Friday, September 28, 2012

9/28/12 Weekend Elk Viewing Outlook & Map

Elk herd locations have shifted south in the middle valley locations -- see map below. This mid-valley location has at least 2 herds with herd bulls so it is a prime location for a bull fight and bugling. Be very careful parking in this middle valley area and get off the road outside the white line. There are blind corners and dips in this area

The 2012 elk rut is now on top of the plateau I call the "peak". It will extend through all of October before slowly sloping down until the end of the year. It is during this 4 week, prime time period that you get the most bull fights and most bugling. The first 2 weeks of November remain pretty good, but by then the tailing off of peak becomes evident. 

There are armyworms in a couple of upper valley fields now. With this damage, it is reasonable to expect that elk herds will remain in a strong middle valley to south end pattern for the remainder of the year. Hopefully there will not be much more damage. 

The 9/28/12 herd location map is below:

9/28/12 Elk Herd Locations in Boxley Valley near Ponca, AR

Current Elk Herd Locations

Thursday, September 27, 2012

9/27/12 Elk Herd Locations

One major change today with a large herd showing up in the upper valley just south of the pullout. Lots of bugling down by Smith Creek.

Updated map below:

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

9/26/12 Elk Viewing Report

This morning was pretty sedate. The elk herds have probably retreated to a summer pattern in the heat of the last couple of days.  Cooler weather is ahead with some chance of rain. That is ideal elk viewing weather.

The updated current 9/26/12 map is below:

9/26/12 Elk Herd Location Map

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

9/25/12 Herd Elk Locations & Report

It was a relatively quiet morning in Boxley Valley. There was bugling just south of Moore Creek. Otherwise there was a small herd by the Ponca Access and elk scattered elsewhere. This evening there could be another herd in the mid valley area, but it was not evident this morning. Watch for maverick bulls anywhere. 

Roadside grazing remains a danger in the areas marked with red elk. Most of these elk are small spike bull elk. A small spike elk is more than 3 times the size of a deer so maybe small should never be used to describe them. 

Warm weather will probably compress viewing times a bit on both ends of the day. If the weather forecast can be trusted, cool weather and rain later in the week, and over the weekend will improve elk viewing. 

Monday, September 24, 2012

River Otter 9/24/12 AM

The Buffalo National River is full of otter, mink and beaver. Otter in particular are not very afraid of humans and can offer a great photo opportunity or they are just fun to watch. Otter have a distinctive long tapered tail and a back hump that makes them easy to ID.

While the drought and low water conditions have killed the floating season in the upper river, the pooled up river is very good for photographers and wildlife watchers. All animals need water so simply sitting near a good water hole will often lead to great results.

River Otter, Buffalo National River
Hunting the Buffalo National River
This is the adult otter moving down the shoreline of the Buffalo National River. Note the long tapered tail.

Juvenile River Otter, Buffalo National River
Juvenile Otter Hunting
These juvenile otter were hunting together, a fairly common observance. The one on the left got the fish, the one on the right turned around and gave chase like a good sibling.

Blue Heron Hunting with River Otter
Blue Heron Hunting with Otter
Spotting otter is not easy. Often you will see blue heron (above) working the same pool as otter attempting to pick up scraps.  If you see surface disturbances and a heron flying to them, you may well be looking at feeding otter. Often the clues are subtle, but patience and careful observation pay off. 

9/24/12 Elk Herd Location Map

Elk herd locations are staying in a narrow range. There are a few straggler herds, and a few maverick bulls. As always, be careful in Boxley Valley. In the south end there are a few areas where elk are grazing on the bank of roads and could bolt in front of your car.

Current locations are in a larger font.

Fall Elsewhere in Boxley Valley

While we are in the grip of the elk rut it is easy to forget the richness of the Buffalo National River. The very earliest fall color is now coming on. Before and after the elk leave the viewing fields, Boxley Valley is an attraction in itself.

Buffalo National River at Ponca, September 22, 2012
The Buffalo River at the Ponca Access 9/22 PM
There are plenty of old buildings and other scenic venues. This landscape was an afterthought, but not too bad and enjoyable to experience. Elk are in the field just south of this section of the river and fairly often can be photographed drinking from the river.

