Thursday, December 30, 2010

Looking Back at my 2010 Photography

I recall about this time last year thinking that I would work harder on black-and-white photography in 2010. As it turned out, while I got a number of pretty good black-and-white pictures, I don't recall spending any serious time working at it. The annual resolution went the way of most other resolutions on the new year.

As it turns out I did have some successes in 2010. While we might imagine that we know what will be coming in the months ahead, this is pretty much guess work. It takes a while to get to know a place, and once known, most subjects require a few photo sessions before you really understand how to get the best image possible. Then there are seasons, weather, and everything else. Outdoor photography can be a pretty tough game. One must be long-suffering and patient.

A few things stand out to me in 2010.

Ozark Spiderwort at Broadwater Falls
2010 was a pretty good year for wildflowers. I got a number of new species this year and some decent photos of them. One of my core beliefs is that you never really "get" the picture. You get "a" picture and sometimes it is pretty good. I believe mostly we are "given" images of special moments that now and then are special enough to transcend that moment, to be something more. I was given a handful of pretty decent wildflower images, including some of brand new species. Some of them have turned out to be pretty good black and white photos.

River Crossing in 2010 Elk Rut
What about the elk?  Every new year in elk photography is different. I have been at it long enough now to witness the changes in patterns from year to year. I like to place my elk photos in context, in settings that are different, and different in terms of interpretations of elk as an abstract form. I think it matters to stretch past the obvious, to try to tell a story, and to introduce your subject to your audience in new ways. 2010 gave me some of those photos of elk. After a 125,000 plus images in uncountable shoots one might imagine that there would be little new to discover. This year I witnessed at least 8 river crossings with dozens of images. One or two on my all time list. I found new ways to interpret elk, have new ideas for 2011.

Baby Mink Playing at Cove Creek
Other animals gave up an image now and then. The most memorable had to be the most unexpected. I was working at the computer and got burned out so I grabbed my go-to lens and camera and took off on a wild hair to a pool along Cove Creek near Erbie (no plan, just an impulse). When I arrived, I found a mink with 5 kits (cubs?) in the pool swimming all over the place. I don't think I got a lot of great images, but I was treated to baby mink that came right up to me, so close I had to back off to get the picture. I won't claim any great pictures in this case, but a great experience. Honestly that matters to me most.

Solitary Sandpiper Wading the Buffalo
I had the good fortune of having a doe cross in front of me during an elk river crossing. I saw on three occasions a family of otter feeding at the Ponca Access. Another favorite experience was a migrating group of Solitary Sandpipers roosting along the river during the rut. They allowed me to photograph them and seemed pretty unconcerned about my presence. I had only before seen these birds at some distance so this was a treat. I got one image I like a great deal.

Doe Wading the Buffalo River
Then there are those pictures I saw, and never got. The two most memorable were of wading elk, and both happened the same day during the early rut.  I was checking my usual spots when I came down a small bank to the river and saw the Boxley Beast, a magnificent bull, in perfect reflection in front of a river snag that I have photographed alone. The mirror of the river pool was absolutely still, and perfect. It was a lifetime shot, but the bull bolted out of the river before I could take one frame. Shortly later, I saw the bull he replaced licking his wounds, wading a pool with only his head and antlers showing. He traced a "V" in still water -- an amazing image, but I could not find a shooting lane.

Kids Playing in the Buffalo
Maybe the biggest miss of the year was a group of black panthers on my road. I was heading down to the Boxley Valley at dawn, rounded a corner and there was a black mass in the middle of the road. Two animals bolted immediately into the brush, a third stayed in the road long enough to give me the profile, that long tail and body before he joined the others. This is something I thought I would never see. The big cats are timid, rare and nocturnal.

I would rate the year pretty good. Because I take photos for a living, quite a few come my way. That is the way it works, more work, more results. I lead a fortunate life. The misses don't bother me much, if photography was easy, I would lose interest quickly. The price of admission to photography is low, but paradoxically, that makes getting great pictures harder. The game shifts to outstanding moments, and plain hard work. I think you never master it.

