Day 6 May 18, 2015
Monday, May 18, 2015
Cooke City, Montana
Parts of today are like early years we came up here - rushing back and forth, getting up really early, staying out late, following wolves moving through the valley until we couldn't see them.
Scarface is back at the Confluence this morning, this time near the road in the no-stopping zone. Twin comes down 21's crossing to the carcass site and feeds a while. It seems strange to remember that we saw this cow elk last night standing in the river, then on the shore and now she is gone. Twin grabs a long bone and drags it away. He beds in the sage for a while, licking his paws, then picks up the bone and trots south and east, returning to the den.
We heard there were two grizzlies on a carcass at Wraith Falls, but even though we search the whole surrounding area, we can't find them. Another visitor pointed out one carcass high on the slope and it was then we noticed the ravens. A second carcass was on another slope farther east, but we never found it. We never saw any wolves there either, even though we waited and came back later in the day.
We hiked part of the Lava Creek Trail today where we saw yellow-rumped warblers and mountain chickadees. At Floating Island ducks swam in the pond - Ruddy Ducks, a Grebe and Canada geese. A yellow headed black bird hunted in the reeds while ravens harassed a red-tailed hawk. A bald eagle soared from his perch in a fir tree near the shore, swooping across the water, fishing for his dinner.
Later we walked into Yancy's Hole, circumventing a couple of bull bison and passing a community of marmots living in a mountain of scree. Some stare and bark, while a few others run in front of us, getting quite close. Along the road visitors watched a fox hunt in the tall, waving grass at Tower Junction.
We check the Slough Creek carcass one more time and look for an eagle's nest we heard about. It's almost 5 o'clock and the temperature begins to drop. At Dorothy's several scopes are set up pointing toward Jasper Bench. A couple in a van has spotted wolves across the river, a long way off, but with some good directions we finally see them. They are four tiny black and gray dots moving across the green slopes. A herd of elk begins to prance, heads high in the air. Soon the wolves are dashing behind them, sending the elk across the slopes. Even at this distance one can see how fast the wolves run, circling the elk and driving them behind a ridge and then out on the flat. The wolves stop to rest, but the elk are alert, heads pointed in the wolves' direction. After a while the wolves get up and begin trotting east behind the trees toward Amethyst drainage.
We try to keep up by moving down to the Institute, and then farther east. I wasn't sure who these wolves were. I couldn't see any collars and I was trying to figure out which pack might have four adults able to travel and hunt. The next morning we learn they are 890M, 911M (alpha male), 969F and 970F (alpha female) of the Junction Butte Pack. The wolves are in Lamar Valley, getting closer to the Lamar Canyon Pack, so I am relieved when they turn around and travel west up the drainage.
They are still following the elk trotting down the game trails to the river and back up to Jasper Bench where bison with calves are grazing. Suddenly the wolves spread out in a horizontal line, moving steadily toward the cows and their young. Gradually the wolves pick up speed, circling the cows and calves. The cows in turn circle the calves, kicking out at the wolves, all of them running, running, clouds of dust swirling above them. The chase continues over the bench into Crystal Creek drainage where they disappear from sight. The light is fading by now and we continue on to Cooke City, but the next day we hear that others followed the wolves into Little America until they lost them in the dark.
Author - Christine Baleshta
Photography - Tim Springer
Click for larger image