Post 1181

Kathie Lynch just sent me her Memorial Day wolf watching report, actually it is a couple days old because I went driving, hiking, and camping in the Beaverheads/Lemhis on, and near the Idaho/Montana border. No wolf observations, but lots of elk and pronghorn.

I want to thank “BE” for watching my web page in the interim.

Below is her report, including the fact that the new alpha male of the Slough Creek Pack may have impregnated essentially of of the pack’s females. The Sloughs had become an all female pack. That certainly makes up for last year when they lost their pups to the “Unknown Pack.”

I wonder if the multiple litters are the result of there not really being an alpha female when the former Agate Pack male saw his opportunity?

– – – – –

Here is the report.

Memorial Day weekend in Yellowstone brought sunshine and snow to go with the crowds of wildlife watchers eager to jump start summer. With the opening of Dunraven Pass (delayed half a day due to 3”-4” of snow!), visitors could travel past the Tower store to see the Agate Creek pack on Antelope Creek and the Hayden Valley pack south of Canyon.

Actually, wolf sightings were in somewhat short supply. I did see wolves from the Agate Creek, Slough Creek and Leopold packs. I also saw the black male of a duo unofficially referred to as the Jasper pair (because they are often seen near the Jasper Bench in Lamar Valley). The Druid Peak and Oxbow Creek packs were not around and must have been home minding the dens. And, as usual, the Haydens escaped my detection. All in all, I only saw 12 wolves, and some sightings were brief.

The Agates seem to be using the same general den area around Antelope Creek as they did last year. This is great news for summer wolf watchers. Last year they were just about the only show in town and delighted all by staying in view until late summer. They are thought to have two litters, with perhaps 11-12 pups total. The mothers are probably alpha 472F and beta 471F. After his injury last winter, now 10-year-old former alpha 113M has handed over the reins to his son, four-year-old 383M. I didn’t get to see 113M, but he was around. His new role seems to be that of beloved grandpa.
I watched black Agate yearling 590M hanging around the base of the S curve seedling forest, apparently waiting for the rest of the pack to return from a hunt. One day he kept busy by chasing a few elk on his own. He is the one who temporarily joined the Sloughs last February after his brother became the new Slough alpha male. He is now back with the Agates, but his two-year-old sister, 524F (one of three Agate survivors of the 2005 pup disease epidemic) has been away from the Agates and is spending a lot of time over near the Sloughs. It will be interesting to see how much and what kind of interaction there will be between the two packs now that the Slough alpha male is a former Agate.

Speaking of the new Slough alpha male, he evidently jumped into the role with such gusto that his new family might include up to six litters! Only one of his seven females (a two-year old black, who also survived the 2005 epidemic) did not appear to be pregnant and did not den. She was often seen hunting with him in the Jasper Bench area while the other females were home tending the dens. The probable mother wolves include alpha 380F, 526F, 527F, the gray “Sharp Right,” and two uncollared black two-year-olds. They all look very thin, so the two providers may be having a hard time keeping all of those hungry mouths supplied with food.

The only other wolf I saw was a total surprise as I rounded the curve and headed east past Frog Rock and North Butte early one morning. A black Leopold will be forever etched in my mind, as it had just crossed and stood like a statue, gazing back across the road. It was a special treat because I don’t often see Leopolds. Their den/rendezvous area is far from the road on the Blacktail plateau, and usually they are just pinpoints in my scope.

Evenings have not been as good as mornings for wolf watching, but one evening (when I didn’t go out, naturally!) eight Druids made an appearance in their old Lamar rendezvous and paraded west as far as Amethyst Bench. There is still no word on Druid pups, but, with only one breeding female, alpha 569F, the Druids may not produce enough pups to hold their own against the Slough’s possible six litters.

Throughout much of May, the Oxbows had delighted watchers from Hellroaring Overlook as they put on quite a show with their 12 pups. Unfortunately, they moved their pups far away and out of sight before I arrived, so I missed out on that rare opportunity to observe a den. They seem to have lost one small black pup in the move and are now thought to have 11 pups. It is not known which, or how many, pups belong to each of the mother wolves, alpha 536F and beta 470F.

