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.

11/16/11 Pattern Shift -- Elk Herd Locations

As I predicted, a herd did show up in the Ponca fields this AM. Pretty Boy and his harem returned after a brief stay up the bluff to the west. This morning they put on a nice show. There were also 5 satellite bulls hanging around the edges hoping for a wayward cow to join them.

The herd behind the mill pond continues to be very reliable -- easily the most reliable herd over the last week or so. I do expect them to move into the field adjacent to the south. When they do, there will be much better viewing for this particular herd.

On the south end, the Beast and his harem were out early AM, but gone quite early too, just after 7AM. No doubt we have a nocturnal grazing pattern with this herd. This weeks much cooler weather, beginning Monday night, should make a big difference in the quality of elk viewing there as the week goes on.

I forgot to mention yesterday that I saw a bald eagle flying over the field at the south end. The unmistakable brilliant white head and tail was a treat. It is early for the annual migration, but we do have some eagles that live here all year.

Fall color continues to advance. It is great to have some color show up in elk photos. This is clearly not peak color, but it is the color I prefer. To me fall color is like makeup, it should add dimensionality to a photo but in my compositions it is not really the point of the photo. The point is always the power of the composition and color is only one part of that. The photo is the whole package.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

10/15/11 Elk Herd Locations & Looking Ahead

Despite cooler weather, elk were leaving the fields this morning at 7:30AM. For the last few days we have had brilliant nights under bright moonlight and sometimes this seems to stimulate a strong nocturnal feeding pattern that can shorten the morning viewing. The advice I have given repeatedly to get to the valley at daybreak for morning viewing could not have been more true today. At least at the south end, those coming even at 7:30AM might think the elk were never there.

The Boxley Beast has returned to the south field. Probably he has been working a few fields from there south with his harem. Earlier in the month he disappeared for a couple of days into the upper wilderness. This absence was much the same pattern.

A second herd behind the Mill Pond has been there for a few days. There are also some satellite bulls just south of this herd that are in the 43/21 field along the cane line. Unless you have a long lens or a spotting scope, these animals are a little far away to enjoy.

Mid-valley a good sized herd was out this morning. I expect this herd to be moving north. This is just a hunch based on the movement of cattle grazing nearby. A pretty good crowd enjoyed these animals this morning.

Be sure to check the entire Boxley Valley when you visit. The north fields closest to Ponca, extending from the Ponca Access to the first field south of the observation pullout are all now vacant. My point is that elk respond to these opportunities, and these fields are now primed for a herd or two. I predict one will pop in anytime. There is room for more.

Looking Ahead to Next Week
Monday night cool weather returns, and with it, prime elk viewing will probably return. From Tuesday through next weekend the highs will be in the 60's. That is prime elk viewing weather, it doesn't get better than that. Look for steamy-breathed bugling, and steadily improving fall color. A great time to be in the Buffalo National River region. Peak fall color is just about here. Be here now.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Elk Returning -- 10/14/11 Herd Location Map & Report

This morning I found the Boxley Beast and his harem in the field just south of Smith Creek. My conversation with visitors from Missouri indicated that he and this harem were just north of Smith Creek last evening. The really good news is that they are rotating back north, presumably in search of more food.

Otherwise, Boxley Valley is largely unchanged. There is a herd behind the mill pond, and straggler elk elsewhere in the mid-valley area. These herds will become more visible because there is simply not enough forage to stay in one place for an extended period of time.

The Ponca fields were vacant this morning. I thought it was possible that the herd would be back. I am certain they are up the hill from those fields and they will return soon.

What about this weekend?  My guess is that the viewing will be good, and depending on how the elk move, it might be very good. If you are on the edge of coming, check out my blog entry tomorrow morning for an update. If you are coming, or if you are already here, the viewing action is at the south end of valley from the trail head to about a half-mile north.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

10/13/11 Elk Herd Locations & Update

The elk herd pattern remains about the same. I did hear bugling up on the north end of Boxley Valley near Ponca. I suspect it signals that a herd was on the move back to Ponca fields, but only time will tell. 

It has been a few days since we have had a normal elk show in the Boxley Valley. Does this mean the rut is over? Absolutely not, this is just a mid-rut pattern of elk movement out of the valley and it is nothing to be concerned about. It is now a few days that the herds have been away. Past experience would indicate that the elk herds will be back any day now. 

These field patterns turn around very fast. The rain of the last two nights coupled with the cooler weather should be more than enough to cause the elk to move. If you will recall, the movement out of the fields was due to unseasonably warm weather -- that warm weather pattern has now changed. 

