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Monday morning feels colder than the previous days, even though there is no wind.
Most days begin in the 20s and warm up to about 40 something. A cow moose grazes
near the trailhead to Trout Lake. Elk and bison graze along the road and the Druids
are stretched out across the Lamar Valley from Soda Butte cone to Amethyst bench.
For the most part, it's a very quiet beginning to the day.
Today we try a new trail branching off the road from Tower Junction and running west to
a shelter used for Park picnics and special events. From there the service road connects
with a trail to the Yellowstone River passing through fields of the years first wildflowers
and divided by a stream. Enclosing the meadow on the north side is a steep rocky face
marked by black caves and jagged ledges. Strewn on the ledges and in the crevices are
bones. A good place for a mountain lion to den.
The trail winds its way through a heavily wooded area with small clearings here and there.
At one point I glance to my right and there is a coyote sitting on the hillside watching
us from about 25 yards away, and yawning. He follows us on his unseen path on the hill,
limping slightly, but otherwise very healthy looking with light tan colored fur, wooly
and shedding. We round a corner and he watches us disappear towards the river.
The sun is just starting to set when we park at Hiker's Bridge. It's very peaceful and
aside from bison and ground squirrels, affectionately called "chiselers" by the locals,
there is nothing in sight. So we drive west and pull in near Buffalo Ranch. Two black
bears weave in and out of the aspen at the edge of the valley. They are fairly large,
even in the scope, so they must be young males traveling together. We spot a raptor
in the cottonwoods, probably an osprey.
It's getting dark so we call it a quiet day and begin driving east toward the cabin.
Standing in the middle of the road near Pebble Creek is 375F staring into our headlights.
The brass studs on her collar reflect the evening light and I can see those amber eyes.
She darts into the meadow north of the road and runs up the hill through the grass
sending some elk and a cow moose flying into the trees.
Tim is out of the car in the middle of the road, snapping her picture. She turns around
and zigzags through the grass, nose to the ground. Suddenly she stops hunting for chiselers
and approaches the road slowly and thoughtfully. There is no timidity here, no fear of humans.
For a moment I think she is going to walk right up to Tim, she is staring at us so intently.
Instead, she dashes into the road and angles off behind the jeep as I watch her leap into the
opposite meadow through the back windshield.
We often see 375F by herself, wandering through a herd of bison, or feeding alone on a
carcass. Her father is 302M, a large black wolf who was originally from the Leopold Pack.
302M mated with two of the Druid females and is the father of several young wolves in the
pack. Although the alpha pair, 21M and 42F, would run him off, 302M would visit the pack
frequently and seems to be very popular with the young Druids.
But 302 M and 375F seem to have a special bond. Rick McIntyre told us that 302M and 375F
would often go off together on his visits. She licks his face and drapes her body over
his back. He bends his head and shoulders down and 375F slides off. It seems to be a
little game the father and daughter play. Rick also told us there were concerns that
302M, is becoming habituated to humans. The large black wolf comes up behind watchers
and seems unintimidated by the presence of people. I wonder if he has passed this
trait to his daughter.
Author - Christine Baleshta
Photography - Tim Springer
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