Druid pups cause great excitement crossing Soda Butte Creek

This is another great report by Kathie Lynch.

Unfortunately, it looks like wolf watching in the Park might now be pretty slow until autumn.

Ralph Maughan

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Yellowstone wolf field notes, July 8 -10. By © Kathie Lynch

The Druid Peak pack finally moved their pups to their rendezvous site! The action happened over three evenings, July 8-10, to the delight of the overflow crowd of watchers in the Footbridge turnout, at the south end of the Soda Butte Valley.

With all of the confusion of pups running helter skelter and struggling to swim Soda Butte Creek, we are still unsure as to exactly how many Druid pups there are. While the highest count by the Wolf Project plane was 14, watchers think there are perhaps as many as18 pups, or maybe even more. With 16 adults, and, hopefully, good pup survival, the Druids are definitely back!

The difference in size among the pups is amazing-some are absolute giants, and some are tiny, little things. By calculations based on observed breedings and predicted whelping dates, there could be more than a three week difference in age between pups from different litters in the pack. (Seven females had been observed to be pregnant, but we don’t know how many actually had pups.)

The oldest pups (several gigantic blacks and one huge gray with a beautiful dark cape) would have been over 13 weeks old at the time of the move, while the youngest (mostly grays) would have been just over 10 weeks old. The oldest pups look so mature, at times we can’t tell them from the yearlings, unless we see them side by side. There are also some medium-size pups, leading us to believe that there were at least three Druid litters. The largest pups are probably the offspring of the alphas, 480M and 569F, who were observed to breed first.

The thing about wolf pups is that the adults do not control their movements. When the pups decide it’s time to do something, off they go! At 6:37 p.m. on July 8, an uncollared black adult came down from the den forest with a gray pup, and a big, dark gray uncollared yearling came down with a second gray pup. The foursome crossed the road to reach Soda Butte Creek, and, to our utter amazement, the first gray pup jumped right in! The black adult shepherded it safely across the creek, and the two disappeared to the south, up into the aspens east of Dead Puppy Hill.

The second gray pup was not so lucky. It had a very difficult time in the swift current, but its big, gray bodyguard was the real hero of the evening. The yearling was absolutely unbelievable as he maneuvered to be on the downstream side of the struggling pup so as to shield it from being swept away. At one point, the swimming yearling even tried to pick up the furiously paddling pup in his mouth to snatch it out of the torrent. Eventually, the duo ended up back where they had started and then headed back to the north and the safety of the den.

On the second evening, around 8 p.m., we watched the uncollared black female “Dull Bar” chase a pronghorn below Dead Puppy Hill. She was a thing of beauty–a speeding bullet as she ran, flat-out, after the fleeing pronghorn. Finally giving up the chase, “Dull Bar” (who is possibly one of the mothers) crossed Soda Butte Creek and headed up to the den forest. We watched, agog, as what looked like a whirling, writhing mass of perhaps 15 pups exploded out of the trees and mobbed her, hoping for a feeding.

The group dropped out of our sight, and several adults, including “Dull Bar,” reappeared, having again crossed the road and the creek. From our vantage point in the Footbridge lot, we could not see the actual road crossing site, so we were stunned when, all of a sudden, 11 pups (five blacks and six grays) exploded onto the gravel bar in the creek, having crossed the road without our seeing them!

It was mass confusion, and many of the pups immediately returned to the north. But, three blacks (two huge, one medium size) and two tiny grays reappeared on a gravel bar and must have decided to go for it. The medium-size black jumped in first and paddled its heart out toward “Dull Bar” and 302M waiting on the other side. As the pup struggled, “Dull Bar” tried to help by shielding the pup from being swept downstream. She even tried to pick it up in her mouth by grabbing it around the middle of its too big body. Finally, the black pup made it to the opposite shore and was welcomed aboard by “Dull Bar” and 302M (“I’m helping!”). For some reason, “Dull Bar” took off toward Dead Puppy Hill with the black pup and left the rest of the pups to fend for themselves.

