Welcome Kathie Lynch!
It's a privilege to introduce Kathie Lynch to ourfriends, supporters and followers. Kathie is nothing short of a wolf connoisseurin Yellowstone National Park. Her passion is only matched by her ability to locate and share wolf information, and stories with wildlife enthusiast visiting the park as well as reaching out to less fortunate individuals not presently in Yellowstone!
Yellowstone Wolf Update: December 2015
By Kathie Lynch, Copyright 2015
It’s not very often that you get to have a 38-wolf/four-pack day in Yellowstone. But, when the Mollies venture north to the homes of the Lamar Canyon, Junction Butte, and Prospect Peak packs, anything can happen.
Actually, if every individual in the four packs had been seen on the same day, it would have added up to a 55-wolf day! The only problem is that trouble often follows when the Mollies leave their Pelican Valley territory and invade the three Northern Range packs’ territories.
Trouble was exactly what happened in the Soda Butte Valley in late November when the Lamar Canyon pack was near a carcass just west of Trout Lake.
After a morning of howling back and forth between the two packs, the entire Mollies pack, 16 strong, suddenly appeared on the same ridge, and the 10 Lamar Canyon wolves ran for their lives!
As they scattered across the hillside, black Lamar Canyon adult male “Mottled” veered off with seven Mollies wolves in hot pursuit. “Mottled” ran full blast down the hill, across the road, and disappeared into Soda Butte Creek.
For the watchers standing along the road, what followed can only be described as agonizing. Although we couldn’t see the actual attack, the tortured howls, growls, barks, and yelps rising out of the creek could only mean one thing—a real dogfight.
Minutes later, the pursuers, including Mollies alpha female 779F, reappeared on the far bank of the creek and rallied with a chorus of what sounded like victory howls. As we listened in stunned silence, there seemed to be no other possible outcome than that “Mottled” was dead…
…except, he wasn’t! All of a sudden, the cry went up, “There’s ‘Mottled’! He’s alive!” Amazingly, there he was, trotting and loping off along the creek bank with frequent glances back to check for pursuers, and there were none. With only a few stops to lick at several injuries along his side and the back of his rear legs, he quickly disappeared into his favorite hiding place in the forest.
Although he had survived the attack, we could only hope that in his weakened condition he would survive his injuries and the bitterly cold, sub-zero nights. To everyone’s extreme relief, “Mottled” was briefly seen alive the next day.
Then, on the second day after the attack, we were treated to a heart-warming scene as Lamar Canyon alpha male “Twin” came down from the den forest and went out to greet “Mottled” south of Hitching Post. It wasn’t until the next day that “Mottled” finally mustered enough courage to cross the road so he could return to his pack, and we finally knew that he would make it.
Besides having to deal with the Mollies, the Lamar Canyon pack has struggled with Sarcoptic Mange. It is spread by bodily contact and is caused by a parasitic mite that gets under the skin and causes severe itching. When the wolves scratch continually at one spot, their fur comes off. Incessant scratching can lead to open wounds and infection or hair loss over large areas of the body.
Wolves with severe cases of mange may stand still in one place in the sun. They are reluctant to lie down on the cold snow and instead try to bed on exposed dirt under trees. They may even try to sleep standing up.
Most or all of the Lamar Canyon wolves have some degree of mange. The remaining one black and two gray pups all have whip tails and have lost a lot of body fur, although their condition seems to be improving.
The pack originally had five pups. However, for unknown reasons, the small black female pup and the big gray male pup disappeared at separate times this fall. Last summer, we had watched the five little pups slide from place to place on their bellies doing an Army crawl. Little did we know then that what seemed like amusing, unusual behavior was actually an early indicator of the tormenting itch of mange.
Others in the pack are also affected to varying degrees. Alpha male “Twin” and 2-year-old black female “Little T” have little or no mange; alpha 926F and “Dark Black” male have some spots; black male “Mottled” and 2-year-old black female “Big T” have large spots or areas of fur loss. Sadly, big 120-pound gray male 965M, who used to have the most beautiful coat, is the most severely afflicted. It is heartbreaking to see.
Whether because of the mange, the upcoming breeding season, or some other reason, 965M has started to wander. He is often away from the Lamar Canyon pack and has been spending a lot of time on his own or in the Hellroaring area near his former pack, Prospect Peak.
Unfortunately for 965M, he doesn’t seem to be welcome in the Prospect Peak pack now. Recently, an up-and-coming gray male in the Prospect Peak pack actually attacked 965M when he ventured too close.
The Prospect Peak pack of 14 itself is in a state of flux as alpha male 763M may be on the way out. Although he was the founding alpha male of the pack almost two years ago, he is older and somewhat disabled, having broken his right front leg twice.
Lately, 763M has been staying away from the pack, and the same younger gray male who attacked 965M attacked him. That up-and-coming young gray male carries his tail high and has been doing raised leg urinations, both signs of dominance.
It remains to be seen whether 763M can regain control of the pack. Sometimes, former alpha males have been allowed to remain with the pack in a subordinate role. However, 763M may be forced to leave and would then have to try to survive as a lone wolf. The prospects are not good if that is what happens to him.
