Early this morning we watched the Slough Creek Pack climb up the hills behind their den site. Eleven wolves, two gray and nine black, winding up the hills in a line and over the rocks. It was a welcome site after watching sleeping Druids. Apparently everyone here has had a slow wildlife week.
They've gotten 527F's signals in the Junction Butte area, but no one has seen her. Both 526F and 380F were killed about a month or so ago and some people are wondering if 527F will find her way back to the Slough Creek Pack, maybe even as alpha female. So some of our disappointment about not seeing her has been quelled.
There are signs throughout the Slough Creek parking area and Little America warning of aggressive coyote behavior and asking visitors to report incidents to the Park Service. This was not a joke! Apparently, some coyotes have been stalking people, especially children, and have even nipped a wolf watcher's boot heels! They must have been fed by careless visitors and are becoming habituated.
After several days of poor wildlife viewing we saw the Mollies today. The Pelican Valley trail climbs steadily up through a wooded area of tall pines and deadfall, and opens up to miles of meadows and forest. Pelican Creek winds through in hairpin curves from east to west. Stands of pine trees are scattered across the hills. At first glance, the valley just looks like one enormous meadow. We have been here before and it hasn't changed. It is so quiet. Only bison break up the landscape and although we spot a few hikers in the very distant west, it feels like we are the only ones here.
In a far corner of the valley we spot a dark brown shape that looks like a shiny rock. We debate whether it's a rock - we would like it to be a bear - and then it lifts its head. It's a grizzly. We hike further along the ridge to get a better look. The grizzly looks like he is lying on something. Bears do not usually lie down in the middle of a meadow in the middle of the day unless they are guarding food. Moving closer our angle is better; there is not one, but three grizzlies!
The first bear is lying in the tall grass on the western bank of the creek. A huge very dark brown, almost black grizzly is lying on top of a dead elk in the middle of the creek, and a third silver colored bear is standing on the other bank of the creek. The middle bear is about as large a bear as I have ever seen, even at this distance. He is diligent about protecting his prize while the other two bears wait patiently for an opportunity to grab a piece.
Almost out of nowhere a gray wolf appears on the west bank and lies down; then a very light gray wolf walks toward the first bear on the left. Before we know it, wolves are popping up right and left on both sides of the bend in the creek. We have two grays, then another gray, then two blacks, another gray, until we count 5 grays and two blacks counted 3 collars though I believe 4 grays were collared. It had to be the Mollies. We put the pieces together - the Mollies killed the elk and the bears quickly moved in to steal the carcass.
The bear on the carcass turned back and forth, shifting from front to back, lying down, and sitting on the elk as if he was riding it. He also tried to cover it by splashing water on it! The bears on the creek bank got tired of waiting and stood up, sometimes making a move toward the carcass, but then drawing back. The big dark bear in the middle opens his mouth and seems to huff at them.
Two of the wolves, a gray and a black, step in the water approaching the bear. The water is not deep, reaching only just above their elbows. They too give up on challenging the bear,
the gray crossing over and lying near the bear on the left bank, and the black finding a grassy spot farther down the bank.
The two light grays both have collars and could be 640F and 641M. So, I think I am looking at the wolf I collared! Not sure which she is, but one of those two has to be her. The other gray wolves are bigger and darker, one with a very white belly.
We watch this game for a long time. It amazes me that we saw what we saw, that we even found the Mollies and the bears. Pelican Valley is bear country - parties of four are recommended - and knowing the bears are deep in the valley makes the hike back less worrisome. Just last night I read about a backpacker (several years ago) being killed in her sleeping bag by a bear.
The Lake area is less crowded and seems wilder. Tonight we drive south of the hotel and briefly explore some of the shoreline. Its vastness, thermal areas and rocky beaches adds mystery. We watched a pair of loons and looked for great gray owls and later we sat outside and looked at the stars while listening to the waves lapping against the shore.
Author - Christine Baleshta
Photography - Tim Springer
Click for larger image