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.