Slough Creek Pack has four dens.

4-24-2005


I was astonished last week to see a wolf sitting in the mouth of her den. That's something I thought I'd never see, but a lot of people will be seeing it because the Slough Creek Pack has denned in full view. You can see the den from the far (east) end of Little America. Their dens can be seen from Dave's Hill (near the Slough Cr. outhouse), the Slough Creek Parking lot, and the road to the Slough Creek Campground.

The dens seem safe because they are not close to the road, and it is blocked by the meltwater swollen Lamar River and Slough Creek.

There appear to be four litters of pups. A high survival rate could make the Sloughs the next "superpack," like the Druids were back when there were 38 of them.

Data presented at the recent North American wolf conference indicated, however, that the survival rate of multiple litter pups is much lower than single litters. The end result is usually few to no more pups than the typical single litter. Because the Sloughs are such a vigorous pack, their multiple litter survival rate might beat the odds.

Biology teacher Kathie Lynch is a very dedicated, enthusiastic, and detailed wolf observer. Her recent notes follow below. They are of recent observations of the Sloughs, Druids, and other wolves, plus other Park wildlife on the northern range. I want to thank her for providing them.

 

YNP Field Notes:
     Wolf watching in Yellowstone (4/10-18/05) was fantastic!  Four Slough
Creek pack females have pups (probably born April 3 or a few days later), and
their dens are easily visible from the Slough Creek parking lot, Dave's Hill and
the campground road.  What an incredible treat to just stay in one place and
watch four holes in the hillside across Slough Creek for hours--it was like
having a secret window into their lives as the whole pack of 15 helped tend the
next generation.  The four females popped into and out of the dens, daily
hunting parties came and went, and the curious yearlings couldn't resist peaking
into the holes.  It will be an amazing scene when the pups soon start coming
out to play! 
     We spent a lot of time trying to identify the four mother wolves, who
are all uncollared.  The two easiest to identify are the Alpha female (black
with a gray face and very small) and the Beta female (the only gray among the
four mother wolves).  The two blacks include 380F (larger gray patch on each hip
and no longer collared because her GPS collar from last year has now blown
off) and "The Striped Female" (long, wide white stripe along her back...I still
like our original designation for her, "Not 380"!)
     The big news was that, at least some of the time, all four Slough
mothers used the same den!  It was a continual challenge for our small group of
watchers to try to verify which female was coming out of or going into each of the
four den sites: "Left," "Middle," "Right," and "New"--which is actually right
of "Right"! (The sites may be renumbered 1, 2, 3, and 4 to avoid confusion.) 
At first we only knew about the left, middle and right sites and wondered
where the gray female went when she carried a pup to the right of the right den
and then returned without it.  We thought that perhaps she had taken a dead pup
to bury it, so it was a relief when Rick discovered the fresh dirt dug out of
the new site, as he scanned the hillside from a different perspective. 
     But, the most exciting and amazing event was seeing the females carrying
pups between dens!!!  What a thrill to see the mother wolves carefully
approach a den and emerge carrying a little (10-14 day old) black bundle.  Over a
four day period, various watchers observed about 11 carries (all black pups
except for one brownish gray), but who knows whether some of those were repeats
and what went on when we weren't looking.    
     The Slough pups had many visitors, including a grizzly who wandered
below the den sites and an antlerless bull moose who approached and interacted
with five wolves, mostly yearlings.  The moose lowered his head, laid back his
ears and discouraged them with menacing advances.  On another occasion, eight
bighorn sheep rams moved across the hillside above the dens, and one of the
mother wolves ran out to scatter them.  I also heard that a bull elk stuck his
nose into one of the dens--lucky he didn't have a wolf attached when he pulled it
out! 
     The Druid Peak pack had not been seen since early April, so we were all
excited when Rick got strong radio signals from Alpha 480M and Beta 302M near
Soda Butte Cone on the morning of April 18.  That afternoon as I stood on
Confluence East, scanning east though my scope from the Druid's traditional
rendezvous site, I came upon a very nervous elk standing in the Lamar
River--certainly a tip off that wolves lurked nearby!  Scanning farther east, I saw ravens
and a golden eagle on a carcass, and soon the two big, black Druid males
materialized!  480M seemed to be going to greet other wolves, perhaps the black and
gray yearlings, but just then a snowstorm settled in.  After three hours of
waiting in a whiteout for another glimpse, we discovered that their signals were
gone!  Perhaps they had returned up the Lamar River toward Cache Creek to
feed 286F and/or 255F, who, hopefully, have denned (out of sight and wisely not
in their traditional den site, which would have been hard for just six Druids
to defend against the mighty Sloughs.)   
     On the afternoon of April 13, I watched six of the seven Agates Creek
pack members for two hours in Little America near the Straightaway.  Although he
had been fine when last seen a couple of weeks previously, Alpha 113M was
limping badly on his right front leg.  He hopped a ways, rested often, and then
bedded.  The other five Agates came in to feed on an elk carcass, which was
very near the road.  The Agate alpha female has denned and was not seen.
     There was no verified sign of U Black's small Specimen Ridge pack,
except that a family hiking saw a black and a gray halfway up the side of Specimen
Ridge, south of Slough & east of Crystal Creek.  We couldn't locate them, but
wouldn't it be great if U Black has again denned within view of the road, as
she did last year? 
     And now for the bear report: I saw several Grizzlies, including a big
(aren't they all?!) swaybacked one with a huge rump.  I watched from the safety
of the car for at least an hour as he traveled east along the Lamar River bank
from Cottonwood Picnic to the confluence with Soda Butte Creek.  One to three
grizzlies made an almost daily appearance at Round Prairie to visit a bison
carcass, and one may have been Thumper (if his yellow collar has faded, as some
say it has).  And, I watched a black bear sow and cub poking around right
next to the road at Junction Butte; the cub was so cute--every time a car went
by, he shimmied up a tree--like a good little bear doing just what his mother
had told him to! 
     Other wildlife watching proved excellent too.  Bison roamed everywhere
throughout Little America and the Lamar, nibbling on the inch-long new grass. 
I even got to see one of the first bison calves of the year--a cute "big red
dog" with dried umbilical cord still hanging, tottering close to his mother.  A
great horned owl sits on a nest in Lamar Canyon, flights of mountain
bluebirds rise up from the soft green sage like sparkling sapphires, and a blue grouse
treated me to a courtship display as he inflated his reddish-purple neck sacs
and boomed!  The Uinta ground squirrels are up and scurrying across the road
(some successfully), small bands of pronghorn streak across the open flats of
Lamar and Little America, and I saw five bighorn sheep rams grazing right next
to the road at Wrecker's at dusk.  I couldn't find the beaver at the
confluence or the otters in the Lamar River or up at Trout Lake, which is still ice
covered.  (Warning: Take bear spray!  I saw a big bear track in the mud between
Trout and Buck Lakes!) 

 



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