Wolf watching good in cold and snowy Yellowstone-
Once again Kathie Lynch has favored us with her detailed observations of the wolves on Yellowstone’s northern range. The redistribution of the much reduced wolf population continues, with the Druids providing a note of stability.
Famous wolf 302M seems to now, finally, lead a pack, although mating season is upon us and often causes even more wolf pack restructuring.
Here are three previous links to put Lynch’s report in context:
- Yellowstone wolf report. Enormous change in pack compositions. Nov. 28, 2008. By Ralph Maughan
- Kathie Lynch: Northern Range wolf upate. The Druids are doing well . . . the rest, not. Nov. 16, 2008. By Kathie Lynch.
- Yellowstone Park sees major loss of wolf pups, adults this year. Oct. 21, 2008. By Ralph Maughan
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Yellowstone wolf notes
by © Kathie Lynch
The holidays in Yellowstone–a winter wonderland of endless snow, howling winds, temperatures barely above and sometimes below zero degrees F, icy roads, very occasional sunshine (one day in two weeks!)–and wonderful surprises, including a Christmas grizzly and wolves whenever or wherever you could find them. Luckily, the Druid Peak pack, 302M’s Group, the Canyon Group, 471F’s Group, 470F’s Group (the “Everts Pack”), and even the elusive former Slough 527F all contributed to make it a true Wonderland for wolf watchers!
The Druids (always first and foremost on every wolf watcher’s wish list) did not disappoint. Currently numbering 13, they obliged by showing up fairly often, in places ranging from the confluence (at the east end of Lamar Valley) to as far west as the Tower Junction area. The eight blacks and five grays in the main group include alphas 480M and 569F, plus four two-year-old females (571F, “Bright Bar,” “White Line,” and “Low Sides”), two yearlings (645F and a black female), and five surviving pups (four blacks and one gray).
In November, three two-year-old females left the pack, and only one, “Low Sides,” has returned. It was interesting to watch “Low Sides” return as she cautiously hung out around the fringes. Various pack members approached and greeted her, but the alphas did not pay any attention to her. After a few days, she once again became an accepted member of the pack. The whereabouts of the other two females who have been away, “High Sides” and “Dull Bar,” is unknown. A solitary black which was spotted several times in Little America probably was not “Dull Bar” after all.
The big news, of course, is that former Druid beta 302M is still away from the Druid pack and has formed a new group of six Druid males and three Agate Creek pack females. Besides 302M, the group of nine (five blacks and four grays) includes five Druid male yearlings (“Big Brown,” “the High Sided Yearling,”-not the same as the Druid two-year-old female “High Sides”-and also a third gray and two husky blacks). The three Agates include the black yearling 642F and two two-year-old females, one gray and one light silvery black.
The undisputed lord and master of his group, 302M leads his devoted followers over hill and dale, all the way from Little America west through Hellroaring Valley to the Blacktail Plateau. They have even been seen crossing the road at Undine Falls, less than four miles east of Mammoth! Born to the Leopold pack in 2000, 302M is very much at home on the Blacktail, and the recent disintegration of the Oxbow and Leopold packs has left a huge and inviting territory just begging to be filled and mostly miles away from people.
Often detected by telemetry, but not as often seen, 302M gave watchers a big thrill on the morning of January 3 as his group appeared bedded just west of the nature trail near North Butte on the Blacktail Plateau. The old man (302M will be nine years old in April!) gazed calmly into watchers’ scopes and then rose to lead his troops in a magnificent rally howl. It was a beautiful sight and sound to behold!
The big question is whether 302M’s Group will hold together with the breeding season in February fast approaching. Always one to travel far and wide in search of the perfect girl, will 302M be satisfied with his three Agate females, or will he love them and leave them to his five Druid nephews? And, will they stay or go looking for love too?
The spunky and courageous gray Agate female yearling “Half Tail” (who broke one rear leg and lost half of her tail when hit by a truck as a pup) was also originally with the group, but she has since disappeared. We all hope that she may have rejoined the Agate Creek pack alpha group, if they still exist. The group of possibly only five other members (alpha 472F–former mate of legendary former Agate alpha 113M–and alpha 383M and three other grays) has no working collars and is rarely detected, although a couple of them were observed near a carcass in the Gardiner River canyon somewhat recently.
The Canyon Group saved many a wolf watching day as they frequented the Mammoth Hot Springs area. They were easy to find because they liked to bed down for the night on the slopes of Mt. Everts above the Gardner River, directly facing the Mammoth campground. A healthy looking bunch, they must have liked to get their beauty sleep, because they were usually still in the same place the following morning. After a nice stretch and group howl or tail wagging greeting, they often headed off toward the High Bridge east of the Yellowstone Chapel, crossed the road to the south, visited the travertine terraces and then headed back to Everts for a good night’s sleep.
