Slough Creek Pack has four dens.
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 SloughCreek pack females have pups (probably born April 3 or a few days later), andtheir dens are easily visible from the Slough Creek parking lot, Dave's Hill andthe campground road. What an incredible treat to just stay in one place andwatch four holes in the hillside across Slough Creek for hours--it was likehaving a secret window into their lives as the whole pack of 15 helped tend thenext generation. The four females popped into and out of the dens, dailyhunting parties came and went, and the curious yearlings couldn't resist peakinginto the holes. It will be an amazing scene when the pups soon start comingout to play!We spent a lot of time trying to identify the four mother wolves, whoare all uncollared. The two easiest to identify are the Alpha female (blackwith a gray face and very small) and the Beta female (the only gray among thefour mother wolves). The two blacks include 380F (larger gray patch on each hipand no longer collared because her GPS collar from last year has now blownoff) and "The Striped Female" (long, wide white stripe along her back...I stilllike our original designation for her, "Not 380"!)The big news was that, at least some of the time, all four Sloughmothers used the same den! It was a continual challenge for our small group ofwatchers to try to verify which female was coming out of or going into each of thefour den sites: "Left," "Middle," "Right," and "New"--which is actually rightof "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 wonderedwhere the gray female went when she carried a pup to the right of the right denand then returned without it. We thought that perhaps she had taken a dead pupto bury it, so it was a relief when Rick discovered the fresh dirt dug out ofthe new site, as he scanned the hillside from a different perspective.But, the most exciting and amazing event was seeing the females carryingpups between dens!!! What a thrill to see the mother wolves carefullyapproach a den and emerge carrying a little (10-14 day old) black bundle. Over afour day period, various watchers observed about 11 carries (all black pupsexcept for one brownish gray), but who knows whether some of those were repeatsand what went on when we weren't looking.The Slough pups had many visitors, including a grizzly who wanderedbelow the den sites and an antlerless bull moose who approached and interactedwith five wolves, mostly yearlings. The moose lowered his head, laid back hisears and discouraged them with menacing advances. On another occasion, eightbighorn sheep rams moved across the hillside above the dens, and one of themother wolves ran out to scatter them. I also heard that a bull elk stuck hisnose into one of the dens--lucky he didn't have a wolf attached when he pulled itout!The Druid Peak pack had not been seen since early April, so we were allexcited when Rick got strong radio signals from Alpha 480M and Beta 302M nearSoda Butte Cone on the morning of April 18. That afternoon as I stood onConfluence East, scanning east though my scope from the Druid's traditionalrendezvous site, I came upon a very nervous elk standing in the LamarRiver--certainly a tip off that wolves lurked nearby! Scanning farther east, I saw ravensand a golden eagle on a carcass, and soon the two big, black Druid malesmaterialized! 480M seemed to be going to greet other wolves, perhaps the black andgray yearlings, but just then a snowstorm settled in. After three hours ofwaiting in a whiteout for another glimpse, we discovered that their signals weregone! Perhaps they had returned up the Lamar River toward Cache Creek tofeed 286F and/or 255F, who, hopefully, have denned (out of sight and wisely notin their traditional den site, which would have been hard for just six Druidsto defend against the mighty Sloughs.)On the afternoon of April 13, I watched six of the seven Agates Creekpack members for two hours in Little America near the Straightaway. Although hehad been fine when last seen a couple of weeks previously, Alpha 113M waslimping badly on his right front leg. He hopped a ways, rested often, and thenbedded. The other five Agates came in to feed on an elk carcass, which wasvery 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 SpecimenRidge, south of Slough & east of Crystal Creek. We couldn't locate them, butwouldn't it be great if U Black has again denned within view of the road, asshe 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 safetyof the car for at least an hour as he traveled east along the Lamar River bankfrom Cottonwood Picnic to the confluence with Soda Butte Creek. One to threegrizzlies made an almost daily appearance at Round Prairie to visit a bisoncarcass, and one may have been Thumper (if his yellow collar has faded, as somesay it has). And, I watched a black bear sow and cub poking around rightnext to the road at Junction Butte; the cub was so cute--every time a car wentby, he shimmied up a tree--like a good little bear doing just what his motherhad told him to!Other wildlife watching proved excellent too. Bison roamed everywherethroughout 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 reddog" with dried umbilical cord still hanging, tottering close to his mother. Agreat horned owl sits on a nest in Lamar Canyon, flights of mountainbluebirds rise up from the soft green sage like sparkling sapphires, and a blue grousetreated me to a courtship display as he inflated his reddish-purple neck sacsand boomed! The Uinta ground squirrels are up and scurrying across the road(some successfully), small bands of pronghorn streak across the open flats ofLamar and Little America, and I saw five bighorn sheep rams grazing right nextto the road at Wrecker's at dusk. I couldn't find the beaver at theconfluence or the otters in the Lamar River or up at Trout Lake, which is still icecovered. (Warning: Take bear spray! I saw a big bear track in the mud betweenTrout and Buck Lakes!)
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