The wolves on the Northern Range are now denning, or have denned, and likely some litters of pups are already born.
Complicating the picture has been the arrival of a new wolf pack on April 3 or 4. This new pack of 12 wolves—6 adults and 6 pups—has no functioning radio collars, and the fact that it has 6 pups (just turning into "yearlings") shows it is not of the Northern Range where the most pups that survived in any pack last year were three (Slough Creek).
On Tuesday, April 4, the Sloughs were mostly at their den of last year. They have a total 7 holes or entrances observed according to Dr. Doug Smith. I was able to spot 4 of them. One of the three surviving pups from 2005 went into one of them and took a nap. The dens are, of course, easily visible through spotting scopes from the highway and Dave's Hill.
The new pack suddenly showed up on April 4 on the other side of Slough Creek, and a long howling bout between the packs followed. As a result, the next day, both packs had disappeared (although the Sloughs were later found to the west on Mom's Ridge and the front of the Buffalo Plateau). This made folks wonder if the Sloughs had abandoned their dens because their pregnant alpha female 380F was with them, her radio collar loud and clear (not muffled as it would be from inside a den). Last year she denned on April 3. Finally as of Saturday, April 8, the pack returned to the den area, but 380F was still not denned.
On April 5 the new, "unknown" pack had disappeared, but it was seen again on Friday, April 7, lying in the snow on a low bench on Specimen Ridge. I saw 8 of them, although in total, eleven were counted by persistent observer Kathie Lynch.
The new pack is very interesting because not only does it have six pup/yearlings, two of them are light gray (folks call them "white"). The apparent alpha male is a gray wolf with what appears to be a non-functioning collar. None of the rest have collars. Most of the pack is black, except for the "white" yearlings, but several of the black wolves have white streaks or markings. One, and maybe two of the females looked pregnant.
On Saturday, April 8, Rick McIntyre told me by phone the unknown pack had disappeared again. Did they den?
Speculation was that the unknown pack is the current incarnation of the Rose Creek Pack, which disappeared from view, going deep into the Absaroka/Beartooth Wilderness just north of the Park several years ago. As of 2 years ago, radio telemetry showed Rose Creek was clearly still in existence, but their composition or size unknown. Other speculation was that the unknown pack was the Yellowstone Delta Pack, which has apparently split. A number of that pack has been east! of the Park this winter. They have always been a pack that chews collars, making almost impossible to retain collars on any but the alphas (apparently low ranking wolves don't chew on an alpha's neck). Perhaps too, it is the "new" pack that appeared in Round Prairie two years ago and disappeared. Story from 2004.
At any rate, if they remain, they will be a problem for the Sloughs and Druids.
The Druids have not been seen much lately, but luckily on April 3 I ran into Jack Bean who had located them about a half mile from the road, sitting in the snow not far from the Lamar River. We were near the confluence of Soda Butte and Lamar. They were just west of the Lamar River. They were sitting, but appeared very alert to me. Bean told me that later they took off after an unidentified black wolf, and chased it into the woods. I don't know if the new Druid alpha female (529F) is pregnant.
On April 7, two of the seven member Hellroaring group (soon to be a pack) were visible from Hellroaring Overlook. We saw a black wolf and big beautiful gray wolf chasing elk. The alpha female's signal was muffled, indicating she was in one of the two (located) dens on slopes near Hellroaring Mountain-- the "stick den" and the "rock tree" den (the later is my name).
Photo of the general location of the dens (actual holes are too distant to be seen in photos).
Hellroaring Slopes early April 2006. The rock-tree den is near the left side of the
photo 2/3 up. The "stick" den on the right half way up. Photo by Ralph Maughan.
These dens are under almost constant observation (by powerful scope) by many people,
so I feel it safe to post the photos.
The Leopold Pack may have denned, but it is not known. There have spent a lot of time north of the road this early spring, but I was told they recently crossed back to the south side (in the grizzly bear closure area) of the Blacktail Deer Plateau. I spent several hours wandering through the sagebrush north of the road, looking for them (and grizzlies!) on April 7, but no luck.
A number of grizzlies were visible during last week. I saw one by scope upstream from the Slough Pack in Slough Creek and another with a huge hump near Mom's Ridge. Ravens harassed this bear until it finally laid on its food. I just missed a griz that had been on a carcass at the west end of Specimen Ridge.
A lot of small weak-looking bison calves from last year were around. Wolves have eaten bison more than usual this winter. Elk seemed plentiful, although it has been a starvation winter due to snow conditions in the Park. Bad flying conditions prevented an elk count this winter. This will be an unfortunate gap in the data.
Apparently the concrete-like snow did not form for long at lower elevations (outside the Park). One of the defects of the Park boundaries is the lack of consistently good winter range. Elk, mule deer, and a surprising number of pronghorn were spread out north of the Park all the way to Paradise Valley (mule deer to Livingston). Bison, of course, are harassed, captured or killed when they venture outside the Park. The snow is melting now and is no longer a problem on the Northern Range. Snow depth to the south, however, was (is) amazingly deep this Spring.
Update April 11. The "unknown pack" (ten of them) was seen on April 10 near the Soda Butte/Lamar River Confluence proceeding east.
Update April 13. Big Slough Creek male 489M has been killed by other wolves, mostly like the new "unknown" pack. Last Saturday, Park Service personnel retrieved the Slough Creek wolf, who is often by himself and one or two other wolves, in the second meadow of Slough Creek. Doug Smith said they had not recorded the presence of any non-Slough wolves in that area for over a year, so the likely suspects are the new pack who mostly likely entered the Park from the north. Smith speculated that the new pack is most likely a wilderness pack from north of the Park who found the snow too deep to dig a den this spring, and moved south seeking warmer country.
According to radio collaring data from 2005, when collared 489M weighed 126 pounds.
In other news there is some evidence the Swan Lake Pack could regenerate. The remaining Swan Lake wolf, 295M has been in the company of an uncollared gray female this spring in the Swan Lake Flat area.