Monday, December 26, 2011

The Thinking Side of Photography

Lately I have been meditating on my free February workshop presentation to the Harrison Camera Club. The topic is Wildlife, Wild Flowers & Wild Hairs. It is important to me not to be entirely serious. I am certain there is wisdom in stepping back from certainty and understanding that all things are "wiggly", the world is about verbs mostly and few nouns intrude. This includes all rules, mine included.

My core focus will be on "wild hairs". I think about photography a lot. I deconstruct, take apart, the creative process believing that careful thinking is the most important creative tool any photographer has. Put another way, "your head should always be attached" when you take photos. It is true that serendipitous photos come your way if you are hacking around, but you can get better results if you re-attach your head.

Here is a short list of my personal wild hairs about photography:

Pre-visualization & Light 
  • Great photos tell stories. To quote poet Muriel Rukeyser "The universe is made of stories, not atoms". Like stories, pictures range from haiku to novels. You will succeed the extent to which you tell a story. Does your photography evoke emotions? 
  • Equipment is not photography any more than brushes are painting. I really get fatigued over this confusion. My recommendation on equipment is that you should not buy before you hit a creative barrier in your actual picture taking.  The time may come when the lack of a certain lens will matter, or not. Toting 25 lenses mostly hurts your back, it does not expand your creativity in most cases. Often I take just one lens. Yup.
  • Composition is what matters most. How do you learn composition? Dig, study and shoot. Step outside your norms and make mistakes. Study composition in painting for landscapes and portraiture, study composition in flower arranging for wildflowers, etc. Take risks, try stuff. Etc.  If an image "speaks to you" figure out why and how it was taken. 
  • Learn to see light. Seriously. Many photographers simply don't see. Do you know your camera sees only 50% or so of the light of your eyes, meaning short tonal range? You can expose for the shadows or highlights, or take HDR's to capture the whole range in the scene. Understand that subtle differences in light will be amplified in your image.
  • Study Photography through Pre-Visualization. You can learn a lot by relaxing and thinking about light and composition for any subject. Forget the camera, use your imagination to identify what you seek in light, shadow, form, and organization of those forms.  For animal photography, what behaviors do you seek? For landscapes, what lighting, what forms and lines, placement of objects, and so on?  If you do pre-visualization exercises you will recognize an opportunity much better when it presents itself
Opportunities Must be Recognized 

This short list is only the beginning really, but it does cover the high spots. Each of the 5 points is a book in itself. My photo $150 one-on-one workshops get at these points (and others). 

Ansel Adams said that getting 5 good photos a year was a good average, any more was a very good year. That is the confession of a master who understood the points above (and more). 

Now is a good time to study. The challenge of working in the subtle tones of winter forces your hand as a photographer. Finding compositions in this context is always challenging, but you must believe there is a photo. Be thoughtful, make mistakes, learn. Greet the 2012 season with a new creative approach. 

Sunday, December 11, 2011

12/11/11 December Overview

December has to be one of the biggest missed opportunities for photographers and elk watchers. This is the end of the rut, but there are big bulls around in all-bull herds and in late rut herds.

The picture below was taken this morning. It is always nice to get one of the big boys around water. In this case he was crossing one of the many creeks in Boxley Valley. This was taken shortly after he was aroused from bedding right next to Highway 43. The "black" patch on his back is from the ice that broke away from his hide -- it is surrounded by white frost. I like the reflection in delicately foggy water.

There are great pictures to be had. I have not been posting maps because there is also an elk hunt underway, or at least there was. I don't want to be a guide for the hunt.

This morning there were two herds on the valley. One by the Ponca Access, and a second down by the 43/21 intersection. Both are nice-sized herds.

The ends of the day remain the best time for elk photos. Other times you may see elk in this cold weather, but the light is flat and the herds are likely to be bedded down rather than moving. This morning I saw a creek crossing and a road crossing. There were only 3 other vehicles watching the elk -- a lot for December.  Come on down and you will probably have the place to yourself.

Late Rut/Post Rut Wall-Hanger -- Taken 12/11/11

Saturday, December 3, 2011

12/3/11 The Beast Returns in the South Valley

This morning I was pleasantly surprised to see the Boxley Beast with a big harem down by the Buffalo River in the south end.

In other areas of the valley viewing is much the same. Two bulls are still rutting. There are all bull herds by the intersection of Highway 43 and 21.

True to history, this morning I had the valley to myself. I got a picture of elk in the river, a nice close up or two of the Boxley Beast along the woods. Great opportunities and nobody is taking advantage of them.

This weekend will be cold and perhaps icy weather will make driving difficult, but if the trees ice, the photography can be amazing. Elk will love the icy weather.

Today's herd map is below:

Friday, December 2, 2011

12/1/11 Elk Viewing Good, Weekend Ahead

This is just about ideal weather for all day elk viewing. There is no question that mornings and evenings remain the best time for viewing, but the herds are less likely to run away the first time sun hits the fields.

Frost Blossoms Now Occur on Cold Mornings
They are Great Abstract Subjects
December 1 there were 3 herds of some size in the valley, with a tiny one mid valley.

The first Ponca field has been pretty good for few days now. The herd there is young animals, many of them yearlings. You can observe they are a bit small, and they can be very playful. These elk will spring around like baby goats. The small bull with them twirls fighting imaginary foes.