The misses keep me coming back, I know I will get some of them. Then there are the pictures I can visualize, but have not yet witnessed. There are also the pictures that will be given that I cannot imagine. It's the misses and possibilities that make photography compelling. I look forward to every shoot with a sense of possibility, and the prospect of unexpected moments that might come my way.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

December Weather, Elk Viewing Remains Strong

Frosty grass and crossing light can make ordinary
more dramatic like this sunrise shot. 
Cold weather changes everything in the Buffalo River region. December is a mixed bag, with some great days of wildlife viewing and some days when the weather is so cold that most people will not venture out. These days can be missed opportunities for elk viewing and photography.

Elk love cold weather. The truth be known, we are now in the very best season for daytime elk viewing. At best elk viewing is always unpredictable, but cold overcast days often translate to all day viewing. Elk generally despise sunlight, but cold weather will often keep them out in the fields in sunny days.

There are some new photo opportunities in very cold weather. One is steaming breath pictures. Bull elk are still bugling but only rarely now and will until almost the first of the year. A steaming bulgle is a great shot. Shots of elk just breathing heavily can be pretty dramatic. One key to getting a great result is to choose your backdrops carefully. A steamy breath against a dark background really stands out.

Another factor that changes elk behavior is deer season. Deer hunters move into the areas surrounding Boxley Valley and this pushes the elk herd into a more compact area. Of course there is the small annual elk hunts that have the same effect.

The Boxley Stud and a calf, a late rutting bull
Nothing much has changed in the elk herds from my recent entries. The elk are now in mostly the south end of the Boxley Valley, generally from mid valley to the fields around the Buffalo River at the south end. What remains of the rut is now down to the third estrous, there are very few estrous cow elk that remain, but there are some. There are at least two, and maybe three herds with remaining breeding in Boxley Valley. They are pretty easy to find. They continue to follow a morning and evening viewing pattern, but it is extended now in the cold.

We are now solidly in the Bald Eagle season, but in Boxley Valley the migrators have not shown so far. Visitors to the valley should keep an eye out for patches of white in the trees. The most reliable viewing area is around the Boxley Mill Pond. Bald Eagles fly very long distances when they feed, so visitors to the mill pond can arrive at any time.

This is also a very good time to photograph trumpeter swans. Steam rises off the water most mornings and it is a great addition to most pictures. Steam, swans and morning light offer a lot of creative possibilities.

Getting great December pictures still involves getting up early. Put on your warmest clothing and you might be rewarded with the best photos of the year. Make sure you check your exposures carefully, frost and bright light might fool our camera. Take test shots and look at the results. You might find you need to over- expose to get decent elk shots in frost.

Friday, November 5, 2010

2010 Arkansas Elk Show Continues, Eagles Arriving Soon

I spend a lot of time in Boxley Valley, the unrivaled hot spot for elk viewing and photography in Arkansas. It ranks right up there in the US as an elk viewing destination because of its ideal habitat.  The geology of Boxley Valley pushes elk herds into the open, and close to roads for viewing and photography. Quite often when someone discovers Boxley Valley elk for the first time, they will mention to me that they had been going to Colorado to see elk, and likely would not do it again.

Whitetail Doe Crossing the Buffalo River
The reasons they cite for preferring Boxley Valley elk viewing are many. First, it is nearby and therefore very affordable. Second, few places in the US offer so many other free venues to explore and enjoy nature in the heart of the day when the elk are bedded down. Third, compared to more famous venues, visitors to this area do not fight crowds. Fourth, if they rent a room or cabin, it is very affordable. Fifth, the people they meet in Arkansas are welcoming and share old time values about civility and community. Visiting here is pleasant, and people will treat you right, mostly because they treat everyone right. It is a way of life.

But what to do now that the peak of the annual elk rut has passed? Well, actually elk viewing will be very good for months yet. Many of my very best elk photographs are from after the peak rut until the April 1 antler drop.  Generally I have the valley to myself during this period because everyone assumes that the best is over, there is no reason to visit. This is simply not true.

