YNP WOLF Field Notes, Nov. 10-12, 2007. Copyright Kathie Lynch.
“Quite a day!” is the only way to describe Saturday, Nov. 10, 2007—the day the Druid Peak pack took back Lamar Valley! Almost four years after the reign of the Druids started to unravel with the deaths of the great alphas 21M and 42F, the Druids are finally back home!
Early that morning, the entire pack of 16 Druids (eight blacks and eight grays) visited an old bull elk carcass near their former rendezvous site at the eastern end of Lamar. At the same time, the Slough Creek pack was on a new bull elk carcass across from the Buffalo Ranch, about a mile west of the Druids.
The Druids headed in the direction of the Sloughs, although they didn’t seem to be aware of the Sloughs’ presence at first. But then, the Druids’ tails went up, and with alphas 480M and 569F in the lead, the Druids went into full attack mode. Fifteen Druids (one gray had stayed to the east) descended upon the 18 Sloughs (16 blacks and two grays). The Sloughs scattered and ran for their lives, some to the southwest toward the river, some to the east, and some north toward the road.
The Druids regrouped and ran full tilt southwest towards the river and the base of Jasper Bench in pursuit of a couple of black Slough pups. They caught up with one and descended en masse, killing it. The scene was just like when the wolves kill a coyote. All of the attackers’ tails were up as they encircled the victim and bit it in a frenzy. It was over in moments.
The Druids then continued up the side of Jasper Bench a short way before making a quick return down to the site where the Slough pup died. They ran in excitedly and nosed if for a second. It seemed like they just wanted to be sure that it was dead. The Druids then returned to the elk carcass that the Sloughs had originally been on. They spent the rest of the morning feeding on it and snoozing nearby.
Meanwhile, Slough alpha 380F hooked up with five Slough pups and led them west over the divide ridge towards Little America. They later returned and most crossed the road to the north. Based on howling, most of the Sloughs seemed to have ended up somewhere north of the road. The Sloughs were not seen again. (Slough 527F has often not been with the pack recently and was not with them during the attack.)
While the Druids celebrated their triumph by lounging around, one black Druid pup got chased off the carcass by a very large coyote. The pup ran into the trees and did not reappear. After noon, 14 Druids headed east toward their old rendezvous.
When they got close to it, they found three wolves waiting for them, one black and two grays. Wait a minute–two grays? The black was the black Druid pup that the coyote had chased, and one gray was the Druid who had not been in on the attack. But, who was the other uncollared gray? It looked like a yearling and had a distinctive dark bib and dark back. It was not a wolf any of the watchers recognized, and we weren’t even sure if it was a male or a female.
For the rest of the afternoon, we were treated to one of those exceedingly rare opportunities to watch as a wolf tries to get accepted into a new pack. Always a dicey deal, this gray approached individual Druids one at a time with a tucked tail and a very submissive posture. At times it rolled completely over on its back and waved all four legs in the air as the Druids sniffed it! At one point, the Druids even chased it half-heartedly behind the foothill, but it returned unscathed and continued to follow various Druids around, submissively seeking acceptance.
The Druid alphas, 480M and 569F, and beta 302M (looking great!) seemed the least interested. However, the young Druid girls (all seven yearlings are females) found the stranger to be quite enchanting! Several happily approached him with tails up and wagging. They did a little posturing that started leading us to think that the new wolf was a male. As darkness fell, all we could do was hope that the beautiful, dark stranger would continue to be accepted and that the pack would not turn on him. We still have no idea who he might be or where he came from.
Two days later, I thought I might have seen him near where the Druids were on a carcass in Soda Butte Valley. After they all fed and disappeared into the trees, I noticed a gray nearby. When the pack howled from the forest, he perked up and ran toward the howling. Through the trees, I could see a joyful greeting by a black (maybe one of the girls?). It occurred to me then that it might be the stranger from two days before. But, perhaps it was just one of the 16 regular Druids.
Sunday brought the opportunity to see all 17 Agate Creek wolves (12 grays and five blacks; we are now counting black-turning-gray alpha 472F as gray because that’s how she looks). We found them just north of the road from Rick’s Pullout (near Petrified Tree/Elk Creek). In fact, we were looking all over for them, and they were almost right under our noses! We moved to Wrecker and got a good look at them as they appeared across the Yellowstone River before heading out of sight.
The very sad news is that our beloved long-time former Agate alpha, 113M, is missing and is most likely dead. He has not been seen since mid-October. His disappearance somewhat coincided with a visit the Agates made to Slough Creek. About the same time, a Slough Creek black pup was found dead and a Slough gray pup disappeared. Perhaps there was an altercation between the packs, and perhaps 113M was just too old and too slow. Since his collar no longer worked, we may never know what became of this great and beloved wolf.
113M was born in 1997 in the Chief Joseph pack to Chief Joseph 34M and Rose Creek 17F. In 2002, he founded the Agate Creek pack and produced pups with two or three alpha females over five years. All six of his last litter with alpha 472F in 2006 survived to adulthood. Several of his offspring went on to become alphas themselves, including the two most recent alpha males of the Slough Creek pack (the two-year-old uncollared gray male who was hit by a car in Little America and killed on Sept. 12 and his black yearling brother, 590M, the current Slough alpha male.) 113M’s own son, 383M, took over as the new Agate alpha last winter after 113M suffered an injury that prevented him from breeding.
113M will long be remembered not only for his longevity (nearly surpassing the park record of age 10 1/2 years), but especially for his wise and noble nature. He was an impressive leader, an excellent provider, a devoted mate, and a tolerant father and grandfather. With his possible passing, I felt like I had lost my last “favorite” wolf. He was truly one of the great ones.
In other pack news, a surprising development was the defection of a black Druid uncollared male yearling to join the Sloughs in October! After Agate 590M took over as the new Slough alpha male, the Druid yearling somehow ended up joining the Sloughs. In all the confusion during the Nov. 10 rout of the Sloughs by the Druids, there was no way to tell how the Druid-turned-Slough fared or how the Druids reacted to him.
Additionally, the big gray Druid male yearling, 570M, disappeared in October. His collar was still working, but he has not been seen, so his fate is unknown. It seems like a lot of yearling males are dispersing early this year, so maybe he will resurface during the breeding season.
And, speaking of resurfacing, another new pack has appeared/reappeared in the Lamar/Little America area! This is quite a colorful group, including an adult trio of silvery white, black and gray, plus one black and two gray pups. The three adults were first seen last winter in Lamar. On Nov. 8, they showed up again, this time with their pups, and they ended up getting chased by the Druids in Lamar.
On Nov. 12, the pups and adults became separated on either side of the road in Little America. The black pup made it across the road and up to the top of the Peregrine Hills, where he sat and howled his heart out to the four winds. In answer to his cries, the trio of white, black and gray adults materialized, highlighted on a rocky outcropping.
What a total thrill to catch my first glimpse of the stunning silvery white alpha female gleaming in the sun! In that instant, I knew that the spirit of our recently lost, beautiful and beloved white Hayden alpha 540F lives on in this new silvery white beauty.
Although we have endured so many losses this fall, we have only to look with open eyes and open hearts to find new favorite wolves to inspire us. The wolves will show us the way.