Here is another of Kathie’s Yellowstone wolf reports. For me these are a great antidote for all the bad news outside the Park.
The wolves’ season of romance (excuse me, “mating season”) is much more complex and extravagant than biologists used to think.
YNP WOLF Field Notes, Feb. 16-24, 2008
By © Kathie Lynch
Two hundred and twenty six wolves in nine days—that’s an average of 25 wolves per day! From February 16-24, 2008, Yellowstone treated wolf watchers to a veritable bonanza of wolves—I saw an incredible 44 on my best day! Nowhere else in the world offers such a fantastic opportunity to share the lives of wolves in the wild.
The breeding season in February draws wolves from near and far. It always amazes me how they just seem to appear and then disappear. Interloping males materialize to try to lure females out of their packs, and females try to sneak away to rendezvous for a day or two. New groups may form for a few days and then just dissolve away.
We even had a mysterious group of eight (five grays and three blacks) appear in Oxbow Creek pack territory and then in Little America. The group had too many blacks to be the Oxbows, which only have one black. There was some conjecture as to whether it might be the former Buffalo Fork pack, which left the Park years ago. Or, perhaps it was part of the Unknown Group, which cost the Sloughs so dearly when they held them under siege two years ago. Regardless, we were glad to see these mystery wolves disappear to the north up Slough Creek soon after they appeared.
Former Slough 527F and her group (fellow Slough disperser “The Dark Female” and an unidentified gray male) frequented Little America, usually sleeping the day away. Unfortunately, the other Slough female, “Sharp Right,” who had also been driven out of the Slough pack by alpha 380F, has disappeared from 527F’s group. We can only hope that “Sharp Right” has found a mate of her own.
The main Slough pack stayed mostly out of sight, except for an especially memorable visit to Slough Creek. We had left them bedded around noon, and when I returned to check on them four hours later, it looked like nobody had moved a muscle. I went on to the west to look for 527F’s group in the Peregrine Hills; while scoping for them, I heard a mighty chorus of howls rise from Slough Creek. I headed back and found the Sloughs on a march to the southwest. All 14 surrounded a bull elk, but he stamped his feet at them and they went on their way. What an impressive sight they made strung out in single file, the 12 blacks contrasting boldly in the shining white light.
The sight made me think of the Hayden Valley pack and its shining white light, the late alpha, 540F. I did not hear of any sightings of what remains of her pack (an adult female, the newly collared black pup 638M, two gray pups, and the newly collared gray male 639M, who has joined them). Everyone hopes that they have found a new home in the Swan Lake flats territory left vacant by the disappearance of the Swan Lake and Gardiners Hole packs.
The breeding season seemed to get off to a slower than usual start this year, but, surprisingly, it was still going strong into late February. By February 22, at least 20 good ties had been observed. Evidently, the mating pair must stay coupled together for at least 10 minutes to maximize the chances that the breeding will be a success.
The most surprising tie occurred near Elk Creek between the Leopold pack alpha male, 534M, and the Agate Creek pack beta female, 471F. Everyone was shocked that 534M had left his own alpha female (Leopold 209F) and traveled over to woo an Agate. Things must have gone well, because 471F then spent some time over in “Leopold Land” on the Blacktail Plateau with some other Leopolds. I wonder what kind of reaction 534M got from 209F when his girlfriend came to visit!
Other Agates were busy breeding too. Alpha 383M got together with a gray yearling; alpha 472F bred with a black interloper; a black yearling female bred with a (different?) black interloper; and our wayward girl, 471F, found yet another black interloper beau.
One gray Agate pup has a severely damaged, perhaps broken, rear leg. A driver reported accidentally hitting a wolf, but wolf project personnel were unable to find its body. Soon after, the Agate pup showed up with the bad leg, so it may have actually survived being run over. The leg is completely useless, but the pup seems to get around just fine on its three good legs and doesn’t appear to be in any pain. It runs and plays with the others and even made it up to the top of Specimen Ridge and then back down and over to Elk Creek.
One day we saw an amazing sight way up on top of Specimen Ridge above Little America. An interloper black male repeatedly mounted Agate alpha 472F, while wandering Druid 302M and the Idaho wolf B271M hovered nearby. It was finally all too much for Agate alpha 383M, who rushed in to break up the party.
All eyes were on the Druid Peak pack too, of course. The alphas, 480M and 569F, had bred earlier (on 2/3/08); pups are expected about 4/6/08, after a 63-day gestation period.
The Druid’s six highly eligible yearling females, who came into estrus for the first time, seemed to enjoy playing the field. Their two suitors, the “Light Gray” male and the “Dark Gray” male, had both been hanging around the Druid pack since last November. Poor old 302M has had a constant challenge trying to chase those two guys away from his nieces and daughters for three months!
The long suffering interlopers’ big chance finally came when the soon to be eight years old proverbial favorite 302M left for six days on a little scouting trip of his own. His travels took him at least as far away as Elk Creek and the Agates–where he spent an entire afternoon lying around in the warm sun with a lovely gray yearling female!
While 302M was away, “Dark Gray” managed to abscond with five of the six Druid yearling females! For four glorious days, the blacks “Bright Bar,” “Dull Bar,” and “White Line” and the grays 571F and “Low Sides” stuck with their guy. At various times, he bred with all except “White Line” and 571F. Sadly for him (but probably best for them in terms of raising pups), the females all finally returned to their natal pack, leaving “Dark Gray” lonely once again in Lamar.
Not to be outdone, the “Light Gray” male was observed breeding three times with “Bright Bar.” Of the two interlopers, he is the one who has usually been most well received by the pack (except by 302M, of course), and he has been the most persistent. No matter where we found the Druids each day, “Light Gray” was sure to be around, seated patiently nearby howling his heart out or traveling the length of Lamar Valley scavenging for food on old carcasses.
The saga of these two persistent gray interlopers’ attempts to join the Druids is a constant reminder of the events three and four years ago when a certain very persistent black interloper (302M) and his sidekick (the future 480M) endured constant persecution from the late, great Druid alpha 21M. After 21M’s death in 2004, those two Leopold brothers became the new Druid alpha (480M) and beta (302M) and went on to save the Druid pack from dissolution (along with 21M’s last two daughters, 529F and 569F). Time will tell if “Light Gray” and “Dark Gray” leave a similar legacy. But, for now, one thing looks likely—the two gray interlopers will probably be the fathers of some Druid pups. And that’s a legacy to which 302M can relate!