 Post-Rut Sparring Can Be a Good Show
Today was a pretty good example of post-peak rut photography. My shoot began with taking pictures of a very good sparring match between two medium sized bulls. They put on quite a show for about 10 minutes and provided some great action shots. After that I checked one of my favorite spots and caught the end of an elk crossing of the Buffalo River.  These late rutting animals are not as energetic as they seem during the peak rut, but any elk shot in the river will be pretty good. During that crossing, a whitetail doe decided to cross the river right in front of me, moving slowly across a reflecting pool illuminated by fall color along the river. When the crossing was over I had 400+ shots and was quite satified with the day. Driving out of Ponca I noticed two trumpeter swans on the Ponca Mill Pond and got some decent shots in filtered light.

Late Rut Still Provides Dramatic Photos
All the above happened in less than 2 hours. At the end of the day I had nearly 800 shots. Truly if I were not so busy now on other projects, I would have taken a couple of hundred more pictures before noon. There are too many good pictures to get right now. It is hard to make choices.

There is not a better time to be here. It is perfect hiking weather. Wildlife and elk viewing will be excellent for months. Later this month the bald eagles will arrive from the north to overwinter adding to the show. The river is quite low, but this means that it is easy to hike. Fall color shots in the reflecting pools of the Buffalo River are often quite dramatic. There is no shortage of choices for nature lovers.

18% of the population of the US live within two tanks of gas of this national treasure. The Buffalo National River was voted on the the top ten least known national parks that everyone should see. This is a great time to see it. There is literally plenty to see and do in every season. This time of year is prime time.

Friday, October 29, 2010

2010 Arkansas Elk Rut Update & Other Photo Opportunities

We are now entering the late middle period of the 2010 elk rut. Viewing is still very good and bugling, while less frequent, is still common. The pecking order of the bull elk is established, challenges are still possible as are bull fights, but the likelihood is slowly winding down.

After the early fights and the establishment of the pecking order, bull elk space out their herds. This is what we are seeing now. There are three major groupings of elk with herd bulls. The first is in the first Ponca field, kind of pinned there by cattle in the next few fields. This group could migrate to a couple of nearby fields including Steel Creek, but for now they have been pretty locked into this position. This herd could move to the Lost Valley fields, but that is always rare at best. It is such a good photo opportunity that it should always be checked in any visit.

Later Rut Herd Bull Keeping Watch
The second group is in the mid-valley area on back fields that are quite far from the road. This is where the Boxley Beast and his harem have moved. They have been here for over a week now so this is a pretty established position.

The third group is at and around the 43/21 intersection. This is two herds at least, with pretty complex mixing due to their proximity to one another. This are extends from behind the mill pond to the first field south of the 43/21 intersection. There are back fields in this south area that herds might go to now and seem to disappear for a day now and then. I believe the Boxley Stud and Bubba Stud bulls are both in this area.

I have also noticed the first formation of a bull herd in the south valley area. This would be around where the Buffalo River cuts across 21 south of the church. These are satellite bulls that are detached from herds and may or may not resume satellite status.

Your viewing results may vary, but these are pretty stable patterns. When I don't report on the movements of the elk herd, it is because there is nothing new to report.

What is next on the elk viewing calendar? Soon we will transition into the post-rut period. Like everything about the elk herd, this is not a bright line that is crossed, but a gradual blending from the rut pattern to the post rut pattern. While we have the first signs of the post-rut pattern now, the majority of elk activity is still full on elk rut. Slowly this mix shifts until most elk are post-rut, and there are stragglers still rutting.

Post Rut Herd Bulls in late December
How long does the rut continue?  Last year we saw herd bulls running cow elk in December. The determining factor are the estrous cycles of the cow elk. As long as there are cow elk returning to estrous, there will be bull elk to help them out. We have at least another month to go in the rut, and the stragglers rutting will extend into December.

What about great pictures of big bull elk?  Great photo opportunities for the big bulls will continue until around April 1 when the antlers drop. During the post rut period it is possible to get pictures of groups of huge bulls that return to male-only herds generally further divided by size. The photo on the left shows one of these herds. It was taken in late December in the south end of Boxley Valley. If you are an antler fan, this is the best bull elk shooting of the entire year.

