Kathie Lynch on Yellowstone wolf mating season

Wolfish romance on the Northern Range of Yellowstone Park-

Kathie Lynch has a detailed report on amorous adventures of Yellowstone wolves observed during her recent trip to the Park.
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By Kathie Lynch. Copyright 2011

Yellowstone’s February wolf breeding season gave us have high hopes for the arrival of new pups this April.  Although only six ties (matings) were actually observed this year, they included the alphas of all three packs which are most often seen in the Northern Range (Lamar Canyon, Blacktail, and Agate)–a very good sign for wolf watching this spring and summer!

February weather ran the gamut from unusually warm, sunny afternoons of 45F temperatures and snow-free roads to biting winds and bitterly cold days when the thermometer never got above 7 degrees. Low visibility and ground blizzards sometimes made driving a white knuckle experience, with unplowed turnouts and deep, drifted snow across roads in the Lamar Valley and on the Blacktail

Despite the wintry weather and fewer than 100 wolves in Yellowstone, we still managed to see wolves, or at least one wolf, almost every day. The Lamar wolves proved to be the most reliable, although even they frequently disappeared from view for several days at a time, no doubt hunting or doing boundary checks throughout their large territory.

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Wolf mating season on the greatly reconfigured Yellowstone northern range

The Druids are the only northern range pack still intact. New packs and groups abound-

Due to the complexity of the changes on the northern range, I know it took Kathie several weeks to write this. Ralph Maughan

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Yellowstone wolf report. Feb. 15-22, 2009. By © Kathie Lynch.

A week in Yellowstone, Feb. 15-22, 2009, during the height of the wolf breeding season, provided plenty of action and lots of surprises.

The Druid Peak pack actually was not the main attraction, as they were way up the Lamar River and out of sight most of the time.

However, the Druid’s many dispersers have contributed to the formation and gene pool of quite a few other packs or groups, including: the newly named Blacktail Pack (started by former Druid beta 302M and five Druid male yearlings-grandchildren of the great Druid alpha 21M); 694F’s Group (which includes the two Druid two-year-old females 694F/”High Sides” and “Dull Bar”-both also 21M’s grandchildren); the newly named Cottonwood Group (started by 527F, who was born to 21M and 42F, but dispersed to the Slough Creek pack and then dispersed to form her own pack in 2007); and even the Agate Creek pack (whose long-time alpha female, 472F, was also the offspring of 21M and 42F). The blood of 21M still runs strong.

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Some Yellowstone Park wolf news

Although I expect Kathie Lynch may soon have a detailed report, I got information about a few items today.

The Bechler Pack of SW Yellowstone (the only pack down there) was finally seen. It had eleven members and was several miles south of the Park near the Idaho/Wyoming border. While they will go back to the Park, this points out a serious problem with Wyoming wolf management, the Bechlers, a Yellowstone Park wolf pack could be shot during a Wyoming trophy hunt season when they leave the Park as many Park packs sometimes do.

There has been a pretty wild mating season, with a lot of cross pack mating. In a first, an alpha male (of the Leopold’s 534M) was seen mating with the beta female of the rival Agate Pack (471F). He had already mated with his “mate,” the Leopold alpha female.

302M has left the Druids, at least temporarily, and is probably doing his favorite thing, searching for love.

Genetic research by Dan Stahler, and others,* has shown that the Park wolves have gone to great lengths (although I doubt they are thinking of genetic diversity as they check each other out) to avoid inbreeding.

The Haydens might have found a new home range. It is the territory left abandoned as the new Swan Lake Pack disintegrated — from Mammoth, north to Norris Geyser Basin. Two of the five Hayden’s got radio collars — the new adult male of the pack, who will be 639M and the well known black pup, who is now 638M. Dan Stahler finds the black pup very ineresting in that his is likely the son of the pack’s former beta or subordinate female and a black interloper. If he came from the alpha pair, he should be gray or light gray like the other 2 surviving pups.

Recently a Druid pup, among other Druids was radio collared. While still somewhat under the effect of the drug, two gray wolves, unseen by the darters and collarers, came down, and one tried to attack the pup. The pup is apparently not hurt and is seen looking perfectly fit now among the rest of the Druids.

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* The genealogy and genetic viability of  reintroduced Yellowstone Gray Wolves.  Molecular Ecology (2007).  Bridgett M. Vonholdt, Daniel R . Stahler, Douglas W. Smith, Dent A. Earl, John P. Pollinger, and Robert K. Wayne