At the intersection of highway 43 and 21 there are two herds. One is all bulls, the second is a mixed herd that is another tail end of the rut herd.

So far as I can tell, there are still two bulls running cows in Boxley Valley. The rut is really winding down, but some breeding is still going on.

Remember to check Lost Valley when you visit. December has traditionally be the hot month for elk in Lost Valley. I have no idea why.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

11/29/11 Elk Viewing Remains Good

Elk viewing remains very good as we near the end of the 2011 rut. On the 29th there were 3 herds in Boxley Valley. The largest, nearly 50 animals were down by Moore Creek in the south end. We watched the herd move from its grazing area to the bedding area across 43.

Down by the Ponca Access at the north end a herd composed mostly of yearlings played in the field closest to the access. They were springing around like baby goats for a while. The young bull in the group was fighting an imaginary opponent now and then. Great stuff.

The third herd was in the middle of the valley back near the cane line, too far to see much unless you had high-powered lenses of binoculars.

Frost, Dead Leaves, Grass, Rocks & Shadows
Explore These Textures in Black and White
At the mill pond we saw an otter churn the water around a fish, creating a bubbly wake at least 4 feet in diameter. He swam away continuing his hunt.

Two trumpeter swans were in the pond as well.

This is the season when elk viewing is outstanding but there seem to be few takers. The cold has extended the viewing periods now. Leaf-off makes spotting elk much easier. There are new photo opportunities with frost blossoms and frozen puddles. Late fall is also the geology season.

Nature is now gray, brown with patches of green and steel blue. I recommend spending time working in this environment. Shapes and patterns now trump colors in most compositions. My own preference is to capture pattern in my photos. My eye goes to shapes and lines animated by shadows. If you spend some time examining these opportunities it will strengthen your compositions with all subjects.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

11/24/11 Thanksgiving Weekend Viewing

Late Season Bull Elk Surveys Cows in Mid-Valley
Happy Thanksgiving. Weather has turned cool, perhaps the dominant pattern now for the season. Elk viewing will be good in these cold months. I am making fewer trips to Boxley Valley, but I will update this blog a few times a week. Visits to Boxley Valley will be successful on most days now because of the cooler weather. Elk love this weather.

Visitors should follow these guidelines for late fall viewing:
  •  Be sure to check all of Boxley Valley from Ponca to the South Trailhead to the Upper Wilderness with each visit. There are many different elk herds in and around the valley on back fields, they will move in and out of viewing areas.
  • While all day elk viewing is more likely now, morning and evening remain the best chance to see elk up close. Seeing big bull elk up close is still often best at daybreak.
  • Do not assume because you saw elk in a location last week, or last year, that you will see them in the same location today. This almost never works.
  • ALWAYS check Lost Valley for a herd. The fields along the entrance road to Lost Valley are outstanding viewing locations when elk are there. From now until the end of the year is when Lost Valley elk viewing is most likely. Photographers will not want to miss that opportunity.
  • If you see cattle in a field, the likelihood of seeing elk in the same field is just about zero.
  • There are 4 zones (see map) now with active elk herds as follows:
       1. Ponca Zone -- There are a few fields near the Ponca Access that elk rotate through.
       2. Mid-Valley -- North of the Mill Pond, south of Lost Valley.
       3. 43/21 Zone -- The all-bull herds seems to favor these fields, often by the mill pond.
       4. South End Zone -- Around Smith Creek & the Upper Wilderness Trailhead.
  • Don't waste your time with the elk viewing pullout, it is lousy, a 0% viewing area. 
The mix of herds now includes an all-bull herd at 43/21, rutting bulls and herds in late rut, and the first small post rut all-cow herds. This is absolutely the best time to get pictures of bull elk in groups and will remain so until around April 1.

See new map with 4 zones below:

Friday, November 18, 2011

11/18/11 3 Herds Today, Weekend Outlook Good

Hot, Steamy Love
Two rutting herds this morning and one all bull herd in Boxley Valley.

Today a herd showed up in the Ponca field near the launch. This rutting herd, and a second near the mid-valley, are working a set of fields that include Lost Valley. Percentages favor one of these herds showing up in Lost Valley as they move between fields.

Cool weather means steamy breath shots, always dramatic, and outstanding if you get a bull elk bugling. As long as there are rutting herds, there are bugling bulls. These shots are in play for sure.

I would still check the entire Boxley Valley with any visit. There have not been any herds in the deep south end recently, but I am sure there are two down there in the back fields somewhere. One of these herds was headed by Prince, the magnificent 8x8 bull. Pictures of him are always worthwhile.

The weather will be warming some, but there should be cloud cover as well. These offset one another to some extent. I believe the best shots will be around daybreak. Get up and your chances of seeing the elk up close are very good.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

11/17/11 Cold Weather = Great Elk Viewing

Lost Valley Bull Elk and Harem
in front of Clark Homestead 2009
This morning there were 4 herds in Boxley Valley. All the herds were located between the entrance to Lost Valley and the intersection of highways 43 & 21.

In the field about a half mile south of the Lost Valley entrance there were two herds with rutting bulls. In spite of the cold, viewing was over shortly after the sun hit the fields. There was fairly frequent bugling for a while when the herds moved to the bedding areas.

Down by the 43/21 intersection there was a fairly large herd of elk, as well as the all bull herd that has been frequenting the area now for over a week.

If you get to these areas at daybreak, the elk are often pretty close to the fences bordering Highway 43, often with animals between the fence and the road.