Post-Peak Fall Color Reflection Picture
There is a lot of interesting activity at the Boxley Valley mill pond now as we are in the migration season. Any trip to see the elk should include a visit to the mill pond. Soon we will see the annual bald eagle migration and the mill pond is a favorite haunt for these majestic birds. There is an eagle pair hanging around in the valley now, but these are probably permanent residents of the valley. The normal migration period is considered to be Thanksgiving until Valentine's Day.

Fall color is past peak. More accurately, we have patchy color probably due to the droughts this fall. Rain has been scarce, so leaf-off has come early. There are still great opportunities for fall color photos. Pockets of color along the river offer unique color photo opportunties. Fewer leaves means more trunks in your compositions. Look at this pocketed color as a creative opportunity, not an off season. Some of these pictures are amazing.

Friday, October 15, 2010

2010 Elk Rut and Fall Color Update

The elk rut is now in the thick of prime time. Yesterday I visited the rut both morning and evening. It was active both times, but per normal the morning was more active, and I could see REAL bull elk fights from a distance. The elk bugling filled with aggression was more common. There was a lot of counter-bugling when the dominant herd bull would answer satellites, and in some cases true challenging herd bull sized animals. This always sets the table for fights, but bull fights may or may not occur depending on many circumstances.

Bull Mistaken for Tree in Ponca Field
Elk seem to be just about everywhere now. Bulls are still coming down to the valley from points unknown. With more cow elk entering estrous, the scent is on the wind. While nobody could know for certain, it feels like the hot spell we had stalled rutting behavior for a while, and our current return to cold weather has things back on track. For about a week we re-entered a summer weather pattern and it tamped things down a bit.

Yesterday, October 14th, there were 5 herd bull and cows herds in the Boxley Valley. I did hear about a 6th, but did not verify it personally. Going from north to south, the first herd is in the upper 3 Ponca fields. A second could be observed along the cane line in the mid-valley area, way back where most viewers would not notice them. A third has been hanging out behind the Mill Pond, I think this is Bubba Stud, but this is an educated guess based on watching movements. The fourth and fifth herds are concentrated in the 43/21 intersection fields.

The Bugling Boxley Beast and Harem
The Boxley Beast has been in the fields just south of the intersection with his harem. Yesterday he suffered repeated attacks from other herd bulls and last night he was showing the damage. He seemed to be limping a bit, it will be interesting to see how he fares going forward in the near term. I did see the Boxley Stud hanging around nearby, and it would not surprise me if he knocked the Boxley Beast off in a fight as things stand now. It would be a great fight in any case, but the Beast is tired and a little gimpy now, so the odds favor the Stud.

Contrary to what might be considered common sense, the dominant bull position in elk herds changes often during the rut. It is hard work for a herd bull to fend off the frequent challenges of candidate herd bulls and the frequent visits by satellite bulls. Often an attack by a herd bull is accompanied by incursions by satellite bulls. This was evident yesterday morning. In one case the dominant bull was under attack by a herd bull and 3 satellites. When he fought the challenging herd bull, the satellites took some of the cows. This happens fairly often. Researchers have determined that the satellite bulls actually breed more cows than the herd bulls. The herd bulls spend a lot of time protecting their harems and have less time for breeding.

Fall Color at the Ponca Access 10/14/10
Fall color is beginning to show much more now. I would put the peak next week. This will not be one of those spectacular years, but fall color is always good. It is very hard to make generalizations about good or bad with fall color because it varies so much from location to location. For a photographer, the great compositions are where you find them. Fall color opportunities come and go fast because they often center on just one tree. Light is everything in fall color photography. Last night I got a picture of the Buffalo River at the Ponca Access in late afternoon light that I like. The cutting light illuminated distant banks on the river and provided dramatic animation of the river level bluffs. This picture will probably be in my personal top 5 landscapes for the year. Like all this stuff, you can plan and prepare, but chance factors large in the best pictures.