We are now at most only half way through the rut. Things will start to taper off at the end of October, but very good elk viewing continues until the holidays. I filmed a real elk fight November 9th a few years back. Some bull elk will be "running" cows until the first of the year. 

Don't be discouraged. This will change any day now and the big show will continue. There is not a chance that the rut is over. I will continue to report on elk viewing every morning

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

10/12/11 Elk Herd Locations -- Rain

Elk viewing remains below normal. Only two herds and they are back from the road and not very large. There is one herd in the mid-valley area, and a second larger herd behind the mill pond. Otherwise, there are not even very many stragglers.

Elk Watchers in the Middle Boxley Valley Area
Today's rain should stimulate some change. I believe the herds have moved out of the fields primarily because of reduced forage. We have had enough rain to stimulate grass growth. Equally important, the rain signals cooler weather for at least a few days, with a prediction for a couple of nights with temperatures dipping into the 40's. That could move more herds back into the valley. Only time will tell.

I will be monitoring elk conditions each day. I expect a turnaround soon because we are significantly below the multi-year norm right now.

A week from Saturday begins muzzle loader season for deer -- often this drives the elk out of the wooded areas back to the valley. We will see if this pattern holds up.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

10/11/11 Elk Herd Location Map -- 4AM Report

I saw only one herd this morning in my survey. Today I had to get out very early, 4AM, due to other demands on my time. I know from many years of elk watching, that super early you will see animals along the roads grazing under the cover of darkness. They will generally be in the same fields after sunrise.

There is a herd in the mid-valley quite early, and there is a second behind the Mill Pond. Stragglers elsewhere. There is still pretty heavy fog in the early morning.

It is not unusual to have a pause like this during the rut. It always amazes me how great viewing can change overnight to slim pickings and vice versa.

I would not rule out seeing elk in the south field by Smith Creek or elsewhere -- they are just not there this morning. They do move around a lot looking for food, perhaps more so this year because of our drought conditions. These conditions would tend to put them along the roads because those areas have low grazing pressure at most times. Under the full moon, often they feed nocturnally so this can reduce viewing opportunities.

Monday, October 10, 2011

10/10/11 No Herds Today (mostly)

Sometimes the earth swallows up the elk in Boxley Valley, today was one such day. In my travel from Ponca to the Upper Wilderness Trailhead I only saw one herd, and it was moving south of the trailhead along the river into the Upper Buffalo Wilderness.

Otherwise it was only stragglers, the largest group of them were behind the Mill Pond. If you must come down to the valley this evening, I think your best chance to see elk would be around the 43/21 intersection fields. Next would be the field north of Smith Creek. I believe the herd is behind there up in a back field hollow.  There were a couple of stragglers in the field this morning. No ground fog, and no elk more or less.

As I predicted, the herd that was in the Ponca field so late in the morning was trying to move across 43 and apparently it did.

If I had to put my finger on what is going on it would be the warm weather, and the fact that this year's drought has impacted the forage. Elk movements have been different this year than in past years.

The good news is that this happened on Monday. The herds will continue to move around so we will probably have some back in the viewing areas by the weekend. They are no doubt nearby. Most of the haying activity should be completed by then. If you were planning to come tonight, I think there will not be very many elk to see. I would wait.

I will continue to keep everyone posted on the status of herds (or no herds) in Boxley Valley.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

10/9/11 Elk Viewing Map & Report

For the second day there has been real heavy ground fog in the morning in the south field by Smith Creek. There were two herds there this morning, but you really had to look hard to see them, and most people would probably not see them.

Until these fog conditions abate, I will have to rate the Ponca field as better for morning viewing. As far as evening viewing goes, I would still favor the south end by Smith Creek. I much prefer the natural look of that field, plus there are more elk there. Bugling is more common on the south end too because there are more satellite bulls there. This fog will not be a problem in the evenings.

This morning, the bull and harem in the Ponca fields were visible until after 10AM. I think the reason is that they were trying to cross the road to get to a back field. For that reason, I think there is an even chance there might not be in the Ponca fields tonight. This kind of movement is normal.

There are elk scattered across the valley, but only 3 herds. I think this warm weather has the herds hanging back in the hollows along the river. My guess would be that with the next cold snap there will be many more elk showing up for the rut.

Updated Elk Herd Locations

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Fall Color on the Buffalo National River

Each day now brings more fall color. Yesterday's elk failure provided a pretty decent river landscape. If you have never stalked fall color along a pooled up river or creek you are missing an opportunity. I think the best compositions are at angles along the flow of the river and not straight on. I like to have a river vanishing point if if it is possible, all other things being equal. The final test comes from inside, the sense that you are witnessing a special moment in nature. That is what inspired me with this photo -- it felt right.

