Tuesday, June 8, 2010
The Canyon Wolves
April 14, 2010: Yellowstone National Park
We’re told wolf sightings will be few and far between this spring. The northern range population is down to only 17 plus 3 Canyon Pack wolves at Mammoth. That is virtually the same number of wolves that were in the northern range during the first year of the wolf reintroduction, only then there were lots of elk in the Lamar Valley and wolves were seen on a regular basis. Now elk are fewer and smarter. They spend much less time down on the valley floor. The Canyon Pack will presumably soon return to the center of the park to den as they did last year.
Right out of Mammoth we see a small cluster of elk on a knoll. Others nearby are grazing but these appear to be on alert – typical behavior when a bear or wolf is nearby. We turn around for another pass by. Luck is with us. First a large collared black wolf come up to the road from the river side and trots down the road away from us. He heads higher and is soon joined by a beautifully marked grey who has also come up from the river valley. This would be the alpha male and the beta male of the three member Canyon Pack.
April 15, 2010
Hard frost last night. Still and almost cloudless this morning. Frost sparkles on dried grasses when we head east from Mammoth.
The two males of the Canyon Pack sleep on a sunny, rocky knoll south of the road. A handful of magpies keep them company. A meadowlark’s sweet tune carries far in the still morning air. Fresh snow is shiny bright on Bunsen Butte. The resting wolves give me an opportunity to draw through my spotting scope.
These are two very laid back wolves. The grey hardly budges. The black alpha stays more aware of his surroundings. For the first hour his head is usually up and he changes positions a couple of times. When the grey finally stands to stretch and pee I can see he has a full belly. It is a lightly marked grey. The black is very grizzled around his muzzle. A little after 10 AM the two stand up and stroll over the rise and out of sight.
It is a little after four PM and we are heading back to Gardiner. As we near Mammoth I comment I should check every knoll to look for a wolf. Sure enough. I spot the black alpha male and have Dale turn around. He is awfully far away, but we park anyway. The wolf stands, and starts down-slope towards us. I think he is heading towards the river where the pack probably has a kill. We park and watch.
The wolf is out of sight for a couple of minutes, but then all three Canyon members cross the road in front of us. The Black alpha male is first, and farthest away. Then comes the beautifully marked Beta male and finally the almost white alpha female– a lovely wolf. Her big belly tells us she is very pregnant. The last two cross the road just a few feet ahead of us. So close!