Kathie Lynch: Yellowstone wolf report. July 11-Aug. 20, 2008
Below is Kathie Lynch’s detailed wolf report for the end of the summer. It sounds like the return of the Druids must have been one of the most amazing wildlife sights wolf watchers in Yellowstone have ever witnessed.
Yellowstone wolf report. July 11-Aug. 20. By © Kathie Lynch
Summer in Yellowstone meant hot, windy days, smoky skies, and early rising for wolf watchers, as the best viewing often occurred from 5-9 a.m. After the Druid Peak pack’s move to their rendezvous on July 8-10, we wondered if we would have any wolves to watch, but the Slough Creek pack saved the day.
The Sloughs put on an especially great show for about a week in early August as they fed on not one, but two, bison carcasses in Little America. The first bull died after getting gored in the side by another bull during the rut. He fell less than 200 yards north of the road and in plain view from the Pond pullout. For over a week, thrilled visitors thronged to the area to watch wolves and bears alternate feeding on the carcass, illuminated by the early morning light of the full moon.
At about the same time, another bison turned up dead nearby in the Lamar River, north of the Aspen turnouts. Although this carcass was more than 600 yards from the road, it provided especially picturesque viewing as a succession of wolves, grizzlies, black bears, coyotes, and bald and golden eagles fed on it, all framed against iridescent blue water in the gorgeous morning light.
Sadly, the Sloughs have lost their last remaining pup. The little black, which charmed watchers in May, was last seen in mid-July. Without a pup to provide for and to hold the pack together, the Sloughs lacked focus and seemed scattered. They sometimes appeared in the Slough Creek flats around their traditional den area, but they also ranged as far west as Junction Butte in Little America and east to mid-Lamar Valley. We often spotted them on Jasper Bench, a rendezvous site they had used in the past at the southwest end of Lamar Valley.
Yet more misfortune plagued the Sloughs with the death of their beta male, 629M. Born to the Druid Peak pack in 2006, he was either the son of Druid alpha 480M and then alpha 529F or the son of Druid beta 302M and then beta 569F (who has since become the Druid alpha female). In October 2007, as a one-and-a-half year old, 629M accomplished the unprecedented feat of dispersing from the Druids to be accepted into their archrival pack, the Sloughs.
Six twenty-nine had been away from the main Slough pack for about two weeks before his death, remaining localized in the area around the Amethyst Creek drainage in Lamar Valley. Oddly, this is almost exactly the dividing line between the territories of his natal and adoptive packs. The first clue that something was wrong came when his radio collar signal indicated that he had remained in the same area, hidden in the trees, for six days.
He finally made a couple of appearances, during which he swam the Lamar River and caught and ate a ground squirrel, but he didn’t seem quite right. Then, on July 28, Wolf Project staff heard the mortality signal from his radio collar (rapid beeping after no movement for four hours). They later determined that other wolves or predators had not killed him, and samples taken from his body were too degraded to yield clues. So, his cause of death will probably remain a mystery.
Unbelievably, a previously unknown wolf materialized to fill the Slough beta male position almost as soon as 629M left the pack. The new male, a beautiful, long-legged gray, quickly assimilated into the pack, despite being pinned and roughed up by his new family initially. Nevertheless, he was soon doing “RLU’s” (raised leg urinations, a sign of dominance) and supporting alpha 590M by helping to chase off intruders.
The new gray male’s presence (and 629M’s death) changed the Slough pack count from 13 blacks and two grays to 12 blacks and three grays. Their total of 15 wolves also varies, depending on whether “The Dark Female” is present or not. Constantly persecuted by alpha 380F, “The Dark Female” must grovel and slink around with a tucked tail whenever 380F is near.
“The Dark Female” often leaves the pack to spend time with various interlopers, including a cocky, dark black male, who made his presence known in a big way. The drama played out on Jasper Bench, as the big black male temporarily absconded with four Slough females, including beta 526F, “Hook,” “The Dark Female,” and a black yearling. All soon returned to their pack as the rangy new gray beta male (himself an interloper not too long before) asserted his new power and position by chasing the big black Romeo away.
