Day 7 October 13th, 2015
Tuesday, Oct 13, 2015
Silver Gate, Montana
The temperature is 24° by the time we reach Lamar Valley. Any sign that the Lamar Canyon Pack was in Soda Butte Valley yesterday is gone. There are hardly any other vehicles and no signals. We drive on through the valley, passing Buffalo Ranch and Jasper Bench where the Junction Butte Pack filed down Amethyst Creek last night.
Arriving in Little America it doesn't take long to find the Junction Butte Pack on a carcass not far from Lamar River Bridge. At first I counted six, but earlier there were seven wolves, two black and five grey, including 911M. The other wolves are all pups from this year's litters, which must be two litters because there are 12 pups all together. The first time the pups appeared with the adults only about a month ago, wolf watchers couldn't believe what they were seeing and counted the pack several times. I am not sure how many blacks and greys there are.
The Junction pups are gorgeous with thick, luxurious coats and striking masks and markings. Some of the greys are dark with brown mixed into their saddles. I hate to say this, but they are a sharp and sad contrast to the Lamar Canyon pups. It's heartbreaking.
We watch 911M and the pups feed for a couple of hours as the wolves travel up and down through sage covered slopes, as if they can't decide if they are finished eating. The carcass is not big - a mule deer or pronghorn, so the pack must have cleaned it up quickly. But they gnaw on it for a long while and the pups chase away magpies and ravens. I am taken by one touching moment between a grey pup and 911M on a sandy slope when the pup slides up to 911M soliciting food. The pup gets no food, but 911M does not push him away, letting the pup rub against his body. There was some question this winter whether or not 911M had successfully bred any females. In any case, he is a good caretaker of these baby wolves.
After 911M leads the pups up to the plateau, three coyotes appear on the ridge overlooking the river. One stands high on a boulder. It takes them a little while, but they manage to slink through the brush to feed at the carcass. The rest of the Junction Butte Pack is bedded in the grass and sage along Slough Creek. Hardly visible, every now and then one pops up out of the sage.
We sit in the upper parking area watching Slough Creek flats, but see only a little grey coyote, a black and a grey wolf. They zigzag in and out of sage, teasing us. In a moment of inattention I turn away and when I look back a black bear is running across the meadow as if his life depended on it. I was watching a duck circle in the sky and suddenly the bear was standing in the middle of the grass. He takes off like a shot across the road and disappears behind a hill. We don't see him again.
Back at Lamar Bridge four coyotes have found the carcass. Earlier we heard yips along with wolf howls. The coyotes are small compared to the wolves, little red wolves with pointy ears and noses. At the carcass, they are cautious, surveying their surroundings as if they expect a Junction wolf to suddenly pounce on them. The carcass is hardly visible at this point with only a few magpies flying up from the tall grass.
Today we hike Garnet Trail above Yellowstone River. The trail climbs up gently rolling hills and overlooks the river. The Yellowstone is beautiful from here, winding under the bridge, passing rocky buttes on the north side. A few bison lounge on the cliffs. We look for black bears on the other side of the river and mountain lions, but in the middle of the day the wildlife has disappeared. We search for garnets, but don't find any in the rocks scattered about.
The coyotes have left the carcass at Lamar Bridge while the Lamar Canyon pups have been seen for hours in Round Prairie so we rush through the valley only to be confronted by a large herd of bison crossing Soda Butte Creek. The bison are in the water, on the banks and all over the road and parking turnouts. When we finally squeeze into a parking place they are right next to the car.
The Lamar Canyon pups move through Round Prairie at a good clip west towards Lamar Valley, two greys and a black. We lose them in the trees when the bison run up the banks of the creek. I would have liked a closer look, and I have questions. There were five pups originally. Yesterday we saw four. Now there are three. Why are they left alone without a yearling or adult to watch them? The Junction Butte Pack travels together, bringing the pups along. It's disturbing. I worry about these little ones, seemingly fending for themselves. Not to mention the mange.
Back to Little America to wait for the Junction wolves. There are signals, but no wolves. We wait until it's too dark to see. Maybe tomorrow they will be south of the road, or over Specimen Ridge.
Author - Christine Baleshta
Photography - Tim Springer
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