This trip is part of my month-long summer stay in Bozeman, which I am only able to do because of my wonderful staff at work. They are so competent and generous that I can leave the day to day business up to them, while I monitor from 2000 miles away.
I have had almost two weeks to myself here in my Western home. I've had my neighbors over and I've been able to explore Bozeman a bit more, and I'm enjoying it more than ever. I got new bedroom furniture, a set I have been eyeing for years, so it's very satisfying to finally have it in place. And thanks to my neighbor, Barb, I now know two handymen who can help me get things done that I can't do myself.
Since my April visit, the overall population of wolves in Yellowstone has continued to drop. This is normal and expected, ever since the population peaked in 2004. Despite the mostly natural deaths, there has also been a good deal of additional life. Pups have been born to several of the packs that I follow.
Two new pups, both gray, have been seen with the Canyon Pack in Hayden Valley. That pack has denned in its traditional spot and have been seen regularly by visitors from Grizzly Overlook in the last two months.
For the well-known Lamar Pack, despite the worrisome den-area visit by the rival Mollie Pack that I witnessed in April, the great alpha female we call The 06 (832F) did NOT move her pups - she kept them in the same general area as last year, which was the traditional den area of the former Druid Peak Pack. It is believed that she had four pups this year; two black and two gray. Her pack of 9 has localized in this area since mid-April, making frequent hunting forays to the east and south.
Pups are usually expected to begin venturing into view from the pullouts by about the 4th of July, but this year has been different. Anxious regulars have had only the briefest of glimpses of the wee ones; they have remained deep in the protective forest of the den area. Perhaps Mama is keeping them closer to home this year, knowing there are still Mollie wolves roaming the Lamar at times?
Speaking of the Mollies, this pack has undergone many changes: they no longer travel as a pack of 19 (which is good news for the Lamars). More on them later.
The Blacktail Pack did NOT produce pups this year. People are beginning to wonder if there may be a fertility problem with one or both of the alphas (Big Brown 778M or his mate, 693F). This pair is closely bonded and still travel together but many pack members have dispursed. 729F, a female called Cut Tail and a gray male called Huge may be the only remaining pack members. This pack is not seen frequently so it's hard to keep track of its usual members, and when there are not pups to raise, younger pack members tend to drift away.
We know the fates of some of the dispersing Blacktail males. 777M and Puff followed their charismatic relative, Big Blaze (838M), and formed an alliance with several Mollie females. They now hunt and travel in a loosely-structured group, called at first 838's Group (Feb through May). In June, however, 838M was killed by some of the less-friendly Mollie wolves, so they are now called 777's Group. The only collared Mollie in this group is 823F.
Various other Mollie wolves are still around, (including collared wolves 686F, 758M, 759F, 824M and 822F) sometimes seen in the Pelican Valley and sometimes on Specimen Ridge, as well as Lamar Valley and Little America. The most mysterious news, however, is that pups of the year were seen by the wolf plane crew in the Antelope drainage on Specimen - with collared Mollie wolves nearby, indicating their kinship. It is not known who the parents of these pups are, but in June, some pups were seen in Little America with 777's Group.
P.S. I am not a wolf or wildlife expert, but an enthusiast and advocate, and if you find anything in this report to be wrong or misleading, feel free to bring it to my attention by e-mailing me at "firstname.lastname@example.org"