The weekend weather forecast calls for rainyish weather. That means cloud cover, a bit of rain, and probably extended elk viewing, especially for Sunday. I will be updating this blog tomorrow, perhaps with more insight about the weekend.

Important Note:  The middle valley herd location are now ideal for a herd to show up in Lost Valley. One herd is not a half mile from Lost Valley on the same side of 43. Be sure to check Lost Valley when you visit -- elk photo shoots in Lost Valley are memorable and a bit rare.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

11/13/11 Elk Herd Location Report

This morning was quite different than yesterday. If I had to guess the difference was about pressure from deer hunters and the transition from cloudy day to a sunny warm day today.

We have had pretty high winds now for a couple of days and that translates to dynamic weather. One of the attractions of nature is that it is more a verb and not a noun. Our language would have us freeze the world in tidy categories when little is tidy. Reality is "wiggly" and not so predictable as we might prefer. So it is with elk movements, much as I understand them, there is much that remains unpredictable.

The bull herd down by the intersection of 43 and 21 has split into two groups, one further north around the edge of the mill pond, and a second group south of Moore Creek. These are still the "early all-bull herd", the later all-bull herd will contain the biggest bulls who are still involved in the late rut. Today, these were the only elk to see in the valley. Expect the really big bulls to join them rut slowly ends over the next month.

There are still at least 4 herds in late rut that will appear on and off. These range from the Ponca fields all the way to the south trail head and could appear any time. Yesterday there were 3, today none, this evening could be 2 or 3. Hunting pressure today is evident, and it drives much of the movement.

Today's map:

Saturday, November 12, 2011

11/12/11 Bull Fight Today, Herds Return on Cool Weather

Real bull elk fight today in mid-valley. Cool overcast weather provided outstanding viewing.

A fairly large bull elk herd was in the field by the intersection of 43 and 21. Right on time, this is the beginning of the transition to the post-rut period. Many of these bulls are satellites that have detached from the herds as fewer cow elk are estrous. Antler fans get a decent opportunity to get 8-10 bull elk in one group. 

We were treated to 3 herds in the mid-valley. Two herds were close together and that led to a bull fight between the herd bulls. Across 43 behind us another herd showed up and there was actually bugling across the road. A lot of bugling in this area this morning. 

The take away point from today is that the rut is still on and quality elk viewing is far from over. There were 3 herds, and 3 rutting bulls in a pretty compact area. I am absolutely certain there is at least 1 more rutting herd in the south end, but currently it is rotated to the back fields. 

Be very sure to check out the Lost Valley fields if you visit. The herd that was west of 43 this morning could end up there Sunday -- it is clearly setup based on this morning's herd locations. 

The updated map is below:

Thursday, November 10, 2011

11/10/11 Elk Herd Locations & Full Moon Slump

Pickin's were slim this morning, however, if you got out at daybreak the all bull herd down by the 43/21 intersection was close to the road.

We are on a full moon now. Often elk seem to feed at night under these conditions. It is interesting to visit the valley at night and see if you can spot the elk. Around here full moon light can be pretty bright. Often this impacts elk viewing.

The Buffalo National River is running pretty hard for any of you interested in floating. Check for information on river levels and outfitters.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

11/9/11 Elk Herd Location Map

Cool weather had the elk back in Boxley Valley this morning. Typical of a November day I had the place to myself. Elk viewing was very good.

The herd in the first Ponca field was quite large. They were not only in the field, they were in the woods bordering the field. I would estimate the group at nearly 40 animals. The herd bull is still in rut. This is the same herd that has been working the fields around the Ponca Access now for a week or so on and off.

The first all-bull herds are forming. This morning the bull herd was down by the intersection of 43 and 21.  I am marking these all bull herds with a capital b following the date like this "11/9B" as distinct from just regular dates for regular herds. Read yesterday's post to better understand the late rut transition to sex-based herds.

Looks like the elk viewing weather will be pretty good through the weekend. I will check and report on the elk herds tomorrow and again on Saturday AM.

The Buffalo National River is running pretty good now after heavier-than-predicted rains last night. Check out floating possibilities and river levels at the Buffalo River Chamber of Commerce website. This website has everything you need to know about current river levels with real time USGS gauges for the entire river, along with free printable topo maps, and a links to floating outfitters.

Start with Ponca, other gauges are mid page on the same page. Here's the link. This is a great opportunity to do a fall float. Fall color is good in many places. Some outfitters float year round.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

11/8/11 Late Season Elk Viewing -- Frequently Asked Questions

A Back Cover of Arkansas Wildlife Mag
Taken on March 21 near Ponca
Rough storms are keeping me out of Boxley Valley today. Elk like this weather, but I don't, especially with my camera in tow. I thought it was a perfect opportunity to talk about late fall and winter elk viewing.

It is time to look at where we are at in the 2011 Arkansas Elk Rut.  The diagram below says it all. This does pretty much come down to a bell shaped curve like so many other things. I would place the peak of the rut at around the second or third week in October. The rut heads slowly downhill after that.

Yes, this is an oversimplification. For example, some of the best bull fight action happens early on. The big guys are establishing their pecking order. After that, there is more breeding and roughly it peaks as shown below. There will be early rutting herds, and late rutting herds. Nothing in nature is that tidy. Still the point of this post is to help my readers get clear on elk viewing opportunities and how the post rut period unfolds. Great elk viewing and photography is far from over.

