Post 1042

When I posted my short update on what had been happening on the Northern Range yesterday, I didn’t know that Kathie Lynch was about to send a report. It follows, and answers some of the detailed questions people had.

Thanks for another excellent report, Kathie.

YNP WOLF field notes, April 7-15, 2007:

My spring break trip to Yellowstone, April 7-15, 2007, started off with a bang when I stumbled upon the entire Hayden Valley wolf pack only 10 minutes after entering the Park and near the road, right in Mammoth Hot Springs! To say that I never expected a sight like that would be putting it mildly! Many of you know that it took me over a year and 16 long trips all the way down to the Hayden Valley before I finally succeeded in seeing the famous white alpha female, 540F. And now, unbelievably, she had come to see me!

The pack of four was chasing elk just north of the road by the high bridge when I arrived. It was fascinating to watch the cooperative hunting displayed by the two younger wolves (which may both be yearlings or perhaps one yearling and one two-year old). One drove a cow elk directly at the other wolf, which lay bedded in the sage. The hidden wolf jumped up just as the elk reached it and lunged for her throat. The elk kicked out with her right front leg, did a quick pivot jump to the left and got away. I was amazed by the wolves’ teamwork and what was obviously such a premeditated entrapment maneuver.

I got a very close look at alpha 540F as she crossed the road and was struck by how tired she now looks, compared to her youthful beauty as captured in photographs only a few years ago. It certainly illustrates how difficult life is for all wolves in the wild, but especially for those, like the Haydens, who make their home in the coldest, most inhospitable part of the Park in winter and have to survive on bison, a formidable foe. Of course, the fact that 540F had traveled at least 25 miles from home and was perhaps due to pup any day may have had something to do with her worn out look!

Speaking of pups, most have probably arrived by now, at least in the Northern Range. Hopefully, they will stay safe and warm in their dens with their mothers until they emerge two to three weeks after birth. Unlike past years, when the Slough Creek pack obligingly denned in plain sight right at Slough Creek, none of the Northern Range packs have denned where they can be seen by the public. Though disappointing for wolf watchers, this is probably best for the wolves. We can always hope to catch a glimpse of the rest of the pack as they go out to hunt and return with full bellies to feed the mothers and pups. And, we can hope that the packs will choose rendezvous sites where we can watch the pups play this summer.

The amazing thing is just how many litters there might be—the Slough Creek pack may have as many as six litters (alpha 380F, 526F, 527F, “Sharp Right,” and two uncollared yearlings)! That will certainly keep the new gray two-year-old Slough alpha male (formerly an Agate Creek wolf) and his one black sidekick (probably the only Slough female who didn’t get pregnant!) busy trying to find food.

The Agates appear to have two, and perhaps three, litters. Alpha 472F has denned, as has beta 471F and perhaps 524F too. She is one of the few survivors of the 2005 disease (distemper?) epidemic, which took the lives of most of the Northern Range pups.

Unfortunately, the Druid Peak pack can only have one litter because they only have one adult female, alpha 569F. However, she is one very important wolf! As the last of Druid 21M’s last offspring, devoted Druid watchers are counting on her to carry on the legacy of her great father.

The Oxbow Creek pack may have two litters, those of alpha 536F and also 470F. Another Oxbow female, 588F (who was originally a Leopold pack wolf), may have returned to her natal pack to have her pups. Since the Oxbow Creek pack formed during the breeding season of 2006, there has been a flow of wolves between the two packs.

And, just so the male wolves don’t feel left out, here’s the medical update on two old favorites. Former Agate alpha 113M turns 10 years old on April 20! His rear leg/testicle injury (suffered almost four months ago) looks a lot better and is not all red anymore. He travels with and keeps up with the pack just fine. It is truly a miracle how he just keeps on keeping on. It turns out, however, that he may not be quite the oldest collared wolf in the Park. Cougar Creek wolf 151 may have been born to the Leopold pack 10-14 days before 113M was born to the Chief Joseph pack. Still, 113M gets my vote for one grand old guy!

There’s good news, too, for Druid 302M! As is his way, he is out and about with the pack and also often on his own in Lamar Valley. I figure he has to make the rounds to check up on all of his current and former mates and offspring in the neighboring packs! He appears to have recovered well from the badly injured left rear leg he suffered two months ago. He never really sees the need to hurry anywhere anyway, so he moves along quite well with only a hint of an odd gait. Perhaps he’s not putting all of his weight on that leg, but he seems to look and feel just fine.

The most interesting interactions I saw all week involved wolves and coyotes. One evening we watched one of the Slough two-year-old females harass and be harassed by five coyotes. She apparently stumbled into a coyote den territory on her way to a carcass at the west end of Lamar Valley. It was an amazing spectacle as the six canids took turns chasing each other, sometimes with tails tucked and sometimes very aggressively, on Jasper Bench for a solid hour. Eventually, the episode just seemed to dissolve and the black wolf headed down toward the carcass in the river. Unfortunately, a golden eagle was there, and the wolf shied away and headed for home without getting even a morsel after all of that effort.

