Kathie Lynch: Mid-summer 2010 Yellowstone wolf report

Kathie says mid-summer watching is better than she expected-

Here is Kathie Lynch’s latest wolf update.

Ralph Maughan

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Copyright © Kathie Lynch

Watchers must rise very early on the long summer days in Yellowstone to try to see wolves before they bed down in the shade to escape the heat of the day. Sometimes all of the action ends by 8-9 a.m. Watching generally picks up again in the evening, if an afternoon thunderstorm or the mosquitoes don’t chase you away. The up side is that the park is still quite green, and wildflowers abound–I counted 22 different kinds in the first half mile of a hike up Mt. Washburn!

Mid-days are best filled with hiking or watching other wildlife, like the badger and coyote who worked together to hunt Uinta ground squirrels (which, incidentally, had the badger and coyote surrounded!) or the pronghorn buck who galloped to the rescue, emphatically ending two coyotes’ tackle of a tiny pronghorn fawn.

Bear sightings at lower elevations have decreased, but the grizzly sow with two cubs of the year (COY) still delights visitors on Dunraven Pass almost daily, and the sow with three COY is still being seen a long way off in Hayden Valley.

The bison are preparing for their big August rut. Things got off to a rousing start recently with a never-before-seen parade of several hundred bison past the Northeast entrance station and along Highway 212 through Silver Gate and Cooke City, destination unknown. Apparently not finding greener pastures, they returned to the Park the next day, causing massive traffic jams.

The trout spawning at Trout Lake has slowed down, and along with it, the river otter sightings. But, the seven otters, including two pups, put on a spectacular daily show in early July.

As for wolves, during the first half of July, the Silver pack offered the most consistently good viewing. Most mornings and evenings, some or all of the five adults and four pups appeared at their Lamar Valley site. Early mornings meant near freezing temperatures for several hours as we waited for the opportunity to watch the daily life of a wolf pack unfold before our eyes.

The silvery alpha female shines like a beacon. So many visitors are thrilled to see her as their first wolf in the wild! Her alpha male, 147M, is such a good father. He revels in attending to the four gray pups, often licking them and hurrying back from every outing to check on them. The other two females, yearling 753F and the uncollared gray (mother of the two younger pups) delight in playing with the pups.

The former alpha male (the “Old Guy”) continues to stay with the pack. Although he is often not seen for three or four days at a time, we don’t worry about him because he always resurfaces. With his tilted head, “airplane” ears, and ambling gait, we don’t know if he is just in his own world or off on some mystery jaunt.

The pups, of course, are the stars of the show. There really is no thrill beyond seeing the four of them gathered on a big rock with their little noses pointed to the sky, lending their high-pitched voices to a group howl.

On July 15, one of the two older pups (offspring of the alpha female) rallied the troops with a stirring puppy howl, and off he/she went on a big expedition to the east, with all five adults dutifully following behind in single file. The whole group disappeared into a drainage, and none of the adults were seen again for several days.

The next morning, all four pups were safe and sound back in Lamar, but the next day only one or two pups were seen. And, the next day, only one poor little puppy sat there alone, pitifully howling his heart out. Finally, on the evening of July 18, after three-and-a-half days, alpha 147M, good dad that he is, returned to round up his offspring. He silently inspected the usual places and followed the pups’ scent trail into the trees, presumably to find and lead them to the pack’s summer rendezvous site. The pack has not been seen since then.

The Silver pack’s departure conveniently coincided with the rediscovery of the Lamar Canyon pack, of which we had lost track for almost two weeks. They seemed to have moved their base of operation from Slough Creek to a nearby location, but, search as we might, we just could not find them. Luckily, on July 16, they reappeared near their original area at Slough and have provided dependable viewing since then.

It is amazing to see how much the four gray pups, now over three months old, have grown during the two weeks when we didn’t see them. They are certainly being kept well fed by their mother, the gray “’06 Female.” She has recently even been credited with bringing down a bull elk by herself! The two other pack members, alpha 755M and his brother, 754M, also make the rounds hunting. However, they do seem to enjoy sleeping in the shade of the conifer trees.

Wolf watchers in the southern part of the Park continue to enjoy a good show by the Canyon pack, albeit usually at a great distance. They have returned to the same rendezvous area, visible from the Grizzly Overlook in Hayden Valley, that they have used for several years.

The classic trio of Canyon adults (almost white alpha female, collared dark black alpha male 712M, and dark gray beta male) is highly recognizable and often visible. Their three pups (one black, two gray) provide many visitors with the thrill of searching for and finding a wolf in the wild, through a spotting scope, of course!

The Agate Creek pack has remained a bit mysterious this summer. Only recently have four pups (two black, two gray) been observed. It is unknown which or how many of the pups belong to either of the two adult females in the pack, nine-year-old alpha 472F (the oldest collared wolf in the Park) and three-year-old gray 715F. The pups were likely sired by alpha 641M. He, along with his Mollie’s pack brother, 586M, joined the two Agate females last breeding season to resurrect the Agate pack.

The Agate adults have appeared in Little America a couple of times, but there is no place currently where watchers can view the pack or pups (as opposed to the excellent viewing of the Agates for many years along Antelope Creek off Dunraven Pass road). We hope that, as the summer progresses, the Agates may move into better view.

Another favorite pack, the Blacktails, has also proved elusive as they roam their huge Blacktail Plateau territory. The Blacktails, legacy of the famous/infamous 302M, includes nine adults (five black, four gray) and six pups (two black, four gray).

Two Druid males (302M’s nephews), alpha “Big Brown” and beta “Medium Gray,” lead the Blacktails. Two females, alpha 693F and beta 692F, may have had pups this year. They are both daughters of  legendary Agate alpha 113M and lend his fortitude and strength to the Blacktails.

One final wolf deserves special recognition. Perhaps the last survivor of the world famous Druid Peak pack, the two-year-old “Black Female” was possibly seen twice recently in Lamar Valley. On July 8 watchers observed an uncollared black with a mangy tail in the Amethyst drainage, and on July 10 a similarly described wolf was seen on Jasper Bench.

Hopefully, she will somehow survive and find a mate or pack to accept her. Considering what she has been through in the last year (mange, loss of her family, dissolution of her pack, and life as a lone wolf), the “Black Female” is most certainly a worthy heiress to the grand old Druid throne.

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For reference, here is Kathie’s report of July 1, 2010