Frequently Asked Questions About Late Season Elk Viewing:

Q: Is the rut still going on?
A: You bet it is. It will continue until the cows are all successfully bred. The curve is really about breeding. Mating has been observed in early September and in January, but that is very rare.

Q: Is it still possible to see a real bull fight? Yes, but it is less likely than earlier in the rut. I photographed real bull fight November 9th one year. I have heard and seen them later. Sparring continues until around April 1.

Q: How much longer can I view elk in Boxley Valley?
A: Actually elk viewing is good now, and it will improve as the weather gets cooler. Elk like cold weather, and they will often stay out in fields all day long in late fall and winter, but mornings and evenings are your best bet.

Q: The curve shows the rut slowing down and then ending in December, but you say elk viewing is good all winter. What's up with that?
A: Elk viewing is not the same as viewing the elk rut.  There will still be about the same number of elk to see, it will just be different. You may see a herd of huge bull elk for example.

Q: How is elk viewing different after the rut?
A: There are plenty of elk to see, but things change. As the rut tails off, the elk herds slowly split up by sex. Cow elk and their calves form cow-only herds. Bull elk and their peers form bull-only herds. This is a gradual transition and it is pretty much complete by mid-December.

Q: What about elk watching and photography after the rut?
A: Many of my best photos are from this post-rut period, including cover shots and even the state elk brochure. Why?  Big bull herds offer exceptional viewing and photo opportunities. Elk slow down some and seem less skittish.  I took the cover photo for the state elk brochure December 6.

Q: What about bugling?
A: It tapers off with the slow decline of the rut. I have photographed bugling in December, but clearly it slowly declines.

Q: Anything else?
A: Post rut you may have the place to yourself. Crowds of viewers are smaller, ironically when the viewing is better in many ways.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

11/6/11 4 Herds Yesterday -- Today 1

The big weather change has the elk moving around again quite a bit. I would not be surprised to see a few herds out tonight, but there was only 1 this morning down by the intersection of of 43 & 21.

Totally cloudy today. If more come out they will come out earlier than usual. Movement all day long is possible. It will be interesting to see what happens tomorrow.

Bald eagles are around now a couple of weeks early.

Today's map is below. We have 4 herds active in 3 zones of the valley. Seems like they are coming and going a lot these days. Remember to check the whole valley. Where they were yesterday is no guarantee they will be there today. Things are pretty dynamic.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

11/5/11 4 Herds in Boxley Valley Now -- Location Map

4 elk herds in the valley this morning.

A surprise arrival was the large herd just south of the Ponca Access this morning. A herd was behind the mill pond. Two more herds were on the opposite sides of 21 down by the Upper Wilderness Trail Head. The cold weather has definitely changed things. Overcast skies this morning extended elk viewing until after 9AM.

The south end remains the best spot for elk bugling. Prince is in the south end.

Good elk viewing has returned. Today's map is below.

11/4/11 Prince Classic Pose

The Best Arkansas Bull Elk Ever -- The Prince of Boxley Valley 

Friday, November 4, 2011

11/4/11 Prince in Rut

Prince Rutting 11/4/11       Copyright Michael Dougherty 2011

11/4/11 4 Herds Continue 2011 Rut in Boxley Valley

The Prince of Boxley Valley 11/4/11
Cold weather has 4 elk herds returning to Boxley Valley in the 2011 rut. Action is loaded in the south end from the observation pullout to the fields in the South end of Boxley Valley around Smith Creek. There was quite a bit of bugling this morning complete with steamy breaths. Definitely the action that any serious photographer or wildlife watcher would want to witness.

If you are thinking that elk viewing is over for 2011, you would be dead wrong. If past experience is any guide, the best is still ahead. We have the remnants of good fall color, bald eagles here and there, and the last third of the elk rut.

Great weekend weather for elk viewing is ahead. Expect the elk to be close to the morning viewing locations throughout the weekend.

This morning's herd location map is below:

Thursday, November 3, 2011

11/3/11 A Day Off

Strong winds and rain this morning made today a perfect day off from the map and blog. This is classic November weather -- time to hole up.

I am certain that the elk love this weather. Years of watching them have proven to me that elk consider this weather just about the best of any weather. They love cold, rainy weather.

Friday is predicted to be clear weather, followed by partly cloudy on Saturday. Sunday has a 30% chance of rain. The highs each day are 58, 63 and 67 through Sunday. This will be ideal viewing and photography weather.

If you are coming up tonight, I would be sure to check out the fields around Smith Creek in the south end of Boxley Valley. That herd is ranging around, but it does pop up for easy viewing most days. It should be rotating into the field just north of Smith Creek any time now.

Look for an updated map tomorrow. There is a very long way to go in this prime elk viewing season, I will be back on top of it tomorrow.  But today, I am kicking back a bit.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

11/2/11 Herd Location Map

This morning the only large herd was at the south end of Boxley Valley. This herd has been moving around a lot and it is reasonable to expect they might move north during the day. I have heard reports of them moving into the field just north of Smith Creek in the evening.

Mid week we will have another significant weather shift toward much cooler weather, this will no doubt extend elk viewing hours, and it could trigger the movement of herds back into the valley. By next weekend, the elk viewing pattern will be very different. My guess is that it will improve steadily.

