YNP WOLF Field Notes, November 22-26, 2006, by Kathie Lynch

Kathie Lynch, one of our Wolf Recovery Foundation directors, has just written one of her ever popular reports of Yellowstone wolf observations.

Ralph Maughan

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YNP WOLF Field Notes, November 22-26, 2006

By Kathie Lynch.

Thanksgiving in Yellowstone! If you want to escape the holiday frenzy, head to Yellowstone–where theonly crowds you’ll find are the herds of bisonstanding around in the road, and instead of holiday”muzak” at the mall, the howl of the wolf will fill your ears.

My five day visit (November 22-26, 2006) featured avery special treat–I got to see the Druids! The last time I saw the Druid Peak pack was July 4, just beforethey departed Round Prairie for summer in the high country. While they have dropped in for occasionalvisits to the Lamar Valley since then, this was myfirst chance to see them.

My sightings were brief, but, as most devoted Yellowstone wolf watchers will agree, any Druid sighting is a most precious gift! The Druids had been visiting a cow bison carcass (cause of death unknown, but a sickly looking one had been reported in the area.) It was on the hillside, just north of the roadfrom the Hitching Post turnout in Lamar and very near “21’s Crossing.”

My first Druid sighting was a big, beautiful graypup (now almost adult size) north of the road in the Soda Butte Valley as the Druids traveled east from the carcass. The pup was a crack up! He was rolling around on his back in the snow, wiggling all over and waving all four legs in the air! That one minutesighting was my only wolf for that day, but I couldn’t have been happier–I had seen a Druid!

The next day, I was even luckier. I arrived just in time to see 10 Druids running full tilt just below the tree line in the same area. They were so full of life and just seemed to be enjoying a gallop in the snow. A couple of bull elk scattered in their path, but I don’t think they were really chasing them–it looked like they were just out for a joy ride!

Of course, with so many pups, you have to expect a lot of enthusiasm! The Druid count lately has consistently been “only” 14 (Only!…Think about just four Druids a year ago!), nine black and five gray. Unfortunately, one black pup has not been present inrecent sightings. I sure hope the missing one is not that brave little fellow who was left behind for four days at Round Prairie last July before being rescued by the pack. If a black pup is indeed missing, the pack would include four adults (alpha 480M, alpha 529F, 302M, and the uncollared gray female) and 10pups (six black and four gray).

The other big news had to do with the Agate Creek pack–they were on the move into new and hostile territory. One morning, all 13 Agates (led by venerable alpha male 113M and alpha 472F, a former Druid, and sired by 21M) were in Yancey’s Hole (north of the road, between Tower Junction and Petrified Tree). At the same time, all eight of the Hellroaring packwolves (led by alphas 287M and 353F) were on a carcass, easily visible below Hellroaring Overlook.

The three Hellroaring black pups were having a grand old time jumping on and off of rocks and playing tug-o-war with big, flappy pieces of hide.

The Agates eventually made their way west to Hellroaring and sent the Hellroaring wolves running for their lives, scattering them every which way. Since I had watched the Hellroaring pack on that carcass in the morning, I didn’t realize when I

returned in the afternoon and saw wolves in the exact same place and on the same carcass that it was now a different pack. Only the fact that the Hellroaring pack only has two grays, and the pack I saw in the afternoon clearly had more grays, gave it away. Both packs have collared black-turning-silvery gray alpha females and also a collared dark black wolf, so it’s easy to make the wrong assumption, if you aren’t expecting the unexpected!

In other pack news, the 13 member Oxbow Creek pack (formerly 536F’s Group) was often visible in the general area north of the road between North Butte and Hellroaring. The eight member Slough Creek pack has been a bit elusive, with occasional sightings in the Slough Creek area, but they are often gone for several days. A couple of the Unknown Group wolves (which caused such trouble for the Sloughs last April) have even been seen in the Little America/Slough area recently.

The Leopold pack, possibly 18-19 strong, including 12 pups, was sometimes visible far, far away in their traditional Blacktail Plateau territory.

One thing that strikes me is how crowded the many packs are in the Northern Range. From Round Prairie in the east to the Blacktail Plateau in the west, it is a continuum of medium to large packs: Druid (14?), Slough (8), Agate (13), Hellroaring (8), Oxbow (13), and Leopold (19?). The only room for expansion seems to be west of the Blacktail Plateau toward Mammoth

(and the resurrected eight member Swan Lake pack), north out of the Park, or south into the Park’s interior. The Agates have already made forays last summer south to Canyon and the Hayden Valley pack’s territory. It looks to me like there is a loomingpotential for a lot of inter-pack territorial rivalry, especially when the breeding season arrives in early February.

The annual Early Winter Study is going on from November 15 to December 15. During the month, crews of three extremely dedicated volunteers spend every waking moment documenting each and every detail about their assigned pack (the Leopolds, Sloughs or Hellroarings.) The only problem is, the packs don’t always cooperate, and some days it’s hard to even find your wolves!

If you still need more reasons to visit Yellowstone in the late fall/early winter, consider all of the other awesome animals who are still out and about (sans the bears, of course). In one hour of watching the bison carcass near Hitching Post, I was treated to a procession which included a beautiful red fox (clever, and quick too!), a golden eagle (who made everyone scatter just by lifting his mighty wings), six big, bushy coyotes, and the usual assortment of magpies and ravens . . . truly a Thanksgiving feast for the masses!

The red foxes have been particularly obliging and photogenic lately, as have the bighorn sheep in the Gardiner River Canyon (between Gardiner and Mammoth). The big guys are in the rut and making the rocks tumble off the almost vertical canyon walls as they cling to them and battle for the ewes . . . truly a sight to see!

Now and always, we should be so very thankful that we have the wolves and the rest of our animal “family” in Yellowstone to come “home” to at Thanksgiving . . . or any other time of year!

Note from Ralph Maughan. Doug Smith at Yellowstone Park told me today that the Agates had just chased the Sloughs way up Slough Creek to McBride Lake and maybe beyond. He said the Agates have been really “flexing their muscles.” Kathie describes the Agate’s chase of the Hellroaring Pack above.