YNP WOLF Field Notes, November 22-26, 2006, by Kathie Lynch
Kathie Lynch, one of our Wolf Recovery Foundation directors, has just written one of her ever popular reports of Yellowstone wolf observations.
YNP WOLF Field Notes, November 22-26, 2006
By Kathie Lynch.
Thanksgiving in Yellowstone! If you want to escape the holiday frenzy, head to Yellowstone–where theonly crowds you’ll find are the herds of bisonstanding around in the road, and instead of holiday”muzak” at the mall, the howl of the wolf will fill your ears.
My five day visit (November 22-26, 2006) featured avery special treat–I got to see the Druids! The last time I saw the Druid Peak pack was July 4, just beforethey departed Round Prairie for summer in the high country. While they have dropped in for occasionalvisits to the Lamar Valley since then, this was myfirst chance to see them.
My sightings were brief, but, as most devoted Yellowstone wolf watchers will agree, any Druid sighting is a most precious gift! The Druids had been visiting a cow bison carcass (cause of death unknown, but a sickly looking one had been reported in the area.) It was on the hillside, just north of the roadfrom the Hitching Post turnout in Lamar and very near “21’s Crossing.”
My first Druid sighting was a big, beautiful graypup (now almost adult size) north of the road in the Soda Butte Valley as the Druids traveled east from the carcass. The pup was a crack up! He was rolling around on his back in the snow, wiggling all over and waving all four legs in the air! That one minutesighting was my only wolf for that day, but I couldn’t have been happier–I had seen a Druid!
The next day, I was even luckier. I arrived just in time to see 10 Druids running full tilt just below the tree line in the same area. They were so full of life and just seemed to be enjoying a gallop in the snow. A couple of bull elk scattered in their path, but I don’t think they were really chasing them–it looked like they were just out for a joy ride!
Of course, with so many pups, you have to expect a lot of enthusiasm! The Druid count lately has consistently been “only” 14 (Only!…Think about just four Druids a year ago!), nine black and five gray. Unfortunately, one black pup has not been present inrecent sightings. I sure hope the missing one is not that brave little fellow who was left behind for four days at Round Prairie last July before being rescued by the pack. If a black pup is indeed missing, the pack would include four adults (alpha 480M, alpha 529F, 302M, and the uncollared gray female) and 10pups (six black and four gray).
The other big news had to do with the Agate Creek pack–they were on the move into new and hostile territory. One morning, all 13 Agates (led by venerable alpha male 113M and alpha 472F, a former Druid, and sired by 21M) were in Yancey’s Hole (north of the road, between Tower Junction and Petrified Tree). At the same time, all eight of the Hellroaring packwolves (led by alphas 287M and 353F) were on a carcass, easily visible below Hellroaring Overlook.
The three Hellroaring black pups were having a grand old time jumping on and off of rocks and playing tug-o-war with big, flappy pieces of hide.
The Agates eventually made their way west to Hellroaring and sent the Hellroaring wolves running for their lives, scattering them every which way. Since I had watched the Hellroaring pack on that carcass in the morning, I didn’t realize when I
returned in the afternoon and saw wolves in the exact same place and on the same carcass that it was now a different pack. Only the fact that the Hellroaring pack only has two grays, and the pack I saw in the afternoon clearly had more grays, gave it away. Both packs have collared black-turning-silvery gray alpha females and also a collared dark black wolf, so it’s easy to make the wrong assumption, if you aren’t expecting the unexpected!
In other pack news, the 13 member Oxbow Creek pack (formerly 536F’s Group) was often visible in the general area north of the road between North Butte and Hellroaring. The eight member Slough Creek pack has been a bit elusive, with occasional sightings in the Slough Creek area, but they are often gone for several days. A couple of the Unknown Group wolves (which caused such trouble for the Sloughs last April) have even been seen in the Little America/Slough area recently.
The Leopold pack, possibly 18-19 strong, including 12 pups, was sometimes visible far, far away in their traditional Blacktail Plateau territory.
One thing that strikes me is how crowded the many packs are in the Northern Range. From Round Prairie in the east to the Blacktail Plateau in the west, it is a continuum of medium to large packs: Druid (14?), Slough (8), Agate (13), Hellroaring (8), Oxbow (13), and Leopold (19?). The only room for expansion seems to be west of the Blacktail Plateau toward Mammoth
(and the resurrected eight member Swan Lake pack), north out of the Park, or south into the Park’s interior. The Agates have already made forays last summer south to Canyon and the Hayden Valley pack’s territory. It looks to me like there is a loomingpotential for a lot of inter-pack territorial rivalry, especially when the breeding season arrives in early February.
The annual Early Winter Study is going on from November 15 to December 15. During the month, crews of three extremely dedicated volunteers spend every waking moment documenting each and every detail about their assigned pack (the Leopolds, Sloughs or Hellroarings.) The only problem is, the packs don’t always cooperate, and some days it’s hard to even find your wolves!
If you still need more reasons to visit Yellowstone in the late fall/early winter, consider all of the other awesome animals who are still out and about (sans the bears, of course). In one hour of watching the bison carcass near Hitching Post, I was treated to a procession which included a beautiful red fox (clever, and quick too!), a golden eagle (who made everyone scatter just by lifting his mighty wings), six big, bushy coyotes, and the usual assortment of magpies and ravens . . . truly a Thanksgiving feast for the masses!
The red foxes have been particularly obliging and photogenic lately, as have the bighorn sheep in the Gardiner River Canyon (between Gardiner and Mammoth). The big guys are in the rut and making the rocks tumble off the almost vertical canyon walls as they cling to them and battle for the ewes . . . truly a sight to see!