October Sunrise at Big Hollow

10/8/11 Elk Herd Location Map & News

This morning there were two primary elk viewing herds, one just south of the Ponca Access, and a second bordered by Smith Creek on the south end of Boxley Valley. 

There was a lot of bugling at the south end even though today it was socked in by heavy morning fog. Unseasonably warm temperatures cause the elk to leave the fields around 8AM. Current temperatures are about 8 degrees above seasonal normals. 

Last night the elk came into the fields at 5PM. In the evening there were a couple of more small herds than we saw in the morning session. 

I still rate the south field as the best place to see and hear the elk. The tall grass of the south field is better for photos. There are more satellite bulls around the south field and that stimulates more bugling. 

The Ponca field is good, and there is a decent bull there. I learned today that the Bubba Stud is hanging around in this area so there could be a bull fight there as well. Bubba Stud is a ferocious bull so it is worth keeping an eye on his movements. If the past is any indication, only the Boxley Beast can handle the Bubba Stud. 

Friday, October 7, 2011

Better Lucky Than Good

Today I spent a couple of hours waiting for an elk crossing that never happened. I have taken enough pictures of elk in fields to prefer the more difficult shots like crossings and elk in the woods. The result is that often I am skunked much like the angler who forgoes small fish to focus on trophy fish -- getting skunked goes with the territory when you raise your sights.

I did get a couple of landscape pictures, but today's gift happened on the way back hiking up the Buffalo River. Ahead of me about 100 yards off I noticed the big wakes and commotion that I now recognize as river otter feeding around a weed bed. The Buffalo National River has a lot of otter and other marine mammals. When hiking the river one will see them now and then, but it is never common.

Sometimes Otter Slow Down -- Sometimes You Get Lucky

In this case it was 3 juvenile otters that appeared to have just been kicked out of the nest. Otters are not particularly timid, but they move very fast and it is hard to get a picture of them. Often when you get one, they are soaking wet and "shiny".  As a dark animal against water reflections, it can be real tough getting the correct exposure. I learned from failing a few times that over-exposing some or a lot is critical to getting decent detail.

Anyway, I did get some shots while standing in the river. I missed most of the shots, but I got a few. It was a joy to watch them feed and play. Here is my "better lucky than good" shot. It is failure like this that keeps me hiking along the Buffalo National River.

10/7/11 Herd Map Update & Report

The herd locations are pretty much the same as they have been. There is a herd in the Ponca fields, along with stragglers around the edges of it. The Boxley Beast continues to occupy the field near Smith Creek.

Last night a small herd was also located in the field across from the 43/21 intersection. I don't show it on the map because it was not there this morning. I do expect a herd to locate in that field, but there is haying underway and it probably won't happen until the bales are removed.

This promises to be another great weekend for elk viewing. We are in the thick of the rut and elk are moving around a lot.

Last Sundays elk fatality reflects the movement of satellite bulls. Expect to see bulls anywhere when you drive Boxley Valley. They do graze along the roadsides and could bolt in front of you, especially if you are speeding. Remember to drive slowly and be observant. I recommend no more than 45 mph, but I often drive only 25. It is not worth the risk to go faster.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Fall Color Update

I get asked a lot about fall color in emails. Pretty hard to describe so I am posting one of my landscapes from today. I will probably do this one as an HDR, but this looks pretty good to me.

I took this waiting on the Beast to show up in the river. This is pretty much how I get landscapes, they are a secondary target for me. I especially like sunrise landscapes because of the all the values from dark to light. They look like paintings to me.

So this is for your information. What you see is what is there, here and there. It is early color, the color I prefer. According to most peak color is a couple of weeks off. This is enough to satisfy me.

Weekend Elk Viewing Preview -- 10/6/11 Elk Herd Map

Conditions and herd locations are now set in a new pattern that should last through the weekend. The weather this weekend looks pretty much just like today. Monday there is a 20% chance of rain, we need rain badly again.

Somewhat warmer weather has viewing times compressed. This morning elk viewing in the fields was pretty much done at 8AM as the elk were migrating to shaded bedding areas. Elk dislike sunlight on these warmish days -- we are a bit unseasonably warm right now. There were people this morning viewing the elk at daybreak and they saw plenty of them.

The field just north of Smith Creek remains the best place to see the elk, however, this morning at daybreak the herd in the Ponca field was close to the fence along the road. There are straggling animals here and there, especially satellite bulls looking for a harem.

