Thursday, May 01, 2008

The Chase, the Carcass, and the Right Place at the Right Time.

click photos to enlarge

This is a continuation of my previous post on our adventures in Yellowstone National Park titled Grizzlies, Eagles, and Snow .

Unbelievable sights this morning. Upon arriving at Slough Creek to watch the Slough Creek wolves, Karyn was the first to sight a grey wolf a few hundred yards away. As it worked its way toward the den, the wolves at the den site started a huge group howl that echoed through the canyon. At least 8 wolves involved. It was the most impressive we have ever heard. It appears that the Sloughs are going out for a hunt. The leaders start out as more of the pack members group up. A short while later the pack had 12 members joining in another more impressive howl. On this beautiful, clear, calm morning it was an unbelievable sound. One of the collared female mothers was soliciting regurgitated food from all of the others, but it appeared that there was none to give. This hunt is very important today. This mother could be nursing up to eight puppies and may not have eaten for days. It’s a great viewing opportunity as they do not usually hunt during the day. In addition, they headed downstream instead of upstream into the wilderness.

As the wolves walked down valley out of sight we repositioned ourselves on the highway to get a view where we hoped they would emerge. Karyn took this shot below as they walked down the ridge line.


As they once again disappeared from sight, we repositioned ourselves at a place called Boulder. We were the first there. I walked up a small hill to see a number of nervous elk. I couldn’t find the Slough Creek wolves. Two other gentlemen arrived and spotted some wolves to our left. How could they get there that fast? It turned out that the Agate wolf pack was on a fresh elk kill. The Sloughs were still headed our way but not yet in our sight. This spot lies in the two packs overlapping territory. The Agates appeared to be full as they wandered back toward the core of their territory. They were only gone about 15 minutes when the Sloughs came into sight. They were still on the other side of the river on the scent of an elk herd of about 20 individuals. It was quite possibly the same herd that the carcass animal was from. The 12 Sloughs spread out and ran at full speed toward the herd. The elk grouped tight, noses held high and ran for their lives. They ran toward the river. The Lamar River is deep and will provide an elk protection from the wolves. They dropped from our sight. A short while later the wolves returned up the ridge apparently unsuccessful in their chase. One of the Slough wolves apparently saw the Agate carcass as the wolves ran at full speed to the carcass. The twelve arrived, but seven members almost immediately retreated, leaving five remained to eat. I am not sure why the others left the carcass. Quite possibly they could still sense that the Agate wolves were in the area. What an impressive morning – howls, chases, and two wolf packs from one vantage point. It doesn’t get much better than that.

The evening started out a little slow as we watched three Slough Creek wolves bedded down. We would watch as they would occasionally raise their heads. Other visitors would ask us to point them out, but then they could never see them unless they were moving. A few were lucky enough to pick one or two out. We later moved to Coyote turnout in the Lamar valley to find a lone black wolf high on the opposite ridge. It too was bedded and not very active. We were later told that this was the “Jasper Male”, a male that has been trying to create a pack on the Jasper Bench area. Moving on to Footbridge we saw the real action of the evening. First, on our way there Karyn took this beaver photo.


Karyn and I found the Druid Alpha Male crossing the flats near footbridge. Soon he was joined by another wolf which was soliciting him for food. On the first attempt he regurgitated a small amount for her. On the second attempt he regurgitated more, took a few steps and produced more. She ate the second batch. This third batch he decided to eat himself. She stepped in to get some of the third batch but he persuaded her otherwise. Based on this last encounter we assume that she was not the alpha female but instead one of the other wolves in the pack which are thought to have also denned with pups. Without the true experts around, we cannot know for sure. We watched as the two made their way up toward the den area. If you count the lone wolf as a pack, we had another four pack day – Agate, Slough, Druid, and Jasper Male.

On the way back to Cooke City we once again saw moose. This means we have seen moose on 4 of our 5 trips backs to Cooke City. Tonight we saw 4 moose! Two adults and two juveniles. Pretty cool.

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