Buffalo River, Bee Bluff East of Kyles
Color Fest is now just one week off on the 22nd and 23rd at the Ponca Elk Education Center. This annual art show is worth a visit. There will be artists selling nature works as well as art demonstrations.  I will be doing a free elk photography workshop at 2PM each day that should be of interest to wildlife watchers. I will review my personal "bucket list" of elk photos and discuss the context, the relevant elk life cycle, and the approach elk fans must take by the season to get these pictures. I will display my photos during the art show for sale too. Come by and visit.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Hot Weather Shortening Elk Viewing & Fall Color

The weather of the last few days has changed elk movements back to a more summer-like pattern. What this means is that the viewing periods are shorter, more compressed into the ends of the day. Elk despise heat and sunlight. This is predicted to change early next week.

The Boxley Beast and One of His Harem
This morning the elk viewing was over at 8:30.

How this impacts the rut is not very clear. Two small bulls put on a show for us this morning and they have only recently scraped off their velvet. This is pretty easy to ID because first their antlers are bone white, and second, their were still small pieces of velvet on them. This would place them roughly three weeks late.

Crowds of viewers are still enjoying the daily show. This morning there were signs that some of the elk herd has migrated to the north end of the valley. A few were visible when we drove through and a few cars were parked in the area.

Fall color is in its earliest stages now.  It is time to be thinking about landscape photography. I have spent a little time scouting out destinations on the river. One of the interesting things about river landscape photography is that it is quite different each year. Flash floods move huge rocks around changing the look of many areas. This year's low water makes the river look better to my eye. Straight bank lines are transformed to scalloped lines as gravel bars emerge in low water conditions.

Mark you calendars, fall color is just a week or two to peak color.  Also remember I will be doing a free elk viewing workshop at the Ponca Elk Education Center at 2PM each day on the 22nd and 23rd of October. These are the dates of the annual Color Fest. Stop in and say hi. Mandy and I will have a booth there as well.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

2010 Elk Rut in Full Gear -- Many New Bull Elk

Many more photographers are enjoying the elk rut this year. Without question Ponca is the elk viewing capital of the South. The Buffalo River in Boxley Valley has carved a relatively narrow canyon with fertile bottom lands where elk pool for the annual elk rut.

The Boxley Beast,  photographed from the road
On my website I have posted hundreds of elk photos from the elk ruts. The 2010 galleries include brief narratives explaining the "back story" of each photo to help viewers better understand what happens during the rut.

With the large numbers of elk viewers, there are problems with crowd control. The most glaring issue remains trespassing on private land. It is a very bad idea to jump fences and enter posted land to get closer to the elk. Besides being the wrong thing to do, moving very close to the elk during the rut could trigger an attack from either a bull or cow elk resulting in serious injury.

The solution is to stay near the road. The movement of the elk herd will provide many great viewing and photo opportunities. Chasing after the elk chases them away, it is futile. Respect the privacy of the landowners in Boxley Valley. Don't block their driveways and farm gates.  Do not park in the road and create traffic hazards.

Be safe and be considerate. Quality elk viewing does not require trespassing. Safe elk viewing means staying behind the fences and off private land.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Big Bull Elk Have Arrived

Last night the Arkansas Wildlife cover star, the Boxley Stud, arrived and took most of Pretty Boy's herd. As I suspected, Pretty Boy is a year or two away from being big enough to compete with the biggest bulls. The Boxley Stud made quick work of Pretty Boy and mostly just bluffed him off. Many bull fights never happen because the small bull will not go into a one-sided fight. That was the case last night.

This drama took place at dusk in the first field south of the Observation Pullout.

Further south down the valley, just south of the Buffalo River, another big bull has been working a cow herd for over a week. Last night he brought the cows close to the road and we had an exceptional shoot. He provided photographers with many closeups, close enough so you could see the pores on his nose.

It is time to come, time to see the most virulent bull fights of the season if you are fortunate. The table is set for fighting and the bugling is getting more frequent by the day. Don't miss this once-a-year treat to see the spectacle of huge elk facing off for domination and breeding rights in Boxley Valley, the elk capital of the south.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Early Rut has Started in Buffalo National River Country

The last few days have marked the beginning of the 2010 Arkanas Elk Rut. The annual spectacle of the Arkansas Elk Rut is beginning.

One large herd bull has taken possession of a herd of cows near the Ponca Access in the north end of Boxley Valley. While I have not heard any bugling personally, I have heard reliable reports that the first bugling has begun.