The rest of the Prospect Peak pack includes gray alpha 821F; one black female adult; gray male yearlings 964M and 966M; two gray female yearlings; one black female yearling; one black male yearling who has a huge white spotlight blaze; and five pups (three blacks, two grays).
One interesting note: the up-and-coming raised tail gray male who attacked Prospect Peak alpha 763M and Lamar Canyon 965M may be the gray male yearling 966M, who has lost his radio-collar. He was born into the 8 Mile pack and joined Prospect Peak a year ago. If the raised tail gray male is indeed 966M, he is not the offspring of Prospect Peak alpha 763M, who had already left the 8 Mile pack to found Prospect Peak by the time 966M was born.
The Junction Butte pack gave everyone a wonderful surprise in late September when watchers discovered that the pack had 12 pups, instead of six, as was previously thought! Unfortunately, the pup count is now down to eight, including two blacks and six grays. One dead gray pup, which was likely from the Junction Butte pack, was found on Jasper Bench. The disappearance of the others remains a mystery.
Junction Butte alpha 911M is currently hopping about on a bad right front leg, perhaps injured while he was attacking prey. Alpha 970F was part of the original Mollies invasion in December 2011 that led to the formation of the Junction Butte pack in 2012. She is the mother of one of the pack’s two litters this year.
However, the father of all of 970F’s pups may not necessarily be alpha 911M. Last February, she was also observed breeding with former Prospect Peak (current Lamar Canyon alpha) male “Twin” and also with Junction Butte beta 890M!
Beta 890M was formerly the Junction Butte alpha, but he has stayed with the pack after being replaced by 911M. (Note: this could be similar to a best case scenario for Prospect Peak alpha 763M if the raised tail gray male replaces him as alpha.)
Other Junction Buttes include 2-year-old beta 907F, who was also a mother this year. She was observed breeding with 890M last February, as was her sister, 969F, who did not have pups.
A gray female yearling and black yearling 968F are the last surviving offspring of the late, great Junction Butte alpha 870F. They were sired by current beta 890M when he was alpha. Unfortunately, 968F is often away from the pack for extended periods and is not always welcomed back.
The 15-member Junction Butte pack is often out of view on the south side of Specimen Ridge, but they do also frequent the Little America area. Often visible south of the Slough Creek lot, they have given many visitors the chance to enjoy watching a wolf pack go about its daily life. Their rendezvous site there includes the original Crystal Creek acclimation pen site where the Mollies pack (then named the Crystal Creek pack) originated in 1995.
Since the roads to Yellowstone’s interior closed to vehicle travel in early November, the Wapiti Lake pack has been out of sight. A great favorite for summer wolf watching in Hayden Valley, the Wapitis include black-faded-to-silvery gray 7-year-old alpha 755M, his almost white 5-year-old alpha female, two black pups and two gray pups.
The Wapiti Lake alpha female’s own mother is the Canyon pack’s beautiful white alpha. A fixture in Hayden Valley since 2007, she and her mate, 712M, left Hayden and moved to a territory closer to Old Faithful this year.
It was a long wait, but the good news finally came that the 10-year-old Canyon alphas do indeed have two pups, one black and one gray! This is the Canyon alphas’ eighth litter together, having produced pups every year since 2007 (except in 2014).
Canyon alpha 712M was born into the Mollies pack a long time ago. As the only current pack that traces all the way back to 1995, connections to the Mollies run deep throughout Yellowstone’s 20-year history of wolf restoration. The Mollies wolves are literally the ties that bind Yellowstone’s wolves together.
Five years ago, 19 Mollies wolves, mostly females, came north seeking a new alpha male. Their presence then created a lot of havoc, leaving several dead alpha male candidates in their wake. Ultimately, Mollies females joined with Blacktail pack males to create the Junction Butte pack.
Now, because Mollies alpha male 980M was killed (possibly by prey) in late summer, the Mollies are once again in need of a new alpha male. It was probably no accident that their search prompted alpha 779F to lead the whole pack north to the Lamar Canyon pack’s doorstep in November.
The Lamar Canyon’s big adult males (“Twin,” “Mottled,” “Dark Black,” and 965M) are all potential alpha material. All four were formerly in the Prospect Peak pack but probably originated in the 8 Mile pack.
Mollies blood already runs deep in Yellowstone through Canyon alpha 712M to the Wapiti Lake pack alpha female and her offspring. The Junction Butte pack’s founding and current alpha females were Mollies, including former alpha 870F and current alpha 970F. If 779F’s search for a new alpha male is ultimately successful in the Northern Range, Mollies blood will find its way to even more of Yellowstone’s packs.
After two weeks in the Northern Range, the Mollies finally headed home to the Pelican Valley. They made a beautiful sight on the snowy hilltop as the 11 dark blacks and six strikingly marked grays slowly made their way in single file up and across the K Meadow and over the top of Specimen Ridge.
With the February breeding season coming up soon and competition for mates heating up in the Northern Range, one thing is for sure—the Mollies will be back. In fact, they’ve never really left.
