Yellowstone National Park wolf field notes Dec. 20-29, 2006 (with update Jan. 1)

 Here is another great Yellowstone northern range wolf report by Kathie Lynch.

Of particular important to me was the observation that the Druids seem to have lost their alpha female (there is now a new one). Also interesting is the aggressiveness of the Agate Creek Pack, which is larger than the Sloughs, Druids, or Hellroaring Pack.

It seems possible the Sloughs lost their alpha male, leaving 7 females (no males) in the pack. If so, Lynch and others might have witnessed the start at least of a seminal event similiar to the 21M/40F unification with the Druids years back . . . Ralph Maughan

YNP WOLF Field Notes, Dec. 20-29, 2006, by Kathie Lynch

The Druid Peak and Agate Creek packs have been putting on a “howl”-iday show for the wolf watchers willing to brave the frigid Yellowstone winter weather and treacherous, icy roads. As the cold and snow have driven the elk back down to lower elevations, both packs have made numerous kills within easy viewing distance of the road from Tower Junction east through Little America and Lamar Valley, all the way to Round Prairie.

On Dec. 29, we were treated to the sight of all 11 Druids feeding and frolicking in Round Prairie. Alpha male 480M, full belly almost dragging on the ground, snoozed as the pups played ring-around-the-tree-trunk and tug-of-war with pieces of hide. The pups leapt on each other’s backs and jumped for joy. Dear old 302M slept peacefully in the deep snow with only the tips of his black ears showing as the new gray alpha female wandered watchfully along the tree line.

Sadly, the Druid Peak pack’s number appears to have dropped from last summer’s count of 15 (four adults and 11 pups) to only 11 wolves total now (three adults/2 black, 1 gray and eight pups/4 black, 4 gray). One black pup disappeared before Thanksgiving; and, in the last month, the alpha female (529F) and another two black pups have disappeared. Although 529F was collared, her collar had quit working shortly before she disappeared, so there is no way to tell what became of her. A strong leader and skilled hunter, 529F will be greatly missed by the Druids. The alpha female role appears to have been assumed by her sister, an uncollared gray, who was the only other adult female in the pack. It will now be up to her to carry on the legacy of her father, the great Druid <21M.

The Druids have been spending a lot of time in their traditional homeland, the Lamar Valley. One day they fed on a carcass south of the road near the old picnic area. They were quite uneasy and moved off when cars parked too close for comfort in the nearby turnout. They headed east past their old rendezvous and bedded on the old Lamar River bank. Another day found the Druids lounging on a hilltop east of their old traditional den area, and on yet another day, they were in the Dead Puppy Hill area. Watching them in the Lamar from Jackson Hill above Confluence East or from the Footbridge Turnout in the Soda Butte Valley brought back many memories of the good old days. But, the Druids’ ability to regain control of the Lamar Valley may be seriously challenged by the Agate Creek pack.

The Agates have been everywhere! They have ranged west to scatter the Hellroaring pack wolves, north to the Slough Creek meadows in Slough territory, and east to the confluence of the Lamar River and Soda Butte Creek in traditional Druid territory. The Agates are definitely the new powerhouse pack in the Northern Range. Many of their forays have been lead by the uncollared gray male yearling (quite an independent and interesting character!) and the bold and beautiful black female, GPS collared 525F.

The breaking news for the Agates has to do with the uncollared gray male yearling, who has been the subject of suspicion that he would soon disperse in search of a mate. On Dec. 28, we watched from Dorothy’s Hill in Lamar Valley as he howled in all directions, alone on Jasper Bench. All of a sudden, he jumped up, ran straight down the hill, crossed the mostly frozen river, ran toward us and crossed the road, pausing right behind a car which had stopped to watch him. As soon as he was on the north side of the road, he did an RLU (Raised Leg Urination, usually reserved for the alphas) and disappeared uphill in the general direction of where the Slough Creek pack, which has seven females, were thought to be bedded. How we wish we could have seen what happened after that—it might have been akin to when Rose Creek 21M was accepted into the Druids as the new alpha male in 1997!