I have seen every other sign of the rut. Big bulls are now sniffing the air to locate estrous females. One bull at least has a herd, and I have observed him attempting to mate with a cow.

Many cow elk will start coming into estrous next week and this will pick up steadily for two weeks. This is absolutely the best time to see elk fights.

My basic advice remains the same. Get out early, survey the valley, at least from Ponca to the Boxley Church before making your decision as to where to see or photograph elk.  There will be many great choices, but there is usually a best choice. You won't see the best shows unless you check the whole valley.

Rainy, cool weather has extended viewing times. It is time to visit and see the best wildlife show in Arkanas, the annual Arkansas Elk Rut in the Buffalo National River's Boxley Valley.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Stars of the 2010 Elk Rut -- Freak Show the 8x7 Bull Elk

Freak Show, A Must-See 8x7 Bull Elk in the 2010 Elk Rut
This is a picture of Freak Show, one of the first arrivals to the 2010 rut. As we approach the rut, I want to introduce you to the 2010 herd bulls, the big bull elk that have a reasonable chance of breeding in the 2010 rut. I am choosing Freak Show as my first entry because of his totally wild rack. He is no doubt descended from the huge irregular bull that the AGFC has featured in so many different publications.

By my first count, Freak Show is an 8x7. Last year he was the first bull I observed rutting in Boxley Valley. This morning was the first time I have seen him this year. Like many of the other herd bulls, he is arriving after spending his time in more remote areas away from Boxley Valley.

If you look close at the picture of Freak Show, you will see he still has velvet drying on his antlers, so he has some more rubbing to do.

This morning the elk viewing and photography was quite good, but to have the best chances, one had to get to the Boxley Valley early. Freak Show only made a brief appearance and it was before 7 AM, then he disappeared into the woods. As his hormones rage he will be more concerned with the cow elk than fleeing from view. As we get closer to the rut, the viewing times will get progressively longer as well.

If you are a serious elk fan, Freak Show is one of the bulls to put on your must see (must photograph) list. This year he has joined the big league. He is a must-see bull elk for the 2010 season.

This morning I had Boxley Valley to myself. This always amazes me. I was not only able to photograph Freak  Show for the first time, I shot other bull elk grazing around a creek further south where the Buffalo is quite close to the road. I got so close to one of the big bulls I had to shoot him at 100 mm. Even though we are not now in the rut, there are excellent chances for elk watchers and viewers now if they get to Boxley Valley early. It is time to plan you annual visits.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

2010 Elk Rut Setting Up

The last two days in Boxley Valley show that the 2010 elk rut is coming soon. The biggest bull elk have moved down from the Upper Wilderness area and are pooling around the consensus elk viewing hot spot, the intersection of Highways 43 and 21. 

Photographing Elk in Boxley Valley 8/28/10
Two different herds of cow elk are in the valley now. They are both north and south of the intersection. I would estimate that there are perhaps 70 elk now in the Boxley Valley setting up for the beginning of the rut, now just a couple of weeks off. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I observed very early rutting behavior last year around the end of August. Things will really kick in two weeks later, about September 15, with the peak a bit later. 

I am seeing more photographers all the time. Most interest is in getting pictures of the bull elk. For the first time this year, they are starting to spar now and then. The velvet scraping that began about mid-August is generally complete with the exception of a couple of animals. 

Pretty soon the big boys will be squaring off. When they fight you can hear the clatter up and down Boxley Valley. Most of what people see is sparring, but when the big boys battle, it is an unforgettable experience. 

If you are a photographer your absolute best chances now at in the very early morning. You will see cow elk later than the big bulls. There was some sparring in the 43/21 field this morning. I always recommend that you get to the valley at daybreak and locate the elk. Remember the first elk you see might not be the best photo opportunity. Getting there early will give you time to survey the fields and make sure you get the best chances. Rookies stop at the first elk they see, pros make sure they locate the best animals. 

After your morning elk shoot, it is a short hop up the valley to the Boxley Mill Pond for another photo opportunity. 4 trumpeter swans are now on the pond. There are some great opportunities to shoot moody trumpeter shots in light morning fog. 