Sunrise along the river was beautiful today. Early fall color painted reflections on the pooled-up river. I personally prefer early color because the canopy will have more obvious patterns with some trees in full color, and others still green. It was magic out there today.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Updated Herd Map & Narrative 10/5/11

Lots of bugling this morning, especially at the south end of Boxley Valley.

The map below lists 3 herd locations for today, but if the bugling is any indication, just off the map in the Upper Buffalo Wilderness there were at least two more. I think one would certainly be Maverick and his harem, the second I would not have a guess.

Pretty Boy and his harem remain in the second Ponca field. I believe they will be in that position for some time unless cattle are moved there to graze. This morning at around 7AM, he and his harem were pretty close to the fence.

In the south end the Beast continues his reign. Godzilla is running a small herd on the north end of the same field. Since these two have fought at least twice, I would think more fights are possible. There are many satellite bulls working these two herds. I have not seen Prince for a couple of days, but I am sure he is in that area.

I filmed my second river crossing today, but it was a small group. Beautiful setting. I hope to get at least some of it posted by the weekend.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

New Elk Video On Arkansas Wildlife Photo Website

I completed the video I mentioned in an earlier post. It is nothing special, but it does show the elk viewing experience and has lots of bugling. Many wonder what they might see, this is a decent sample to share. It is posted on YouTube, and I am also linking my videos off the top page of my site.

Bull Elk and Harem in Ponca Field

This is the bull I call "Pretty Boy". He looks to me like the winner of a fight that morning. He is tired and agitated. Lots of bugling. Some nice steamy breath.

I have more footage I need to process. Editing takes quite some time. Eventually I would like to post some short pieces on elk behavior. Enjoy.

10/4/11 Elk Herd Location Update

As predicted, there is now a herd back in the Ponca fields after the haying was completed. Pretty Boy and his harem were out in force this morning in the second field south of the Ponca Access. He was pretty upset and agitated by a few satellite bulls nearby. I would not be surprised if he was ousted as he is still a bit on the small side for a herd bull. I shot some video footage, not sure when I will post it.

The south field by Smith Creek remains the very best field. This morning the Boxley Beast continued to be at the south end of the field with his harem. Godzilla was at the north end of the field and there were many satellite bulls. Godzilla appears now to be a satellite bull. There is a third herd bull near this field, I could hear him bugling this morning, but he never revealed himself to me. I posted myself along an elk trail hoping for a crossing. He did make a lot of noise. Maybe I will get him tomorrow. My suspicion is that he is Maverick, but I only call them when I see them.

Mandy's bull fight video has been viewed over 100 times already. It shows the power of monster bulls when they really fight. Worth a look if you have missed it so far.

The first little patches of fall color are now emerging. I have always preferred early color, and late color to peak color. I like the mix of color better with some greens. I would guess we will have enough color this weekend to call it early color. With the prolonged drought we had last summer, fall color is anyone's guess this year.

Monday, October 3, 2011

October 2, 2011 Elk Herd Map & Narrative

The elk are taking a breather after being very active this weekend. The Boxley Beast continues to hold down the best viewing field in the south valley area. If you have to pick one spot to see and hear the elk that field continues as the top pick for all of the 2011 rut. It is THE field to see elk fights.

While that field continues to shine, the rest of the valley has calmed down a lot. Without question the rutting elk herds are back in the woods along the river. This is part of the normal rotation for these animals. Haying in a few of the fields in the valley has pushed the elk back for a while.

I had to pick a time for haying, the timing is just about perfect now to avoid impacting next weekend. By the weekend, many elk should return to the valley fields. Of course they don't work for me, and every day can be a surprise.

Please take to heart Saturday's sobering truck/elk accident of 21 near the Boxley Church. It happened just before dawn. During the elk rut all the elk are skittish and unpredictable. The only solution is to drive slowly and be observant. Often elk and deer graze along the roads at the ends of the day. Be on the lookout.

Final 10/1/2011 Bull Fight Video

This is a REAL bull fight, not sparring. You can see the energy and the power of these two guys. Before they fought in the field in front of us, they fought in the river bed. I believe it was during this fight the Beast lost one of his eye guards.

Turns out this is about the longest bull fight on YouTube. Mandy and I edited the footage, added the sound back in with editing out some adult comments. This is Mandy's first video, talk about getting lucky with the subject. She did a great job -- it was the first time she used the camera.

I think the funniest part of this video is the satellite bull watching the fight. He got so excited he started bugling himself. As is pretty standard for one of these fights, the satellite bulls take all the cows, or at least many of them. 

This was taken in south Boxley Valley just north of Smith Creek. So far in 2011, this remains the best viewing field. There is no question it is the field where you are likely to see a bull fight. For the time being, these two huge bulls are quite near one another. I know of two fights between them, there have probably been more. 