The Hayden alpha, 540F, has denned down in the Hayden Valley once again. I did not think she looked pregnant when I saw her in Mammoth in early April, but she is known to have small litters and to den a couple of weeks later than Northern Range wolves. As usual, she and her pack have often been visible along the road south of Canyon (but not to me, of course!).

Bear jams are already in full swing, with numerous grizzly sightings in Lamar and Mt. Washburn/Dunraven Pass, plus the usual black bears around Elk Creek/Petrified Tree and Tower. One morning as I drove through a snowstorm by Elk Creek, I saw something I never expected to see–two black bears mating, right next to the road! The male was a cinnamon color and the female was black. They were so close to the car and looked beautiful with the snowflakes swirling and dusting their rich fur.

The award for most entertaining wildlife to watch on this trip goes to the coyotes. There were at least two active dens in easy view—one next to the Forces of the Northern Range boardwalk trail and one just north of the road by the Lamar Bridge near Slough Creek. Both dens had four very active and entertaining pups and the mothers who would stand and nurse in plain sight.

One of the mother coyotes decided to move her pups and provided quite a spectacle as she hurried past every 20 minutes, carrying one very large pup at a time. She gripped each by the back, and they hung like fat little bowling balls. At the exact same time all of that was going on, the Slough alpha male wolf and a black female Slough were trying to cross the road in the same area. The male got across, but it was a crazy scene as some people actually followed him down the hill, trying to get a better view.

Babies were everywhere! One morning we saw over 100 bison calves just below Dorothy’s by the Lamar River. The elk calves are starting to drop. I saw a newborn moose calf in “Agate land”–hopefully it went undetected. There is a fox family near the Yellowstone Picnic area. And, of course, there have been numerous sightings of bears with those cute little COYs (cubs of the year).

The sandhill crane nest is on the island in Floating Island Lake once again. I hope it has a better result than last year when I drove by one day and saw that it had been reduced to just a pile of feathers. I did see a trumpeter swan on the lake too, and I always wonder if that is the same swan who used to live on the pond north of the road near Junction Butte in Little America (before the drought dried up the pond). I hope it is, and I wish that he/she would find a new mate and bring trumpeters back to the area.

The otters have been sighted at Trout Lake, but I haven’t heard of any young. I did see an otter in the Yellowstone River, down in the Hayden Valley near (where else?) Otter Creek picnic area. It was funny because at first glance all I saw was a giant trout that seemed to be skimming sideways over the surface of the water—and then I realized that an otter was carrying it!

One evening I saw something really unusual—a badger chasing a coyote! They were just south of the road near Curve pullout in Little America. Onlookers said that the opportunistic coyote was trying to take away what the badger was digging out. I don’t think the badger wanted to share!

It is getting light really early (5:15 a.m.) and staying light really late (well past 9 p.m.). It makes for a long day, but it’s a little easier to roll out of bed when you can see, as I did one beautiful early morning, all of the following before 7 a.m.: two Agate wolves, one grizzly, one cow moose and yearling calf, two sandhill cranes, one black bear, one cinnamon black bear, and one moose cow and newborn calf…only in the Wonderland that is Yellowstone!

 
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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.

12 Responses to Slough Creek Pack may have six litters!!

  1. avatar Eric says:

    More wildlife than I’ve seen in my whole life probably. Mammalia anyway.

  2. My guess is must of them won’t survive.

    Yellowstone isn’t the land of plenty it once was, and there is scant evidence over all (taking into account wolves in North American in general, not just Yellowstone), that multiple litter packs end up producing more adult wolves than packs with just one litter.

