July 13, 2010

Success!: Finding the Den

Picking up our wolf tracking in the mud and sand where we had left off yesterday, we had to stop and do a bit of "road construction."  Large, sharp rocks blocked our route through the neck of a little canyon that opened to miles of great river-flat driving in exactly the direction we needed to go and through which the wolf tracks led. If only we could get our ATVs through the neck. (Otherwise it was 20-30 minutes around.) Thus Dean and Dan lifted great rocks and soil clumps to fill in a passage throughout the canyon, so we could walk our ATVs through. (Too treacherous to drive them.) While Dean and Dan were doing so about 10:15 pm, I spotted a friendly wolf watching us about 100 feet away that had come over a hill around the canyon neck. 30 min later, Dan spotted another wolf upstream that ducked out of sight. We were pretty elated about seeing these wolves, thinking we were probably on the right trail, for the wolves may well have been coming from the den. Certainly the evening timing was right for that.

After squeezing through the canyon, we drove and walked for hours, howling and searching miles of hills but striking out each time. Ultimately we were heading for the 2009 rendezvous site (RS) that Brutus had used many times last fall. We suspected that that might be where the wolves were denning this year. 

Two miles farther we were closing in on (400 m from ) the RS when Dan, ever on his binocs, spotted a pup there. We then scoped it (20X) and saw 4 pups. To me they looked scrawny, but we will have to confirm that through higher power viewing during the next few days. We saw no adult there, but the breeding female should be returning every 5 hr to nurse the pups.  They seemed 4-5 wk old. We were elated!

After carefully exploring on foot the area surrounding the pups to try to find the best vantage point for viewing them, we decided to head back and not press our luck by moving closer.  We first need to test the tolerance of any adult associated with the den, and no adult seemed to be present. Thus at 3:00 a.m. we headed home, an hour's long, bumpy ride, savoring our success at this most critical part of this year's trip.


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