Monday, July 30, 2012

July 29 2012 Herd Location Map -- Early Bugling!!

Bugling So Soon??
I have heard 4 different elk bugles in the morning the last 3 days. This is a month earlier than the usual outlier first bugle date of around September 1. I have no idea what is up with this, it make just come down to a bull who is deranged. Yesterday I was talking to a friend and we both heard it so it is verified. Pretty weird.

Elk remain pretty loaded up in the south end of the valley from the intersection of 43 and 21 and points to the south.

The final July elk viewing map is below:

Whitetail Deer in Mid-Summer

Doe and Twin Fawns, Ponca Mill Pond 7/29
For some reason this year there seem to be many more deer around. Everyone seems to agree on this point. It is also true whitetails are more visible around the Buffalo National River. This is most likely due to the drought -- the river might be about the only place there is much water these days. Many farm ponds are now dry.

I see whitetail deer in Boxley Valley nearly every visit, but this year there must be 5 times as many deer visible.

There are two whitetail compositions I look for in July and August. First, I like to get pictures of bucks in velvet. Second, I like to take pictures of does and fawns.

If at all possible, I like to get both in and around water. I am really fond of reflection shots. One very good spot to catch whitetails in the river is the Ponca Access just outside of Ponca past the HWY 74 intersection off HWY 43. I like to sit on the low water bridge in the very early morning and wait for deer. Crossings and deer drinking are quite common now. There is a game trail that crosses the river just upstream from the low water bridge.

Ponds are also a good bet. Pay attention to ponds when you drive by. The picture of twin fawns with the reflection above was spotted while driving by. I backed up and turned around twice to get this photo from a few different angles. The deer did not spook because I stayed in my car and used it as a blind.

Taken at the Ponca Access
Time of day. Just about any time is good for whitetail deer, but the ends of the day are best for photography and the deer move more then.

This strategy will work anywhere on the Buffalo National River. Get up early, post yourself near a pool downwind from the animals and animal trails, and wait. Generally you will not be disappointed. If they cannot smell you, and you remain still, deer will often walk up pretty close to you.

White Winged Crow, Ponca Access
If you get on a good game trail, you might get an elk crossing or even a turkey crossing. Other river wildlife could show up. You do have to be patient. Any day on the river is a great day, even if the animals do not cooperate. I am writing this at 5AM and planning to hit the river again today. You never know what you will get, and just like fishing you might get skunked, but hours spent in the wild are never disappointing.

Friday, July 27, 2012

7/27 Elk and Wildlife Locations -- 7 Weeks to the 2012 Elk Rut

Grazing Together Now, But
Will Battle in September 7/27
The 2012 Elk Rut is now 7 weeks off. Bulls scrape velvet in just over 2 weeks.

Elk were pretty concentrated in the south half of Boxley Valley this morning. Bull elk were close to the road and provided outstanding viewing and photo opportunities.

Friday night we got a bit of rain and that affected viewing. I suspect the cool morning extended viewing as did light fog that blocked early sunlight. Tomorrow should be different. The Saturday and Sunday forecast is for 100+ temperatures, this translates to very early and late elk viewing. They will hit cover relatively early. That said, often the viewing is very good in very hot weather, you just have to get to the valley at daybreak.

This lousy picture is of a white winged
crow at the Ponca Access. Many locals
don't know these birds exist. 7/27
In other wildlife viewing, whitetail deer were here and there across the valley. Recently it has been fairly common to catch them in the water at the Ponca Access. I park on the bridge and wait. This morning I saw two whitetails grazing in the river on river grass, a green heron, and a great specimen of white winged crow. About 200 yards distant I could see otter feeding in a pool. All this without moving the car.

I have harped on this, but I will again. Very hot drought conditions concentrate wildlife around water. It also compresses the times you will see them, meaning if you are there when they are moving, there will be more animals because they are not moving in the heat of the day. They need to get their business done in early morning or late evening. This improves your chances at those times.

This cow elk is grazing in the river at
the Ponca Access to avoid heat. 
What did I see this AM?  Bull elk, cow elk, calf elk, an armadillo, an egret, two trumpeter swans, 4 groups of deer (one in the river), a green heron, a blue heron, many ducks, about 30 wild turkey (two flocks), and a spectacular white-winged crow. Not too bad for a morning shoot. This is the Boxley Valley wildlife viewing experience. Note, this is in the very hottest weather of the year -- the time people write off. There are no true off-seasons in the Buffalo National River region. There are differences in the seasons, but there are always natural attractions and opportunities for wildlife watching and photography.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

7/21/12 Elk Rut Less than 2 Months Off

Roadside Orphan Fawns
July 20 @ 7PM
Elk viewing continues to be good. Many visitors were in Boxley Valley last evening and they were not disappointed. After the sunlight dimmed, the elk hit the fields in good numbers, especially in the fields in the south half of the valley.

