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.

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