It feels like a decade ago now, but when I planned this trip, it was to be the first time being in the Park during wolf mating season in a very long while. 2020 was supposed to be the year I made a “big change” in preparation for my retirement and full time living in Bozeman: the plan for 2020 and 2021 was for me to spend 8 months in Bozeman and 4 months in NY, the opposite of what I had been doing for 15 years. My staff was on board; we knew it might not go smoothly and I remained willing to adjust dates from time to time, but we were going full speed ahead. This three-week trip to Bozeman was the first step. I was understandably trepidatious about how my absence during our traditionally busy time would affect the office but very much looking forward to seeing the special behavior that affects wolves during this cold season.
When I boarded my flight in late January, I knew about a worrisome new virus affecting China. I knew it was serious, but I had no inkling of what was coming.
Before I get to the wolf update, I also want to mention (for the sake of the historic record of these reports) a personal health situation – unrelated to Covid – which is happily now under control. In June of 2019 I developed hypertension. I began to take meds and by August it seemed my readings were under control. For a while I’d check my BP every other day, then I got lax; around the holidays I was neglecting it completely.
When I arrived in Bozeman in January, 2020, I had a dentist appointment. Part of their normal routine is to check BP. Well, mine was elevated. So, I resumed daily monitoring and it continued to be very high. On Feb 1, after a scary-high reading, I asked my friend Barb to take me to the ER. I was there for 3 hours and got very good care. My numbers eventually went down and most importantly, everything else tested normal. I was advised to take half a xanax and to ask my doc to adjust my meds. He did, by adding a low-dose second drug. My numbers started coming down so I felt it was safe to go to Yellowstone.
While I was in Silver Gate I monitored my BP twice a day. I had a few upsetting readings and considered coming back early. But Laurie and Pauline (and a half a xanax) helped calm me down. After being on the new meds for a week, all my readings were normal again and have been good ever since. Whew!
LAMAR CANYON – this pack is hardly ever seen. After 926F was unethically shot, the pack has been without any collared individuals. It is thought that Little T and Small Dot are still the alphas, and they did have a litter in 2019. But they stay in the forest and are rarely spotted. If the pack stays small, they can likely avoid being seen and avoid trouble with other packs. That is my hope, anyway.
JUNCTION BUTTE PACK – this is the most visible pack in the Park, but despite several working collars, they are still sometimes not seen. There has always been strife among the females of this pack. Sisters 969 and 907 (both gray) flipped alpha status several times over the years, but in 2019, both were deposed by a younger, uncollared black female (she may be the offspring of one of them). At Christmastime 2019, 969 was seldom seen with the pack and in January, her collar went into “mort mode”. The Wolf Project found her body in the Slough Creek area. It appears she died of injuries inflicted by other wolves, most likely her own pack. Another adult female on the outs with the current alpha female is 1109F, adult daughter of 969. 1109Fis picked on by both 907 and the alpha female. Because of this, she is often seen at the end of the line when the pack travels, and she usually beds at a distance from them.
Nevertheless, 1109 is an important contributor to the pack. In 2018, her three pups were the only ones to survive to adulthood. One of these is now a beautiful 2-year-old gray male, who may very well disperse this year. Another is an un-collared black female, who could breed and become a mother this year. And the third is a black male, who has not been seen with the pack for some time. He may have already dispersed or perhaps died.
The pack is quite large at the moment, at 19 individuals. Eight of their ten pups from 2019 are still alive.
The males in this pack are alpha 1047 (black going gray); his brother 1048 (black going gray) and individualist 996M (black going gray, collar doesn’t work). There is also an un-collared black male who is a great hunter and seems to like 1109F. Of the remaining 8 pups from 2019, at least 6 are black males. In addition, there are two females, now both collared: 1228 (gray) and 1229 (black).
The Junctions are a very cohesive pack, although mating season does seem to bring out the worst in the females, so we’ll see.
EIGHT MILE PACK – I have totally lost touch with the individuals in this infrequently-seen pack. Alpha male 1015M, and a gray called Brindle lead it, but I have no idea who the other members are, or their numbers, other than they did have pups in 2019.
PHANTOM PACK – these are hardly ever seen (although their name implies their illusiveness, the name comes from Phantom Lake, the center of their territory). The pack includes mostly gray wolves but in 2019 they added some black pups.
WAPITI PACK – this Hayden Valley pack will occasionally visit the Northern Range during the winter. They are still led by 1014 (former Mollie, black) and the White Female (originally a Canyon; she formed the original Wapiti Lake Pack with 755M). They have high numbers at the moment, too, at least 14 members.