Now and always, we should be so very thankful that we have the wolves and the rest of our animal “family” in Yellowstone to come “home” to at Thanksgiving . . . or any other time of year!
Note from Ralph Maughan. Doug Smith at Yellowstone Park told me today that the Agates had just chased the Sloughs way up Slough Creek to McBride Lake and maybe beyond. He said the Agates have been really “flexing their muscles.” Kathie describes the Agate’s chase of the Hellroaring Pack above.
Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan's Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of "Hiking Idaho." He also wrote "Beyond the Tetons" and "Backpacking Wyoming's Teton and Washakie Wilderness." He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.
15 Responses to YNP WOLF Field Notes, November 22-26, 2006, by Kathie Lynch
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As always, thank you, Kathie, for such a wonderful, informative and entertaining article on Yellowstone, and in particular, the wolves I miss so much when I am away. I have been wondering about the Druids and if they are all still together. The news about the missing pup is upsetting, though. Please keep us posted if you hear anything more on this.
Very Nice report. I wish I lived closer to Yellowstone so that I could experience this splendid place with my own eyes. Am planning a vacation there soon though.
Thanks Kathie….always look forward to your reports!
Thanks Kathie. Your reports are always a nice blend of “I was there” and “just the facts.” A nice combination of commitment to the wolves and wonderful writing skills. Thanks again.
I sure wish I lived closer so I could come up and see those sights, it sounds awesome!
Thanks for the report, Kathie.
Yes, thanks to Kathie for her love of “wildness”. I have been visiting Yellowstone for 50 years & the return of the wolves has been been one of the grandest highlights of my “Yellowstone Experience”.
Question: In all my years of visiting Yellowstone I have only seen one mountain lion, and that was in the Pebble Creek Area. Has anyone seen any mountains lions recently? Thanks.
Thank you, Kathie! I always thoroughly enjoy your reports, that make me feel as if I am in Yellowstone again!
Obviously you have learned the “ropes” of YNP wolf watching over many years and many visits. Where have you decided is the best place(s) to spend the night (in the winter and in the summer) in order to maximize the “experience.”
Ralph, you may have some thoughts on this also.
Sold! I’m going to Yellowstone next Thanksgiving.
Response to Monty Wilson re cougar sightings:
A very timely question! As a matter of fact, a cougar was just sighted on Thanksgiving morning below Hellroaring Overlook (before I arrived, of course!). It was the very briefest of brief sightings and was seen by very few people. Most people in the turnout missed it, even though they were scoping the same area. Evidently it was on a carcass that the Hellroaring and Oxbow Creek wolves had been visiting, and then it got up and vanished in a split second. Before that, the last really good cougar sighting that I know of in the Park was May 19, 2005. That cat lounged all day on the palisade rock cliffs below the Yellowstone Picnic trail across from the road to the Tower store. Many, many people got to see that one. In February of 2005, a mother cougar and her two 140 pound, 14 month old male “kittens” entertained visitors for two days on a carcass below Hellroaring Overlook. And, I think it was January, 2004, when we watched another cougar below Hellroaring. I was on a roll there for a while with five sightings and good cougar karma, but have hit a dry spell recently. One thing’s for sure–whenever a cougar is visible, it draws a throng of admirers. Many, including field biologists, have never seen a cougar in the wild before. It is indeed a rare treat!
Response to Drew (Georgia) re places to stay:
In the summer, I would recommend camping at Slough Creek, Pebble Creek or Tower campgrounds. Those are, respectively, close to the traditional territories of the Slough Creek, Druid Peak, and Agate Creek wolf packs. If you want to stay in cabins, choose Roosevelt, which is centrally located between the packs. If you want a hotel, choose Mammoth. Or, for the best experience, take a field seminar class through the Yellowstone Association Institute and stay in the cabins at the best of all possible places, the Lamar Buffalo Ranch, right on the wolves’ doorstep in the heart of Lamar Valley!
If you visit in the winter, lodging is easier to find, but logistically more difficult. If you stay in one of the many motels in Gardiner (at the North Entrance), it’s a long (1 to 1 1/4 hour ) drive over icy roads past Hellroaring to Little America, Slough Creek and Lamar Valley. If you stay at one of the many motels in Cooke City (at the Northeast Entrance), it’s probably a shorter (45 minute to 1 hour) drive through Lamar to Hellroaring, but the roads are even more snowy and icy. Also, Cooke City gets a lot more snow, has no grocery store, and is full of snowmobiles buzzing all over town…definitely not the place for peace and quiet. The Mammoth Hotel is another possibility, but it’s only open from late December to early March.
Whatever you choose, be sure to book soon–Park lodging fills up fast!
thanks for the update. i will be out there in 7 weeks.
i cannot wait to see my beloved druids.
Kathie: Thanks for the response. In future wolf reports, maybe you could update the latest cougar sightings. I have been told that the northern part of Yellowstone is the best cougar habitat as there is less snow & year round prey (good population of mule deer). Other than central Idaho, I am not aware of cougar population reseach projects that have studiend population trends. A number of years ago, I saw a report that estimated the cougar population in Northern Yellowstone at about 15 to 20 cats.
I’m sure Kathie will write about the cougars if they are seen, but as you say, the number is only about 20 on the Northern Range, and much of this is wild backcountry north of the Park.
I’m sure over the course of a year you meet hundreds of YNP visitors allowing them to peak through your spotting scope, their first view of a wolf in the wild. This was the case in early August of this year as my wife and I watched the Agate creek pack numerous mornings. This was simply the highlight of our trip.
Your allowing us to peer through your scope not only was our first view of wolves in the wild, it opened our eyes to the beauty of Yellowstone and the wolf.
The excitement from our first visit has not faded and eagerly await our return to YNP. Thank you for the reports and hope to see you and the rest of the pack in the near future.