Bald eagles are showing up now. Last evening I saw a number of them in one group -- probably just migrating through. Apparently unnaturally cold weather in the north has moved up the date of the annual southward migration. Seeing bald eagles is never common, but after the fall migration it is more common. We are now entering the bird migratory season.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

11/1/11 Elk Herd Map & A Look Ahead

This morning the elk herd that has been hanging out in the first Ponca field was there again. They were up pretty close to the road, possibly preparing to cross. The Ponca field is about the best field for viewing for the last few days. 

A second herd was behind the Mill Pond, and a third down at the south end near Smith Creek. 

November is a great month to view elk. Later this week we head back into cooler weather. This should translate into more herds coming into Boxley Valley to graze, and longer viewing times. 

Bald eagles seem to be arriving early this year. The normal season is from Thanksgiving until Valentine's Day. Cold weather in the north seems to be pushing them down. The best place to see bald eagles in Boxley Valley are around the mill pond and in the middle valley area, but they do fly all along the river.                                      

Monday, October 31, 2011

10/31/11 Map -- First Ponca Field is Good Now

We close out the October map today.

There is one elk herd at the north end of the valley in the very first field south of the Ponca access.  I believe checking the south end field near Smith Creek is a good bet any day. Remember we are entering the period when traditionally the fields along the entrance road to Lost Valley could hold elk. They are worth checking because if they are there, the viewing and photography are outstanding.

10/31/11 Late Fall in the Ozarks

Fall Color at Buffalo River Canyon
Sunrise along the top bench, Buffalo River Canyon. Surely there is no more perfect place in the Ozarks. Fall color is where you find it, and when you find it.

This morning was a short break from the elk. I will be backing off a bit during November. During September and October I made about 70 visits to the Boxley Valley chasing elk and driving about 2700 miles.

Elk viewing will be just great until the end of March. The rut is still going on but now we are slowly winding down. Late this month, we will enter the third estrous, and the pace of the rut will slow. About that time, the blend between the rut and post rut will be evident. Slowly the elk herd will split along gender lines. It is at this time that big bull elk fans can get some of the most dramatic pictures of the year. 100% bull elk herds will roam primarily the south half of Boxley Valley. If antlers are your passion, this period until March is prime time.

The Buffalo River Photo Experience
Rutting bulls will be running cows into December, but some will begin the formation of these all-bull herds. The show is far from done. The best bull fight I ever photographed was November 9th. My first river crossing was shot December 6 in 2006.

Fall color is very good now and at peak. I decided to grab some photos this morning with a new friend. After our shoot, he went down to Ponca and got his first elk river crossing. As he put it, "I got my wall hanger". I could not be more pleased. The point of all this writing and the maps is to help all of you get those "wall hangers".  Nothing pleases me more. I get my share, I want you to get yours.

If you plan to visit the valley this evening to see elk, the herd in the first Ponca field is still hanging around and putting on a good show (the north end of the valley just out of Ponca).  Don't forget those fall color landscapes, we are one storm away from losing the leaves. The elk show will continue for 3 months. In some ways, it only gets better from November the end of the year and beyond.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

10/30/11 Ponca Field, Smith Creek Field -- Elk At Both Ends

Elk are at the opposite ends of Boxley Valley now. There is a herd in the very first Ponca field, and a second at the south end in the field north of Smith Creek.

Absolutely wonderful weather and peak fall color.

Bald eagles have started arriving a few weeks early due to cold blast in the north.  The customary eagle viewing season is from Thanksgiving until Valentine's Day. A good place to see the eagles when they arrive is the Mill Pond area.

Thanks to those who came to my workshops and visited us in the annual Color Fest.

Friday, October 28, 2011

10/28/11 Elk Herd Report & Color Fest Friday and Saturday

Elk have responded to the weather change as I expected. The herd that is/was in the very first Ponca field put on a good show this morning to a nice crowd. This herd will probably move across the street today to get away from cattle in the adjoining fields.

There are a couple of other herds in the valley, but they were a bit slow getting out today. One is behind the mill pond, and another is in the field north of Smith Creek. The latter one was bedded down in a big depression in the field.

I am doing free photo workshops today and tomorrow at 2PM at the Color Fest. This will focus on elk by the season with some attention to conditions and photographic challenges.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

10/27/11 Rain & Cold Cause Elk Return

Great news. The return of cold (and wet) weather has stimulated the elk herds to return to a more normal pattern. This weekend should be good elk viewing. Fall color has also hit another gear and is at absolute peak now.

I will be doing my free photography workshops at the elk center regardless of weather conditions, or if the Color Fest is called off because of weather. Color Fest will be going on unless the weather makes an unexpected turn for the worst.                      

Elk map below.

10/27/11 Weather Change, Delayed Map Today

Since it is Thursday and we are in the grip of a rain storm that could last most of the day, I am delaying my entry to later today. I will be checking on the elk herds later this afternoon.

It is much colder today and that bodes well for elk movements back to the fields of Boxley Valley. The question is 1) will there be thunderstorms sufficiently violent to keep the elk under cover, and 2) how long will it take them to move back to the fields. My guess is 1) NO, and 2) not long at all, tonight or tomorrow morning.

The elk weather forecast could not be better. The highest daily temperature going forward through the weekend is 61. Today the predicted high is 49 and the radar looks like rain all day.

This weekend is perfect elk weather, with rain ending today and transitioning to clear, cool weather all weekend. All this, and peak fall color too.

