Pups Make Life Interesting for Yellowstone’s Wolf Packs and Wolf Watchers

By Kathie Lynch.
Copyright 2014

It was a dark and stormy…morning! As I fumbled with my spotting scope, binoculars, poncho, and umbrella in the pre-dawn rain and darkness on August 14, I happened to look down the road to the eastern end of Soda Butte Valley and saw what I thought was a small group of bison moving across the road, silhouetted in the oncoming headlights.

The black mass started hopping off the edge of the road, and that’s when the thought struck me: those aren’t bison—bison do not hop! Oh, my gosh, this was the day we had been waiting for! It was black Lamar Canyon alpha 926F moving her six pups (five black as night) across the road to a new rendezvous site!

We had been watching for this since the evening of July 10 when we had discovered that the pack had seven pups, six blacks and one gray. After that magical night, we seldom saw any members of the pack and were never sure of the pup count.

Once, we had seen a black pup moving to the right through a clearing in the trees and then one moving to the left and then one moving to the right and then one moving to the left to end up standing beautifully silhouetted atop a large rock on a ridge in the evening light. But, we couldn’t be sure if we had seen one, two, three, or four different black pups. Since we had originally seen six black pups, the count was still a mystery.

As it turned out, the pack must have somehow lost one black pup (perhaps killed by a bear or some other predator), because only five black pups and one gray pup made the move across the road in the dark on that rainy August 14 morning.

Most of the time since then we have been treated to a great view of the Lamar Canyon pack as the pups play and explore the open meadow of their rendezvous site. Alpha 926F is a very playful young mother (unlike her own mother, “The ’06 Female,” who was pretty much all business). Three-year-old 926F loves to plunge right into the middle of the rollicking pups to chase and be chased.

When she wants the pups to follow her, she grabs a long stick and runs off with it, a trick used by generations of mother wolves. The pups run along behind her, trying to grab the stick and oblivious to the fact that they are being duped into going somewhere that wasn’t their idea.

However, when a mother wolf doesn’t want the pups to follow, she has some invisible means of telling them to “Stay!” One morning, the gray pup started after 926F, but, when she looked back, he sat right down and waited obediently until she was out of sight before he turned tail and headed back home.

Alpha 925M has a somewhat different role in the pups’ upbringing. The pups, of course, rush to mob him for a regurgitation when he returns from a hunt. At other times, he sort of floats around in the background with a rather kingly presence.

The pups seem to adore just being near him and love to run and poke their noses at him when he’s bedded, often resulting in a warning lip curl, a holding bite, or a “Don’t bother me!” snap.

One little black pup figured out that the best way to get to spend some quality time with dear old dad was to just sit quietly next to him, while the others ran around like a three ring circus playing King of the Rock and How Many Pups Can Hold Onto One Stick.

Sometimes, the pups all go on a big adventure, strung out in a parade behind the alphas. One day, it was quite comical watching the pups try to scramble over a huge fallen tree trunk. Some got over it easily, while others had to climb up and hang on by their toenails before they could get over. While 926F frolicked with the pups on the way, 925M just cruised along regally.

After the nearby bison carcass (likely a victim of the rut) was finally finished, the Lamar Canyon pups started exploring farther afield, but they have generally stayed in the same area. The two amazing alphas, 925M and 926F, have probably had to travel long distances to find enough food to provide for so many hungry, growing pups.

Another group of wolves, “911M’s Group,” has also been seen occasionally in the Soda Butte and Lamar Valley areas. This group often includes two dispersers from the Junction Butte pack, a black female adult and a gray male yearling. Those two apparently can go back and forth at will between the main Junction Butte pack and 911M.

Although they have been together since the breeding season last February, 911M and the Black Female did not have pups and are, therefore, free to wander. They usually make a swing through Lamar Valley every four or five days and then disappear up onto Specimen Ridge and parts unknown. The beautiful Junction Butte dark gray male yearling (easy to identify by his brownish-gray coat and the huge black tip on his tail) often tags along.

One morning, while I was looking through my spotting scope for the Lamar Canyon pack, I was shocked to discover the Junction Butte male yearling in my field of view instead! There he was, jumping effortlessly over the very same big log I had watched the Lamar Canyon pups struggle to scramble over just the day before. Apparently, he was following them.

It is hard to know whether his intentions were friendly or not. Young wolves can be great ambassadors and are often more readily accepted by other packs, especially by the pups. Perhaps the Junction Butte male yearling has had dealings with the Lamar Canyons in the past. He quickly disappeared, and so the mystery remains.

Another Junction Butte disperser, 889F, spent the summer as a lone wolf. We did catch a glimpse of her just before dark one evening when she materialized near Round Prairie. As usual, she seemed to have an agenda and moved right along, still limping slightly on her previously injured right front foot. She soon disappeared, not to be seen again for a long time.

Recently, 889F has showed signs of perhaps wanting to trade her lone wolf ways for the security of her natal pack, Junction Butte. However, her attempts to hang out with the main pack at Slough Creek have not met with a warm welcome. Whether reigning alpha 870F and beta 907F will be agreeable to letting another female (the competition!) rejoin the pack remains to be seen.

The Junction Butte pack has been a big draw since they returned to their Slough Creek rendezvous on August 1—exactly one year after they showed up there with their pups last year (a wonderful coincidence we had been hoping for)!

If all are present, the pack of 11 includes alphas 870F and 890M, 907F and three other gray yearlings (all four yearlings are not the offspring of the current alphas), and five pups (three grays and two blacks).

