Saturday, May 15, 2010
   The last day is the hardest, a few more hours to stretch out our time in the Park and there is a certain anxiety about seeing or not seeing those animals we missed.
   It is 28 degrees at 5:55 a.m. pulling out of Silver Gate and leaving the cabin. Snow still covers the mountains on the east end of the Park; Barronette Peak and Thunderer shimmer in the morning light. There are no vehicles parked in any of the turnouts east of Soda Butte Cone, indicating that the carcass in the creek has been abandoned by larger predators. A single SUV is parked at Hiker's Bridge. Yesterday a young couple sat on the ground cross-legged behind it eating a last meal before a long hike into the back country of Cache Creek.
   The wolf watchers are stationed high on hills at Exclosure and Trash Can. The Silver Pack is near their den and visible in the sage across the Lamar River, but we speed through the valley to catch the Agate Pack who has been showing up early at Boulder. Last night a black wolf was seen there briefly and disappeared. This is interesting because the Agates are all gray wolves.
   This morning wolves are there again - two blacks and a gray. Not Agates. They run off almost as quickly as we glimpse one gray and one black. The black is 754M (also called "Wedge") part of 755's group with the '06 female. As soon as the wolves are out of sight, Calvin and Lynette are folding up their scopes and racing to their truck. They are an efficient duo. "Where to?" asks Tim. "Follow them" I point at the truck backing out of the turnout.
   Down the road to Wrecker where we set up and Laurie and Dan pull in. These wolves often travel behind Junction Butte to show up on the hills across the river. We wait watching the herd of elk looking east towards Junction Butte. Lynette catches sight of a black wolf weaving its way through the trees and sage. We do not see the others. These wolves are interesting because we don't know who the uncollared black and gray are - but apparently 754M and 755M know them. The gray is believed to be a female and she seems very fond of 754. At this distance the wolves are difficult to see in the sage. We cross the Yellowstone River Bridge to try to figure out just where these wolves go.
   The coyote at Roosevelt is still absent. There is a large hole in the grass a few yards to the left of the "den" and we wonder if it might be the actual den. Up Tower Road to find black bears - there are plenty of cars and people with cameras, but no bears. The osprey sits at the edge of her nest and we peer into its bottom. No egg yet.
   I want to see more of the Silver Pack and the old male who was the original alpha when the pack first moved into Lamar Valley. Wolf watchers were concerned because he had not been seen for two weeks, but this morning "the old guy" is spotted out in the sage near the Druid's rendezvous site. We reach the valley in time to see 147M traveling east along the river banks. 753F, a yearling female is out in the sage. She beds down, sitting up every now and then so I get a good look at her very light face. She is a pretty wolf and supposedly very playful. She beds down again and can't be seen, but a badger scurries back and forth between two mounds of dirt in front of her.
   We glass the river banks and flats and Tim spots a grizzly working its way through the grass and sage. He takes his time moving east towards the Confluence where we wait for him with a crowd of others. Somehow he reaches the cottonwoods without us seeing him.
   One last stop at Slough where the den site is quiet. The '06 female is there, but out of sight. Tim is watching the flats to the west at the creek bottom. Suddenly a herd of elk shoots up the canyon between the hills chased by a single black wolf. Elk and wolf disappear into the slit between the mountains. We drive to Boulder looking for nervous elk, but it's too hard to see where the wolf and elk went.
   The sand hill crane sits on her nest, now a very small island in the center of Floating Island Lake. It is truly a "floating" island, the smallest I have seen it. For all the lack of snow melt and rain, the little lake is full of water and the cranes' nest occupies most of the island. We watched yesterday as the male flew in and dropped off a tidbit for his mate. They are a very graceful pair, rubbing their long necks together. There is almost always someone parked in the turnout as this pair nests here each year and has endeared themselves to visitors.
   Two carcasses are floating in Blacktail Lakes, winter kill that has finally risen to the surface. Bears, coyotes and wolves have yet to discover this source of food. We were hoping to have some good viewing, but not yet.
   Swan Lake is still frozen. This part of the Park gives up winter slowly. Sand hill cranes dance at the icy shoreline while visitors sit at the lake's edge waiting for a grizzly they've heard about. The sky clouds up; and the temperature drops. It seems like spring is about to begin in the Park and we will miss it, but spring and winter co-exist here. I don't want to leave; I just want to stay in the little cabin at Silver Gate. Last night we stepped outside to look at the stars and it was like someone turned on Christmas lights.
   The drive to the airport and check-in is the last speed bump of the trip. Everything goes smoothly. The plane has an antelope painted on the tail - that must be a good sign.

Author - Christine Baleshta
Photography - Tim Springer

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Yellowstone Experiences 2010