The Druids also provided a big surprise. Although they moved most of their pups from the den area to their rendezvous on July 8-10, it turned out that they had left at least two pups behind. For a couple of days after the move, we had heard pup howls from the den and observed adults returning to the area. Nevertheless, we were shocked when, 18 days after the big move, the Druids appeared to move at least two more pups. On the evening of July 28, we saw one black and one gray pup near the den and adults leading them down to the road. We now assume that they crossed after dark to complete the move.
Except for a few boundary check forays (which always involve a lot of territory marking) into the Lamar Valley, the Druids stayed mostly out of sight…until (drum roll!!!) the morning of Tuesday, August 19, when the entire pack made a triumphant return!
For several days, we had been watching a few Druids feast on a yet another bison carcass, just east of their traditional rendezvous site in Lamar Valley. On that morning, three adults stood up and began howling to the east. As we swung our scopes around to peer in the direction of Cache Creek, we could hardly believe our eyes as 25 (!) rollicking, bounding, galloping, gleeful wolves loomed into view. With Grand Marshal alpha female 569F proudly prancing and playing at the head of the parade, the Druids were bringing their pups back! It was the most spectacular wolf watching sight I have ever seen!
Four years after the death of the great alphas 21M and 42F, 21M’s last daughter had brought her family home at last. Along with her late sister, 529F, and former Leopolds 480M and 302M, 569F had resurrected the Druids from a low of only four adults in 2006 to once again mighty status.
If that surging mass of 28 wolves included all 16 adults, then at least 12 pups must have survived. But, the huge black pups are almost impossible to tell apart from the black yearlings, so the pup count could be even higher. Some counts have put it at as many as 17 surviving pups. If that is true, then with the 16 adults, the Druid pack could number 33 wolves! It is bound to be an incredible sight this fall and winter.
As autumn approaches and the scent of drying grass replaces wildflower perfume, Canada geese fly in formation overhead and pink fireweed blooms up to the top of each stem. When the bugles of the bull elk once again ring out in Lamar Valley, will the Slough Creek pack be able to hold back the tide of the Druids’ great numbers? Only time and the turning leaves of autumn will tell.
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.
29 Responses to Kathie Lynch: Yellowstone wolf report. July 11-Aug. 20, 2008
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Thanks so much for taking the time to document your experiences. I wait with great anticipation for your reports.
If you haven’t you should write a book on the Yellowstone wolves.
The big dogs and your reports never fail to be interesting. It has been our great luck to have had you in the park this summer.
Awesome report. We will be heading out to Yellowstone the week of 9/6-9/13. I hope we get some viewing experiences that are half as good as what I just read.
Kathie…can oly echo the other replies in thanking you for your time and documentation of your sights and sounds of the beloved wolves while in “Stone”. My hubby and I, our daughter and grandson will be leaving PA for the Park on Sept. 8th, hoping to arrive several days later, and my excitement is such that I’m not even able to sleep much at night the past few weeks! After reading your report felt as tho I was already there!!!
Second the remark re your writing a book!!
Thanks so much again!!
Thanks so much for the information, I was just in the Lamar Valley this past week and saw some wolves. It was the very first time since I have been coming to the park that someone actually told me where to look. My binoculars were not that good but this experience has ever changed me and my sister, (her very first time in the park). Is there a wolf in the Druid pack that is a reddish color because we saw one that color this morning? Is the Druid pack located across the Lamar Valley close to the Soda Butte geyser in that “V” in the landscape? I saw 10 wolves on Tuesday this week and the people that had a scope said that there were pups with that group.
You are an incredible storyteller!!! I get so excited when I see your reports. Thank you for bringing YNP and the wolves to us, when we are stuck at home. Please, please do think about a book……I would be the first one in line! Thank you again for your marvelous reports.
