Puppy Quest, Part 2: The “Stony” Pack

21 May 2009

Looking for the Stony pups was nothing at all like the Ojibwe. At least with the Ojibwe litter we had a general idea of where they were. For the Stony pups, all we had was a map of a “potential” area they could be in. It was like finding a needle in a haystack! I was sort of familiar with where we were headed. A few days prior, Mike had taken me up the first part of the trail towards where we were going.

Just as the day before, everyone loaded up with their gear. Today, Ron, the lynx biologist, wasn’t able to come, but another wolf biologist who worked on the Mexican gray wolf project, Dan, was with us. He had been a tech for Dave once upon a time. Since he is more on the management side of things, he doesn’t spend as much time in the field as he used to, so was happy to be with us.

The day was a lot more chilly than the day before. Once again, single file, we followed Mike. The vets struggling to keep up were not far behind. The main obstacle that we needed to cross was a clear cut. The endless number of piled sticks, logs, and partial tree stumps, made our hike more difficult and a bit clumsy. At one point, I stepped down on a stick that decided to roll on the wet ground. I immediately fell sideways toward what I noticed was a steep drop-off. Whew! Close call! Fortunately, nobody on the team seems to judge on grace. Once at the tree line, we proceeded along what appeared to be an old trail. The way we came up was semi-compact from use and had a few piles of aged, white scat.

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Female Stony pack member, later collared

The collared female’s signal was strong where we were so it was thought that she could be anywhere near us. Then as her direction was being analyzed, Dan spotted her in the trees up ahead stalking a snowshoe hare. Suddenly, both she and the hare bolted in the opposite direction. Trying to follow her signal proved impossible since she quickly disappeared toward the marsh area and pine stand at the other end of the forest.

After grounding our gear, we hiked a little further down the trail so that we could line up to cover more area as we combed for the puppies. Not a single rock, log, crevasse or dip in the earth was unsearched. Still nothing. We came to where the marsh and pine stand began to start another combing attempt where an old road (long overgrown) ran through. We walked for several hundred meters until we came up toward the ridge that our gear was. The idea was to regroup and comb where the female was spotted. Noticing some overlap of where we searched, we all began to think we weren’t going to find the pups. Then from the other side of a valley, one of the vets called for us, “HOOOO!!” She found something!

As quickly as possible, we hurried toward where she was standing and peered down to where she was pointing. There at the bottom of the valley, next to a tree, was a furry, dark gray mass of wolf pups huddling together and hoping they weren’t seen. For being out in “plain sight”, they blended in perfectly with the terrain! Only a head poking up gave them away. Now that we finally found them after a few hours of tirelessly searching, we had to catch them.

The pups seemed to pick up on our motive and slowly began to slink away in opposite directions as we carefully made our way down the valley. Each person targeted a scattering pup. Two remained huddled by the tree. As I was trying to corner one pup, I heard my name called, an as I looked that way, a pup ran straight toward me. He veered at the last second but I leapt for him, grabbing the scruff. It was actually a pretty hilarious sight, seeing everyone swiftly waddling around after a puppy just out of reach. As each pup was caught, they were placed into a fastened pillowcase and put back into the indent that was their rendezvous site. The actual den was later found among some nearby boulders.

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This 5 week old pup still has the milky, blue hue of young wolves.

A total of eight puppies were counted! It was a huge litter in comparison to our first one, which was by a first time mom. Too bad we only brought six transmitters. The two smallest pups would only be processed. For six puppies, the whole procedure took almost three hours. On top of that, mom wouldn’t be back for a few hours after we left. The poor pups would be hungry! These pups weren’t as young as the others, by at least a week or so. Their eyes were not nearly as blue, and their little ears pointed a bit more. Only one pup showed us an attitude and he just so happened to be the biggest. He was 6lbs as opposed his 4 ½-5lb littermates. As someone got near to check him out, he wrinkled his lip up to show his tiny, point teeth. The little fighter wants to be in charge some day and with an attitude like that, maybe he will. He will need every ounce of spunk to survive.

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Dave helping to measure a pup

I enjoyed the extra down time this extra large litter allowed once my job of taking measurements and ear tagging was done. It meant more time to cuddle a pup while he warmed back up in the cooler day. As I watched the pup nap in my arms, I realized how lucky I was, and that I may never experience this type of moment ever again. The remaining pups in their pillowcases kept warm in their pile. Occasionally, a few would attempt to crawl away, though it proved to be useless. “Theres another pillowcase crawling away!”

Eventually, all six pups were done and it was time for us to clean up and leave. We probably overstayed our welcome, but it was time well spent. The vets survived getting eaten by ruthless insects while they cut and stitched, and I became a pro at pup processing. Dave and Mike released the confused puppies away from our work spot, closer to their actual den while the rest of us headed up the valley to watch. A second day of working with wild gray wolf pups, a second day of unforgettable experiences. After a day like we just had, a trip to the steakhouse for dinner was in order.

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