Remember the Color Fest starts tomorrow. I will be doing a free photography workshop both days at 2:00PM.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

10/26/11 No Elk Herds This Morning

There are days like this. My feeling is that the elk herds will be back in Boxley Valley by the end of the week as the weather cools. This is the second day with not much going on in Boxley Valley. My best guess is that when the elk do reappear, they will be from the Lost Valley entrance road and points south.  I will keep you posted. Be sure to check the whole valley when you visit. The elk herds will re-appear very suddenly. We are still in the 2011 rut.

Fall color is great now, much better than in the last few years. If you are planning to do a color tour, this weekend will be the first great fall color touring weekend.  Don't forget the Color Fest in Ponca Friday and Saturday.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

2011 Color Fest Friday and Saturday at the Elk Education Center -- Free Photo Workshops

No visit to the Boxley Valley in Ponca area is complete without visiting the award-winning Ponca elk education Center. The center features displays and hands-on demonstrations of various aspects of wildlife in the Buffalo River region. It has a very complete gift shop that includes nature guides, free posters, and publications from the AGFC. Staff at the Center provide information about area elk and wildlife viewing opportunities. Call 870-861-2432 for information and the latest information on elk and wildlife watching opportunities.

Even Elk Visit the Education Center for Guidance
Each October Ponca Elk Education Center holds its annual Color Fest scheduled to coincide with peak fall color. This year the Color Fest will be held on October 28 and 29th from 10 AM to 4:30 PM each day. There will be live demonstrations by area artists as well as a small art fair. I will be there with my wife Mandy selling photography, Christmas cards, and postcards.

Each day at 2PM I will be conducting a free photography workshop in the downstairs conference room at the center. This informal workshop focuses on elk photography and other photographic opportunities in the Boxley Valley area. Plenty of time is provided for questions and answers after the workshop -- bring your questions. I look forward to meeting you and talking about photography and elk in our area. This year I will show many different photos and discuss what I had to do to get them. I will also discuss wildlife photo composition. Call 870-861-2432 to reserve your spot. If there are enough attendees, I will schedule a second session following the first. 

Ponca elk education Center is located just north of the intersection of highways 43 and 74 in Ponca. There is ample parking, picnic tables and a pavilion, and restrooms inside the facility. The Elk Education Center is a short drive from the primary wildlife viewing areas in Boxley Valley.

10/25/11 Elk & Fall Color Report

Not much to report today on the elk front. There is a small herd behind the Mill Pond, and just stragglers elsewhere. This limited viewing will not last with significant weather changes just ahead.

Cattle are now grazing again in the Ponca fields. That is the kiss of death for elk grazing, it is about 95% certain you will never see elk and cattle in the same field for long, if at all.

If there is anything good in this it is the look ahead. Today is the last day of relatively warm weather before temperatures head down to seasonal normal temperatures, and more cloudy weather. If elk hate anything, it is hot sunlight and warm temperatures. Wednesday has a 50% chance of precipitation, and there is a chance through Friday. This is a significant pattern change, and the elk will react to it.

With the exception of the fields with current grazing cattle, Boxley Valley from the Lost Valley entrance to the south trail head will be the place to expect to see elk. What this means is that visitors should drive the whole valley before settling on a viewing choice.

It has been interesting this year to see how seldom the fields around the highway 43/21 intersection have had an elk herd in them. Common sense tells me at least one elk herd will show up in these fields because for all intents and purposes they have not been grazed. They are all supposedly planted as a food plot.

With the weather change and cool temperatures, I expect good if not great elk viewing by the weekend. There are a few herds around, but they are just not in the valley for now. We shall see.

Fall Color
Fall color is very good now if not at peak. Photographers and sightseers will enjoy the fall beauty that our national treasure has to offer. Photographers will want to get the fall color pictures while they are still possible. Think about river landscapes and pool reflections. Not enough photographers look at river reflections for fall color inspiration.

Monday, October 24, 2011

New Elk Video Posted on Bull Fights vs. Sparring

I thought it would be useful to put together a slide show to show the difference between bull elk fighting and bull elk sparring. I get asked this question all the time.

Very few people get the chance to see a real bull elk fight even though they happen often early in the rut. When people tell me that they have seen a fight I assume it is sparring. Sparring is fun to watch, but nothing is on the line with sparring bulls, it is almost something they do to combat boredom.

Here is the video. I realize the sound could be better:

If somehow you missed it, the following is a video of a true bull fight in Boxley Valley:

10/24/11 Elk Herd Report & Map

Heavy fog again this morning, but one herd did show up in the Ponca fields. This looked to me like two herds had merged and a newly-deposed herd bull was looking on as his herd left the field. With the fog it was hard to make sense of the specific bulls and dynamics.

Viewing was done at 8AM. There was a fair amount of bugling. Persons arriving at 8:30AM might have heard some bugling, but the elk were largely gone.

The October 24 herd map is below.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

10/23/11 Morning Fog, Ugh

This morning Boxley Valley was socked in with fog, presumably from a short rain this morning. I did not see a herd of elk this morning in the valley anywhere. I did see a lot of stragglers, enough to satisfy those who were visiting. If I had to guess the herd that has been in the Ponca fields was behind the fence line between the fence and the river. On the other end of the valley in the south field near Smith Creek, elk were also moving along the river and they seemed to be there. Neither situation did elk watchers much good. These days happen. The fog made it worse.

