Kathie Lynch on Druids return to the Lamar, the Haydens, Sloughs, Agates and more
The Druids returned to the Lamar for the first time since late June. Although their visit may have been brief, Kathie Lynch describes it all.
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Copyright By Kathie Lynch.
Just when I was wondering what excitement I’d write about for a late summer wolf report, the Druid Peak pack made a return visit to Lamar Valley! Early on the morning of August 1, nine Druids (five black and four gray) galloped down the low southern flank of Mt. Norris and emerged near the Chalcedony fan, headed toward their old rendezvous site in Lamar. They had made a similar boundary check one week earlier, but prior to that had not been seen in Lamar since June 30. I was thrilled since I had not seen them all summer!
Alpha female 569F playfully led the mission to check out all the spots the Slough Creek pack had visited just two days earlier. Three years old and a petite, lovely, light gray, 569F is the last survivor of the last litter sired by the great Druid alpha, 21M. She stepped up to the alpha female role after the disappearance last December of her littermate, last year’s alpha female, 529F. This is the second year 569F has borne “grandpups” of 21M, last year as the mate of beta male 302M and this year as the mate of alpha male 480M.
The border patrol group included 480M, 302M (looking big, black and fabulous, with no obvious evidence of his left rear leg injury from last February), the huge, handsome dark gray yearling 570M and his smaller gray sister 571M, plus four more yearlings, one gray and three black. Only two yearlings (one gray and one black) and this year’s seven pups were not with them. (Yes, seven pups—not six as previously reported. The weekly flight recently saw four grays and three blacks!)
We were thrilled to witness a great show as the nine Druids frisked along to the west as far as their old rendezvous area behind the middle and western foothills. Along the way, they scent-marked and rallied with lots of tail wagging (but no howling) around sites the Sloughs had visited. The yearlings had “the tears” and streaked every which way, leaping over each other’s backs and goofing off like a bunch of rowdy teenagers. The group got very excited when they flushed out a raggedy-looking bison cow still sporting remnants of last winter’s coat; she looked like she was on her last legs. However, after toying with her a bit, the adults lost interest, and they left her to live another day.
At one point, the Druids looked like an advancing army as they came straight toward us with all nine strung out in an impressive row across the green grass and sage of the valley floor. Through our scopes, we watched with great anticipation as they dropped into stalking positions. One of the yearlings, a jet black beauty, showed all the makings of a great hunter as he or she crouched low and crept forward. We were as surprised as the wolves when we discovered that their prey was a flock of Canada geese. You can imagine how that hunt ended!
After an hour or two, and with much rollicking and good spirits, the group headed back to the east and up into the tree line near Chalcedony. Hopefully they will return again soon to remind the Slough Creek pack that Lamar Valley is traditional Druid territory. It will be interesting to see what happens this fall and winter when, if all pups survive, the 18 Druids (11 adults and seven pups) contend with the 22 Sloughs (9 adults and 13 pups).
In other pack news, the Hayden Valley pack has continued to provide fairly reliable wolf watching since their move to their new rendezvous site. They are often visible east of the road near Alum Creek, two miles south of the Otter Creek picnic area. Various members of the pack of four adults and five pups appear briefly as they cross open gaps between the trees, perhaps 600 yards away. The pups (four gray and one black) chew on sticks, rough house and tumble around. Sometimes they adventure on their own or follow an adult on little excursions. The white alpha female, 540F, often lies flat out on the gravel bar near the river for hours in the sun. While the viewing isn’t nearly as close as it was across from the Otter Creek picnic area, it is always a treat to see Yellowstone’s famous white wolf and her family, and they continue to teach many park visitors about the ways of wolves.
