Kathie Lynch just wrote another of her popular reports on Yellowstone wolves. Very few pups have been seen so far. That doesn’t mean they aren’t there, but in the case of the Slough Creek Pack, they aren’t there.
– – – – – – –
Copyright © by Kathie Lynch. May 30, 2008
Every living thing awakened to the glory of springtime in Yellowstone over Memorial Day weekend. From the green, green grass and aspens just starting to sprout new leaves to a playful little wolf pup and the charm of frisky, newborn bison calves, spring has definitely sprung!
The Slough Creek pack provided the main entertainment as they happily tended what appears to be their only pup. Although a second pup had previously been seen, it has not appeared recently and may not have survived. The whole scenario is mysterious because three Slough females (alpha 380F, beta 526F, and “Hook”) had all appeared to have been pregnant and lactating. We will probably never know what happened to the rest of the pups, if there ever were more.
As it is, the little black pup is the apple of every Slough wolf’s eye, and all three mothers communally care for it. The nine yearlings particularly adore it. They stick their heads inside the den hole and eagerly escort the little tyke down the hillside to play by the bow log. Wolves love puppies, and each one wants to outdo the others just to be near it. The pup often gets lost in a maze of long wolf legs surrounding it.
It’s quite a domestic scene as the mothers and/or the babysitters lie in the sun with the pup or playfully tussle with it while they wait for hunting parties to return. One day we watched from Wrecker pullout as the hunters tried unsuccessfully to dislodge a grizzly from a carcass. Another time, a grizzly wandered close to the Slough den and incurred the wrath of alpha 380F. Her head shot up, and she led the charge as wolves poured off the hillside above the natal den (the same one used in 2005 and 2006, west of Slough Creek) and sent the poor griz packing.
As far as I know, nobody has seen Druid pups. Considering that they had seven females (alpha 569F and the yearlings 571F, “High Sides,” “Low Sides,” “Bright Bar,” “Dull Bar,” and “White Line”) who had all appeared to be pregnant, chances are they will have pups for us to watch eventually. Though 569F is thought to have denned in the Druids’ traditional area in northeast Lamar Valley, that den is in deep forest and even the wolf monitoring flights cannot see it. We will have to hope that the Druids use their traditional rendezvous in Lamar.
The Sloughs (currently 14-15 adults, depending on whether “The Dark Female” is with them) will be out-numbered if the Druids (currently 16 adults) have lots of pups. The Druids have already been exploring Slough territory to the west of Lamar. They went hunting in the Secret Passage area and ventured as far as just east of the Slough Creek campground road, which was the farthest west they have been observed recently.
The Slough disperser, 527F (who formed her own group last fall) has also denned in a place which can’t be observed, far away to the north of Little America. She is still in the company of the big, gray uncollared male and sometimes “The Dark Female,” a Slough disperser who was driven out of the pack by alpha 380F. The new group will have a tough time fitting in between the Sloughs, the Agates, and the Oxbows.
The Agate Creek pack’s denning situation has likewise not been clear. They did not den in the area visible from Dunraven Pass road where they have been the previous two years. The alpha female, 472F, and a two-year-old uncollared gray female had both been observed to be pregnant, as was beta 471F (who had bred with the Leopold alpha male, 534M). I have not heard any reports about Agate pup sightings. Some of the Agates have been seen in the Junction Butte area and in Yancey’s Hole, both of which are actually not far from their usual territory, but in close proximity to the Sloughs and Oxbows. The overlapping of so many packs’ territories could lead to a lot of inter-pack rivalry.
Unlike last year when the pups were visible from Hellroaring Overlook, the Oxbow Creek pack did not den in a great area for viewing, but they are believed to have 6-7 pups. And, the Leopold pack (Blacktail Plateau area) has been observed to have six gray and one black pup.
From what I have heard, two monitoring flights picked up signals (but no visuals) from the Hayden Valley pack near Hebgen Lake. Although this is outside of the Park (near West Yellowstone), it might be an OK place for them since it has good forest cover and a good prey base. Sadly, I doubt that they can ever return to Yellowstone to stay, what with the Mollies pack in control of Hayden Valley, the Cougar Creek pack in charge around West Yellowstone, and the Gibbon pack in the Norris area.
I did take a trip down through the Hayden Valley to Yellowstone Lake. It was like another world down there. Winter had not loosened its icy grip, and, except for handful of bison who somehow survived winter in the harshest climate in Yellowstone, the valley was almost devoid of life. As I passed the Otter Creek picnic area and drove south through the valley, I keenly felt the loss of the beautiful white wolf, 540F, and her mate, 541M (both killed by the Mollies last fall). They were the heart and soul of the Hayden Valley, and I know it will never be the same for anyone who was lucky enough to know them.
In other animal news, bears are everywhere! Grizzlies and black bears of various colors give visitors a thrill, and the famous “Rosie” delights everyone along the Tower Road with her two tiny cubs of the year, one black and one brown. Two moose have been spotted in the Petrified Tree area, a sandhill crane sits on its nest on the island as a trumpeter swan paddles around Floating Island Lake, ground squirrels make daring dashes across the roads, pronghorn streak across the green hills of Little America, a beaver with young has a lodge near the confluence in Lamar, and bighorn sheep lambs cling to the cliffs in the Gardiner River canyon. A badger actually swam across Slough Creek, much to the dismay of the nesting Canada geese!
After my depressing trip to the Park in April (what with the wolf delisting, Druid 253M’s murder, and the bison slaughter), I really needed for something wonderful to happen, and the bison gave it to me in a big way. On my first morning in the Park, I got caught in a massive bison jam as about 40 cows and 10 calves, led by one big bull, covered the road from Blacktail Drive to Phantom Lake. I soon realized just how special they were. Most of the cows sported big, round white or yellow stickers with four digit numbers on their sides-these were the lucky survivors of the bison slaughter! They had been held in the capture facility in Gardiner and narrowly escaped death before finally being released to head back into the Park. As they stoically marched along, I wanted to shout for joy!
To top it all off, as I drove out of the Park on my last day, I ran into some of the same bison again. They rounded Junction Butte, heading east in single file, and then they kicked up their heels and galloped off into Little America, free and home at last!