Monday, August 27, 2012

Better Lucky than Good Revisited

Occasionally things break my way. Otter have been a problem species for me, not that they are so hard to find, but they are so uncooperative photographically. It is definitely a whack-a-mole sort of proposition. Low water conditions concentrate wildlife and make these pictures easier.

I got a family picture recently. 4 otter fed in a pool in front of me for an hour, then mysteriously lined up in a posed shot, with three little ones and mom (at water level).

These sorts of shoots are what wildlife photographers live for. Too many otter pictures are not in a natural setting. If you have to good fortune to stumble on a group of otter, it is a real treat. Of course, you can depend on lousy light very often so ISO 2000 might be required.

Otter Family
Otter Family, Buffalo National River August 2012
What is the lesson here? Pay attention. I got these guys while seeking elk photos. I would prefer to have everyone believe that I plan all these shoots. The truth is I am very opportunistic and look for the unexpected chance.

Experience has taught me to concentrate. I turn off the radio while shooting and I scan for opportunities. One reason I work alone most of the time is because I need to concentrate. The habit of paying attention (and being determined) has given me pictures I would not expect to get. Like most things, the most important tool you have is your brain -- keep it in gear.

Wild turkey crossing at Big Hollow, Buffalo National River
While Waiting for Elk, Wild Turkey Crossed the Buffalo
Trumpeter swan and raccoon on Beaver Dam, Boxley Mill Pond
Perhaps My Best Photo, The Result of Observation and Grinding (and Luck)

8/27/12 Elk Rut Near, Elk Herd Locations Stable

Spike Elk
Not the Brightest Light 8/27
This morning the elk herds returned to the pattern that has dominated the last 30 days.

There are 2 major herds in the valley, 1 has been in the field just north of Smith Creek for at least a week. The second is hanging around Moore Creek near the intersection of highways 43 & 21.

Pooled water in a low river has really enhanced wildlife viewing. I got a few otter pictures today that are on my all-time list. Check back later for pictures. Whitetail photography is good in the valley now as well.

Major announcement coming on new elk viewing resource.

The early elk rut is now just 2 weeks off, main rut 3 weeks off.  8/27/12 elk herd location map is below.

Arkansas Elk Map August 2012

Sunday, August 26, 2012

8/26/12 Good Viewing with One Large Herd Today

Down to 1 large herd today, the second herd is no doubt in a back field. This cool weather is prime elk weather with longer viewing times. 

Very good (and very safe) viewing in the south valley just north of Smith Creek. Elk love rain as long as the weather is not violent. 

Saturday, August 25, 2012

8/25/12 Elk Herd Locations Unchanged

This morning the elk herds were in the same positions as yesterday.

The cool weather and rain has expanded viewing hours. Early and late remain most reliable, but the elk are slower to be down, and will come out in the evening somewhat earlier for now. Expect Sunday viewing to be very good.

More ivory white antlers every day. The rut is at hand.

Elk Viewing is Very Good -- Ivory Elk Antlers Everywhere

Elk viewing is now very good in  Boxley Valley. There are two big herds, one just south of the 43/21 intersection, and a second in the field north of Smith Creek. All major elk viewing is in the south end of the valley and the current pattern has been stable for a couple of weeks

Many bull elk have now scraped the velvet off their antlers. White, ivory-colored antlers are everywhere now in Boxley Valley. If you have never seen freshly-scraped antlers, it is interesting. They are very white at the beginning, then they air dry down to a deep nutmeg brown. 

For me this is the first clear marker of the 2012 rut. Some large bull elk have already assumed the "rutting position" hanging around with cow herds and bedding down with them overnight. Most all of these bulls are "second tier" bulls and will be quickly replaced as the rut hits full speed

Around the third week of September, and often the biggest bulls show up around October 1. As bulls arrive. These big boys are huge, and quickly there is a changing of the guard. Most of them are still hanging around in an all-bull herd of the biggest animals. For now at least, this herd is not visible, but it could show up at any time. 

August 24, 2012   Copyright Michael Dougherty 2012

Monday, August 20, 2012

8/20/12 Elk Herd Locations

Today was pretty much unchanged for the elk herds. The pattern for elk viewing remains in the south end from the Highway 43/21 intersection to Smith Creek on the south. Viewing remains very good for both bull elk and cows and calves. More velvet scraping was evident today.