The two big, black pups on the gravel bar were very fearful and would not jump in. But, to our horror, one of the little, teeny, tiny grays threw itself into the fast current with gusto-it actually leapt in with a spread-eagled belly flop and started paddling like mad. Unbelievably, it made it all the way across by itself and a huge cheer went up from the watchers. Unfortunately, there was no one on the shore to greet it (302M had disappeared). In all of the confusion, we don’t really know what happened to that first gray pup from there, because just then the second tiny gray pup leapt in, with the same fearless abandon and belly flop as the first.

The second little fellow had a much more hair-raising crossing. It almost made it across, but then the rushing current swept it downstream. Some watchers feared that it was lost in the raging water, but those who could see the bend in the creek saw the gray pup finally clamber out to safety to join the two big, black pups, who had not crossed. The little gray, shaken and favoring a rear leg slightly, toddled off to the north, presumably following the two big, black pups back to the safety of the den.

(I have to say that not all accounts agree with the scenario I have described. Some watchers thought that there had been three gray pups, and feared that one had been swept away. But, after endless discussion and going over all of the angles from various watchers at different vantage points, we finally decided that only two gray pups had plunged in and that, thankfully, both had survived.)

The third and final evening of the move to the rendezvous proved to be the absolute best and most exciting. Unfortunately, it surprised us by occurring earlier, about 5:30 p.m., and many regular wolf watchers (including me) missed it. But, as I hear tell (and I’m sure the story will be repeated often in years to come), 13 pups (five blacks and eight grays) suddenly materialized at Soda Butte creek.

Led by a black adult, possibly “Dull Bar” again (or maybe her sister, “Bright Bar”), the excited pups ran all around, with occasional kerplashes as they jumped in at random. Very luckily, the creek level was down quite a bit from the previous night, and the pups didn’t really seem to have much trouble with the current. The black adult waited on the far bank to welcome each and every one with a congratulatory lick and a nuzzle. Whoever that adult wolf was, she deserves a prize–she single handedly got 13 pups safely across Soda Butte Creek–what a triumph!

Later that evening, I did see alpha 569F with one small gray and one small black pup up in the den forest area. So, if one pup crossed the first night, two crossed the second night, 13 crossed the third night (and none that had crossed returned), and at least two were still up at the den, the Druid pup count would be at least 18.

So, the Druids have left Lamar/Soda Butte, but where have they gone? Most likely they went up to the Cache Creek area, where they have made their rendezvous in the past. We were very thankful that the pups did not have to attempt the treacherous crossing of the Lamar River to go to the pack’s traditional Lamar Valley rendezvous site. But, the upshot is that we will probably not see the Druids again until fall, except for small border patrol forays back to retain possession of Lamar Valley.

The wolf watching scene has definitely slowed down with the Druids’ departure. Some Slough Creek wolves, including their one black pup, continue to be seen near their Slough Creek den and on the west end of Jasper Bench in Lamar Valley. With only one pup to provide for, they don’t have much to do and have not yet moved to wherever their rendezvous site will be. When they do go (and they probably will since most of the elk have moved up to high summer pastures), wolf watching will get even tougher.

The Oxbow Creek Pack and their pups can sometimes be seen very far away to the north from Hellroaring overlook. The Agate Creek pack continues to be elusive, with only occasional single sightings in their old rendezvous area below Dunraven Pass road, north of Mt. Washburn. And, I haven’t heard any news about the interior packs or the Haydens.