There are other animals as well.  This morning I had a nice shoot of river otter.

Every day is different, the light, the elk, the animals. There is nothing quite like Buffalo National River in the fall.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Big Bull Stars of the 2012 Arkansas Elk Rut

It is time to start introducing of the big bulls of the 2012 elk rut. Below on the left is the Boxley Stud, an 8x8, and on the right, Prince, an 8x7 because of antler damage. Both are top rank bulls. 

The Boxley Stud was the premier bull in the valley in 2010, he returns after a one year absence with a much heavier rack, and at least one extra point. He also has a palmate feature (flat, palm-like) on his left antler. Palmate antlers occur primarily on older bulls. 

Prince (right) is bigger than last year, but still smaller than the Stud. Last year he was a nearly perfect typical atypical bull elk with symmetrical 8x8 antlers. This year due to damage during the velvet period, he is an 8x7 and not so perfect.

Both these bulls are trophy bull elk. Both have been photographed close to cow herds, but there are not quite enough cow elk in heat to bull them in just yet. That moment, the one that ignites Boxley Valley with bull fights will probably come in the next week. Experienced bull watchers can feel the tension building with more bugling, and more big bulls every day. 

These images are not very good because they are clips of a video taken this morning at about 250 yards. Both these bulls will be sought by photographers this year. My bet is that the Boxley Stud will be the dominant bull elk this year, but this is always uncertain. He may be the biggest bull elk in Arkansas at this time. 

Boxley Stud and Prince Bull Elk 2012
Boxley Stud and Prince Bull Elk 2012

Boxley Stud and Prince Bull Elk 2012 Compared
Boxley Stud and Prince -- 31 Total Points
Sparring in Boxley Valley 2012

9/23/12 Big Bulls Arriving, Rut Reaching Peak Now

Elk viewing has returned to pretty good now after 1 day of "moving" when only scattered animals could be seen. 

The best field now is at the 43/21 intersection. Elk that were in the mid valley moved to that field. The dominant bull has a very distinctive down tine right eye guard. This is the first time I have ever seen this particular "irregularity". Makes him very easy to ID. I do not think he will last long as the dominant bull for this herd, the big guys are slowly moving in. 

The Smith Creek field further south now has a legitimate herd bull class bull. He is a great bull with outstanding symmetry. I am still working to ID him, but I think he is the bull I call "Ladders". His rack is relatively narrow and long. 

The "Boxley Stud" is hanging around but has not joined a herd. I got a short video of him sparring this morning. His distinctive drop tine makes him easy to ID. He will join a herd, and likely will take over. Right now he is about a half mile from herds both on the north and south of his current location. 

There is an nice bull with a very small harem around the Ponca access. He is getting really aggressive and was running all over this morning. I didn't get a great look at him. 

There are now over 25 cars in the valley during the viewing periods. Please take care and watch for pedestrians, and please respect private property. Don't stop in the middle of the road to take pictures or gawk

The latest elk map is below:

Current Elk Herd Positions in Boxley Valley, 9/23/12

Elk Herd Locations in Boxley Valley

Friday, September 21, 2012

9/21/12 Elk Location Report & Narrative

Today is "moving day". Now and then due to conditions elk move between fields and seem to be gone. They are not, they are just less visible for a time.

A mid-valley herd I observed last evening should turn up further south today. My guess is that they will enter the field at the intersection of 43 & 21. Nobody really knows for sure.

Bugling is common now in herds with bulls.

I can see a herd behind the cane line in the Smith Creek field, but it is not visible to the most. They should also re-enter the field this weekend.

Be especially careful in the "red elk" danger zones ID'ed below. There are many young bulls grazing on the roadsides. One of them is tame in the area 1/2 mile north of the mill pond. He is slow getting off the road.

I will be reporting on the updated herd positions each day this weekend. Current map is below:

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Elk Viewing Map & Report 9/19/12

This morning the elk were in the back fields in many cases, but they are a small trip to the viewing areas. I did note two things today that have relevance to the rut.