Today's updated elk viewing map is below:

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Revised Elk Viewing Map for 2012 Rut

August Bull Elk Shedding Velvet
Small Bull Elk Shedding Velvet in 2009
I have revised the elk viewing map for the 2012 Arkansas Elk Rut to reflect the current patterns a bit more. There is another zone -- now there are 5.

There are other additions. The route to nearby hiking trails are identified to assist first time visitors with locating nearby trails. The Ponca Elk Education Center is added to the map. Visitors will want to visit this award-winning center as part of their elk viewing experience.

The new map is shown below. It incorporates the latest August observations. This year is shaping up as an outstanding elk viewing year. The rut is now just a few weeks off.

Bull elk are now beginning to scrape off their velvet, completing the antler growth cycle in preparation for the 2012 rut.

Friday, August 17, 2012

8/17/12 Bull Elk Now Scraping Velvet, Viewing Good

As we march to the 2012 Arkansas Elk Rut, one of the setups is when bull elk begin to scrape velvet in preparation. Today I saw the first bull losing his velvet, exposing the ivory white antlers underneath. This will become common this week.

Viewing was good and there are a lot of elk in Boxley Valley right now. The dominant pattern remains in the south half of the valley beginning just north of the 43/21 intersection and points south. This morning there was actually a calf nursery on the road right next to Beech Creek.

We are heading into cool weather for a while. Good viewing should continue. As always, early and late are best. Longer on rainy days. Drive slowly in Boxley Valley, there are a lot of deer and elk around that could jump in front of your vehicle. I would keep speed down to 45 or less to be safe.

Look for more frequent reports as we head into the rut.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Timetable for the 2012 Elk Rut

Real Bull Elk Fights Begin In Late September
Any time now bull elk will be scraping the velvet off their antlers in preparation for the 2012 elk rut. This blog and my website, will cover the 2012 rut in-depth.

During the elk rut I visit Boxley Valley at least 4 times a week, sometimes 7. There is no substitute for being local, but my elk viewing and photo guides are a pretty good second choice. With them you can hit-the-ground-running when you visit for elk viewing. (See the map below for an example.)

I did report in this blog that I heard a bull bugle on two separate occasions in July. Truly, that was really an abberation -- a full month prior to when I usually hear the first bugle. That deranged elk was the equivalent of a person who yells fire when somebody lights a cigarette. I support his first amendment right to free bugling, but it does confuse things.

2012 Rut Timetable in a Nutshell

  • Mid-August -- Early-September -- Bull elk are scraping velvet. I have not observed this yet, but the bulls clearly have just about completed their antler growth. (Yes, I realize this is not really the rut, but it does set the stage and helps you understand the timing.)
  • Early-September -- Often one bull will start rutting early. I have seen them "running" cow elk pretty early in September, but usually it is only one bull (maybe the whack job who is bugling early). There will always be early and late rutting. Don't visit expecting to hear bugling.
  • Late September (The Big Dance Begins) -- By the 3rd week of September, the rut is on, and it is early peak. Bulls start fighting for domination, meaning breeding rights. The early bull fights are particularly vicious because the "pecking order" is being established for the first round.
  • Late September to Mid-October (or a bit later) -- The Peak Rut -- Biologists don't like a peak rut identified, but if you want action, this is the very best chance to see great bull fights. Bugling is strong during this period, and best in the morning and evening.
  • Late October to Mid-November -- Late rutting continues, but clearly the intensity of the peak has passed. I have filmed bull fights during this period, but by then the pecking order is long established, the they are rare. Is there much to left to see, absolutely yes. The viewing is great.
  • Mid-November through December -- Bull elk continue running cows, we are in the 3rd estrous period now, and few cows remain to be bred. As we transition to late in this period, bull elk and cow elk segregate into all-bull and all-cow herds. This process blends with the end of the rut, and it generally is complete by the end of December. 

That is the timetable of the rut. It is not precise, and these stages blend together. In just a few weeks we enter the 2012 rut. For 3 months this is one of the great reasons to visit the Buffalo National River. We are the elk capital of the south. Stay tuned.