Fall color is very good now and still heading toward peak. There are still plenty of green trees.

This evening could be good. It is anyone's guess. This morning's viewing does not offer much of an idea about what tonight's viewing might be.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

10/22/11 Elk Herd Positions -- Death on 43

Sadly, this morning a calf elk was killed by a motorist. Speed kills. My guess is that it was not a tourist, but rather someone in a hurry to get somewhere. During the elk rut, any speed over 45MPH is madness. When elk are visible along the road, 20MPH is more like it. That's two elk this year, and two that could have probably been avoided with a little restraint.

This morning, as predicted, there were more herds evident with the opening of muzzle loader season. The 3 elk herds were located in the Ponca fields (scene of the traffic death), in the middle valley field, and another in the north corner of the field north of Smith Creek in the south end.

Lots of people out viewing and enjoying the show. Middle valley viewers were cautioned by police to be more careful. That is a dangerous viewing area with blind curves and dips in the road.

The major viewing was over by 8:30AM, although stragglers remained much later. The hunting pressure for whitetails clearly moved more of the elk herd into the valley.

Remember to drive carefully. If you see elk on the side of the road they may bolt in front of you. Go very slowly if they are on the roadsides.

Friday, October 21, 2011

10/21/11 Elk Herd Report -- Weekend Outlook & More

This morning was a bit frustrating because only one elk herd showed up, the one in the mid valley area. The bull running that herd is Hacksaw, the same bull I photographed crossing the Buffalo the first week in September. He was the first bull I saw start the 2011 Arkansas elk rut.  I heard him fight about a minute this morning behind the cane line. The unmistakable clatter of bull crashing antlers cannot be faked.

This morning the herd run by Pretty Boy was not in the Ponca fields (like yesterday), and Hercules was not in the field north of Smith Creek. In both these cases, we the herds are moving around a lot in a complex of fields.

Lost Valley Bull in front of Clark Homestead
Here is how you should interpret the map below. Looking at the date patterns, you can see where the elk frequent. Currently, in the case of the herds at the opposite ends of the valley, there are "complexes" of fields around the "viewing fields" that the elk move in and out of depending on the day. So, if you see a bunch of dates that are not consecutive, but are close to one another, you know that a herd is working the complex in question. Currently there are two herds showing this behavior, one in a north complex, the one I call the Ponca fields, and a second, working a south complex, the one I call the Smith Creek fields.

The middle valley herd has been in the same field now for 4 days. There is a similar field complex there, but they seem content to graze in the same viewing field for now.

A Look Ahead
Today begins muzzle loader season. The significance of this is that the hunters will reduce the desirability of many fields due to hunting pressure. This means that the 3 field complexes currently in use will have fewer fields in each complex because the elk avoid the hunters. To get to the bottom line, expect the elk to move into the "viewing fields" more often because there is no hunting pressure in Boxley Valley.

This could also cause a shift of the areas currently in use by the elk. It is quite possible for example that the herd(s) that have been using the south end fields will move to the fields near the intersection of highways 43 and 21.

Elk Herd Crossing Lost Valley Entrance Road in 2009
Each year about this time, the fields along the entrance road to Lost Valley and in Steel Creek (to a much lesser extent) come into play. From now on, it would be my recommendation for all elk watchers and photographers to check the Lost Valley fields as well as the entire valley end to end with each visit. Elk viewing in both these places is exceptional when it happens. Lost Valley is a great place to get elk pictures. It is compact and the old Clark homestead is a great backdrop.

This weekend should be great. We are near peak fall color and the elk are still in rut. We are perhaps now in the last third of the peak period, but elk viewing and photography will be good for at least another month.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

10/20/11 Video of the Beast and Hercules in October Frost

I mentioned in my previous post that the Boxley Beast had been deposed by Hercules in a fight sometime yesterday or very early today. Dominance and succession gets complex as we move later into the season. 

What happens is that long term herd bulls get tired out from weeks of patrolling the herd boundaries, fighting off the competition and breeding. The Beast has had a 7 week run and now has lost his standing as herd bull. I believe this will be temporary, but it is hard to say. I have seen big bulls simply walk away from their herds late in the rut, presumably from exhaustion. 

Note the great morning frost we are now having. The tall grass in the south field near Smith Creek looks like clouds of snow in heavy frost. It is beautiful now and we have fall color coming on as a nice kicker. 

10/20/11 Boxley Beast Deposed, 3 Herds in Valley Now

Two stories top today's news. First, the elk are back now in the cold weather setting up an excellent weekend for viewing. Second, the Boxley Beast apparently lost a fight in the last day and has been replaced as a herd bull (for now).

This morning there were three herds in the valley, one in the Ponca fields north of the observation pullout, a second in the mid-valley, and a third has returned to the field north of Smith Creek in the south end. There are stragglers elsewhere.

The south end herd has been dominated by the Boxley Beast up until today. This has been a nearly 7 week reign. He has been replaced by a fresh bull for now. I would rate this south field #1 again for elk viewing, and it is without a doubt the best for bugling. Lots of bugling down there this morning, little elsewhere in the valley.

It is quite possible that after the Beast licks his wounds, there will be another fight. The cumulative fatigue that dominant herd bulls experience during the rut leads to these changes in herd bulls. The question is whether this is permanent, or if when rested, the Beast will battle again. It is my feeling he will rest and attempt to take his herd back. I expect that fight over the next few days. My guess is that he will win his herd back when rested.