Yellowstone Wolf Update: August 2015
By Kathie Lynch, Copyright 2015
Late summer wolf watching in Yellowstone’s Northern Range was all about the Lamar Canyon pack. Except for some distant sightings of the Prospect Peak pack at the end of July and a very brief (but exciting!) appearance by the Junction Butte pack, watchers stayed glued to the Lamar Canyon’s traditional den forest area in Soda Butte Valley.
The five new Lamar Canyon pups were first sighted in mid-July. These much-hoped-for pups are the last offspring of the late Lamar Canyon alpha, 925M, who was killed by the Prospect Peak pack in March.
In a strange turn of events, four adult males from that pack then joined Lamar Canyon alpha 926F and are now helping to raise the pups. It is indeed a lucky thing that all wolves love puppies, and even adult males will willingly adopt pups sired by others.
The 12-member Lamar Canyon pack now includes alpha 926F (black), her two black yearling daughters, the four former Prospect Peak pack big males (new alpha “Twin,” gray 965M, black “Mottled,” and “Dark Black”), 3 gray pups and 2 black pups.
We were very lucky to have many (or at least some) of them in view almost every day. It was like having a window into their world as we watched the pups (who had been born about April 27) grow from 2.5 to 4 months old. It was a great privilege to be able to share some of the amazing experiences in a wolf pup’s life.
Very early on they started attempting to follow when the adults left to go out on a hunt. It was quite nerve-wracking to watch as the pups at times came down toward the road, which was filled with speeding cars and motorcycles.
One time we found small puppy paw prints etched in the frost on the footbridge, so we knew that they were likely out on exploratory missions (and had even crossed the road!) when we weren’t watching.
The biggest surprise was when a black female pup apparently crossed the road without being noticed and went on a solo 3-hour walkabout! She suddenly materialized near the hill behind all of the watchers who had been looking in the opposite direction for wolves at the den forest!
We thought that the pup was perhaps scent-trailing an adult who had left on a hunt earlier, but she seemed to be having a good time just being out on her own. She made a big circle around us, poked around in the marsh along Soda Butte Creek, nonchalantly walked across the creek, and finally safely crossed the road to head back home to the den forest. It seemed pretty obvious that she knew the area well and had probably done the same thing before.
The adults have had to work hard to find food to bring home to the pups. The longer the hunters are gone, the more quiet the pups become, sort of like the Energizer Bunny winding down. When the adults do return, all of the pups rush to mob them, soliciting a regurgitation by licking the muzzle of the incoming adult. It’s amusing to watch as the adult plows forward through a wriggling sea of begging pups.
Sometimes, the adults don’t return for 3-5 days, though they usually leave at least one baby-sitter with the pups. Yearlings are almost always ready to babysit. But, surprisingly, most of the new adult males also seem happy to do the job.
The big (120 pound!) gray 965M is especially tolerant and playful with the pups. He lets them climb all over him and will play with them by grabbing onto a stick to try to wrestle it away from them. I have seen gentle giant 965M proudly lead a pup parade and then settle down to keep an eye on them while they play in the marsh or visit the pond.
The “Dark Black” male also plays the role of good shepherd. He may lead the pups to a nearby carcass area where they can find some tasty bones to gnaw on while waiting for the hunters to return. “Dark Black” keeps an eye out for danger (bears) and may relax in the shade of a tree, much like a parent watching over kids at the playground.
The best fun occurs when the pups just stir things up on their own. Left to their own devices, they play just about every game imaginable—it is infinitely entertaining to watch! Favorite games include tug-o’-war with two on a stick, prance around with three abreast on a big stick, toss and catch a pinecone, pounce on something/anything, run rings around a tree, mouth-wrestle, take down and stand over, chase, watch a squirrel in a tree, stand on hind legs with front paws up on the tree to try to reach that darn squirrel, dig a hole, and pull another pup’s tail!
The oddest behavior we’ve noticed with these pups, though, is what can only be described as an Army crawl. All five pups seem to be doing it, and it’s funny to watch. They will just belly crawl forward from one place to another as if that’s the only way to get from Point A to Point B. One thought is that perhaps fleas are driving them crazy, and they’ve found a novel way to scratch the itch. (We haven’t seen any sign that the pups have mange.)
The four new males (from the Prospect Peak pack) take every opportunity to get to know the three Lamar Canyon females (alpha 926F and her two yearling daughters). None of these males is related to any of these females, so it should be interesting in February when they will all be eligible for breeding.
Alpha 926F seems content with her new alpha male, “Twin,” but the other males (965M, “Mottled,” and “Dark Black”) take turns cozying up to the two female yearlings. Almost any occasion seems right for a big greeting, playful romp, and even some fanny dancing as they all get acquainted.
One morning, 926F treated us to the most amazing howling serenade in the pre-dawn darkness. It was probably the loudest howling I have ever heard—and for good reason—she was standing right next to the road near the turnout!
She quickly slipped across the road and headed south out to the middle flats, presumably to take her usual path out toward Cache Creek. What happened next was a crack up! She stopped at the Cache Creek trail sign and marked it with a flex-leg urination (a variation of a raised leg urination)—just like it was the neighborhood fire hydrant!