The Sloughs have been around, but not very visible, lately. Several mysteries surround them, the biggest of which is—where is alpha male 490M? His collar frequency has not been detected for several days, and it is unknown whether it has stopped working or if he is away from his seven females for some reason (which doesn’t seem likely).

The other huge news is that on Dec. 29, the morning after the Agate uncollared gray male yearling crossed the road looking for love, he was spotted on the snowy hills just east of the Lamar Buffalo Ranch in the company of two Slough females, the gray “Sharp Right” and the black yearling, “Slant.” This could mean that he has indeed dispersed from the Agates, and, if he can keep the Slough females, it may be the genesis of a new pack. None of the other Sloughs were detected nearby, so we don’t know if they had run off or had perhaps been reunited with alpha male 490M far away.

The Agate/Slough trio is suspected of killing an elk just south of the road at Hubbard Hill in Lamar Valley that morning. As we watched the three high on the hill north of the road, someone yelled, “There are lots of wolves behind you!” We turned our scopes to the south and saw all the rest of the Agates chasing elk! They soon gave that up, picked up a scent trail, and charged to the elk carcass, with the silver bullet alpha female, 472F, leading the charge. As they ran full tilt, every one of those 12 tails pointed straight to the sky! It was the most awesome display of power and domination I have seen since the Sloughs vanquished the Druids two years ago. The seven adult Agates have done an amazing job of raising all six of this year’s pups, and the pack is now a force with which to be reckoned.

When they reached the carcass, an unfortunate coyote stayed a moment too long, and within 10 yards, the Agates caught and killed it. They never paid any more attention to the dead coyote, but returned to the elk carcass. We had great viewing from about 200 yards away as they fed, and a couple of incidents cracked me up. As venerable alpha male 113M chewed on the rib cage, alpha female 472F flirted with him and then grabbed the rib cage while he was distracted! (By the way, 113M, now 9 ½ and one of the two oldest wolves in Yellowstone, is looking fit and fantastic, with no signs of infirmity–although he does usually bring up the rear on outings!) Another funny scene involved a pup who was determined to carry away the entire hide with one leg attached. No matter how he tried, he just could not drag that big, floppy, furry thing very far!

The Agates later made a second charge in the direction of the road, and we wondered if they might cross to the north in pursuit of their wayward son and his two Slough female companions. If they had caught them, who knows what would have happened. But, they turned back, and we will have to wait to see what the outcome is. One thing is for sure, every day watching the Yellowstone wolves opens an amazing window into wilderness and the wild world!

Mark Miller got this great shot of seven very confident Agates patrolling the Lamar Valley on Dec. 29

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Update Jan. 1. Slough alpha male 490M has apparently been found dead in an upper Slough Creek meadow. That leaves a pack composed entirely of female wolves. That won’t endure, and the pack will soon have a new alpha male, or more likely there will be a fairly general dispersal because breeding season is just arriving. . . . Ralph Maughan

Storm damage was tremendous at Mt. Rainier NP

I posted a story on this in November when 18 inches of rain fell. Since then the weather has continued very wet, and the full extent of the damage to the infrastructure is immense.

I can already see one political issue emerging. A large portion of the main entrance road washed away and is now the river. The build-around route would require construction in the Mt. Rainier designated wilderness. That would be clearly illegal under the Wilderness Act.

Story in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. By Debera Carlton Harrell

Other national parks in Washington were damaged too. So was Glacier NP in Montana by the same storm.

Mt. Rainier NP flood page (a NPS web site).

Posted in national parks, wilderness roadless. Comments Off on Storm damage was tremendous at Mt. Rainier NP

Roadkill higher than usual in Jackson Hole this winter

Here is the story by Whitney Royster. It is isn’t just deer/vehicle collisions.

Posted in Motor vehicles wildlife, Wildlife Habitat. Comments Off on Roadkill higher than usual in Jackson Hole this winter