Tuesday, May 11, 2010
   We are not snowed in as Tim hoped. At 5:55 a.m. it is barely light as we pass Barronette Peak into the Lamar Valley. Not unlike many mornings it appears quiet, but much of the action in the wildlife world goes on unseen behind pine trees and hills and in ravines. We drive past all the important turnouts dutifully noting vehicles and whether people are behind spotting scopes or just talking. On to Slough Creek. The '06 female's den site is far away and she is hard to see.
   Back to Lamar and Dorothy's. The alpha female of the Silver Pack is chasing an elk near Jasper bench. That too is miles away and she is so tiny we never see her. In the meadows along the Lamar River, a coyote is chasing 147M, the alpha male. The coyote bites at 147 M's hind quarters. 147 turns around and the tenacious coyote does not back down, driving 147 further west towards the stand of cottonwoods east of Buffalo Ranch.
   We follow 147M east until he turns from the river bank south into the timber. He is a handsome charcoal gray wolf with a dark saddle and some brown and gray in his face and collar. He was originally with the 8 Mile Pack, a Wyoming pack outside the Park; hence his low identification number. We haven't seen the Silver Pack before, a pack that visited Round Prairie in previous years, but last fall and winter took up residence in Lamar Valley. The alpha male is older and was displaced by 147, but remains with the pack. The alpha female is very light gray and is not young either. There are also two young females and the pack seems to be doing well.
   In the parking area at Roosevelt Lodge we catch up with Laurie who tells us about how awful the Druid mange was/is. It makes me want to cry. Everyone has such wonderful memories of the Druids, especially when 21M and 42F were the alpha pair. It seems so unfair, unfitting that these wolves should suffer like that. There is still hope for 571F, 480M, Black Bar, Dull Bar and Triangle Blaze. 690F was legally shot this month in Butte, Montana where she was caught depredating on livestock. Driven to that!
   640F, my Mollie wolf, has dispersed from her pack. She's all right, but she has left the Mollies and is traveling on her own. That's all anyone knows. The Mollies have recovered beautifully from mange and are now thriving though it's hard to feed a lot of wolves in the Pelican Valley. Dispersal could be a good thing for a wolf right now.
   All this news hits us rather hard. We go back to Slough where we see one grizzly on the slopes above the campground. He forages, then lays down with his head on his paws and sleeps.
   We hike up Tower Road (still closed to vehicles) to Calcite Springs looking for Rosie and new cubs, but see no black bears. Calcite Springs overlook gives beautiful views of the Yellowstone River Canyon. A wide, pale blue band stretches across the middle of the rocky cliffs of the canyon walls. The trees are filled with Junkos and Clark's nutcrackers. At one point I think I hear a squawk, like a black bear cub, but I don't hear it again.
   In Little America bison calves are jumping around on their new legs. They have mischievous expressions on their little orange brown faces. A pregnant cow ambles a distance from the herd, stopping to drink from a stream. She looks so heavy -there will be a new calf soon.
   We stop at Pebble Creek and hike along Soda Butte Creek. The sand bars are littered with wolf tracks and bear sign. The water is low in some places, barely covering the rocky bottom. At one tiny feeder stream, small, young trout are flipping about madly in the shallow water, getting caught between stones. Tim yells "Grab a fish," and we start catching the trout and carrying the fish to nearby deeper water. With my hands I steer a few through rocks to a pool of water covered by a hood of snow. If the fish cannot navigate the shallow streams and the water freezes, the fish will freeze too. I hope we saved a few today.

Author - Christine Baleshta
Photography - Tim Springer

   I've always considered Yellowstone a land of change. In the minds of the visitors black bears become grizzlies, coyotes become wolves and every rock, stump and hairy has the potential to jump up and munch you at any moment. Always chortling at my fellow visitors I had the wonderful opportunity for a little humbling this trip.
   While looking for anything at Wrecker pullout on Tuesday I saw a bird obviously sleeping in an aspen a little distance from the car. I asked C what she thought it was and told her that I (Mr. Expert) thought it was an owl but maybe a hawk. I finally decided to load up the 500mm on the big tripod and try and get a picture. I put a serious sneak on the thing moving slowly this way and that taking pictures as I got closer. Eventually I was pretty darn close and the thing still wouldn't fly. Steady confident bird I was thinking...
   Finally I got a better look through my binocs and figured out it was just part of the tree that had gotten twisted. I looked back at the car to see Christine had figured this out as well and was laughing. I then had to sneak back to the car avoiding eye contact with everyone so I didn't have to tell them what I "saw". So for the rest of the trip we would look at something and say "No it's just a Birch Bird". That's what one of the last images on this page is. Could have happened to anyone, honest. - Tim

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Yellowstone Experiences 2010