Saturday, July 30, 2011

Inflection Point

Big Bull in Late Velvet, Boxley Valley 7/30/11 6:30AM
To put it mildly, this late spring and summer have been "biblical" weather.  Super heavy rain gave way to our current extreme heat and drought, now about 2 months old. For any nature photographer these challenges contain within them unusual opportunities. At the same time, the first stage of the annual elk rut is upon us.

Big bull elk are now entering about the last two weeks of their velvet period. I took some pictures of some nice bulls this morning in velvet. Little anter growth remains, it is now pretty easy to pick out the contenders in this year's elk rut.

This is the general 2011 elk rut timetable:

  • Mid August to mid September big bulls scrape velvet
  • Early rut begins in the third week in September (bugling begins)
  • First bull fights for domination 3rd week in September to first week in October
  • Elk rut continues until November through multiple estrous cycles
  • Some very late breeding in December, but generally the rut is over
The steps above are a yearly pattern that has held over many years. There will always be animals that start early or late and extend either side of this calendar. These outlying behaviors are natures hedge against calamities. If the worst happens, some animals will breed, and the species will abide. 

Visitors to Boxley Valley will usually see big bulls at the ends of the day, but I believe the very early morning is most reliable. As long as we are in this extreme heat, the elk are heading for cover as early as 7AM. This morning it was 6:45. In this heat, the elk generally become more nocturnal.

Most elk calves are now 2 months old, but there is always a crop that are born from the second and third estrous. A couple years back we saw a newborn around the first of August, pretty clearly a third estrous calf. Recently there has been a large cow and calf elk herd down by the south trailhead to the Upper Buffalo River Wilderness. Remember that a cow elk with a calf is maybe the most dangerous elk there is. She will attack you and stomp you. This seems to have to happen every few years for tourists to remember. 

I will be writing a lot during the rut, complete with pictures.