Kathie Lynch. Wolf watching good for two packs. New pup news.

Kathie Lynch has sent her first report of the summer. The new packs on the Yellowstone Northern Range occupy similar locations as those in days gone by.

Thanks Kathie!    Ralph Maughan

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Puppies! Yellowstone’s summer wolf watching season got off to a wonderful start with the debut of four pups each for the Silver pack and the (unofficially named) Lamar Canyon pack, also called 755’s Group. To add to the excitement, both packs denned within easy viewing distance of the road, offering the amazing opportunity to watch wolf pups grow up in the wild.

Unbelievably, both packs chose to den in the exact same areas used by famous Yellowstone packs in the past. The Silvers denned in the Druid Peak pack’s Lamar Valley rendezvous site, and the Lamar Canyon pack denned in the Slough Creek pack’s former home at Slough Creek. In fact, the Lamar Canyon pups were even born in the old Slough natal den!

The Silver pack (named after the silvery white alpha female) consists of five adults and four gray pups. Although the pack probably came from outside of the Park to the east, the alpha female had been seen in YNP several times previously over the last two or three years. When she returned in February 2010, she brought along an old gray alpha male, a gray yearling daughter and a gray female pup.

The female pup (now a yearling) has been collared as 753F. She is extremely playful and delights in being the pups’ official babysitter. The former yearling daughter is now a two-year old mother of probably two pups in the pack’s two litters. The alpha female is the other mother. The old gray former alpha male was allowed to stay with the pack after benevolent interloper 147M (formerly of the Lava Creek pack) took over as alpha male during the breeding season in February.

Of the four pups, the two larger ones have already started getting dark guard hairs and have turned more blackish-gray. They were probably born to the alpha female at least a week earlier than the two smaller pups, which are still tawny brown. Those are thought to belong to the two-year-old uncollared female. Both females have nursed all four pups interchangeably, so they don’t seem to keep track of which pup belongs to which mother.

Typical sights include adults ferrying food across Lamar Valley to cache or regurgitate to the hungry pups, adults leading a parade of pups down to play in the bison wallow, pups cavorting in front of the middle foothill, pups lounging or sitting at attention on the mossy rock, and adults serving up a nip on the rear to the frequent intruding bears.

Five or six adult bison carcasses (perhaps victims of bloat, not predation) have drawn both grizzly and black bears galore.  Although the bears pass through the den area frequently, it almost seems like they have reached an understanding with the wolves so that everyone just goes about their business and nobody gets hurt.

The Lamar Canyon pack had a lot of trouble with invading bears early on at Slough Creek, but that seems to have passed after the alpha female moved the center of operation to a new den. The three adults and four gray pups pop into view fairly often throughout the day, providing good viewing for those willing to brave the recent invasion of mosquitoes!

The Lamar Canyon adults include the always interesting gray alpha, the “’06 Female.” She was born into the Agate Creek pack as one of the last offspring of legendary alpha 113M in 2006. The two Lamar Canyon males, brothers 755M (alpha) and 754M, both black, probably hail from north of YNP.

We had had doubts about the ability of the two young males to keep a growing family fed while the great hunter, the alpha female, was indisposed. But, the pups are roly-poly and a delight to watch as they wriggle through the sage or balance on logs around the mud hole. Since we did see both 755M and 754M bred with the alpha female on successive days, it is possible that each of the males may have fathered some of the pups.

Both 755M and 754M spent time with the five remaining Druid Peak pack females in December and January, before the Druids completely fell apart. Of those five Druid females, only the two-year-old “Black Female” (formerly the “Black Female Yearling”) still survives; she is the last Druid positively known to be alive.

She appeared, out of the blue, on June 18 at Slough Creek and actually interacted with the three Lamar Canyon adults, all of whom she had previously met. This gutsy Druid survivor still suffers from mange, although her condition appears to have improved. As a lone wolf, she leads a dangerous life, probably forced to scavenge on carcasses killed by others.

Sadly, former Druid alpha male 480M was recently found dead; he probably died in late winter. After the death of his alpha female, 569F, last fall, he had no breeding opportunities in his own pack and had left the Druids.

Born in 2002 to reintroduced Leopold pack alphas 2M and 7F, 480M was a wolf of incredible character. Along with his brother, the famous 302M, 480M is credited with resurrecting the Druids after the 2004 deaths of Druid alphas 21M and 42F. As eventual alpha to both of 21M’s last two daughters, 529F and 569F, 480M led the Druids back from the brink to once again dominate Lamar Valley.

Four-eighty was a clever tactician and bravely mustered his not-quite-yearling offspring to defeat the invading Mollies in a famous fight in March 2007. The epitome of an intelligent leader and what an alpha male should be, 480M will be sorely missed–not only because his passing is the final death knell for the Druids, but because he was quietly and simply a great wolf.

Druid blood does live on in the Blacktail pack through alpha male “Big Brown” and beta male “Medium Gray.” The Blacktails are infrequently seen in their Blacktail Plateau territory, but they are thought to have pups from perhaps two or three mothers (all originally from the Agate Creek pack): alpha 693F and 692F and/or 642F.

Druid blood also flows in the Agate Creek pack through the now almost white nine-year-old alpha 472F, the daughter of Druids 21M and 42F. Although she did not have any surviving pups the previous two years, we are hoping that 472F and her daughter, 715F, may both have had pups this year.

These two Agate females were joined last winter by two gray males from the Mollies pack, imposing alpha 641M and older 586M. Huge and awe-inspiring 641M will definitely leave his mark and infuse Mollies’ vigor into the Northern Range gene pool.

In Yellowstone’s interior, the Canyon pack is sometimes visible in the far distance from Grizzly Overlook in the Hayden Valley. The three adults include the very light gray alpha female, the dark black alpha male 712M, and an uncollared gray male. The pack is thought to have three pups.

As for other wildlife, bears have been especially plentiful this year. A grizzly sow with four cubs of the year (COY) delights watchers at Swan Lake Flats, south of Mammoth, and a grizzly sow with two COY roams Dunraven Road near Mt. Washburn.

Not to be outdone, bird nests abound. Golden eagles once again use the aerie on the rock wall west of Slough Creek, and bald eagles raise an eaglet in the conifers on the face of Jasper Bench in Lamar Valley. Osprey nest below the Tower Road above the Yellowstone River, as usual, and red-tailed hawks nest in the Lamar River canyon. The peregrine falcons across the Yellowstone River from the Tower Road had several eggs, but only one chick hatched. The sandhill cranes at Floating Island Lake have one surviving colt (offspring); the other was taken by a coyote.

Coyote pups put on a rollicking show at the west end of Lamar Valley, south of Fisherman’s turnout. River otters cavort in the Lamar River near the old picnic area and at Trout Lake.  The cutthroat and rainbow trout still struggle up the inlet stream at Trout Lake to spawn, a must-see annual spectacle.

A pronghorn doe tends her twin fawns at Slough Creek; I even saw two pronghorn chasing a coyote! Cow elk also face the heart-breaking challenge of trying to protect their hidden calves from bears, coyotes and wolves. Orange bison calves abound in Lamar Valley and Little America, and we hold out hope that a cute little orphan bison baby will somehow be accepted by the herd and survive.

Despite the many losses of the last year, life really does go on. In Yellowstone and in all of Earth’s wild places, nature renews, reinvigorates and rejoices in new life–for all to enjoy, protect, and treasure.

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