Kathie Lynch: Reconfigured Yellowstone Packs at denning time

Kathie Lynch provides us with another detailed update on the wolves of northern Yellowstone Park.
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Yellowstone field notes. April 10 -18, 2010. By © Kathie Lynch.

During my Spring Break in Yellowstone National Park (April 10-18, 2010), I managed to see at least one wolf every day, but it wasn’t as easy as it used to be.

There are really only 17 wolves that might typically be visible in the Northern Range (nine Blacktails, five “Silvers,” and three in 755M’s Group). Sometimes the three Canyons or some of the seven or eight Quadrants help out by dropping in to the Mammoth area for a visit.

The most exciting happening was the rediscovery of the Druid Peak pack two-year-old “Black Female” (formerly called the “Black Female Yearling”). She had not been seen since March 9. So, on April 17, we were delighted to find her taking turns with a grizzly scavenging on a carcass below Hellroaring.

Before that it had been almost a month since a Druid had been seen (571F on March 24). The other missing Druids and last confirmed sightings include: alpha 480M (February 9), 690F (March 10), “Dull Bar” (March 9, with the “Black Female”), “Black Bar” (end of January), and “Triangle Blaze” (January).
The Druid “Black Female” moved well and seemed to feel fine, but she is still ravaged by mange. She has a rope tail, but she does have some hair on her head and back. We were so thrilled to see this spunky survivor and are hoping that, with the coming warmer weather, she may be on the road to recovery.

More good news–the alpha of 755M’s Group, the infamous “’06 Female,” (originally an Agate and lately of the Lava Creek pack) has chosen to den at Slough Creek! For several days, we had observed the two black males (alpha 755M and 754M) frequenting the area. We were excited when we finally saw the “’06 Female” digging at a den entrance and then disappear into the hole! Since she is the champion hunter of the group, we’re not sure how those two younger males are going to get the groceries without her. But, we’re hoping that all goes well and that we’ll get to see pups come tumbling out in May.

The unofficially named “Silver” pack seems to have settled on the prime vacant territory of Lamar Valley as their new home. The “Silvers” spent most of the week feasting on a bison carcass at the west end of Jasper Bench. Either they’re incredibly lucky at finding dead bison, or they may be one of those rare Yellowstone packs that knows how to kill a bison. Their only problem is fending off invading grizzlies that almost always succeed in taking the kill away from the wolves.

The “Silver” pack appeared to have two pregnant females, the silvery white alpha and the two-year-old gray. Both had been observed to breed with the new black alpha male, 147M. He ousted the former alpha male in February, but then he benevolently let the “Old Gray Guy” remain with the pack. New alpha 147M is a huge favorite of the two young females in the pack. They both delight in jumping all over him and showering him with affection.

The Blacktail pack may also have had two pregnant females, alpha 693F and 692F. Since the new alpha male, “Big Brown,” is the son of Druids 480M and 569F and is also the nephew of the late Blacktail alpha 302M, the hoped for Blacktail pups will be of royal heritage indeed.

The Canyon pack made several visits to the Mammoth area. The pack still consists of just three adult wolves: the former Hayden alpha female (mother of the famous Hayden black pup in 2007), alpha 712M, and a dark gray adult male. Their only pup last year, a black, disappeared in the fall, as did 587M. All of the Canyon males are thought to have originally come from the Mollies pack.
By now, the Canyons have hopefully returned to the south to den. That could save them from conflict with the powerful Quadrant Mountain pack. Besides the Blacktails, the Quadrants were the only Northern Range pack to successfully raise pups (three females) last year. The Quadrants now control Swan Lake Flats and occasionally visit the Mammoth area.

The Mollies males continue to disperse from that large pack. In January, 641M and 586M dispersed to join two Agate females, alpha 472F and her niece or daughter, 715M.

The Agates occasionally appear in Little America but likely also headed south to den. Nine-year-old alpha 472F successfully raised pups in the Antelope Valley in 2006 and 2007 (to the delight of watchers on Dunraven Pass road), but she had no surviving pups the last two years.

The Everts pack is considered disbanded, following the death of the alpha female last fall and the subsequent dispersal of alpha male 685M. He joined the last remaining member of the Lava Creek pack, venerable 471F (born to Agates 472F and 113M). The duo, 471F and 685M, is seldom seen, but they frequent the Undine Falls/Wraith Falls area. The other two known members of the Everts pack, 684M and 470F, are both now considered lone wolves and are often out of the Park.

The large Gibbon Meadows pack has a huge territory that includes the Madison and Firehole Rivers and also part of Hayden Valley. Both of the Gibbon’s longtime alphas, 537F and 482M, have died since last fall, so the pack’s new leadership structure is uncertain.

So many changes have occurred since last fall. Much of the negative change was precipitated by the loss of the alpha(s) in various packs. This contributed to the decline of the Druids, the Everts, and the Cottonwoods, although some individuals of those packs may still exist.

Some positive change came with the arrival of new wolves from outside of YNP. A new pack, the “Silvers,” came in and decided to stay, as did 755M and 754M.
In addition, many wolves moved from one pack to another (147M from Lava Creek to “Silver,” 755M and 754M from the Druids to 755M’s Group, the ’06 Female from Lava Creek to 755M’s Group, 641M and 586M from Mollies to Agate).

The wolves have done their best to set the stage for a rebound. A good pup survival year will help them rise above adversity to maintain their integral and rightful place as a keystone species in the ecosystem.

Posted in Wolves, Yellowstone, Yellowstone National Park, Yellowstone wolves. Comments Off on Kathie Lynch: Reconfigured Yellowstone Packs at denning time
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