With nose to the ground, she went this way and that all around the trail sign, looking for a message she could read. When she found it, she changed her course and headed out toward the Lamar River instead of Cache Creek. Soon we saw another black (possibly the “Dark Black” male) follow her exact path, “read” the message she left on the signpost, make his own mark, and then follow her lead!
The whole mystery of how they communicate with each other is really fascinating. One evening, one of the black female yearlings sat under a tree with one black pup, high on a hill to the east of the pack’s usual rendezvous area. The yearling howled and howled. I thought at first that she was calling the other pups to come to her. Instead, the one pup with her went back home, and the yearling was then free to follow the other adults out hunting.
On the morning of August 7, I bet the Lamar Canyon pack simply couldn’t believe their good fortune when they discovered a dead bison bull right in their own front yard! It was likely the victim of the rut (perhaps gored by another bull) and had died in their rendezvous site.
For the next three days (until the bison carcass was totally flattened and dragged away into a gully), we were treated to a real wild nature show. At various times, we had seven grizzlies (including a sow with two cubs of the year) and seven adult wolves feeding on the carcass or badgering each other for control of it.
The pups mostly stayed away from the carcass due to the danger from the bears. When the pups did approach the carcass, they seemed interested, but wary. I never did see the pups actually feeding on the carcass. Activity around the carcass kept the wolves and wolf watchers entertained for the next 10 days to 2 weeks.
The big event for the Lamar Canyons happened in their own territory on the morning of August 17 when they ran smack dab into five members of the Junction Butte Pack! Some Lamar Canyon adults had crossed the road to the south, presumably to go out hunting, and some pups had evidently followed them.
The Lamar Canyons were up on the middle flats (south of Hitching Post) when they encountered Junction Butte alpha 911M, big black beta 890M, 2-year-old females 907F and 969F, and an uncollared gray yearling female. (Luckily, Junction Butte alpha 970F, who has been to the Lamar Canyon den forest before, was not with them.)
The Lamar Canyons desperately tried to gather their pups as they saw the Junction Buttes approaching. What ensued can only be described as helter skelter, but the scary thing was that the Lamar Canyon pups ran down into Soda Butte Creek and were pursued by all five Junction Buttes!
From our vantage point out on the trail south of Footbridge, we couldn’t see what happened between the Junction Buttes and the Lamar Canyon pups in the creek. But, somehow the pups made it out and safely back across the road! We all breathed a huge sigh of relief when one watcher spotted three gray pups streaking across the hillside on the way home to their den forest.
Meanwhile, Lamar Canyon alpha 926F, one black female yearling, and 965M zigzagged through the rolling hills south of Hitching Post, crossed the road, and ran right past their rendezvous site. They kept on running to the east past Soda Butte Cone, crossed the road again, and fled up to the safety of a high meadow (way above last year’s rendezvous site).
Next, we discovered that alpha male “Twin” had somehow circled around to a low bench behind us! He howled and howled before heading east to join 926F, the yearling and 965M in the high meadow.
Then “Dark Black” appeared near the seedling forest on the flank of Mt. Norris, west of where “Twin” had been. “Dark Black,” too, headed east, presumably to join the other adults in the high meadow.
All this time, adult male “Mottled” had most likely stayed on the north side of the road and was seen returning to the den forest area. The other black female yearling was most likely there too, so that was good for the returning pups.
At some point (probably soon after the pups had escaped with their lives), the five Junction Buttes had retreated to the west. As far as we know, no contact had been made between the two packs and no harm had been done.
The next morning, I was somewhat worried because I only heard one faint adult howl from the den forest. But, later in the day, other watchers saw all 12 Lamar Canyon wolves safe in their home site, so all ended well.
Other than that encounter, the Junction Butte wolves have remained elusive in the late summer. As far as I know, no one has actually seen any of their pups this year, although they did localize and are presumed to have denned. Some of them have been up high on the Buffalo Plateau and the Mirror Plateau, both great places to find elk in the hot summer months. But, these are not good places for watchers to see them.
The Prospect Peak pack has also been elusive most of this summer. At the end of July, we had a few days of sightings around their den forest on the vast Blacktail Plateau, but then they moved really far away to the south and west and were not seen much.
However, one day we did get to see the Prospect Peak adult black female and three gray yearlings lead all five pups on a rollicking romp to the west. They all ran along jumping on each other and just generally enjoying the pups’ big adventure.
Alphas 763M and 821F are now in their second year of leading the Prospect Peak pack. The other pack members include the black adult female, four gray yearlings (964M and 966M—both of 8 Mile pack heritage—and two females who were born to Prospect Peak), 2 black yearlings (1 female Prospect Peak, 1 male 8 Mile), and 5 pups (3 black, 2 gray). (The Prospect Peak pack picked up some 8 Mile pack members last November after the 8 Mile alpha, 871M, was killed by the Cougar Creek pack.)