  3. avatar Kathie Lynch says:

    Just a couple of clarifications: the new Slough alpha male may not be the only father of pups in those six possible litters. He was inexperienced and not even two years old during the breeding season, and some of the Slough females were observed to have bred with other (unidentified intruder) males. So, unless and until DNA data ever becomes available, we really won’t know who the father(s) of the multiple litters are. Also, the Slough alpha female, 380F, was and still is very much the alpha. She never lost that role during the turnover in alpha males, although other Slough females also sought it. And, for whatever reason, only one of those seven Slough females does not appear to have had pups. At least she’s the only one who hasn’t appeared to be pregnant or lactating, and she’s the only one who was out hunting with the alpha male while the others were denned. Finally, I have also heard that multiple litters do not necessarily mean more surviving pups. It may just be too hard to provide for all of them, especially with only two hunters to do the providing.

  4. Thanks for clearing up things up about the pack’s dynamics, Kathie.

    I thought 380F might have lost her status during the period.

    I think it’s important to stress that multiple litters do not necessarily mean bigger wolf packs, because existence of multiple litters was not common public knowledge before the restoration of the wolf to Yellowstone.

    The fact of multiple litters has been used by anti-wolf spokespeople to argue that wolf population growth is inherently almost unlimited.

  5. Regarding the Agates and the present alpha male, 383, son of 113M, is the current alpha female related to this wolf? I’ve been wondering about this for months.

    Douglass, NC

  6. avatar Dan says:

    Wonderful summary, as always!
    I got to see the same 2 black bears on the way to Antelope Creek (one black, the other cinnamon) munching on dandylion. I thought it was odd 2 adult bears were hanging out together, thinking breeding season is much later. Is early June normal breeding season for black bears?
    Also got to see the otter at Trout Lake, almost the highlight of my trip. I really enjoyed watching the little fellow fishing and finally catching a big, fat trout.
    I was truly amazed at how few elk I saw in Lamar! I’ve been watching elk in Lamar for 15 years and have never seen anything like it. I saw more antelope than elk. Antelope Creek was just as sparse, lucky to see 3-4 elk in a morning. There’s either way fewer elk around, or the wolves are really keeping them dispersed. It will be interesting to see what happens to the wolf population on the northern range the next few years. Unless they learn to hunt bison more efficiently, I predict a major decline in wolves, I just don’t see the prey base I used to. And I’m not saying fewer elk are necessarily a bad thing. The willows and aspen up Slough Creek are looking the healthiest I’ve ever seen them, I think a few aspen are actually going to escape being eaten by elk and survive to grow into a real tree, a real rarity in Yellowstone the last 75 years.
    I always enjoy the stories Kathie!

  7. Kathie, Thanks for all the details. It is really sad about the sandhill crane… I was in the park when it opened last spring, and I was so hopeful. Not many people in the park, so I had my own private viewing. I was lucky enough that she stood up and I got to see her eggs! There were two maybe three. She spent a good bit of time fussing with the nest and over those big eggs. She then made five or six attempts to sit again trying to find just the right spot before settling down again. I hope she has better success this year.

  8. avatar Kathie Lynch says:

    To Douglass, NC: The current Agate Creek pack alpha male, 383M, is indeed the son of long-time former Agate alpha 113M. But, the current Agate alpha female, 472F, traces back to the Druids. I believe that DNA testing has shown her to be the daughter of the great Druid Peak pack alpha pair, 21M and 42F.

  9. avatar Chuck from Paradise Valley says:

    While on a Yellowstone Association trip on June 2, we watched the Sandhill Cranes at Floating Island lake with two chicks chase away a coyote.

  10. avatar Beewee says:

    We leave for a week’s visit on June 24th. This is our 10th return to Yellowstone. Any more tips on wildlife viewing would be much appreciated.

    Thanks for all the comments………Will share ours when we get to a computer:)

  11. avatar KC says:

    It has been just over a year since we visited Yellowstone, it was our first time visiting. I was captivated by the wolves. I’ve been saving every penny to come back this year. I never want to take a vacation anywhere else.

  12. avatar TAH says:

    I was in the slough creek area last week and ran into 5-6 wolf pups walking up the trail. We walked over a breakover in the trail and they were coming up the otherside. It was an amazing sight and both parties were very surprised. One of the pups just kept coming right at us and got within about 30 feet. They turned and ran down the trail, but not to concerned because they took breaks to wrestle and tackle each other. Didn’t see any of the adults with the pups. An experience I will never forget!

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