The Canyon Group’s small, light gray alpha female is the daughter of the famous white wolf, Hayden alpha 540F, and is also the mother of the famous Hayden black pup (now 638M, whereabouts unknown) who brought so much joy to wolf watchers in the summer of 2007. The group also includes a black male (thought to be the alpha, although all four group members do raised leg urinations, a sign of dominance), a gray male, and 587M, who was collared while with the Mollie’s pack. The group originally had two or three pups in 2008, but the longest surviving pup, a beautiful gray, disappeared in November and is presumed dead.
The Canyon’s only competition in the Mammoth area comes from the flannel gray Agate disperser 471F and her two rag-tag companions, a black with a mangy tail and a pathetically mangy gray. We have been unable to verify if 471F herself has any mange. She has led a tough life since dispersing from the Agate Creek pack a year ago after breeding with the Leopold alpha male, 534M (now dead). She denned away from the Agates, and, if she had pups, they did not survive. During the summer and fall, she was spotted occasionally with a few others in Leopold pack territory on the Blacktail Plateau. Her current little group seems to persist in the Mammoth area by evading the Canyon Group and scavenging on kills.
Another disperser who started her own group is 470F. Born a Leopold, she joined the Oxbow Creek pack when it formed in 2006 and then founded her own group in 2008. Since the group appears to have successfully raised at least two pups to the end of December (a feat accomplished by no other Northern Range pack except the Druids in 2008), 470F’s Group may count as a new pack and be named the Everts Pack.
Although they usually stay out of sight high up on Mt. Everts, we were lucky to see six blacks and two grays recently. One black, presumably a pup, was especially fun to watch as it lay down on its side and slid, nose first, downhill on the snow and then got up to do it again and again! Another interesting member of the group is an uncollared black female who was born a Leopold and has been around for years. Variously referred to as “The Old Black Female,” “The Limping Black,” and “The Everts’ Female,” she somehow survives, even though she disappears for a year or more at a time.
And, yet another enterprising and successful disperser, the former Slough Creek wolf 527F, also started her own group a year ago. Seldom seen, 527F’s Group inhabits the high reaches to the north of the Lamar River in Little America. We were very lucky to see her group one day way, way up and far, far away on the upper slopes of Hellroaring Mountain. At that distance (3-4 miles?), all we could see was a group of five, including three blacks and two grays. The usual male with her group last breeding season was a big gray, and it is hoped that they may have successfully raised pups. But, they have been so elusive, we just don’t know.
The Sloughs themselves have suffered hard times since the Druids have retaken Lamar Valley and have also made themselves at home in Slough Creek and west to Elk Creek. During November, the Slough alpha male, 590M, was often detected alone and far to the west. In December, he was seen with four other blacks and three grays to the north of the Park. The identities of the other wolves in his group are unknown since the colors do not match those of the surviving Sloughs, which include only one gray.
We feared that the Slough Creek pack had dissolved after the devastating deaths of six members since last July (one due to illness and five killed by other wolves). Consequently, we were overjoyed to discover seven survivors dining on a carcass below Hellroaring Overlook in late November. They included alpha female “Hook” and six yearlings (five blacks and one gray). In the absence of 590M, one big black yearling, the only male, assumed the alpha position, proudly carrying his tail high.
One other female disperser, Leopold 469F, also formed the nucleus for a new group, which may be named the Quadrant Pack. The group includes a black alpha male, a gray male and a black female. They inhabit Swan Lake flats and produced two pups in 2008 near the Indian Creek campground. Neither pup is thought to have survived. Due to winter road closures, only those who travel south from Mammoth by snowcoach or skis have a chance of seeing this group.
The big wildlife news was the totally unexpected, marvelously entertaining and easily visible Christmas grizzly! He first appeared on December 20, when he took an elk carcass away from 302M’s Group, only about 100 yards north of the road at Geode Creek (not too far west of Hellroaring Overlook). Until he finally wandered away on December 25, he thrilled visitors and photographers as he lay atop or sat next to the carcass for six days. He spent a lot of time trying to sleep, but just couldn’t seem to get comfortable. His favorite pastimes included rolling around, playing with his feet (My, what big claws!), stretching, arranging grasses for a bed, and chasing away ravens, magpies, coyotes and the occasional wolf. On December 29, a grizzly, perhaps the same one, was also spotted in the Tower Junction area. Hopefully, all of the bears have now settled down for a long winter’s nap.
We must be thankful for the incredible gifts that Yellowstone offers to everyone lucky enough to be there, even if only in spirit. Not knowing when or if it will happen again, I treasure every moment that the wild animals allow me to share. Seeing 302M gaze serenely in my direction in all his glory is a gift beyond compare.