I had to miss my usual Christmas trip this year due to a combination of factors, some economic, some personal, so I planned this January trip to sort of make up for it. I sure did miss hanging out with Chloe and Becky and the extra long wait made me extra eager to get to the Park, too!
Flying was much easier in January and I was grateful to be spared any weather trouble. I spent several days in Bozeman taking care of domestic matters and cleaning chores. However, I was delighted to be invited to be the dinner guest of Jane and Ballpark Frank, at Jane's lovely hilltop home, one exit east of Trail Creek road. I met Jane's mom and one of her daughters, her six dogs and two horses, and was treated to great conversation and a delightful meal. Thanks, Jane!
Of course, this trip was way too short, but I am so grateful I get to go as often as I do!
Before I get to the wolf news, I want to recommend a website set up by some friends of mine: www.yellowstonereports.com .
It is hosted by several writers, all of whom love the Park and spend a good deal of time in it. Laurie Lyman writes daily reports of the Yellowstone wolf packs, concentrating on the Northern Range. Nathan Varley writes about his adventures and explorations, and Dan Hartman relates tales of the wildlife he observes near his Silver Gate cabin and on nearby hikes. There are several other writers who contribute from time to time who I do not know as well, and there is a nominal cost of $20.00 to receive password access to the site. The money goes to support various Yellowstone-related charities, with a tiny amount devoted toward website maintenance. In my opinion, it offers ample bang for the buck.
But now on to the wolf news - my visit landed just before the onset of breeding season. The packs this year seem to be relatively stable and on the smallish side. 7 in the Lamar Canyon pack; 8 in the Agates, 6 Canyons, 6 Quadrants; the largest pack is the Blacktails with 12-14, but while I was there, it was evident that the current alpha female, 693, was busy pushing various females out, in order to (I suppose) ensure her singular breeding position. During the week I was there, her sister 692 was travelling alone for several days, and another yearling female, 752, had also been "forced" out. These things happen; they are natural, but it's a little sad to see a wolf alone when it is not that wolf's idea to be so.
On the bright side, there are a few males in the Northern Range who could use an available mate: 754M is very loyal to both The 06 and to 755 but someday he may pull a "302" and set off to form his own pack. Agate beta male 586 is also ripe for his own pack. Big Blaze tried it and didn't succeed, so he may stick close to home this year.
The really big news in the Park, however, is the snow level. Although the area is known for its snowy winters, the snow level this winter has been intense. I believe it has snowed in the Park nearly every day since early October, with perhaps only a few half-days of sun scattered over the five months. The cloud cover has been so predominant, little snow has melted. Instead it is blown into enormous drifts and cornices and continues to accumulate, making life very hard on the ungulates.
The Lamar Valley has none of the visible herds it has had in the past - bison and elk know to seek the higher slopes where the wind does some of their work for them. I don't think I have ever seen so many bison or elk so consistently high on the slopes in winter as I did this year.
I imagine the Park is in for a soggy, muddy spring, once the temperatures rise and the sun stays out longer. But first the ungulates have to get through March and April.
I will be back the first week of April, and wonder how much snow will be there to greet me? I hope you enjoy this report at least half as much as I have enjoyed compiling it.
Thanks to Laurie and Frank and Calvin and Lynette and Rick.