The other coyote wolf interaction had a much different tone. These three coyotes, including one pregnant female, meant business. They dispatched three individual Druid yearlings and sent them packing! There was nothing half-hearted about it; the coyotes had malice in their hearts and the wolves ran for their lives to the safety of the forest on Dead Puppy Hill in the Soda Butte valley. Two of the coyotes actually made contact with the fleeing wolves—it was unbelievable how fast those coyotes could run!

The final big surprise of the week happened right back in Mammoth in the same place I had unexpectedly seen the Haydens on my first morning. Driving east toward the high bridge at first light, I noticed elk on alert and scanned quickly for the white wolf and her gray pack. Instead, I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw what was, beyond a shadow of a doubt, two black (black!) wolves lying on the hillside! They wandered up to the ridge where a gray wolf materialized right in my scope’s field of view. As they moved off through a clearing, I couldn’t be sure if another two blacks followed or if they were the original two blacks who had circled back. I was so surprised because the only packs I thought might be in the area were the Haydens or the old Swan Lake pack, and I knew that they were all gray. It turns out that an unidentified pack of four blacks and two grays has been seen several times in the Mammoth area this winter, but no one knows who they are.

Spring is definitely in the air in Yellowstone. At times the inch long green grass makes the hills look like Ireland, but, in a certain light, last year’s pale yellow grasses and the still leafless aspens remind you that fall and winter aren’t long past.

The animals certainly tell you that spring has sprung, however…a cinnamon black bear who looked like he wasn’t quite sure why he had woken up; a grizzly casting to and fro in Lamar Valley in search of a winter killed carcass; 21 pronghorn all in a line in Little America topping a ridge with their white rears flashing in the sun; flocks of mountain bluebirds rising in an excited whorl; a male peregrine falcon calling out for a mate from a spire in the Yellowstone River below Tower; a trumpeter swan checking out Floating Island Lake for a nesting site; a red fox pouncing on voles; those crazy Uinta ground squirrels scurrying (half way!) across the road; the first bison calves; bull elk with just nubs for antlers; the faster than a speeding bullet black Oxbow yearling (with the goofy looking, straight up rabbit ears!) in hot pursuit of an elk.

But, the sight that really said “It’s spring!” was a black Druid yearling who looked like a teenager out for a joy ride. He literally hopped, skipped and jumped his crazy zigzag way west through Lamar Valley, leaping at ravens, balancing on logs, and just plain enjoying life to the hilt.

Springtime, Druids in Lamar, the next generation of wolf pups in the dens, wolves in the wild…ain’t life grand!

 
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About The Author

Ralph Maughan

Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University with specialties in natural resource politics, public opinion, interest groups, political parties, voting and elections. Aside from academic publications, he is author or co-author of three hiking/backpacking guides, and he is President of the Western Watersheds Project.

16 Responses to Kathie Lynch's detailed report on Yellowstone northern range happenings, April 7-15, 2007

  1. avatar Jo Middleton says:

    Kathy- what a joy to read your reports ! Thank you so very much for endless hours of watching and reporting for us..
    I feel like I am there with you and the wolves of Yellowstone. Again thank you for all you do..

  2. avatar Lynn says:

    LOVE to read your reports. Wish I were there, but you make me feel like I am. If I just close my eyes……….:>)

    I second Jo’s “Thank you” for the wonderful written reports.

  3. avatar Jan says:

    Thanks so much, Kathie! My “sweetie” (302M) has made it through another winter! I love reading your reports about all the Yellowstone wolves– wish I could be there!

  4. avatar Dan says:

    Are the Druids denning the same place they did last year?

  5. avatar Michael Williams says:

    I thank you Kathie. I am a public school teacher in CA and am so envious that you get to go back to YNP so often. I do look forward to your reports. I’m on my way to Yellowstone
    May 5th/June 1st. Fortunately this will be the third summer in a row I’ve been able to spend 30+ days in YNP.
    Again, Thanks, Michael

  6. avatar Dave Collins says:

    Kathie,
    Excellent reporting as usual. Thank you for all of your watching and reporting.

