Watching the Druids and more . . . a grand time in Yellowstone
July 5, 2001
Despite all the negative news I have had to write about wolves being killed in the Sawtooth National Recreation Area of Idaho because a band of sheep was dropped on them, I recently had an excellent wolf observation trip to Yellowstone, where I saw, along with many other folks, terrific wolf action. It is my dream that central Idaho might someday have all the wildlife of Yellowstone without its current marginal and hobby livestock operations to threaten the wildlife.
The highlight for me was two Druid-grizzly bear interactions near Round Prairie on Soda Butte Creek. Just as the sun was rising on June 30, I spotted a black yearling from the Druids walking along the side hill that runs from near the Soda Butte Cone and ends at Round Prairie, about 2 miles. It was mildly interesting to watch until the wolf reached a patch of sagebrush and suddenly flushed a large dark brown creature. I soon saw that it was a small grizzly bear, perhaps just having been driven off by its mother. The wolf and the bear followed each other around in circles for about 10 minutes with the high point when they came almost nose-to-nose (well, maybe 2-3 feet apart). The interaction seemed playful.
A few minutes later I drove to Round Prairie where many vehicles were pulled onto the shoulder. The core of the Druid Pack was on the meadow, where they had killed a bull elk the previous night. It was easy to see their shapes, but the details were difficult in the full backlighting of the early morning sun. Many people wonder how or why wolves would kill a bull elk in June, when presumably bulls are almost invincible, but Dr. Doug Smith of the Yellowstone wolf team told me they examined the bull's carcass and found that the elk had some arthritis, which might explain why it was so low when most elk have moved to higher elevations. He also said that almost every elk left in the Lamar tends to get a very close look by the wolves, who will soon likely leave the area to follow the elk up to summer pastures.
Late that afternoon, an adult grizzly claimed the elk carcass and was seen by hundreds of people as it fed on the carcass, which laid in Soda Butte Creek. More surprisingly, soon a lone gray wolf approached the bear and the carcass and cautiously began to feed along side the bear. The grizzly was not pleased, and the bear chased the wolf (Druid 106F) several times, but each time she came back, and after about a half hour the bear was chewing on one end of the elk in the creek and allowing 106F the other. Smith said the wolf's persistence in the face of grizzly's chases was unusual.
The next morning I was fortunate to see five of the Druid puppies playing on a hillside meadow on Druid Peak. I was told seven pups in all were observed that morning
As mentioned, the Druids will probably soon leave the browning and increasingly hot Lamar Valley. They have already made long trips up the Lamar River, where Smith said he saw hundreds of elk in the headwaters, near the Mirror Plateau.
Wolf watching currently begins at about 5:30 a.m. and ends at 7 a.m. Then it is renewed from 7 p.m. to sunset, although I was extremely fortunate to observe a large gray wolf on Gibbon Meadow, probably a member of the Nez Perce Pack, for about a half hour at 10 a.m. on June 29.
A note. I earlier reported that alpha female 42F had 4 pups and 103F of the Druids had three; but now it has been seen that 42F and perhaps a pup or two from other pack members have a total of nine pups near Druid Peak. Number 103's den is about 5 miles to the west, where she has three pups. Assuming no Druids have dispersed and no mortalities, the size of the pack could be 38!
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