Was not the grey joining the Sloughs the Dark Grey, suitor of the Druid females in February? Enjoyed the report, thanks. See you in February?
Kathie….it’s so uplifting to read your reports. It reminds one that there is still a place where wolves can act like wolves, especially in light of the the slaughter regularly taking place among the packs here in Western Montana. ( This week the final 5 members of the Willow Creek pack were exterminated near Hall, Mt)
Thankyou for bringing the YNP wolves to us.
It was a great joy watching that little black Slough pup this past May and sad when I heard it had not survived. With each account I’ve read of the “Parade of the Druid Family” on that wondrous August day my heart sings with joy and gratitude that we have been blessed as they have come back from four to now 30 +….can’t wait to see them in February! Thanks Kathy, I too enjoy your writings and knowing well the beautiful landscapes you describe every scene takes my thoughts and joins them with my heart that always lives in Lamar! Hope to see you in the valley soon. Kathy
A beautifully crafted report.
It captures the hours of patience and hard work by the watchers, and another chapter in the story of the wolf.
Thank you for showing me Yellowstone through your eyes.
Wonderful report – as always.
Thank you and more news please.
We need good news about wolves, especially that most of their ‘brothers and sisters’ will be killed in Aalska…one by one..all of them…
we need to preserve what we can in YS.
Hi Kathie: Your usual superb combination of specifity and lyricism. First rate. If you’d like a nice pic of you (and me) from July, send me an address to firstname.lastname@example.org. And enjoy your last (I think) year of teaching. I miss my teaching already. Best, Mac
Thank you all for the kind comments! It’s always great to get a good report card! And, to Gerry (re the gray who joined the Sloughs): The gray who joined the Sloughs was definitely not the “Dark Gray” male (the one who had romanced the Druid females and probably sired some Druid pups last winter/spring). Actually, we did see “Dark Gray” this summer, though. On August 17, we found him coming down “21’s Crossing,” heading to a bison carcass just south of the road. We thought at first that he was the Druid female “Low Sides” because some Druids were feeding nearby on a different bison carcass and we weren’t expecting to see him. However, the next day, when we saw him again, we suddenly realized that it was the “Dark Gray” male and not “Low Sides.” We did not see him again after August 18. The thought is that maybe he was just stopping by to visit his pups, the way 302M used to do in his Leopold-going-courting days (before he became a Druid…although 302M still goes a-courting!). The mysterious gray male who joined the Sloughs is distinctly tall and rangy and does not look like the “Dark Gray” male. To add to the excitement, at the same time we were debating “Dark Gray” vs. “Low Sides,” a big, dark black male trotted west along the treeline near the Druid rendezvous, followed by a frisky, silvery WHITE wolf! The black was “The Jasper Male,” and the white female was one of his many girlfriends. He is a real survivor who somehow manages to thrive, mostly on his own, on Jasper Bench in Lamar Valley, sandwiched between the Druid and Slough pack territories. We have no idea who that white wolf was, and we didn’t see her again, but she was a treat to see!
Kathy – It was fun to meet you in Yellowstone a couple of weeks ago and I was hoping after talking to you that you would post one last description of your observations of the wolves. We just returned from the weekend in Yellowstone, wherein we spent most of our time up “on the hill” in Lamar, joining many, many wolf watchers and were able to hear Rick’s awesome descriptions of the wolves we were watching. It is hard to pull yourself away from Lamar – we are truly addicted to the wolf-watching and look forward to spending several fall weekends up there as well. We continue to advocate for the wolves with everyone with whom we share our spotting scope, encouraging them to fight for the wolves not lucky enough to be living and protected in Yellowstone. Hopefully, we will be able to meet up with you again next summer and spend more time talking wolves. Thanks again for your colorful, descriptive and heartfelt stories of the various wolf packs.
Kathy – We are forever grateful for your wonderful wolf reports. Somehow you should make a million off of them, but alas…
In any event – THANK YOU SO MUCH!