Meanwhile, down in Yellowstone’s Interior, life has been good for 7-year-old former Lamar Canyon alpha 755M and his new Wapiti Lake pack. He and his mate, the 5-year-old very light gray (almost white) Canyon female, produced four pups (2 black, 2 gray). The pack continues to live in the old Canyon pack’s Sour Creek rendezvous site in Hayden Valley.
Although they are not seen every day, many watchers have been able to enjoy some really great viewing opportunities. One hot summer afternoon (when you really wouldn’t expect any activity), I happened to see the alpha female chase a mule deer doe into the forest. The hunt must have been unsuccessful because the wolf reappeared several minutes later and continued her trek across the open flats as though nothing had happened.
Alpha 755M was the star of the show on at least two other occasions when he brought down an elk all by himself. (He certainly must have learned some valuable lessons from his late, great mate, the Lamar Canyon “’06 Female.”) He handled himself with authority as he chased a grizzly away from the carcass, providing great viewing for watchers lining the roadside just west of Canyon Junction.
On another day, 755M and his alpha female chased an elk calf into the Yellowstone River near Alum Creek. The calf swam and waded back and forth from bank to bank to avoid the wolves whenever they entered the water.
The alpha female spent most of the time bedded behind sage on the high bank so she could keep an eye on the calf in the river. It was amazing to see her consider just how to get that calf. I felt like I could almost see the wheels turning in her head!
A few times, while lying down, she would go into stalking mode and then silently slide down the bank to make a rush at the calf. In the end, though, both wolves bedded out of sight in the tree line and the calf simply walked away!
The Wapiti Lake alpha female’s parents, 712M and the white female, have remained away from Hayden Valley all summer. They have evidently found a new home to the west, between Norris and Old Faithful, and they may even have pups there. Both alphas are now 10-years-old. If they do have pups this year, this would be their eighth litter together!
We did have some unusual wildlife sightings recently. One day a man asked me what the “white things” were near the Lamar Canyon’s den forest. My answer (“probably pronghorn butts”) turned out to be way off the mark—a look through the spotting scope clearly showed two mountain goats!
Another morning, after a torrential rainstorm the night before, we found that it was a fine time for blotched tiger salamanders to be on the move. They’re the only kind of salamander in Yellowstone, and I actually saw five different ones that morning!
Not all of the unusual sightings had to do with wildlife. One gray, foggy morning as we waited for the fog to clear so we could look for the Lamar Canyon wolves, an amazing sight appeared—a fogbow (also called a white rainbow, seadog, or fogdog)! It is produced by sunlight shining on fog and does look exactly like a white rainbow!
As August draws to a close, it is already beginning to feel like early fall in Yellowstone. Several mornings have been below freezing, the wildflowers are long gone, and some leaves are turning red.
The bison rut will be winding down (good news for drivers trying to negotiate bison jams!), and the elk rut will start soon. When the first snows in mid-September bring the elk down from the high meadows, things should improve for the adult wolves who have worked so hard all summer to ferry food to the pups.
The Lamar Canyon pack has found a way to survive despite the devastating loss of alpha male 925M last March. No one could have predicted that those four big Prospect Peak males would come to the rescue and fit in so well.
The whole unlikely story speaks volumes about the tenacity and resilience of wolves. They have evolved a system to ensure that the pack will survive and that the legacies of the great ones who have gone before will live on.
Yellowstone Wolf Update: July 2015
By Kathie Lynch, Copyright 2015
The key words for wolf watching in Yellowstone this summer have to be patience, luck, and sunscreen! Sightings are often hard to come by and may require long hours of standing in the broiling sun watching, waiting, and hoping--or simply being in the right place at the right time.
The most reliable pack to see has been the newly named Wapiti Lake pack (formerly “755M’s Group”) in Hayden Valley. To the delight of park visitors, alpha 755M and his very light gray alpha female produced two black and two gray pups, one of which is very small.
Some part of the pack is usually visible at least some time of each day, with evenings generally offering the best viewing. The only problem is that the Wapiti Lake pack’s rendezvous is far away across Hayden Valley and sightings are often brief. It does require considerable dedication to endure the early morning fog over the Yellowstone River and the late night bison jams in order to catch a glimpse of the wolves.
On the other hand, sometimes watchers are richly rewarded. One morning, alpha 755M moseyed toward the river and passed directly below watchers at Grizzly Overlook! He proceeded south to feed on an old bison carcass only 170 yards away across the river, giving watchers an up close and personal view for over two hours.
Seeing 755M for so long and so well was definitely the highlight of my summer wolf watching so far. Now 7 years old, 755M’s black coat has faded to almost flannel gray, highlighted by a distinctive Y-shaped black stripe from his eyes to his nose and some dark guard hairs on his back.
He has been through so much since his days as the Lamar Canyon pack’s alpha male, when he sired three litters (2010-2012) with his mate, “The ’06 Female”/832F (who was shot in Wyoming in December 2012). After losing a mate, alpha males usually leave their pack to find new breeding opportunities, a dangerous and uncertain pursuit. However, 755M is the rare success story.
