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.

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