Even if wolf watching is slow right now, Yellowstone’s other wildlife continues to put on a great show. Look for moose (Floating Island Lake or Petrified Tree Road/Elk Creek), black bears (Tower area), grizzlies (tree line or in high meadows around Lamar and Soda Butte valleys and also on Dunraven Pass road near Mt. Washburn), a golden eagle aerie with two eaglets (eastern end of the rock face of Mt. Norris, near the top), a golden eagle aerie with one eaglet (rock face east of lower Slough Creek campground road), an osprey nest (on the same spire in the Yellowstone River as last year, below Tower store), bighorn sheep (one day we saw a group of nine rams with huge curls on the rocks south of the Slough Creek wolf den), big bull elk with those mighty racks (Blacktail Plateau), and, of course, the always fascinating bison, which are gearing up for their annual rut in August (Hayden and Lamar valleys are good places to watch).

The spawning trout at Trout Lake are the biggest attraction right now. They are a true inspiration as they battle their way up the inlet stream. It is amazing to watch as they wiggle their way upstream, suddenly jetting forward to make a small advance, sometimes only to be swept back downstream again. I have never met anyone who was not absolutely awed by the spectacle.

And, to top it all off, Trout Lake has river otters too! Balls of energy in perpetual motion, it is completely addicting to watch them. I saw the mother otter catch and eat a flippy, flappy cutthroat trout, while the two little otter pups scurried along the log, eating the multitude of bright orange fish eggs like they were M & M’s!

It struck me that the mother trout had given her life and her offsprings’ lives for the sake of the mother otter and her pups. Predator and prey–whether otters and trout or wolves and elk–it is the way of the wild and the circle of life for one to give its life so that the other may live.




  1. April Clauson Avatar
    April Clauson

    Awsome report thanks so much for posting. Sure would have loved to see that last crossing, glad they all made it!!!! what a pack to watch next season, it will be huge!

  2. Cynthia Avatar

    Thanks so much for the update Kathie. Whenever I read your articles it makes me feel like I’m back in the park watching right along side of you!

  3. Annie Avatar

    Thank you for the update! I can’t wait to get back up to the park.

  4. natehobbs Avatar

    Fantastic article Kathie,
    I just got back from the park and it was a bit of a slow trip, sounds like you are having lots of luck up there!

    Just wanted to add to anyone interested that Rosie and her remaining cub are doing well I saw them just yesterday along a creek, the cub is growing fast!

  5. Cindy Garcia Avatar
    Cindy Garcia

    Wow…what an amazing few nights of action! Thanks so much for posting, it was very interesting!

  6. Mike Avatar

    Thanks for the field notes Kathie. I haven’t been to Yellowstone in a few years, so I’m living vicariously through you. I hope to go back soon, I miss it.

  7. Gerry Avatar

    So you’ve more time to write now that the wolf watching has slowed. I just got a photo of the pups crossing the creek, until I read your report I thought that the black ones were yearlings, they are so big.

    Great report, thanks

  8. Virginia Avatar

    Kathy – thank you so much for your vivid descriptions of the wolves. We were lucky enough to see the Druids on June 30 and plan to be up there this weekend. It sounds as though our wolf-watching might have to wait until fall but the other animals are just as wonderful to see and thank you for adding those reports as well – we will be on the lookout for all creatures. Also – a question – is anyone seeing any moose in the park this year? We saw a cow and calf near Fox Creek on the forest but haven’t seen any in the park for several years.

  9. Linda Avatar

    Thanks for the update on Rosie and cub.

  10. Virginia Avatar

    I apologize – Kathy said there are moose to be seen in Yellowstone – I just haven’t had the opportunity I guess.

  11. Kathryn Avatar

    I guess I’ve missed something about one of Rosie’s cub. Recently saw pictures of two cubs? What happened?

  12. Cindy Avatar

    Dearest Kathie- Thank You so so much. As I sit here in my office down in Jackson I am so close yet so so far away. Your
    account of “The Crossing in Three Days”, took me straight back
    to the Lamar for a few joyous moments in time. :):)

  13. natehobbs Avatar

    Back in mid June a large black bear boar came across Rosie and her two cubs. The mother and the boar got into a huge fight and the small black cub has not been seen since.
    The male bear will kill cubs to put the mother back into estrus so he can mate.