  7. avatar Keith Chamberlain says:

    Hayden Valley pack in Mammoth area:
    I was very interested to read your account of the white wolves in the Mammoth area. On the evening of April 7th my wife and I were returning from a day in the park when we came upon a car jam at the east end of the high bridge. Though we missed most of the action, three white wolves were still visible on the slopes above Glen Creek(?). According to folks who had arrived a few minutes earlier, they’d had a cow elk backed up against the top of a precipice above the creek bottom for several minutes. One woman had digital photos of the action. When the cow refused to bolt and they couldn’t get behind her the trio finally gave it up. The last we saw of them were three sets of creamy-white ears disappearing into the brush.
    A few nights later we were awakened in our modular in the YCC camp by a wolf’s howls that seemed so close that we got up and looked out the windows, half expecting to see a wolf under the eaves.
    We’re here for a month as volunteers at the Heritage and Research Center and have had unbelievable luck seeing wolves: A trio (one dark gray or black and two standard-issue grays) that sifted and sorted a herd of about 200 elk atop the bald ridge north of the road just a tenth of a mile beyond the turnoff for the Blacktail Deer Plateau Drive; A foursome (two dark gray and two light gray) sifting and sorting on the Blacktail Deer Plateau near the self-guiding trail. This chase dissolved into a fifteen-minute stare-down between two of the wolves (one dark gray, one light) during which the knot of a half-dozen elk stood their ground and survived; A pair of Sloughs(?) keeping an eye on an elk carcass in the Lamar River just downstream from the large parking area (Fisherman’s Parking?). We watched them as they watched the carcass for a couple of hours, then just at dark they descended from their hilltop perch, crossed the road and swam out to the carcass which was hung up on a mid-stream riffle. Coyotes, a bald eagle and ravens had been at it, but all retreated at the wolves’ approach.
    The light gray wolf made four attempts to cross directly to the carcass but when swimming encountered strong current and turned back to the bank. The dark gray arrived five or ten minutes later, padded a short ways upstream along the bank and crossed the current confidently, then waded down the riffle to the carcass. The light gray wolf then followed suit.
    The dark gray took only a couple of bites from the carcass, then turned toward the far bank, crossed the remainder of the river and started chasing the coyotes that were hanging about. As darkness fell we could just make out shapes as the dark gray chased, then was chased by, at least three coyotes. The light finally failed entirely and when we returned early the next day the carcass had been reduced to a ribcage and there was no sign of wolves.

  8. avatar Dave says:

    Kathy,

    Wonderful report as usual. Keep up the good work and keep these reports coming! We really do appreciate your observations and writings, and Ralph’s posting of them on his website.

  9. avatar Don George says:

    Kathy,
    Great report! Its amazing how YNP unfolds when you get out there and observe. My wife and I have traveled to YNP
    2-3 times a year for several decades and never get tired of it.
    Its kind of like when you were a kid looking for the prize in the Cracker Jack box. There is always something unique just around the bend.

  10. avatar penguinmaster8000 says:

    Great!
    Kathy,
    Here is another fact you can put in:
    There is a supervolcano at Yellowstone National Park that last erupted about 200 million years ago, and it will erupt again sooner or later in the future. But don’t worry, this {might} will be a long time from now!
    Don’t forget to give me credit by listing me in your blog.
    Glad to help.
    Thanks!

  11. avatar Camille says:

    Wonderful Report, Kathie. Thanks so much! I can see and almost hear things, thru’ your reports!

  12. avatar Jimmy Jones says:

    Kathy,
    I won’t be in the park physically untill next month, but between you and Laurie, I’m there all the time. It’s so nice to have reports like this to stay current on God’s country.
    Thanks again for hosting another visual trip to my favorite place.

  13. avatar MikeH says:

    Great report Kathie! Thx!

  14. avatar Dave B Wood says:

    Hi Kathie, I live in England and am doing a study of wolves, it is great to read your reports as it keeps me up to date with the wolves in the yellowstone national park which is a part of my studies, keep it up, great reading, helps me tremendously. look forward to your next report. is there anyway of getting a full list of all the wolf packs in the park. all the best, Dave

  15. avatar debbie says:

    thank you, thank you, thank you
    for such a wonderful report
    i cannot wait until i’m out there again watching my
    beloved druids

  16. avatar Jessica says:

    Kathie-
    The “unidentified” pack around Mammoth also crossed my path on April 24th. It was early evening (i think 6pm) and we were driving towards Tower. After crossing the Gardiner river bridge we saw a gray colored wolf standing in the middle of the road. Above the car on the cliff we saw shadows moving thru the trees. One by one the wolves ran across the road about 20 yards in front of our car. There were 2 gray colored and 4 black. By the time we got to the next pullout on the valley side of the road…they had disappeared. Later that evening, on our way back to mammoth a lone gray colored wolf crossed the road. It was almost dark but we watched it climb the hillside slowly until it was out of sight. This second sighting was less than a mile from the first.

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‎"At some point we must draw a line across the ground of our home and our being, drive a spear into the land and say to the bulldozers, earthmovers, government and corporations, “thus far and no further.” If we do not, we shall later feel, instead of pride, the regret of Thoreau, that good but overly-bookish man, who wrote, near the end of his life, “If I repent of anything it is likely to be my good behaviour."

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