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.

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