Yellowstone wolf watching update. End of summer. Sloughs and Agate Creek wolves kept the show going.

August 27, 2006

By Kathie Lynch

Kathy Lynch, who has written so many fine wolf reports over the summer, has gone back to teach biology in California, but she left us with one good update of wolf watching on the northern range in August. . . . Ralph Maughan

Hints of fall were already in the air in Yellowstone as we donned our down parkas, wool hats and gloves many August mornings and looked out upon yellowing grasses, grunting bison in the rut, clacking sandhill cranes and pink fireweed blooming to the tip-top of tall stems--a sure sign that summer was almost over!

The coming of August and the end of summer usually presents the most challenging wolf watching of the entire year, but we were lucky and had wolves to watch every day. Most of the thanks went to the trusty Agate Creek pack, but, surprisingly, the Slough Creek pack was often visible too.

The seven adult Agates gave us a scare when they departed their rendezvous site on Antelope Creek for over a week, leaving two of their six pups behind. Having witnessed the happy ending for the lone Druid pup's ordeal at Round Prairie in July, we were fairly confident that the pack would return for them. However, after a visit from their mother (Agate alpha 472F) one day and another day-long visit from dear old dad (Agate alpha 113M), the four-month old pups evidently remained alone at the site for another entire week.

The gray female pup and black male pup put on a daily show for the many observers on Dunraven Pass Road as they practiced pouncing on "prey" (perhaps crickets, frogs or voles?), played in the mud wallow and the creek and wandered around Antelope Valley, often remaining in plain sight the entire day.

The two even had a couple of exciting adventures!

One evening, a griz gave brief chase to the black pup. Another time, the black pup chased a young white tail deer buck--it made a beautiful picture as it bounded gracefully away over the autumn-colored grasses and soft green sage in the early morning light. And, one morning, a herd of almost 50 elk, including seven bulls, filled the valley floor. The two pups thought about chasing them, but the herd moved off and all the pups could do was follow and howl.

Finally, exactly a week after his last visit, 113M and all the rest of the pack returned to the pups and the endezvous--another story with a happy ending! Having watched the Agates almost every day all summer, it was a wonderful treat to get to know the individuals and an incredible privilege to have the opportunity to watch a wolf pack raise its family in the wild--truly an only in Yellowstone experience!

The Slough Creek pack deserves special mention too for reassembling and resurfacing after being besieged by the Unknown Group in April. Of the 12 Slough pack members before the siege, two were killed by the Unknowns (the beautiful and courageous beta male, 377M, and the dependable third ranking male, 489M) and two have not reappeared (the male "Slight Right" and 489M's old companion, "The Gray Female"). That leaves alpha male 490M with seven girls! The mostly black pack of eight now consists of alphas 490M and 380F, plus 526F, 527F, three black yearlings, plus the one gray uncollared, and so referred to as "Sharp Right."

The Sloughs have been busy reclaiming their old territory and have been seen all the way from the old Druid rendezvous site in Lamar Valley and west to Little America. They spend a lot of time mostly out of sight up on Jasper Bench at their old rendezvous site and in the diagonal forest near their Slough Creek den site.

It will be interesting to see what happens this winter when the Sloughs and Druids may converge in Lamar Valley and Little America. Will the reborn Druids (4 adults and 11 pups--yes, all 11 are still surviving!) be able to take back Lamar from the reformed Sloughs (8 adults and no pups)? Will the Unknown Group (perhaps still 12 adults and no pups) reappear?

The last time any of the Unknowns were seen was June 23 after the four adult Druids attacked four of the Unknowns on June 17.)

Will the Agates (7 adults and 6 pups) make their traditional winter forays into Little America? One thing is for sure--the Yellowstone wolves continue to provide plenty of opportunities for scientists and park visitors alike to learn about wolves and enjoy the incredible opportunity and thrill of seeing and hearing wolves in the wild. If I had to pick my most memorable wolf watching moment of the summer, it would have to be the beautifully haunting sight and sound of venerable nine year old Agate alpha 113M howling as a full moon rose behind him. It just doesn't get any better than that!

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