After spending time with a succession of females (including Mollies 759F, Junction Butte “Good Tail,” Mollies 779F, Mollies 889F, the Junction Butte “Black Female”/970F), he finally settled down again to have pups with his new mate, the light gray Canyon 5-year-old female.
She is the daughter of the Canyon pack’s white alpha female and 712M and is the granddaughter of famous Hayden Valley pack alphas 540F and 541M. Although not quite as white as her mother or grandmother, 755M’s new mate is a very light blonde color, which, luckily for watchers, really stands out at a distance.
She is a good mother to her four pups and spends a lot of time protecting and providing for them, never an easy task. One day, she even took on a grizzly that had wandered too close to the rendezvous for comfort. It was amazing to see how she intentionally lured the bear, wagging her tail and even play bowing to entice him away.
On another day she gave chase to a whitetail deer doe. The doe raised her white flag high and soared away with incredible leaps and bounds as they both disappeared into the forest.
Long-time Canyon pack alphas 712M and his white female (both now 10 years old) have apparently left Hayden Valley and relocated elsewhere. Occasional sightings have been reported anywhere from Norris south to Old Faithful. Although the pair bred in February, it is not known whether they have pups this year.
Would be wolf watchers can travel north to the Lamar Valley in hopes of seeing the reconstituted Lamar Canyon pack. After the disastrous loss of alpha 925M (who was killed by other wolves in March), no one knew what would become of pregnant alpha 926F, the pups she was carrying (sired by 925M), and her six yearlings.
Unbelievably, four males from the Prospect Peak pack (the very pack that killed 925M) moved in with 926F and are now helping to raise her pups in the Lamar Canyon pack’s traditional den forest in the Lamar Valley (the same den forest formerly used by generations of Druid Peak pack wolves).
The four former Prospect Peak pack males include graying-black new Lamar Canyon alpha “Twin” (so-called because he looks similar to Prospect Peak alpha male 763M), black “Mottled,” “Dark Black,” and gray 965M.
After the new males joined the pack, all six of 926F’s and 925M’s 2014 pups (now yearlings) left the Lamar Canyon pack. Eventually, two black female yearlings did rejoin the main pack, but the others have not returned. However, an unidentified gray has been seen occasionally in the area, and there is a chance it could be the Lamar Canyon gray male yearling, the only gray in last year’s litter.
Sightings of the Lamar Canyon pack members have been random as they venture out to hunt. We had a good look at them one morning when they were going back and forth to a carcass in the Lamar River, sometimes carrying chunks of meat back to the den forest, a good indicator that pups do exist.
One evening, three blacks chased a pronghorn (almost always a fruitless endeavor) and then killed a river otter in Soda Butte Creek. Alpha 926F took the otter carcass into a nearby forest and must have cached it there. She was seen a week later hauling it up to the den forest for her pups.
A couple of the four former Prospect Peak males are especially reluctant to cross the road and often get separated from the rest, which results in a lot of forlorn howling. At times, a group howl may also arise from the den forest, occasionally including little puppy voices, so hopes are high that the pups will soon make an appearance.
One night in Lamar Valley we did have what I would call a “just like the good old days” wolf watching experience. As all seven Lamar Canyon adults headed west on the north side of the valley, four Junction Butte pack wolves materialized amidst a bison herd on Amethyst Bench and headed east on the south side of the Lamar River.
We held our breaths as the two packs proceeded in opposite directions on opposite sides of the valley, but neither pack seemed to detect the other. Tension ran high among the watchers because the Junction Buttes were traveling east toward the Lamar Canyon’s pups in their unguarded den forest, but both packs went out of view without a problem.
The Junction Butte’s six adults include new alphas black 970F and gray 911M, black former alpha 890M, two gray 2-year-old females 907F and 969F, and one gray female yearling. She is the last known survivor of the pack’s five 2014 pups.
No new Junction Butte pups have been seen yet, but we’re hoping they make an appearance soon. In 2013 and 2014 they magically materialized at Slough Creek on exactly the same date, August 1. However, a different alpha female (870F, who died this spring) was in charge then, so it’s hard to predict if we’ll get lucky again.
The Prospect Peak pack is another one that may come to the rescue for late summer wolf watching. A year ago, we were already watching the Prospect Peak pack pups on the Blacktail Plateau, but the pack has proved to be more elusive this year.
This pack, now in its second year, still has the same alphas, 7-year-old 763M and 6-year-old 821F. The other members include an adult black female and six yearlings.
Three of those yearlings (one black female, two gray females) were born into the Prospect Peak pack. The other three yearlings (gray 964M, gray 966M, and a black male) dispersed from the 8 Mile pack last fall when their father, alpha 871M, was killed by other wolves.
To sum up, the most likely packs for late summer wolf watching include the Wapiti Lakes in Hayden Valley, the Lamar Canyons in Lamar and Soda Butte Valleys, the Prospect Peaks on the Blacktail Plateau, and the Junction Buttes in the Little America/Slough Creek area.
If wolves are hard to find, visitors can always enjoy Yellowstone’s other wild delights. Wildflowers, which bloomed 2-3 weeks early this year due to heat and dryness, can still be found on a drive over Dunraven Pass or a hike up Mount Washburn.