The Sloughs’ rendezvous site remains out of view, but the adults have continued to visit Lamar Valley. They even ventured farther east than the old Druid rendezvous recently to feed on a deer carcass brought down single-handedly by the gray Slough female, “Sharp Right.” They also fed on a bison carcass just south of the road which was very visible from Coyote overlook. We don’t know what killed the bison, but a grizzly soon took over the carcass and camped out on it for more than two days. The Slough alpha male did return to feed on it at least once while the griz was on it, but the other Sloughs stayed away across the valley. Tired of waiting for the grizzly to depart, the Sloughs made their own kill, a bull elk, farther to the east in Lamar.
The Agate Creek pack remains elusive, with only occasional sightings of various individuals. They were twice seen in the hills northeast of last summer’s rendezvous area along Dunraven Pass road. Looking directly east into the haze of the rising sun, one morning I could just make out the shapes of five adults as they romped downhill and out of sight into Antelope Creek. I was sure one was former alpha 113M, and he looked grand! Two more individuals, which may have been pups, remained bedded along the ridge. The Agates are thought to have nine pups in two litters (sired by new alpha 383M and out of alpha 472F and beta 471F).
We finally got some much needed rain recently, and, amazingly, the hills instantly greened up to look like spring again. However, you know it’s August when you see the bison in the rut in Hayden Valley, Little America, and Lamar Valley. It is an amazing spectacle as the bulls bellow and grunt while they try to cut a cow out of the herd. The cow usually looks like she’d like to find a way to outmaneuver the bull, but he shadows her every move. Since all of this is either visible from the road or actually on the road, the resulting traffic jams are legendary.
We have had all kinds of other interesting wildlife sightings, including a moose cow who swam the Yellowstone River near the Hayden Valley wolf watchers and four big bull elk who marched across the road in leisurely single file on the Blacktail Plateau. Bears continue to be visible in abundance, with one devoted watcher spotting 25 grizzlies a few days ago! The griz sow with two cubs of the year is still delighting visitors with regular near (and on!) the road appearances on Dunraven Pass.
It is such a treat to share the joy and excitement of visitors as they experience the wonder of seeing wolves and other wildlife for the first (or hundredth!) time. No matter the season or wildlife viewing passion, Yellowstone is sure to impress!
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.
18 Responses to Kathie Lynch on Druids return to the Lamar, the Haydens, Sloughs, Agates and more
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Thank you once again Kathy. Great report. Can’t wait to get back up later in the month….
Dear Kathy, Is it possible to see wolves from park roads in late Sept. or early Oct.? If so, which roads and which areas would be the most likely? We have never been to the park, so the names of places don’t mean anything to us.
We will be most grateful for any suggestions.
Jennifer and Andy,
October seems to be better than September, but a lot of that has to do with weather. If the weather is still warm and the snow isn’t flying yet, than the wolves tend to stay higher elevation wise.
If you can do it, you’d be better off waiting until November December or anytime between then and next June. The wolves are closer to the road system in Winter and Spring.
Whenever you go the best spots to see them are anywhere from Mammoth Hot Springs out to Cooke City (the Northern Range), and from Tower Junction south to Dunraven Pass. Also the most visible wolfpack in the park for the past 3 years or so has been the Hayden Pack which is generally in the area around Canyon Junction south towards Mud Volcano. Any of the areas that i mentioned are easy to find on a park map.
Your best bet is to get up early (just before daybreak), and stay out until dark since wolves are usually very inactive during the middle of the day. While driving around the park ask any ranger at a visitor center where the sightings have been recently and look for large groups of folks with spotting scopes. It’s easier to find the people than it is to spot a gray wolf in sagebrush at 75 yards. And they are rarely that close to anybody.
Kathie, another great report! Thank you so much.
Thanks, Kathie, for another great report! So happy to hear that 302m’s left rear leg looks good. Loved the “big, black, & fabulous” description!
Hi Kathie. Thansk for all your informations. The “Yellowstone Wolfwatchers Germany” are happy to hear from you and “our” wolves.
See you in winter.
Admist the avalanche of terrible environmental news, your reports are great reading. I had an interesting observation in Slough Creek this spring (several miles above the camp ground) as I watched a cow moose and calf walk up the creek, apparently, attempting to hide the scent of her calf.