First, today for the first time I saw one of the huge bulls "Godzilla", of Utube bullfight fame, heading toward a herd I am sure is in one of the back fields. His appearance confirms the movement of the biggest bulls into the rut. The Boxley Stud is around too this year. He has a distinctive left side drop tine and a nice rack. I do not have a photo yet, but two different photographers sent me photos of him. I am sure of the ID of this animal. He is much larger this year.

Morning and evening patterns of elk viewing vary some. When you look at dates and zones below, understand elk move in and out of view in any particular zone fairly often. When the sun hits the fields elk will bed down, generally out of view. In the evenings they will return from bedding areas to viewing areas about 5 PM or so, depending on weather conditions. In the mornings often elk are out of view at 8AM, but on cloudy and rainy days they may stay much longer in the viewing areas.

Be sure to always drive the length of Boxley Valley to determine the best viewing spot. The map guidance below is very good and reliable for 90% of the time. Occasionally elk do make major moves to new fields, for example they might move to a north valley field. Lately the south half of Boxley Valley has been very dependable, especially down by Smith Creek. As you can see from the map, now and then there are exceptions.

Heed the warnings for the elk danger areas in red drive slowly.

Monday, September 17, 2012

9/17/12 Elk Map & Report

This morning elk were scattered across Boxley Valley with only 2 small herds evident. The first was near Beech Creek on the south end of the valley, the second scattered around just south of Smith Creek and just north of the Upper Wilderness Trailhead. 

My guess is that the elk have been grazing pretty hard in the overcast, rainy weather we have had. Once we return to more normal weather tomorrow, the elk movements will return to normal patterns. 

The herd around Beech Creek was on both sides of the road and grazing close to the pavement. This is probably the most dangerous area of the valley for a potential car/elk accident (as denoted by the red elk). Go slowly through this area, and if you see roadside elk, stop and proceed very slowly. 

9/17/12 Elk Herd Locations in Boxley Valley near Ponca, AR

9/17/12 Elk Herd Locations in Boxley Valley, near Ponca, AR

Saturday, September 15, 2012

9/15/12 Elk Herd Locations, Elk Hazards Now Marked

Elk have not moved much in response to a day of rain. The concentration of elk is in the south end of  Boxley Valley with 1 herd showing up in the mid-valley area.  

Elk love rain, don't let rain hold you back from visiting. Rainy cloudy days also extend viewing times. Rain coupled with this cool weather could have the elk out all day long. 

Rainy weather means fogging conditions. Fog and rain often pull the elk closer to the road so there is more danger of hitting an animal that is grazing along the roadside. Drive slowly, especially in the south end. 40 MPH maximum is best. 

There were roadside elk this morning and for a few days now. The most dangerous spots recently have been north of the mill pond (a tame bull elk), and especially by Beech Creek. See map. 

I have added red elk to show roadside elk danger areas to the mapRoadside elk will be found everywhere in the valley, these red elk markers are in places where roadside grazing has been most frequent recently

9/15/12 Elk Herd Watching Guide & Map

Friday, September 14, 2012

9/14/12 Bull Elk Fights are Beginning in Boxley Valley

The table is set now and the bull elk fight season has begun. After hearing reports of bull elk fights, we verified one yesterday down by Smith Creek. You could hear the unmistakable antler clashing of a couple of bulls.

In the field just north of Smith Creek there are at least 2 elk herds and a few bulls. There is a 3rd herd just south of the Upper Wilderness Trailhead. When rutting bulls stack into a compact area like this, there will be bull fights. Bugling is more frequent every day.

 One of the bigger bulls, Prince, has pulled into that field, a signal that the big boys are arriving now. If you want to see a bull fight, the next month will be the very best opportunity of the season.

Perfect viewing weather this weekend with cooler weather.

September 14, 2012 Elk Herd Positions near Ponca, AR

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Satellite Bull 2012 Rut

Taken 9/11, this bull is ready now for the 2012 rut. At this time he is waiting to associate with a cow herd. While there are bull elk now rutting, there are very few cow elk in heat. As more become estrous, at some point a threshold is crossed, and all the bulls will join the rut. At this date, there are plenty like the bull below. This will all change in about 2 weeks or less. 

This bull is too small to be a herd bull. A few clues are his small antlers, and his body is slim, much like an adolescent human. The big bulls are impressively larger, and their antlers are larger and heavier. This young bull will be a "satellite bull", hanging around herd for opportunities, but not in a position to challenge for domination. 

