Day 4 June 4, 2013
Tuesday, June 4, 2013
Fog lifts from the grass in the early morning chill. A cow moose stands knee deep in the willows at Warm Springs; her gray brown coat holds a silvery sheen, frost clinging to her fur. On the slopes next to Pebble Creek three bull moose graze contentedly, facing away from us. They act as if we aren't here. Odd to see three bachelor moose together - they must be young.
Near the Institute a pair of coyotes patrol the south facing slope of a sage covered hill. Their den is nearby and they have puppies who at the moment are out of sight. A grizzly forages on Amethyst Bench. A sow with two coy is supposed to be in the valley, but we have not seen her.
We head to Hayden Valley to see the Canyons. The Tower Road project makes that part of the drive dusty, bumpy and slow, filled with construction delays. Despite that, the trip is relatively quick. When we arrive at Grizzly Lookout it's packed with cars and construction equipment. The Canyons were seen about five minutes before we arrive, three grays and two blacks, I think. I set up the scope and Rick McIntyre sets up right next to me. He talks to a lady from Czechoslovakia who has lots of questions about the wolves and wolf hunt. Finally a gray wolf rises from the sage and begins to leave. Not long after, a second wolf, black but graying, pops out of the sage and follows, moving west. They trot through tall vegetation to the banks of the Yellowstone where they sniff around in circles before crossing and disappearing over a hill.
We follow them down the road toward Alum Creek parking just in time to see the black, alpha male 712M, chase an elk across the slope, then dash across the sage and across the road. He is graying under his belly and around his paws, but he is still dark at six years old. Born a Mollie, he carries that pack's large frame, running at top speed and covering a lot of ground. The Canyons are good hunters and industrious providers and we are fortunate they are reliably visible. 712M is a cautious wolf and will avoid people and the road whenever he can. The gray wolf is a female subordinate, maybe two or three years old. We don't see her cross the road, though she must have run into the sage on the other side of the road. So we have seen the Canyons two days. Rick says they moved at least three pups yesterday.
This afternoon a gray and a black wolf are running west of the Confluence disappearing in and out of the sage.
The black has a beautiful dark face against her charcoal body. The gray is huge - it must be "Big Gray,"
the alpha male of the Lamar Canyon Pack. He trots away from the road, nose to the ground, his coat fading into the brush.
We follow them until they are out of sight, then go back to Hitching Post to watch them cross. The black weaves in and out of the willows, disturbing a herd of bison cows and calves momentarily. She carries a spindly leg bone, trotting to the road. Vehicles slow as the dark female races to the road; a ranger blasts up the road and stops in time to see her leap across the road and up the hill, still carrying the bone.
The Coyote puppies are out. Their mother lies on a mound of dirt above the den guarding the puppies as they crawl in and out of the den exploring their surroundings. Balls of brown and red fur, the pups walk slowly and clumsily. Crawling out of the den, they tumble over each other, rolling around, and slide back into the hole. "Mom" walks up the hill keeping watch from just over the ridge. She will move the pups tonight to a different den and we won't see them again.
Just before we reach Silver Gate, we see another cow moose at the creek in a clearing between the trees. Wall Mountain is beautiful tonight, glowing as darkness falls.
Author - Christine Baleshta
Photography - Tim Springer
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