Beautiful Trout Lake is always a great destination for a short hike. But, unfortunately, no otters live there this year, and the trout run up the inlet stream is probably mostly over by now.
Bighorn sheep are often seen in the area around the Yellowstone Picnic area near the Yellowstone River bridge. A drive out the Northeast Entrance might turn up a moose at Round Prairie or mountain goats on Barronette Peak or in the Beartooths.
Bear watchers can often find black bears in the Tower Junction area. Many grizzlies have already headed for the high meadows, although famous 25-year-old grizzly “Scarface” is not shy about putting on a good show.
Whether or not you find wolves to watch, one thing’s for sure—there’s always something wonderful waiting for you in Wonderland!
YELLOWSTONE WOLF UPDATE: APRIL 2015
by Kathie Lynch, Copyright 2015
“Change is the law of life,” John F. Kennedy once said, and that certainly applies to the lives of wolves in the wild. As always, the February breeding season and the following weeks brought excitement, danger, and consequences to the wolves of Yellowstone’s Northern Range.
The biggest shock had to be the loss of Lamar Canyon alpha 925M, who was killed by the Prospect Peak pack. Sadly, the Lamar Canyon pack’s path crossed that of the Prospects at Slough Creek, where 925M was attacked and fatally injured. He died a hero, trying to lure the attackers away from the rest of his pack.
What a blow this was to the Lamar Canyon pack. Trusty 925M (“Big Gray”), with his quiet presence and charmingly askew right ear, had become a huge favorite of wolf watchers since he arrived on the scene (probably from Wyoming) two years ago to become alpha male and adoptive dad to Lamar Canyon “Middle Gray’s” two black pups.
After “Middle Gray” disappeared, 925M resurfaced last year as the alpha male to “Middle Gray’s” younger sister, 926F (also a daughter of the late, great “’06 Female”). Bucking the odds, 925M and 926F successfully raised six pups, a truly amazing accomplishment without an extended family to help protect and provide for them.
My favorite memory of 925M was from last summer when he was bedded in the pack’s Soda Butte Valley rendezvous, regally surveying all six of his pups as they whirled around him. One pup, the only one who was gray like his dad, stopped playing and went over to give 925M a shy face lick. The pup sat quietly right next to him, as if he knew that if he wanted to share some quality time with dad, he had to be like him, strong and silent.
After 925M’s death, the pack spent a few days in shock and then faced the reality of finding a way for his alpha female, 926F (and 925M’s pups that she is possibly carrying), to survive. With only six unskilled almost-yearlings to provide for the next generation, reinforcements would be needed, and they would be needed soon.
No one could have predicted that 926F would take up with some of the very same Prospect Peak wolves who had killed her mate. But, the urge to survive and pass on those alpha genes is strong, so that is exactly what she did.
About two weeks after 925M’s death, 926F started hanging out with four Prospect Peak males: black “Twin” (who looks very similar to Prospect Peak alpha 763M); handsome 120-pound gray 965M; patchy black-and-brown “Mottled”; and “Dark Black.”
“Twin” seems to be number one in line for the next Lamar Canyon alpha male position, followed by “Mottled.” “Dark Black” pretty much stays out of the way in any kind of dominance dispute. The big guy, 965M, found out that he wasn’t the top dog. He has already returned to the main Prospect Peak pack where he may assume the beta male role.
When the Prospect Peak males joined Lamar Canyon alpha 926F, last year’s pups probably weren’t too sure about what was happening. They may have been frightened by the newcomers, and, amid the turmoil, the pups rather quickly disappeared.
Not knowing where they had gone, we worried for their safety. It seemed like 926F wanted to find her family, but she also knew that she needed to get more help to provide for the new pups on the way and to secure the future of her pack. Little did we know that those six elusive pups would later play an important role in an interaction with the Mollies!
Until things settle down, this new group of adults is being referred to as 926F’s Group. They have already had some adventures together, including killing a badger! The males wisely let 926F eat the whole thing after they were greeted with a lip curl and a snap when they ventured near 926F and her prize.
The Prospect Peak pack, too, has been in a state of flux. Since last fall when the Cougar Creek pack killed Eight Mile pack alpha 871M, some wolves have joined the Prospects from other packs (Eight Mile and perhaps Cougar Creek and/or others), and three big males have left the Prospects to join 926F.
The main Prospect Peak pack usually numbers eight (3 blacks, 5 grays), including black alpha 763M and gray alpha 821F, gray 965M, and five 2014 pups (3 grays—including 964M and 966M—and 2 blacks). Some of those pups were probably born into the Prospect Peak pack and some may have come from the Eight Mile pack.
The Prospect Peak pack, in whole or in part, travels far and wide. They have ranged from their home territory on the Blacktail Plateau all the way east to Slough Creek and the Lamar Valley.
It was a real circus in January and February as the Prospect Peak males were busy courting the few breedable females in the Northern Range (Junction Buttes 969F, 907F, and alpha 970F; Lamar Canyon alpha 926F; Prospect Peak alpha 821F).
