I planned this visit to coordinate with the Winter Wolf Study, a month-long project by the Yellowstone Wolf Project, in which the young wolf researchers are out from dawn till dusk every day, which, if I can find them, increases my chances of seeing wolves. The crew does not communicate to me or other visitors by radio. I have to find them.
When I share a pullout with them, I am aware that they must concentrate on the data they are gathering, but usually there are enough lulls for people to ask questions of them. I use my time with them to get clarity on which individuals I’m seeing and to correct my assumptions and misunderstandings. I also enjoy their company an if the situation allows, I have pleasant and enlightening off-topic conversations.
WOLF UPDATE - THE JUNCTION BUTTE PACK
The Junction Pack was originally formed in 2012 but formerly Blacktail Pack males Puff and Patch (who became 890M) plus uncollared females including “Ragged Tail”
In the summer of 2016, 890M left Junction to become alpha male of the Mollies. Shortly after this, the remaining alpha male (911M) was killed by Prospect males. For a period of time, 969F and 907F lead a group of pups and yearlings here and there, avoiding the larger Prospect pack. But views of them were sporadic.
Subsequently, during the 2017 breeding season, four Prospect males, 1047, 1048, 996 and an uncollared black joined with four remaining Junction Butte females (969F, 907F and 2 uncollared blacks (who later became 1109F and the current alpha female). This pack of 8 (six black, 2 gray) did not produce pups in 2017 but became a fairly reliable pack to watch, taking over areas of Little America and Lamar as the size and influence of other packs in those areas (Lamar Canyon, remaining Prospects) were waning.
In 2018, only three pups survived (1 gray M, 2 blacks 1 M, 1 F). The alpha female position shifted back and forth between 969F and 907F – these two sisters never did get along. In 2019, the uncollared black female, with help from 969F, deposed 907F and became alpha. 969F denned near the Slough trail and whelped 7 pups; 1109 denned on Specimen Ridge and whelped 3 pups. By the end of the year, however, only 8 of the 2019 litter survived. The pack also lost a black male yearling (b 2018).
In January 2020, 969F died. The Park was closed from mid-March through May 31 due to Covid19. When it reopened June 1, visitors were delighted to see that the Junction females (alpha, 907 and 2 yr old “third mother” 1276) were raising a total of 18 puppies in the traditional Slough Creek area.
In fall 2020, 1047M was deposed as alpha by the “uncollared black male”.
All 18 puppies were still alive at the end of 2020, and the pack numbered 34 (35 if you count 1109) - making them the largest Yellowstone Pack since the Druids of 2002 (37).
During the 2021 mating season, the "Gray Male" (born in 2018) dispersed from the Junction Pack, along with deposed alpha male 1047M, and paired up with two females from the nearby Eight Mile pack (1154F and an uncollared wolf).
The Gray Male is the alpha with 1154F. He brought along several former Junction wolves (mostly male) to round out his crew (notorious 1273M, 1278M and several uncollared wolves. Some of the males who went with the Gray Male still occasionally visit their birth pack, and so far, are still welcomed. The exception seems to be 1273M who seems content to be with his new family.
These wolves denned west of Slough but did not produce viable pups, so the Park Service has not yet designated them a pack. Rather, they are referred to as 1154's Group. However, the dispersal reduced the total size of the Junction Pack to approximately 20-24 adults and subordinates. For comparison, the Druids kept their sky-high number of 37 for only a half a year; many wolves in that pack dispersed and formed other Packs. It's a natural occurance for any wolf pack.
Further diminishing the Junction pack is the fact that 996M disappeared over the winter, and 1109F has been driven out. She travels alone, but sometimes still follows her natal pack from a distance.
The Junction Pack currently consists of:
Alpha Male (b), Alpha female (b) 1048M (b) 907F (g)
1275M b 1276F b
Gray limper 1228F g
Square black 1229F b
White Stripe Black limper
Approx 4 more approx 4 more