Kathie Lynch is spending the summer in Yellowstone. This is her first report of the summer. The Druid pups have finally been seen, and there are at least nine.
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YNP WOLF Notes, June 16-July 5, 2008
By © Kathie Lynch
Yellowstone’s late spring rain and snow finally gave way to sunny summer skies in mid June. While the glowing green hills sparkled with a spectacular patchwork of wildflowers, raging rivers and muddy creeks spilled over their banks. An unbelievably beautiful carpet of yellow dandelions, studded with peacefully grazing bison, spread across the Lamar Valley floor. Wildlife watchers reveled in the renewal of life as they waited eagerly for news and glimpses of wolf pups.
Hoping to see a Druid Peak pack pup, devoted wolf watchers and park visitors alike spent hours (and sometimes entire days) peering toward the pack’s traditional den site, so deep in the forest that not even the Wolf Project plane’s monitoring flights could see it.
Finally, the watchers’ persistence paid off! As many as nine Druid pups (six blacks and three grays) have now been seen. Viewing is difficult, as the sightings are usually very brief and through the trees. By the time the cry of “There’s one!” goes up and the crowd of watchers figures out where to look (by the left “V” tree or the right “V” tree, in the yellow flowers or on the rocky hillside?), the pup is already gone. Nevertheless, excited watchers keep hoping for more sightings. One evening eight pups romped for a half hour on the open hillside, to everyone’s delight.
There could be even more pups. Seven Druid females had been observed to be pregnant (alpha 569F and the six two-year-olds: 571F, “High Sides,” “Low Sides,” “Bright Bar,” “Dull Bar,” and “White Line”). No one knows how many pups the Druids may have in total, but the Slough Creek pack, which had three pregnant females (alpha 380F, beta 526F, and “Hook”), only ended up with one pup, for reasons unknown.
The two big questions now are: when will the Druids move their pups and to which rendezvous site? The pack members seem to have been scouting out possible locations. They have spent a lot of time in their traditional rendezvous site in the Lamar Valley, but have also checked out other sites used in recent years. While wolf watchers would probably love to be able to view them in the Lamar Valley this summer, everyone is very concerned about how the adults will successfully get the pups across the raging Lamar River and Soda Butte Creek. We can only hope that the adults will choose wisely and be able to control and guide all of the pups to a safe passage.
A very interesting development has to do with a new black male who has been associating with the Druid Peak pack. We get the feeling that we have seen him before, perhaps during the breeding season wooing Agate females. With a big white spot on his chest and a squared off rear end, he is quite distinctive and recognizable. He waltzed right into the Druid’s traditional Lamar rendezvous site one day and was soon observed cavorting with the yearlings and interacting casually with alpha 480M, even feeding on a carcass with him.
Perhaps the new male is a long lost Druid or maybe a Leopold disperser who was recognized somehow by 480M and 302M, both former Leopolds. Obviously, the interloper is not viewed as a threat, probably because he did not arrive near the breeding season. Timing is everything, as evidenced by the efforts of the “Light Gray” and “Dark Gray” male interlopers who tried to join the Druids last fall. Although both eventually succeeded in breeding with Druid females, “Light Gray” paid for the privilege with his life and “Dark Gray” has since disappeared.
In other news, a new group, tentatively referred to as the Canyon Group, has formed. It consists of the Mollie’s pack wolf 587M, a Hayden Valley pack female (possibly the mother of some of last year’s Hayden pups, including everyone’s favorite black pup, now 638M), an uncollared black, and two gray pups. The adults have been seen in a wide area from near Swan Lake flats all the way south into the Hayden Valley.
I have not heard of any visuals, but the rest of the original Hayden Valley pack is thought to remain outside of the Park, perhaps near Hebgen Lake in the West Yellowstone area. The pack now possibly includes the gray alpha male 639M (who joined in January, 2008), last year’s yearling Hayden female (who now, at age two, would be the new alpha), and possibly three Hayden yearlings (black 638M and two uncollared grays).
The Slough Creek pack continues to share its daily life with watchers at their easily observed den site. Pack members lounge in the shade or depart and return in hunting parties. The tall grass makes it difficult to see the one black pup, but each of the three possible mothers takes good care of it. Alpha 380F seems especially attentive and likes to play with the little one.
The Slough disperser 527F and her group (which includes an uncollared gray male) are sometimes picked up by telemetry, but not often sighted. Her possible pup situation is unknown. The lone wolf, Idaho B271M (who dispersed into Yellowstone in fall, 2007) is also sometimes detected and sometimes seen. He had spent time with 527F prior to the breeding season, but did not stay with her.
The Agate Creek pack is using the den area they used last year. Unfortunately, it is far, far to the east of the Antelope Creek viewing area on Dunraven Pass Road. One or two adults sometimes pass through the valley below the road, but viewing is sporadic and not prolonged.
The Leopold pack has also been difficult to see. They have already moved their 24-26 pups (!) to their rendezvous, which is even farther away from roadside viewing. I did have a relatively close encounter early one morning when a collared black, possibly the Leopold yearling 624F, suddenly appeared next to the road. I was able to watch her descend a hillside and even had that exhilarating experience of looking into her eyes.
We had a really fascinating situation with three cow elk and their three calves which spent almost two weeks on a small island at the confluence of Soda Butte Creek and the Lamar River. It seemed to be a clever survival strategy as the cows periodically forded the river to graze on the grassy bank and then returned to the island to nurse the calves. The Druid wolves knew they were there and sometimes harassed them, but the cows would charge off the island and chase the wolves away with a fury.
One especially dramatic evening, complete with a booming thunderstorm and a double rainbow (which ended at the Druid den forest!), one calf somehow ended up on the mainland shore. We held our breath as the calf sheltered in a log jam while a black Druid wolf stood directly above it on the river bank. The wolf must not have seen or smelled the calf, however, and soon went on its way. The cow finally convinced the calf to brave the torrent, and a cheer arose as the little fellow made it back to the island. The perfect evening ended with the most beautiful mauve, rose, peach, apricot and cream Lamar sunset.
I wish the elk calves’ saga had ended there, but, sadly, the next day I received the news that the calf had tried again to cross the river and had drowned. Another cow and calf had already departed the island and may have survived. However, the one remaining calf, possibly injured, would not nurse and also died.
A few days later, I saw the black Druid female “Dull Bar” feeding on the last calf’s body on the island. She then picked it up, swam the river with it in her mouth, and carried it all the way across Lamar Valley to the traditional Druid rendezvous site. I secretly hoped that the Druid adults and a bunch of little pups would run out to greet her, just like in the old days when the great 21M reigned as alpha. Though no other wolves appeared, it was heart-warming to know that this granddaughter of 21M (and possibly a mother this year of some of his great-grandpups) will help to carry on the Druid Peak pack’s traditions and keep 21M’s memory alive.