Another choice is to go for landscape shots both in the Boxley Valley and in Steel Creek along Roark Bluff. This is a great time to shoot brackets in preparation for HDR interpretations. With our current huge memory cards, bracketing is practical. If you have not tried HDR photography, you need to. It will expand your creative expression and allow you to get great images that are otherwise just about impossible. 

A fourth choice is butterfly photography. Even with this drought, there are patches of roadside flowers that are covered with butterflies. The drought has killed many wildflowers, so the flowers that remain are slammed with butterflies. Shooting is really good now, the challenge is finding the flowers. 

Monday, August 23, 2010

Countdown to 2010 Arkansas Elk Rut

Terribly hot weather has impacted elk viewing lately, along with haying in the fields by the highways 43 and 21 intersection. These are only temporary setbacks, there are 50 elk in Boxley Valley, just on the back fields biding their time until the big dance, now just a month away.

This last week I saw the biggest bulls scraping off their velvet, too far away to photograph effectively. Nonetheless, this was right on time, so no weather factors have shifted the timetable for the rut.

From now on I will be blogging on the elk rut. Many of the monster bulls have already shown up in Boxley Valley. These big guys will be the stars of the show now less than a month away.

Last year, I heard the first bugle around September 1, but clearly that was an outlier. The big event will begin around September 15 and last for many weeks. The third week in September to the first week of October is generally consider the peak of the rut, but cow elk return to estrous in 30 day cycles until they are successfully bred. This means the end of the rut is at least a month after the peak, and rutting behavior often extends to the end of the year.

It is time to making your plans to visit for the 2010 rut. The single best source for cabins is This lodging is all located close to the Boxley Valley, the best place to view elk in the south.

I will be writing more on the elk rut in the coming weeks. Check my site for more information. The advice there is valid across the years.

Thanks to all of you who have responded to the call to action on the elk hunt issue. Arkansas' Boxley Valley and Ponca area is the elk viewing capital of the South. We need to protect this national treasure.

If you haven't written, please do so. We need more elk viewing, not less. Our economy depends on it. Elk viewing is a gateway to educate our children about nature and the great outdoors. Elk tourism is one of the cornerstones of Arkansas tourism.

Stay tuned as the buildup to the rut continues. This once a year event is like Christmas to wildlife lovers and photographers from all over Arkanas and the neighboring states.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Boxley Valley Elk Viewing and Photography Under Threat

A handful of Boxley Valley farmers are advocating for a hunt to abate nuisance allegations concerning the elk herd. At this time, it appears that the AGFC is in agreement with them, and plans for a Boxley Valley elk hunt are being considered. The stated goal is to drive the elk back into the wild from Boxley Valley. If this plan succeeds, it will destroy elk tourism, and along with it, the regional tourism economy.  This plan has been drawn up in the deepest recession in memory, it is a terrible idea. We simply cannot afford the economic losses. 

There is time to stop this hunt, and help AGFC understand that our Arkansas elk herd is a cash cow from a wildlife watching perspective. The evidence is clear to anyone close to elk watching tourism that it has great economic importance to the state, it might be the #1 wildlife watching attraction. In view of the very small size of the elk herd, 450 animals, elk watching and photography is probably the very most important public payoff associated with the elk herd. Elk watching should be the 80% emphasis of AGFC elk programs, not elk hunting which is extremely limited due to the small herd, and offers no significant economic benefit comparatively. 

There is plenty of evidence to support the view that elk watching pays far more dividends than elk hunting. The website has grown 100% year over year, and in the last year attracted 15,000 wildlife watchers from all 50 states and 33 foreign countries. The Ponca Elk Education Center draws more traffic than all other AGFC education centers combined, and it has experienced strong year over year increases. This tourism traffic comes from all over Arkansas and virtually every state in the union. 

We need now to act to re-balance the elk management program to elk watching rather than elk hunting. Common sense indicates that if you only have 450 animals, you are not seriously in the elk hunting game, that is a future objective. If you have excess elk anywhere, they should be re-located, not killed, to build more viewing resources, with the thought of eventually expanding the herd to have an expanded hunt. 