  14. robert Avatar

    Hey Kathy. Great article. Question? You commented that the Sloughs only had one pup to take care of. when I was there the last two weeks of may we saw two pups constantly emerging from the den sight. Correct me if I’m wrong. Where is the 2nd one? I plan to rondevoue up there in the fall, say September, is that when the wolves will be back down in the valley? Robert

  15. Carel Avatar

    I just found your posting today and will enjoy following it in the future. We were in the park last week and were lucky enough to see night two as “Dull Bar” chased but did not catch the pronghorn and the pups ran across the hill on the north side. A few evenings before we were lucky enough to see one wolf take down a buffalo in Hayden. The buffalo put up almost no fight so must have been old, or sick. It took about 10 minutes from when the wolf came over the hill and spotted the buffalo until the buffalo was down and huge chunks of meats were being eaten (hopefully the buffalo was dead by then). The next morning five or six wolves from the Mollies were gorging themselves. Later that morning coyotes ate followed by a grizzly. The second day the carcass was pretty much cleaned off. We also did see a bull moose in the park. It was in the ravine to the east of the road going from Tower to Dunraven Pass and very close to the two black bear three year olds who were entertaining the tourists along that same stretch. Needless to say we had a great time and I envy those of you who live close enough to visit often. It is a long boring drive from Pennsylvania.

  16. Dave Collins Avatar
    Dave Collins

    Great reporting Kathie! Thanks for the update.

  17. Kathie Lynch Avatar
    Kathie Lynch

    Thanks to all of you for your kind comments!
    To Robert: Yes, back in May, two black Slough pups were being seen. But, one appeared infrequently and only briefly at the den entrance. It did not venture out as the other one did. By Memorial Day weekend, that second pup had not been seen for about five days. It has not been seen since then, so the Sloughs evidently only have one surviving pup. And, as far as wolf watching in September goes, we can only hope!

  18. robert Avatar

    Kathie thanks for the imfo. I was there for the Memeorial Day Holiday and past it a few days. You’re right, I don’t recall seeing the two pups out at the same time as they were my first week there. But I did get to see the two of them. they were very playful, as they would wrestle with the mom as see lay resting on the ground. They would even at times wonder off a ways from her but would scamper back really fast. they would come out as far below where the dead tree trunk lay. Well it’s like we all know it to be. Nature has a plan for all. Hopefully the one surviver will eventually become a strong part of they’re pak.

  19. Sharon Gunn Avatar
    Sharon Gunn

    Kathie – Thanks for the posting – I was present at the park and my first trip to the Footbridge turnout was the morning of 7/9. Unfortunately I missed the show on 7/10 by about 30-45 minutes. I was the 42 year old sobbing like a baby when I heard how wondrous it was and saw the pictures. I was lucky enough to see the alpha & beta males a few times each and am totally sold on a return trip. Wolves and the people that watch them are amazing!

  20. Kristen Avatar

    Kathie, thanks so much for the wonderful updates and all the great information. We are fortunate enough to live 2 hours away. I only ever went once when I was young, and when we moved here 6 months ago, my husband and I have been back about 7 times. It is the best place to spend a day and now I love that I can do some research before our trip. Thanks so much, we got to see Rosie and her two cubs, so thanks for the update about her other cub.

  21. Laura Avatar

    My husband and I came to Yellowstone to see wolves – we skipped everything but Lamar, and the reward was seeing the pups during this time. I still get tears in my eyes when remembering the moments, and I still think about what we saw almost every day! I teach 6-8 grade and can say that after just 2 days of school, the students have watched the Nature show about the Druid/Slough packs, and they are trying to learn about all of the individual Druid Peak members! They are so enthralled. I can’t wait to have them read this entry by Kathie – she and the other volunteers and rangers are incredible. Their work and effort go further for both the wolves and tourists than they may ever know.