Here is the direct link if you want to share this video:

Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Boxley Beast vs. Godzilla Video

We are still hacking around on this video file, but I thought it would be best to just get it out there and put the refined version up next. You will get the idea.

This is what a REAL bull fight looks like. The Boxley Beast and Godzilla have fought at least two times that I know of. The share the same field most days down by Smith Creek. They don't like each other, and this rivalry sets the stage for a fight just about any day.

Enjoy. This is our first video. We had to turn off the sound because of all the chatter of people watching the spectacle. What you are missing is the crash of the antlers and the rage. These are huge bulls. It is amusing to watch the "spectator" bull. It is as though he was looking for pointers.

October 2, 2011 Elk Herd Locations

Elk activity backed off a little this morning, but it was still pretty good. The main action continues to be at the south end, especially since haying elsewhere in the valley.

Remember to be careful driving in Boxley Valley.

Elk Death on 21

Photo by Dan Davis
Nobody seems to get serious about driving slowly until the worst happens. This morning a bull elk was hit on HWY 21 near the old steam mill. It was very sad to see him laying on the side of the road, apparently with a broken neck, still breathing.

Remember that elk during the rut are skittish and amorous bulls wander in a state of distraction. Too often elk watchers are not much better.

There is not much to say that I have not said. There is never a time when it is safe to drive fast in Boxley Valley. The density of all wildlife is high, it is not just an elk thing. During the elk rut, conditions are more dangerous. There are plenty of deer, wild turkey, woodchucks, rabbit, skunks, coon and trumpeter swans. I have seen them all standing in the road, sometimes because some well meaning, but ignorant person has fed them or tamed them.

Another Fatality Along 43
If I could, I would reduce the speed limit in Boxley Valley to 45MPH. That is the fastest speed I recommend for safety. Faster than that, and your chance of hitting animals goes up dramatically because your braking distances go up dramatically. Highways 43 and 21 (basically the same road) are full of blind corners and dips that would block an animal from your view until too late. Elk or deer grazing in ditches can bolt suddenly in front of your vehicle. Is saving 2 minutes over 6 miles worth killing these animals?

Elk Graze Along 43 & 21
Pragmatically, even if you don't care about the animals, hitting a deer or elk can total your car, and occasionally somebody dies. This for saving 2 minutes. Do the right thing. Relax and enjoy one of the prettiest drives in Arkansas.

Drive carefully and be safe, especially during the elk rut, when elk and elk watchers forget about traffic and wander everywhere.

2 Bull Fights October 1 at South End

The 8x8 Prince of Boxley
Saturday night there was another bull fight in the south end. That is 2 bull fights in the same day.

The south end field north of Smith Creek remains the hotspot in Boxley Valley. Not only is it setup for bullfights during active periods, the Prince is there as a satellite bull.

This picture is from last evening. We went down to the valley yesterday twice. Everyone must see Prince. Even the fellow satellite bulls recognize that Prince is something special.

I will be updating the viewing map later this morning.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Boxley Beast V. Godzilla -- The Beast Rules

The Boxley Beast and Godzilla squared off this morning for a 20+ minute fight, starting in the river bed behind the field near Smith Creek, and resuming right in front of us. It was a rip snorting real deal bull fight. The two battlers are well matched but finally the Beast prevailed, but along the way one of his eye guards was broken off. Now he is a 7x7, no longer an 8x7.

This is the third fight in this field I know about in the last week.

As long as these two share the same field there will be fights. This is at least the second fight I know of between these two dominating herd bulls. So far the Boxley Beast has fought off all challengers. The rut is a long season and will continue at least through the month. Only time will tell if he can go the distance again this year and have a harem to the end.

I am working on an October map. It will be posted in a couple of hours. This morning there were elk only at the opposite ends of the valley. One herd near Ponca, and two in the Smith Creek Field (Godzilla's and the Boxley Beast's). While the Beast won the fight, Godzilla still is running a handful of cows.

Prince also made an appearance.

VIDEO. My wife Mandy cut her teeth on video last night, and this morning taped most of this bull fight. She is editing it now and it will be posted today. Visit later to see a video of the fight and the new October map.

Prince, Boxley Valley's Trophy Elk

This is the best picture I have of the Prince of Boxley to date. This trophy elk is just amazing. His double drop tine with points is super rare.

This is a bull elk you will want to see. The double drop tines are so unusual that you should be able to ID him from quite a distance. He made this appearance last night just before sunset.

I hope to get better pictures of him this rut. This is a pretty good start.

Copyright 2011 Michael Dougherty, Arkansas Wildlife Photography