There is reason to suspect the complaints of the farmers are exaggerated and largely history. Many of the problems no longer exist because a food plot at the intersection of highways 43 and 21 moved the elk herd south two years ago. Problems listed by the farmers in the hearing included fence damage, tourism, and food competition. Since the food plot was created, the elk no longer range the valley as they once did. The 30-50 typical resident elk are pretty much parked in the food plot now. This is also the 90%+ viewing area, so the tourism complaints have little to do with other parts of the valley. 

Certainly one could not complain about elk in a food plot created to attract elk. That would be pretty over-the-top. 

If there are excess elk, they should be relocated to establish larger herds elsewhere, not killed.  Arkansas needs more elk, not fewer elk. Relocation is the only sensible option because it offers the prospect of expanding elk watching tourism in areas like the Gene Rush WMA. If we could create one more Boxley Valley class viewing venue, it would depressurize Boxley Valley, and cement Arkansas' standing as the #1 elk viewing destination in the south, greatly expanding revenues to the state. 

We need to act now to head off this ill conceived plan. I don't believe the AGFC understands the magnitude of elk watching tourism. If it did, and it expanded on the economic power of this attraction, it would have a still higher standing in state government. Done right, elk watching revenues alone could pay for the entire AGFC budget. If I were the AGFC director, elk management would be moved and become the centerpiece of its wildlife watching programs. It is hardly mentioned there now, a huge missed opportunity. 

How to Stop the Proposed Boxley Valley Elk Hunt
Write Cory Gray at to express your opposition to a Boxley Valley elk hunt. This must be done as soon as possible. His phone number is 877-367-3559. If you would, please cc: so we can track emails to AGFC on this issue. We must act now, the future of elk tourism is in the balance. Comment closes by the 15th

If you don't act, we could lose Boxley Valley elk viewing and photography. The time is now. 

Thursday, August 5, 2010

2010 Arkansas Elk Rut

Elk fans should be gearing up for the 2010 Arkansas Elk Rut in historic Boxley Valley. In less than 6 weeks we will be in the thick of the 2010 elk rut as massive herd bulls vie for control of breeding rights. Each year more and more people have discovered that Boxley Valley is the single best place for elk viewing in many states. Prime time is from mid-September to mid-October. It is during this period that bull elk fight before settling into the normal rut.

By far the best and most reliable viewing is along Highway 43 in the fields north and south of the Highway 21 intersection. It is true that elk do stray into other fields now and then, but these fields have been planted as feed plots for the elk who prefer them.

Photographers and elk viewers should equip themselves with long telephoto lenses and good binoculars. A 400MM lens is ideal, but a 200MM lens will with with a multiplier. 10x binoculars are ideal for getting up close.

Stay tuned to this blog for up-to-date information on the stages of the rut. We are now in the preliminary staging. From about mid-month until early September bull elk are rubbing velvet off their antlers on trees. They have pretty much completed their antler growth by now since the antler drop in late March and early April. Visitors might see this scraping off of the velvet around mid-August, but generally that will require very early morning or late evening visits.

Bugling will begin in mid-September, but it peaks later in the month. Last year I hear the first bugle of the season in mid-August, and the last one in December, but these are very rare outliers, and perhaps temporary insanity. Hearing an elk bugle for the first time is a revelation, an experience that should not be missed.

I will tell you when I hear the first bugling of any significance. That is in the future now.

If you plan to come in late September you can take advantage of the Ozark Mountain Artists Studio Tour. This year the event will be September 17th to 19th. The tour is a great event for the whole family and a perfect compliment to fall elk viewing that is a morning and evening affair. For more information on the Tour visit their website, . This year is the 4th edition of this popular event that draws from 5 states.

Stay tuned for updates on the elk rut and fall events in the Buffalor River region.

In Other Matters
After 3 years this is the right time to move my blog to Google Blogger from Word Press. I prefer the look and feel of Blogger, and it meets my needs for a simple way to convey news. My suspicion is that hardly anyone looks backward at old posts, so that is kind of irrelevant. Any post of permanent value is probably reworked and elsewhere on the site as part of the permanent content.