The weekend is setting up for great elk viewing. Cold temps are extending the viewing on both ends of the day. This morning two of the herds were still in the fields when I left the valley at 9:30. My advice is still to get to the valley at daybreak, and check the whole valley before settling on the viewing you prefer. My guess is that you will find the south end field most interesting, but elk are nothing if not unpredictable.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

10/19/11 Herd Location Map

This morning looked like moving day to me. Most all the elk were gone by 8AM. Many seemed to be on teh move to other locations. Plenty of stragglers around.

A small herd has returned to the Ponca fields and appeared to bed down behind them this morning. Otherwise, the herd at mid-valley was out.  In the south end field by Smith Creek, I would have to rate them stragglers at this point.

We have experienced quite a weather change. Quite cold this morning and on the edge of frost. In the past, this shift to a colder weather pattern has always changed elk behavior. It should be interesting this week to see where this leads.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Important Benefit Concert Friday Night at Arkansas House in Jasper

Kids Injured While Playing on Rocks
Could Require Immediate Help
Friday night, October 21st at 7PM, the Arkansas House will host a benefit concert to support continued pay phone service at Steel Creek and Kyles Landing. Maintaining these pay phones has been identified as a priority safety issue by the Buffalo River Chamber of Commerce.

The pay phones were recently defunded by the National Park Service as it has attempted to cope with deep federal funding cuts. The Chamber is working to preserve these essential communication links for visitor safety through other means of financial support.

These pay phones are essential to visitor safety. Both Steel Creek and Kyles Landing are cell phone dead zones. Both are popular destinations for floaters, hikers, horsemen and campers. Without these pay phones, park visitors could not report emergencies to rescue teams in a timely manner because there is no cell service to these areas.

Each year Arkansas House does a benefit concert and designates 50% of the proceeds to a local charity. This year Arkansas House chose this worthy Buffalo River Chamber of Commerce safety initiative.

A Fall Can Lead to Life Threatening
Injuries in the BNR Near Steel Creek
Tickets for the benefit concert are $10 and may be purchased in advance at the Boardwalk Cafe, or on the day of the event. Arkansas House is located just north of the square in Jasper, AR. For more information call them at 870-446-5900. For directions and more information about Arkansas House, visit their website at

Please come to the concert and support this important project.

10/18/11 Herd Location Update, Rainy

Spitting rain and wind coupled with cool weather this morning was the first taste of November weather. Elk love this weather, and they were out in it this morning. We got over a half inch of badly needed rain.

The Boxley Beast continues to work the fields around Smith Creek. This morning he and his harem were south of the creek, I expect them to rotate back into the field north of the creek any day. There is more forage there, and the grass should be growing with the rains.

A second herd continues to lurk behind the mill pond with a couple of satellite bulls hanging around just south of the pond along the cane line.

The third herd is in the mid valley field.

The mystery is the Ponca fields. Pretty Boy and his harem have moved off again after a brief appearance. Since there have been no cattle in those fields for some time, they are a natural grazing target. There is enough grazing there to support 2 herds. My guess it that at least one will be back soon, perhaps by the weekend. Anyone visiting the valley should check these fields routinely.

The look ahead this week is excellent. Cold temperatures should extend viewing times. As we move into deeper into the fall, the fields along the entrance to Lost Valley have come into play. Don't forget to check them when you visit.

With tonight's predicted low 30's temperatures, peak fall color should be right on time next week.

Monday, October 17, 2011

10/17/11 -- Weather Change, Herds Gone for Now

The only elk to view this morning were the Boxley Beast's herd as he headed them up to the Upper Wilderness. The rest of the valley was empty except for stragglers.

After tonight's predicted thunderstorms, the next few days will be unseasonably cool. This will create a new viewing pattern. I expect to see elk viewing pick up through the week, but tonight is iffy to be sure. Elk seem to know what is going to happen with the weather so I expect them to take cover even though the storms are supposed to hit after sundown.

Tuesday through Thursday should be good viewing because of unseasonably cool temperatures, and cold nights.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Shoot Elk & Fall Color, But Don't Forget Other Subjects

Fall Butterfly Photography is Great
It is easy to lose sight of every other photographic subject when you have both the elk rut and fall color dominating the photography landscape. If you are planning a photo outing to Buffalo National River there are other photo subjects.

Two you never hear about are fall wildflowers and fall butterfly shooting. The tiny purple asters on the right are a fall wildflower, but one of my favorites. I like to stalk pictures in filtered light and see what happens. Pictures of flowers in filtered light are one of favorite subjects. Add butterflies and it is even more challenging.

Note that the background drops off to blurry color called bokeh, a great creative tool. I took this picture with my trusty 100-400 zoom set for closeups at ISO 2000 underexposed 3 stops using aperture priority. This little skipper cooperated with a visit, as did a sulphur, a painted lady, a monarch, a checkerspot, and a dusky skipper.

It probably took me about 200 shots to get 5 photos worth fussing with. I think this one is the best. Dig around and see what you can find. Butterflies seem to move faster in warm weather, so fall shooting can be very good.

There are no shortage of fall flowers, and there are still plenty of butterfly species to choose from. Add these to your fall list of "things to shoot" and you will always come away with something. Since shooting under the canopy is good at any time of day, this subject complements elk and landscape shooting that are best at the ends of the day.