While Prospect Peak alpha 763M took care of his own alpha, 821F, the rest was a whirl. Prospect Peak 965M was interested in Lamar Canyon alpha 926F, but she bred with her own alpha 925M.
Prospect Peak “Twin” made many attempts on Junction Butte 969F, but no tie was observed. However, he did eventually tie with Junction Butte alpha 970F—who also tied with her own alpha 911M and Junction Butte former alpha 890M!
The current Junction Butte pack has seven wolves (3 blacks, 4 grays), including gray alpha 911M and black alpha 970F, black beta 890M, gray yearlings 907F and 969F, and two 2014 pups (black 968F and a gray female).
The Junction Butte pack has really been in an uproar all winter. Once happily at home in the Slough Creek/Mum’s Ridge area, they have been squeezed on all sides by neighboring packs—Lamar Canyon from the east, Prospect Peak from the west, and even the Mollies pack from the south. Every time a rival pack comes near, the Junction Buttes retreat to the south over the top of Specimen Ridge and aren’t seen for days.
The trouble really came to a head this winter when 911M and 970F deposed 890M and 870F as Junction Butte alphas. While 890M was allowed to rejoin the pack as beta male, trouble had been brewing for a long time between sisters 870F and 970F (both originally Mollies).
New Junction Butte alpha 970F forced former alpha 870F out of the pack. Unable to hunt due to previous injuries, 870F, who had survived so much adversity, had to resort to scavenging on old carcasses and eventually died—alone, as she had lived much of her life.
Eight seventy was an amazing wolf. In 2012, she traveled north with other members of the Mollies pack to help found the Junction Butte pack. She served as alpha female until she injured her neck during breeding with then alpha “Puff.”
Unable to keep up with the pack, she lost the alpha position and spent much of 2013 alone, suffering from the neck injury and mange too. After she recovered, she did rejoin the pack and regain her alpha status. She had five pups last year with then Junction Butte alpha 890M. Two of those pups currently survive to carry on the legacy of incredibly brave and persevering 870F.
Her former alpha, 890M, another resourceful survivor, always finds a way to fit in and ensure that his genes will be passed on. In addition to the two surviving pups he sired in 2014 as Junction Butte alpha, this year (as Junction Butte beta) he bred with all three eligible Junction Butte females, including alpha 970F (!) and yearlings 969F and 907F (both sired by “Puff” and therefore not 890M’s offspring).
Originally named the Crystal Creek pack, the Mollies are the only pack to trace back to the 1995 reintroduction, and their influence only seems to grow with time. While they live most of the year to the south in Yellowstone’s Pelican Valley, their occasional forays to the Northern Range always have a big impact.
Current Mollies alpha 779F has resurrected the pack by producing pups in 2013 and 2014. The pack now has 12 members (9 blacks, 3 grays), including black 779F, gray alpha 980M, four yearlings (3 blacks and gray 978F) and six 2014 pups (5 blacks, including 979M, and one gray female).
Things are always sure to get interesting (and dangerous) when the Mollies come to the Northern Range. On a recent four day visit to Lamar Valley, they magically appeared bedded on the slopes near Amethyst Creek; chased all seven Junction Buttes over the top of Specimen Ridge; lounged near a carcass above Jasper Bench; and advanced to the east toward Lamar Canyon 926F’s Group!
Mollies alpha 779F has been in the Lamar Canyon den forest area before, so we watched nervously as 12 howling Mollies headed east on the Ledge Trail above the Confluence. Howling right back from the flanks of Mt. Norris, Lamar Canyon alpha 926F and the three black Prospect Peak males (“Twin,” “Mottled,” and “Dark Black”) started running directly toward the Mollies. Four against 12—it did not look good!
Just as we feared a headlong rush would bring the two groups into conflict, more (many more!) voices rose up behind 926F’s Group and joined in the howl-a-thon. The six missing Lamar Canyon almost-yearling pups were out there somewhere!
We hadn’t seen them for days (and we still didn’t see them), but the now 10-voice choir was enough to convince the Mollies to retreat. Disaster averted! I am convinced that those six young Lamar Canyons saved the day for their pack and maybe for the future of wolves in Lamar Valley.
The intrepid Canyon pack still has its famous long-time alpha pair, black 712M and his beautiful white female. Although they will both soon be 10 years old and had no pups last year, they were observed breeding in February, so maybe there will be pups this year! That would be great news for summer wolf watchers to the south in the Hayden Valley.
Still more wonderful news is that former Lamar Canyon alpha 755M (mate of the late “’06 Female”) was seen breeding with the creamy-white Canyon female he has been romancing since last summer! Hopefully, like her parents and grandparents (famous Hayden Valley pack alphas 540F and 541M), they too will den in the Hayden Valley.
Stories like these run through the tapestry of Yellowstone’s wolves. One has only to reflect upon their inspiring lives—the resilience of 926F, the brave legacies of the late 925M and 870F, the adaptability of 890M, and the continuing saga of 755M—to fully appreciate John F. Kennedy’s words. Change is, indeed, the law of life, especially in the wild.