Satellite Bull, 2012 Elk Rut, Boxley Valley near Ponca, AR

9/11/12 Updated Elk Herd Map & Notes

Below is the updated herd location map from this morning. 

In a couple of locations I am using date ranges rather than a cluster of dates since we have hit a 3 day pattern. 

The only news is that a herd is now in the north end of the Smith Creek field in the south end of the valley. 

There are reports of a bull fight in the last couple of days. I did notice some blood on the antlers of bull that seems to confirm that report. 

Note that there are many bulls that have only now completed scraping their velvet. They are easy to ID with their ivory white colored antlers. 

The very biggest bull elk have not joined the rut at this time. I do know where they are on private land so this is an easy call. If history is any lesson, they will join the rut in about 1 week to 10 days. Often a monster bull shows up around October 1. 

Like all seasonal boundaries for elk, there is not an "on/off switch". We are blending from the summer period with velvet scraping into the rut. The very best of the rut is still ahead

Drive slowly in Boxley Valley, especially from just north of the Mill Pond and all points south. There are a handful of elk that are not in the herd structure and scattered here and there. There is a bull elk that is quite tame and not afraid of traffic. He has been hanging around the Mill Pond area. 

9/11/12 Elk Herd Locations in Boxley Valley near Ponca, AR

9/11/12 Elk Herd Locations

Monday, September 10, 2012

9/10/12 Elk Herd Map

Elk were scattered across Boxley Valley this morning. The first rutting herd that was in the south end has moved to the Upper Wilderness for a day or two (further south). This is a pretty standard field rotation for the south end -- I expect them back before the weekend if not in a day or so.

As noted on the map below, two other normal sized herds were evident. One is up by Ponca, and a second by the 43/21 Intersection. A third loosely organized herd was in the first field just south of the elk pullout. There were enough animals in that group to note, but it did not seem very organized.

There were scattered elk elsewhere.  Be on the lookout for elk feeding on roadsides everywhere in Boxley Valley.

Updated 9/10/12 map is below.

September 10 2012 Elk Herd Locations near Ponca, AR

9/10/12 Elk Herd Locations

9/10/12 Second Bull Enters 2012 Rut

There are now two bulls in the 2012 rut. The first "Twin Forks" has a good chance of surviving challenges as a herd bull. The second, "Little Fork" probably will not make it long term. Yesterday the elk rut began in the morning on the south end, in the evening a second bull entered the rut on the north end.

The first bulls that show up in the rut often are small and later become what are termed "satellite bulls". Satellite bulls hang around the edges of herds and are smaller than the dominant herd bulls that have much larger bodies and antlers. According to research, satellite bulls actually breed more than herd bulls that spend most of their time running them off. You can see this if you watch the herds closely.

Typically the very biggest bulls show up late in the September and take over. All elk are big, but herd bulls can be huge. It is interesting to watch this changing of the guard.

Bull fights will begin soon when the big bulls show up. I would rate the next month as the top period for seeing bull fights, although I have seen them up until mid-November. In this first few weeks of the rut dominance is established for the first time.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

9/9/12 Elk Rut Begins -- Herd Locations Map

Elk viewing was very good this morning. We were treated to the first sighting of a rutting bull in the south end of Boxley Valley near Smith Creek. At least 20 cars of visitors stopped and enjoyed the show, many were photographers. At mid-morning the south elk herd was moving to cover in the Upper Wilderness still farther south of the trailhead.

The other main attraction was a field full of bull elk near Moore Creek on the west side of Highway 21.

Straggler elk were other places in the valley, with a small herd near the Ponca Access along the cane line.

Arkansas Elk Herd Location Map, Ponca AR

Boxley Valley Elk Locations 9/9/12

Elk Photographers & Watchers in Boxley Valley, Ponca, AR
Elk Photographers & Watchers, Buffalo National River,
Upper Wilderness Trailhead

First Rutting Bull of 2012 -- Twin Forks

Rutting Bull Elk and Cow
First Rutting Bull of 2012 -- Twin Forks
Twin Forks is the first rutting bull of the 2012 season. This morning he put on a good show for visitors to Boxley Valley as the 2012 elk rut kicked off. 