Has anyone ever seen the “new” white wolf before? Wouldn’t it be great if we have another white wolf in Yellowstone?
Amazing…I long for news of the wolves when I’m not there, you always deliver!
It was great to meet you and maybe we will meet again in Oct when we finally get to come “home” to Yellowstone.
Great report as usual! Cant wait to see those Druids in November. Wow what a comeback! Thanks for the update.
Thanks for the report. How lucky you were to have caught the return of the 25 Druids with their pups! What a summer!
Awesome report Kathie, keep up the hard work. This would make for a great TV series.
Thanks so much for your reports! I will read them again this next week while I’m in Yellowstone and try to find some of the landmarks you mention.
I hope to see some wolves. I saw some for the first time in May, and what a wonderful experience that was. I saw the same pair up close 3 days in a row. I hope I am lucky enough to see a whole pack this fall.
Kathie – Can you shed some light on the story about the
Slough/Druid run-in? Who was killed by who? seems those
Sloughs are having it pretty rough this year
Cindy: I don’t really know many details about 526F’s death because I wasn’t there. But, from what I’ve heard, a large group of Druids killed the Slough Creek beta female, 526F, on 9/3/08. The attack occurred near the Lamar River at the base of Jasper Bench. Ever since the Druids returned to their Lamar Valley rendezvous in mid-August, the Sloughs have continued to use their rendezvous on Jasper Bench. In fact, 526F had traveled east by herself on one occasion toward two Druid-controlled bison carcasses. I saw that–we were at first mystified as to who the unexpected collared black could be, until I recognized her as 526F. The next day she was part of a group of eight Sloughs which once again approached the Druids’ bison carcasses. So, 526 was a bold wolf and no stranger to danger. She was four years old and had probably been a mother wolf at least twice, including this year (although no pups survived in 2008, nine Slough pups survived in 2007). She served as a faithful beta female to the aggressive Slough alpha female, 380F, who has driven many other females from the pack. Five twenty-six was a valuable and important pack member and had, no doubt, been seen by thousands of wolf watchers. She will be greatly missed.
I think I may have seen her one evening when you were there? I was in Nathan’s Wolf Course with Yellowstone Institute the middle of June. We were able to “barely” see
the pup that night up at the den entrance, The rain was softly falling on the river bottom. Not sure if 526 was the one out that evening.
Sounds like she pushed the envelope too far this time.
A good lesson for all of us to heed!
I can’t wait for my trip to Lamar the end of September.
Hope you’re still out and about…I’ll introduce myself
Excellent report as usual, and extra thanks for the info on 526F Kathie!
Hey Kathie – do you have any info on 380F? I’ve read that she was also killed on Jasper’s Bench, but can’t find any details…
On Sept 7 and 8, I ran across the same wolves that I saw in May http://s319.photobucket.com/albums/mm469/knopfling/Yellowstone/ at almost the same place, Willow Park between Apollinaris Spring and Indian Creek. This time the collared female and the black male had three others with them, including a baby. There’s a gray that looks somewhat like the collared wolf and a very pretty silvery one, I think she’s young. She has four black feet (not socks but black feet). http://s319.photobucket.com/albums/mm469/knopfling/Ystone%20fall%202008/.
On Sept. 8 they were feeding on a fresh elk carcass — I don’t know if it was their kill. A couple days later, there was another elk carcass in the water a mile or so south of the first one that they’d been around, but I didn’t see them again although there was scat on the trail.
Thank you so much for your detailed wolf reports. We were not able to go to Yellowstone this year, so really enjoy reading updates.
Do you have any information on the remaining members of the Hayden pack from last summer?
It was great to check this blog and read the amazing news about the Druids. I saw the large bunch of pups cross the Lamar during July 8-10 and am wondering if any further news ever developed about the pup who was seen being caught up in the swift river current (but who some thought survived). He may have been the small grey pup who crossed the following night walking with a limp. We still think about that guy – and hope he somehow survived.