Kathie Lynch has written another great update on her wolf observations on the Yellowstone Park Northern Range. Ralph Maughan
– – – – – –
Yellowstone wolf notes. Nov. 21-25. Copyright Kathie Lynch.
Five days in Yellowstone, November 21-25, 2007, brought unbelievably frigid temperatures and many, many wolves. Frost was definitely on the Thanksgiving pumpkin in Lamar Valley, with a dawn temperature of minus 20 F! I don’t think it got above zero at all on Thanksgiving Day, but, by 4 p.m., it had warmed all the way up to minus one!
My first day in the park started off with unexpected excitement in Little America as at least seven Agate Creek wolves, with tails flying high, barreled full blast south toward the road at the Lamar Bridge in pursuit of three members of the (unofficially named) “Silver” pack. The silver alpha female and the other two adults, one black and one gray, made it safely across the road to the south, and the Agates returned to the north.
A lone black howler, probably a “Silver” pack pup, cried its heart out nearby, but we didn’t see the “Silver” pack adults again, and the pup also disappeared. This small pack of six seems to have carved out a tenuous home in the Little America area, somehow sandwiched between the Agates, Oxbows, Sloughs and Druids.
Day number two was my first of two three-pack days, with the Druids, Sloughs, and Agates all making appearances. The Druids had to be admired from afar as they stood silhouetted in the early morning sunlight atop snowy Amethyst Peak, high above the Lamar Valley.
The Agates and Sloughs were destined to be the stars that day. Not too far south of the road from the Slough Creek parking lot/outhouse lay what appeared to be a small bison carcass, cause of death unknown. Ten coyotes were gathered around, happily enjoying a Thanksgiving feast. Nearby, a grizzly roamed the Crystal Creek drainage, perhaps having had one last snack before finding a nice warm den for the winter.
Earlier in the day, we had seen 13 Agates (nine grays, three blacks, and the black-turning-silver alpha 472F) bedded in the sage and then howling south of the road in Little America. We lost sight of them, but eventually picked them up again to the east of the Crystal Creek drainage, south of Slough Creek. All of a sudden, they broke into a run and arrived at the possible bison carcass, sending those wily coyotes scattering in all directions.
The Agates fed on the carcass for about an hour, finishing up with a nice rally and group howl. As they headed back to the west, a mighty chorus of howls rose up from behind the ridge near Dave’s Hill. We swung our scopes around to see the absolutely unforgettable sight of 16 Sloughs cresting the ridge. The 13 blacks looked like an advancing army as they rushed forward, fanned out in a united front to stand at attention and issue their challenge to the retreating Agates. Across the road, the outnumbered Agates made a silent getaway into the trees and disappeared to the west without answering the Sloughs.
The next morning found the Sloughs on a bull elk carcass near the Slough Creek campground/trailhead. The carcass was at the edge of the trees, and it was really hard to see the wolves clearly, but there seemed to 13 or so, including the pack’s three grays (the three-year-old female “Sharp Right” and two pups).
The Slough pack technically numbers 18 right now, but there are a couple of variables. The four-year-old Slough, 527F, sometimes travels alone and is often not with the Sloughs. However, she is still very much a part of the pack and was with them when they challenged the Agates on Nov. 22. She may, however, be getting ready to disperse, as she has recently been seen in the company of the mysterious “Idaho Wolf,” who may or may not be Idaho B195M. Although his collar frequency matches, the gray in Yellowstone does not have a bobbed tail, while Idaho B195M supposedly does. Regardless, it would be nice if 527F could hook up with this beautiful collared gray (who was previously so content with the Sloughs until he left the pack when the new alpha male took over in September).
Note: about this, check out this more recent story. He is an Idaho wolf, but not wolf B195M. . . . Ralph Maughan
The other variable is that one Slough black pup has not been seen recently. It may have been another victim of the Druids’ attack on Nov. 17, when they killed the uncollared two-year-old Slough female, “Slant.” A sleek, dark black wolf, “Slant” had endured so much in her way too short life. She was one of only three Slough survivors of the disease epidemic that killed most of the pups in 2005. A year later, she endured the siege by the Unknowns, trapped inside the den hole for days. Slant quite likely was a mother this year, so hopefully her indomitable spirit will live on in another shiny black pup.
My fourth day was another three pack day with the Sloughs close by and still at Slough Creek on their elk carcass, 16 Druids sky high and way, way, way far away up on the Cache/Calfee ridge, and 17 Oxbows way, way, way far away on a carcass up the Hellroaring slope. I think my total viewing distance for the Druids and Oxbows was about seven miles!
The last day brought a chance to see “The Jasper Male,” an uncollared black who frequents Lamar. He was alone and looking for morsels on an old carcass in Lamar. Sometimes he is in the company of a small, lovely gray female. They seem to have found a way to survive in the Jasper Bench area, but they will need to be especially wary now that the Druids are back in Lamar.
The big treat on my last day was a close up view of all 16 Druids! They started off the morning in the Rose Creek area, north of the road near the Buffalo Ranch, and proceeded west into the heart of Slough territory. Eventually, they got so far to the north and west that we had to go to Long Pullout in Little America and look back to the northeast to see them.
After finding the Sloughs not at home (they were up Slough Creek to the north) and chasing a couple of elk, the Druids stayed on the north side of the road and returned to Lamar. I never expected them to cross the road in plain view, but that’s just what they did, right between the Fisherman’s and Coyote turnouts!
They were funny in their different approaches to crossing the road. Some ran down the hill at full speed and crossed like a shot; a black and a gray actually stood posed on opposite sides of the road like crossing guards; two others never did have the nerve to cross. Those two, a black pup and a gray yearling (who maybe got stuck baby-sitting the reluctant pup) stayed on the north side of the road and continued east. Eventually they safely joined the rest of their family in what I’m sure was a joyful reunion.
As we reunite with our own families over the holidays and take time to count our blessings, we surely must reflect on and be thankful for the gifts of inspiration and renewal of spirit that Yellowstone and the wolves have given to us!
P.S. I don’t have any news about the Haydens. With the roads to the interior closed to cars for the winter, we will have to wait until the roads open to snow coaches and snowmobiles in late December before park visitors have a chance of seeing them. It is still not known if the four grays and one black who have been seen (since the Mollies killed 540F and 541M on Oct. 30) are all pups or if one gray may be an adult. I can only hope for quick development of the amazing instinctive hunting behavior I saw as the pups playfully stalked ravens last July across from the Otter Creek picnic area. Winter in the interior is a battle to survive anyway, and the Haydens will have to contend with other nearby packs, including the Mollies and Cougar Creek. However, if a small group like the “Silver” pack can make it surrounded by rival packs, perhaps the Haydens can too. We can only hope.