He is easy to identify. He right antler is split into two forks, each of which has 2 tines. This makes him a 7x6. He also has long eye guards and a narrow span between his antlers. This is the third year I have seen him. He has always been early in the rut, but until this year I didn't think he had much of a chance to be in the final group of 3 or 4 bulls that will rule the valley later in the rut. 

Typically the final group of herd bulls don't show up until around October 1, but there are no hard and fast rules. Twin Forks has "game", but will it be enough to hang on in the early fights? The other challenge he will face is enduring the whole rut, it is a long season. Many of the early dominant bulls get exhausted in the late rut and just walk away.

The 2012 Buffalo River Elk Rut Began Today -- September 9

It's official, and it's early by about a week. This morning near Smith Creek in the south end of Boxley Valley we observed the very first rutting bull of the 2012 season, complete with bugling, digging, running, and marking scent on this territory. I believe he is an 8x6. He has an irregular double fork on his right antler. I will call him Double Fork, until now I did not name him because he was just a satellite bull. He has always been early in the 3 years I have observed him, but not in the lead role.

There were perhaps 20 cars at least in Boxley Valley watching the show this AM. A very nice contingent of photographers, some from Oklahoma, and other parts of Arkansas witnessed the start of the rut.

More on this later, but I wanted to get the word out. Look for an updated map in a couple of hours.

Friday, September 7, 2012

9/7/12 Elk Viewing Good, Runners in Valley Saturday AM

Last night's rain storms signal a weather change, and the elk like it. This weekend should be great viewing weather with predicted highs in the low 80's.  Get here at daybreak or visit in the evenings to see the elk.

The early elk rut is now just one week off.  This blog will be frequently updated during the rut, at least 3-5 days a week.

Note this weekend is the annual Run for the Elk road race The Saturday race will travel Boxley Valley from 8AM on.

Watch for runners the entire length of the valley.

The best elk viewing will be before the race. Lately the morning elk show is over by 8AM.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Witness Bull Elk Fights -- Get Your Timing Right

Bull Elk Fight in Boxley Valley near Ponca
Late September 2008
Fall weather returns this weekend and the elk viewing should be very good. We are inching closer to the rut, beginning now just a little over a week off, and kicking in full gear in 2 weeks out.

During the first part of the elk rut the bull fights are especially fierce because it is the first time the pecking order is established. By the first part I mean the last week of September through the first week in October.

In 2007 during early October I witnessed 3 real huge bull fights at once in the same field at the same time. The stage was set by a huge dominant bull, the Boxley Beast, RIP, who had backed up his harem of 100 cow elk into the corner of a fence line. He was protecting them from 14 satellite bulls, a few of which were legitimate challengers.

Bull Elk Fight Early October 2007
October 12, 2007
The largest of the challengers engaged the "Beast" and an 25 minute fight began. Almost immediately two other fights began. I was alone at the intersection of highway 43 and 21 with three real bull fights in front of me.

The Beast won. But during the fight, other smaller bulls took all the cows he was protecting.

I will never forget that fight (and those fights). Six big bulls were clashing, spinning, grunting and spitting right in front of me and I was alone to witness it.

My point is this. If getting a bull fight is your objective, you need to do 2 things.  1.) Start visiting early in the rut, beginning in mid-September. 2.) Put in the time. Time in the valley translates to improved percentages for success.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

9/2/12 Elk Near Smith Creek Today

This morning the elk packed it in quite early. It was evident that last night they grazed in the moonlight, probably to avoid the heat. Viewing was possible until around 8 AM and then they headed for cover. There was a small group of bulls near the Moore Creek. 

Elk Herd Map Boxley Valley, near Ponca

9/2/12 Elk Herd Map, Ponca, AR

Saturday, September 1, 2012

9/1/12 September is Here -- Elk Rut 2 Weeks Off

September ushers in a new herd map. This morning there were elk scattered across Boxley Valley, with the concentration in the south end, just like the end of August. There is a small herd in the north end. Viewing was outstanding and extended in cloudy and cool weather.

Elk herd locations by date

Elk Herd Locations in Boxley Valley near Ponca, AR  9/1/12