The pups, now roughly five months old, put on quite a show almost daily. They too love to play King of the Rock and have games of tug-o-war with a piece of abandoned tent fabric. They also practice valuable hunting skills by pouncing on grasshoppers, catching voles, and scent-trailing other pack members. For carefree wolf pups who have other pups and attentive yearlings with whom to play, life is just too much fun!

Keen-eyed observers who want to see pups in yet another pack can try looking way out in the distance on the Blacktail Plateau. The newly named Prospect Peak pack (formerly “763M/821F’s Group”) has three pups (one black and two grays).

Besides alphas 763M and 821F, the Prospect Peak pack includes a variety of other adults, all dispersers from the 8-Mile pack. The pack compositions are changeable as wolves may move back and forth between the two packs.

Even without pups this year, the Canyon pack has continued to wow visitors in Yellowstone’s Interior. For summer wolf watchers in the Hayden Valley, the most exciting development has to be the story of the Canyon 2-year-old gray female and former Lamar Canyon alpha 755M (mate of the late, great “’06 Female”/832F).

On numerous occasions, silvery 6-year-old 755M has been seen in the company of this very accomplished light tan colored female. She is the very same wolf who, in late May, killed a cow elk by herself at Elk Park–an amazing ability shared by “The ’06 Female”!

While the rest of the Canyon gray female’s family isn’t wild about possibly losing their 2-year-old daughter to 755M, they haven’t tried too hard to discourage him. Canyon alpha 712M mainly limits his objections to threatening advances (sometimes accompanied by the black yearling male) and a lot of howling. The beautiful white Canyon alpha female and the gray yearling female seem pretty content to let the males handle the interloper.

It is the fervent hope of wolf watchers everywhere that the match between 755M and the Canyon gray 2-year-old female holds up and lasts into the breeding season next February. In the almost two years since “’06” was shot and killed, 755M has tried to connect with at least six different females, but nothing has stuck so far. Hopefully, this will be the one!

So, the summer of 2014 has been a good one for Yellowstone’s wolves. Now we head into the toughest time of the year for wolves when the prey animals are fat and sassy after grazing on the lush, green grasses of a very wet summer. It will be a feat of skill (and luck) if the packs can keep their pups fat and sassy too through the difficult days of fall and early winter.

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About The Author

Kathie Lynch

Kathie Lynch's passion is watching wolves in Yellowstone National Park. She enjoys helping park visitors learn about the wolves, especially their behavior and individual life stories. Kathie is on the Board of the Wolf Recovery Foundation.

15 Responses to Yellowstone Wolf Update Sept. 2014

  1. avatar Ed Loosli says:

    Wow Kathie, I am so envious of your “how I spent my Summer”…Thanks for sharing your wonderful times in Yellowstone.

  2. avatar Nancy says:

    Thanks Kathie! Always look forward to your updates 🙂

  3. avatar Ida Lupines says:

    Yes, me too – nice to hear about how the wolf families are doing. Thanks!

  4. avatar Joan says:

    I think I might have seen and filmed 755M in Hayden Valley on August 21st, 2014. It was a silvery grey male with a black face and he was with a light colored female, both picking at a Bison kill. It was very exciting as I and my daughter had been filming the two bison carcasses Aug 19th, 20th and 21st. We saw at least 5 bears on both carcasses over the 3 days. A sow with what looked like a 2 year offspring was also observed and filmed. (Amateur filming.) I very much like your blogs and have just discovered them
    Joan
    Joan

  5. avatar Richie G. says:

    Great read Kathie, it’s nice to know that some wolves can live their in peace, with their own struggles with nature and not the hunter in their way. It was a nice and wonderful peaceful read, you have a great life watching wolves, thanks again for the read.

  6. avatar snaildarter says:

    Thanks for the update. I still grieve a little for 06 but life must go on and its nice to hear there are pups in the Lamar Canyon again. I’ve got to get back out there.

  7. avatar Gary Humbard says:

    Thanks Kathie and its refreshing to know wolves still have one place left on Earth where they are left to be wolves. I subscribe to Yellowstone Reports which has daily updates on Yellowstone wolves, bears and many other topics on Yellowstone. Reading about and seeing pictures of wildlife in Yellowstone is a good way to start the day

  8. avatar Anita Chittenden says:

    Thank you so much Kathie…What a very enjoyable report for me to read…lots of good and happy experiences. I love these wonderful Wolves and all the other wildlife in this beautiful park..

  9. Please, Save ALL of Our Wolves. Let Them Run Free & Wild. That is the life of the Wild. I Love them so much.

  10. avatar Sue says:

    Hi Kathie!Thank you so much for the wonderful report. It is such a gift to read this and be transported right back. My heart is full. I pray they stay safe.

  11. avatar Roo says:

    Thanks for the report. Great read.

  12. avatar Chloe says:

    Thanks, Kathie, for another great installment of your wonderfully well-written reports! As always, I enjoy every word and enjoy keeping up with our favorite wolf families.

  13. Thanks – Great narrative of wolf behavior for the summer!
    I visited in September and was pleased with the amount of activity in Lamar Valley.
    You may find this map of interest – showing the number of times wolves were observed at locations in the Lamar Valley. For the new visitor, the map provides a good hint about the location of two rendezvous sites.
    http://www.spatialinterest.info/field-tour-journals.html

  14. avatar Joyce Haines says:

    This was so interesting, Kathie, and thank you so much. It’s a great way to think back on a warm summer day wolf watching especially since I’m been snowbound in WNY for 3 days in the worst winter storm ever.

  15. avatar Anu Kumar says:

    How incredible to see this beautiful family of wild wolves through your eyes! An unforgettable feeling. Thank you for being our eyes from around the world.

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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."

~ Edward Abbey

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