wolves and spent several minutes sniffing their bedding spot. Then he headed east and disappeared into Crystal drainage.

We did not know who this gray was - our impression was that it was a male (both Chloe and I first suspected it was the alpha male of the Silvers, but changed our minds when we found him, along with the other three members of his pack higher and further west than where we had last seen them.)

So, two packs and one mystery wolf - for a count of 8.

Monday - 28 December 2009

Yellowstone Buffalo  ~ © Copyright All Rights Reserved Gerry Hogston

We began our day at Crystal, looking for the Silvers. We did not find them, nor the mystery gray. We continued into Lamar and found Rick at the Institute. He had two of the Miller wolves (682's group) - the same ones that had attacked the Druids in October and the same ones that the Druids had trounced two days later. I guess they like Lamar!

They were bedded high on a slope behind the Institute. We watched them sleep and raise a head or an ear for 2 and a half freezing cold hours! (It was 15 below even with the sun!). Most of us were convinced we saw three bodies up there, but they never gave us a chance to confirm our guess.

We finally left to thaw out and took another drive through beautiful Lamar Valley. After lunch in Silver Gate at Beds & Buns we headed back to check on them. Of course they were gone! But right around 2:00 PM we heard a lone howl. We could not find the howler, it was enough to convince us to stay and keep trying. We knew wolves were being seen from Boulder, but these were NEW wolves! We tried several angles and when we got back to the Institute, we found that other visitors had found one black much lower than we had been looking. It was bedded in the snow. So for another two hours (not quite as freezing but still very cold!) we watched this wolf sleep, roll over, lift its head and flick its ears!

It moved just enough for us to confirm it was uncollared, making him the smaller black of this pack.

When the sun dropped behind Specimen Ridge, I told my shivering companions to hang on, that I was sure this wolf would do SOMETHING once the shadow of evening chilled his bedding spot. Well it took nearly 15 more minutes but suddenly Chloe said "here comes another wolf!" And sure enough, 682 (a larger black with white cheeks) came sauntering towards the smaller black from the left - and moments later, the dark gray (697) appeared on the same track.

It wouldn't surprise me if these two had been bedded on this hill the whole time, but we just didn't see them (or they were just out of sight). Anyway, it was a thrill to see them, as they are big, beautiful wolves. They wagged their tails and jumped on each other, licking muzzles and body slamming each other.

The gray rolled in the snow a while, kicking up its legs and then shaking off the snow. Then one by one they trotted downhill and out of sight behind some conifers. We don't know if they had a carcass or not. We suspect not, simply because we saw no bird activity. One magpie and one raven flitted about nearby but no more than that. The larger black charged the magpie once when it had the temerity to land near him!

These are very distinctive wolves and I am very glad we stuck it out to see them.

We headed west and stopped at Boulder where other wolves had been seen earlier in the day, but no one was left so we didn't know where to look.

But even with a "mere" 3 wolves to our tally, I can truthfully say it was a great day!

Yellowstone Wolves ~ © Copyright All Rights Reserved Gerry Hogston

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