Thanks for the great report Kathie.
Your reports are heartwarming to read. You’re such a good writer, so descriptive.
It’s been too long since we’ve had a day off work to head to YNP and enjoy its wonders.
Thanks again for sharing. As Monte said, your reports give us all a breath of fresh air (which seems to be in high demand) during this hot and brutally dry summer in the West. The much need rain has been grand.
Wished I had your time to play….
kathie…..thank you again for such great reporting……super news about 302m………is 569F the daughter of 42F and 21M?
As lovers of YNP and its wildlife, especially the wolves, we can all count ourselves as among the fortunate few, who find some peace and joy in this grand Oasis from the problems and woes of this country and the world, in the sheer pleasure of watching a pack of wolves being wolves.
Thanks very much for the update, Kathy! Can’t wait to return again in October.
thanks for the great report
i am returning to the lamar valley in jan
and cannot wait
To Jennifer & Andy,
I heartily agree with all of Dan Stebbins’ comments re your proposed visit to YNP. August is the worst for wolf watching, September may improve, and by late fall things are much better. Winter is the best because the wolves are active all day (plus you, the wolf watcher, get to get up later and go to bed earlier!) and gray wolves are a lot easier to see against the snow than against the gray green sage of summer!
To Nancy Sharpe:
Druid 569F, born in 2004, is believed to be (not confirmed) the daughter of 286F, who took over as Druid alpha female after 42F was killed. The following year (2005), 286F had pups sired by either alpha 480M or beta 302M, who had both joined the Druids after 21M died. That was the year of the epidemic which killed many pups, and none of those six pups survived. Also, 286F herself disappeared around that time and her fate is unknown.
I get all my YNP doings vicariously via Elli’s reports and yours just added to the pleasure. I am also glad to read that 302 M is hale and hearty again. Thank you.
We need some tech advice on this site! Specifically…what spotting scope are all the serious wolf watchers using! I was watching the Druids during this same time period and felt severely undergunned with my cheap scope…things were a lot smaller and less crisp too.
Color correction and a high transmission of light is very important (known as apochromatic & low dispersion glass).
An 80mm objective lens is a good selection. Smaller objective lenses may not let in enough light to see in the early morning or evening times when much action occurs. Larger objective lenses have shallower depths of field and seem to pick up more heat waves, making long distance viewing in mid-day not sharp.
A good tripod & video head combination is essential. I’ve used the Bogen 3011 tripod with the 3126 panning video head; heavy but stable & easy to set-up. I purchased it used, but purchasing new from a web site like B&H photo would have been about the same price (the prices seem to fluxuate, so watch it over time).
Swarovski is far & away the most popular brand among serious watchers, but the price is a serious $1800-2600. Still, it is truly the best.
Personally, I went with the Celestron ED. It priced for around $400, & has held up well for the four years of use I’ve put on it. I’ve had to make my own case & lens caps for it. It has performed very well.
Straight or angled eye piece? I would prefer the straight if available. Rain & snow accumulate on the angled eye piece I have. But it is more comfortable looking through the angled eye piece.
Give some thought to how quickly you can set-up your equipment. I’m surprised by how we have just moments of viewing. On Saturday, about 9:15 AM the Haydens came back from the hunt. For ten minutes great howling occurred, adults played with the pups, & then all wolves went out of sight. This happened several miles away, & was not a time to be fumbling with equipment.
Purchase a cleaning brush, like the Nikon Lens Pen Cleaning System.
There are many factors I’ve left out. Have fun doing the research & looking through scopes. Good luck & hope to see you in Yellowstone.
Thank you for the Yellowstone wildlife update. We love hearing news about the wolves, especially the Hayden pack. We were priviledged to watch the Hayden Valley wolf pack for 4 days in July. So it is always good to hear news about the pack. We didn’t see any grizzlies, but nice to know there have been so many viewings. Thanks again for all wildlife updates.