Wolf watching is slow in this summer’s extra green Yellowstone-
While watching has been slow lately in the reconfigured Yellowstone wolf packs, Kathie Lynch has quite a bit of news. Ralph Maughan
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July and August wolf notes for YNP. By © Kathie Lynch
Copyrighted material. Not to be reprinted or reposted without explicit permission
Summer wolf watching in Yellowstone ran the gamut from the great expectations of June and early July to the challenges of late July and early August. Despite eternal vigilance by devoted watchers, the Druid Peak pack somehow managed to spirit their pups away from their traditional den forest to their summer rendezvous without anyone seeing them go. With the Druids’ departure from Lamar Valley, wolf watching took a turn for the worse as many days found us searching high and low just to find a wolf.
What had been a grand spectacle last year when the Druids moved their pups across Soda Butte Creek, this year quietly turned into a non-event. Because the pups stayed mostly hidden in the trees of the traditional den forest and seldom came into view, we never even obtained a solid count. However, the Druids are believed to have had at least nine pups, including five blacks and four grays. Even the Wolf Project’s monitoring flights have not been able to confirm the Druid pup count.
Most likely, the pups represent two litters, one by the Druid alphas (569F and 480M) and the other from the Druid female “Dull Bar.” Her pups would have been sired by the former Slough Creek black male who had been the alpha male to dispersed Druid 694F. “Dull Bar” had spent the winter with that duo. But, luckily for her, “Dull Bar” left before the Cottonwood pack attacked and killed 694F at her den in April. The pregnant “Dull Bar” then had another stroke of good fortune as she sought to return to and was accepted back into the Druid pack, where she presumably had her pups.
Miscellaneous Druids have been seen in the Lamar and Soda Butte valleys since their departure, but sightings have been unpredictable as they return sporadically to mark their territory or hang around on Jasper Bench. We are hoping that they will return to their traditional Lamar Valley rendezvous in late August, as they did last year. When the 14 Druid adults and their possibly nine or more pups return, wolf watching will, hopefully, significantly improve.
The demise of the Slough Creek pack has left open their traditional territory at Slough Creek. However, the Cottonwood pack appears to have designs on the area as they have recently been observed lounging about on the flats near Slough Creek or exploring the Sloughs’ former haunts near the old dens. This is not surprising since alpha female 527F and the only other female, 716F (“The Dark Female”), are both former Sloughs. The other pack members, all of unknown origin, include four grays (all thought to be males) and one black male. The Cottonwood pack is thought to have five pups, three blacks and two grays. It will be great for wolf watching if the pack does indeed spend more time around Slough Creek and less time out of sight in their traditional territory high up on Hellroaring Mountain.
The seven adults of 302M’s Blacktail pack have been observed often recently in the Blacktail Plateau area (the now defunct Leopold pack’s traditional territory) as they ferry food to their six strapping pups. The Blacktail pups probably also represent two litters, one out of alpha 693F and one out of 642F. All three adult Blacktail females (693F, 642F, and 692F) hail from the Agate Creek pack, and all four adult Blacktail males (302M, “Big Brown,” “Medium Gray,” and “Small Blaze”) dispersed from the Druids.
The star of the show has to be the illustrious 302M. Now nine-years-old and a character through and through, 302M is undoubtedly the most well-known wolf in the Park and perhaps the world. It is incredible that he finally became an alpha at the ripe old age of eight and then returned to claim his natal (Leopold pack) territory to raise his family. Veteran wolf watchers and visitors alike count it as a very lucky day when they get to see 302M!
His four black and two gray pups are huge! They must take after their father, who is always the first to arrive at and the last to leave the dinner table. The four black pups have beautiful dark coats and look like miniature 302’s. One of the gray pups is gigantic and is very independent. It thinks nothing of roaming away from the others on a walkabout of the entire rendezvous area. So far, we have been able to determine that one of the gray pups and two of the black pups are females. (For the uninitiated, female pups do a squat urination, while males do a lean forward.)
The big surprise of the summer was that the Canyon pack actually does have one pup! The Canyon alpha female (born into the Hayden Valley pack) fooled everyone and showed up at the old Hayden rendezvous site with a black pup. Although it is a long look across Hayden Valley, it is a joy to see the little black fellow bouncing along behind his almost white mother. Lacking littermates, the pup delights in jumping on his playful mother’s back and lapping up the attention showered upon him by the three other adults (black alpha 712M, gray 587M, and an uncollared gray male—all of whom were probably originally from the Mollie’s pack).
The Everts pack of six adults is sometimes seen on Everts Mountain, north of the Blacktail Lakes. They are thought to have five pups (two blacks and three grays) from alpha 685M and the alpha female. All of the adults except for 685M are black (alpha female, 470F, 684M and two yearling females). They made quite a pretty picture one day as they bounded down through fields of yellow flowers high atop Mt. Everts.
We did notice that only the old “Everts Female” (a.k.a. “The Limping Black” or “The Old Black Female”) was missing that day. As it turned out, she had recently died of natural causes, perhaps just old age. Born a Leopold a long time ago, she was an especially interesting wolf because she would sometimes disappear for a year or two at a time and then resurface in another pack. Opportunistic, resourceful and lucky, she was a true survivor.
The Agate Creek pack’s four adults are sometimes spotted in the Antelope Valley from Dunraven Pass or high on Specimen Ridge above Little America. Unfortunately, none of nine-year-old alpha female 472F’s pups survived. Consequently, the pack has not been localized around a particular den or rendezvous site, which makes spotting difficult and random. They did, however, save me from going wolf-less one day when we finally found them at 8 p.m. on the back side of Specimen Ridge!
The current Agate pack actually only includes two Agates by birth (472F and her niece or daughter 715F). The two other pack members, both males (alpha “Big Blaze” and “High Sides”), were born Druids, but they dispersed with their uncle 302M last fall to briefly become Blacktails and then left to join the two Agate females.
I never see and rarely hear news of the non-Northern Range packs (other than the Canyons), but this is what I know about pup counts: Mollies: 5; Quadrant: 3; Gibbon: 6; 478F: 3 (478F is a former Cougar Creek wolf who is now with a Gibbon male); “Tripod’s Group”: 2 (Tripod/632F only has three legs! No one knows how she lost most of one rear leg. Originally a Cougar Creek wolf, she branched off with a Gibbon male to form what may become known as the Grayling pack).
Along with the pups previously mentioned (Druid: maybe 9; Cottonwood: 5; Blacktail: 6, Everts: 5), the total pup count is about 45. We can only hope that disease will not take a toll this year and that pup survival will be good and territory disputes few. Summer rains have kept the hills and valleys unbelievably green, even into August, and the elk and bison are in spectacular condition. Hopefully, 2009 will prove to be a year of plenty for all.