If you are interested in seeing the big bulls, early morning is the time to get to the valley. Yesterday there were many bull elk around the 43/21 intersection and they were very close to the road. This morning there were fewer bulls, but they were close enough for good viewing.

The elk rut begins about September 15. As I have written earlier, I will be covering it in depth again this year. The bugling and occasional bull fights are something every nature lover should witness.

A safety note. This heat has whitetail deer moving at the ends of the day. Expect to see more deer in the evenings and watch the roadsides carefully. Last evening we saw easily 20+ deer cross the road in 7 different events.  Remember we have many new fawns that can be unsteady in the road. Always assume a crossing doe will be followed by a fawn. Watch the roadsides when you drive for deer as well as elk. Drive a little slower too.

Monday, July 16, 2012

7/16/12 Elk Locations in Boxley Valley

Elk are not as plentiful as earlier in the month, but viewing is pretty good. Summer viewing can be pretty thin when the heat sets in and this is one of those weeks.

Having said that though, this morning the big bull herd was very close to the road. So there were not so many elk to see, but the big guys were very close.  This was just north of the mill pond, a place that is often good, but dangerous for parking.

So far this month viewing has been good. Baby elk are a common sight now.

The key to outstanding viewing is getting out early right at daybreak. The light is great and the animals are the closest to the road they will be all day. Get there before 7:30AM to see elk, and get there at 6:00AM for the very best show.

The elk location map for July is below:

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Countdown to the 2012 Rut

This Big Bull Could Rule
Boxley Valley in 2012 
2 Months and Counting Down
The annual elk rut is now just 2 months off. Big bulls in velvet are staging in Boxley Valley. Most days visitors can see the big guys at daybreak.

About mid-September early bugling begins. Most years I hear the first bugle around September 1, but that is very early, and only once. The rut is a bell-shaped curve and there are always elk that start early, and some that persist in the rut through a few estrous cycles.

This year I will start covering the rut in depth about mid-September and follow it until around November 15, at least 3 days a week, and from late September to the end of October I will be there at least 5 days a week.

What to Do Now
Speaking personally, I like to start covering the rut when the bulls are in late velvet -- right about now. This gives me a pretty good idea about the "players" for the upcoming season. Traditionally we have about 5 big bulls that rule Boxley after the initial shakeout.

Cow Elk with Calf "Nursery" at
the Ponca Access Road, July 5 2012
I like to shoot the life cycle too. Cow elk are now bringing out this year's crop of calves about a month after birth. Lately some have been hanging around the Ponca Access providing unusual shots and potential river reflection shots.

Remember to give cow elk room. Note in the left picture. That cow elk is watching me and making sure I don't get too close to the little ones. Get too close and she will attack.

Other Subjects
Doe and Fawn Crossing the Buffalo River at Ponca Access
This years drought has the Buffalo River at nearly record low levels. That is bad for floaters, but it is outstanding for photogrpahers. Low water concentrates the wildlife. If you post yourself at a river pool you can catch animals when they cross the river. Many of my very best animal pictures have come during low water.

This year, for the first time in many years, the Boxley Beast will not be around. He was arguably the biggest bull elk in Arkansas history and provided many with hours of entertainment across many years. Last fall he provided one hunter with a day of entertainment.

The bull pictured above will definitely be in the hunt. I need to watch him a bit more to ID him, but I think this is his first year as a major bull. He has distinctive small points behind his eye guards, I think he will be at least a 7x7.

Prince (left) at the 43/21 Intersection in Fog
Prince survived last year's hunt and is back sporting double drop tines with double points. He will not be as perfect as last year -- one of his eye guards is tipped down. He is larger. He remains a national-class trophy elk, the one who should be pictured on every elk brochure. At 8x8 (so far), it appears that he will be at least the point leader, but there is always the mystery of who might arrive, usually around October 1.

If you visit to see elk, they are at both ends of the valley and there are bulls around the 43/21 intersection. If you make it at daybreak, drive slowly. Elk graze on the roadsides and could bolt in front of you. Give them and yourself a break.