Monday, February 25, 2013

2/24/13 Elk Crowd Boxley Valley After Storm, Wildflowers Rebound

Elk Viewing is Outstanding
The recent ice storm has focused elk in into Boxley Valley.  Elk viewing is arguably the best so far in 2013 with 6 herds in view and straggler elk, mostly bulls, here and there elsewhere. With so many elk in the valley they probably will move around quite a bit to compete for grazing fields. Remember the bull elk will have their antlers at least another month

Early Wildflowers Weathered the Ice Storm
The ice storm did little to damper the wildflower bloom in Boxley Valley's Lost Valley hiking trail. White trout lilies are the star of this early bloom. Yesterday there were at least 5 times as many lilies blooming compared to just a few days prior. If I had to project a peak for the white trout lilies in Lost Valley, it would be the first two weekends of March. There may be another snow storm coming Tuesday, but these tough wildflowers will bounce back quickly.  

It is time to get here if you want to see or photograph white trout lilies. The very best place I know of is just across the bridge at Lost Valley hiking trail and to the left. There is a rock field in the woods just past the fire pit. Stay on the trail, but look carefully and you will see these flowers among the moss covered rocks. They will be gone in 2-3 weeks. If you miss them at Lost Valley, Smith Creek Preserve also has a bloom and it runs roughly 1 or 2 weeks later.  for directions, maps and more information.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

02/16/13 Elk Viewing Map

Elk viewing is very good now.  As you can see from the map below, February is living up to its reputation as one of the very best elk viewing months, rivaling the elk rut for reliability, and perhaps exceeding it if you love to see groups of big bulls.

Get out early for your best chances to see the bull elk herds.

The map updated through 2/15 is below:

February 15, 2013 Elk Herd Map

Elk Viewing Guidelines & Planning Your Visit

First Lost Valley Wildflower of 2013
Elk viewing has been strong all of February. The cold weather make all day viewing likely most days. These cold winter months offer perhaps the best viewing of the year. Remember the big bull elk are now in all-bull herds.  Great viewing and outstanding photo opportunities. The antler drop is around April 1.

Here are some guidelines for elk viewing:

  • First, be observant.  Yesterday elk were grazing in the woods along the entrance road to the Ponca Access. If you were not paying attention, you would not see them.  Stay alert.
  • Always check the entire valley from Ponca to the Upper Wilderness Trailhead.  Don't stop at the first elk, the best viewing of the day might be just up the road.
  • Getting out at daybreak is your best shot to see the all bull herds. Bull herds seem to retreat to cover by 9 AM or earlier most days.
  • Drive slowly and expect animals to dart out in front of you. 40 mph is pretty safe.
  • If you are driving past elk watchers, assume they are distracted and prone to stepping in front of traffic. If they have kids with them, they will dart in front of you. Avoid tragedy.
  • Respect the residents and private property.  Put yourself in their place.  Most of the viewing areas are private property. Don't block driveways, field access points, etc. Don't be rude. 
Combine your elk viewing visit with a look at the trumpeter swans on the Boxley Mill Pond, and a wildflower walk in Lost Valley.  Wildflower season is just starting and it will be going strong in a couple of weeks, and will continue further on through the spring. 

Don't forget to visit the Ponca Elk Education Center.  It is an award winning facility and a top notch educational opportunity. 

Trumpeter Swan Fight

Wildlife photography is about moments given.  Once in a while opportunities break your way and Thursday AM was one of them. When I first saw this I thought it was a single swan fighting off an otter attack.  Eventually it became clear it was a swan fight.

Fighting Trumpeter Swans

Mary Ann Hicks at the Ponca Elk Education Center kicked this photo upstairs to AGFC biologists and they speculate it was a mating related fight. Their thought was the older male was spurned by the female, and he worked pretty hard for a half hour to assert himself.  So far as I could tell, it didn't work out for him.  I have 20 odd pictures of this fight.

The best thing for me as a photographer was to capture a rare event.  Animal photos can get pretty ordinary and work in standard poses. There was nothing standard about this.  It is "up light" and with wings and water blasting all directions, everything was just right.

The only honest view of this though is that I was given this opportunity. Wildlife photo and watching opportunities are the Boxley Valley experience.  

Because of my experience I knew enough to go high ISO to stop the action, I moved off to the side so the sun was not directly into the camera, and I over exposed 1 stop. Not much more to report except this could end up being my best shoot for 2013. None of this is rocket surgery.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

2/6/13 First Wildflower for 2013 Season

Wildflower season is starting early this year.  This white trout lily was the first wildflower blooming I could find in Lost Valley. This was the first one on 2/6, on 2/8 there were 5 more, and I am sure they are picking up steam now.

This is a beautiful wild flower and one of the very earliest flowers. The season for them is short so if you want to see them its time to visit.

If you plan to photograph most of the Ozark wildflowers in the Buffalo River Region you will have to get out a few times. Some like this lily only hang around a few weeks at most. You can stretch your visits by checking out different venues.  Another outstanding wildflower venue is Smith Creek Preserve just south out of Boxley Valley.

Other good venues are the Mill Creek trail in Pruitt, the loop trails at Tyler Bend, and the Overlook trail at Buffalo Point.  Call the rangerfor specific advice, they will be glad to show you where wildflowers are in the middle and lower Buffalo National River areas.

Pruitt Ranger Station Information  Upper River
(870) 446-5373

Tyler Bend Visitor Center Information  Middle River
(870) 439-2502

Buffalo Point Ranger Station Information  Lower River
(870) 449-4311

White Trout Lily, Buffalo National River
White Trout Lily -- Lost Valley Hiking Trail

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Winter Elk Sunrise in Boxley Valley

Sunrise can be stunning in winter in Boxley Valley.  This is one of my favorite bulls, Twinforks selectively lit in front of the old barn at te 43/21 instersection.  This picture is all about light.  To make a photo that feels like a painting this is the light you want.  It is angular, mixed, and subtle.  Only afterward did I notice 2 sparring bulls in the distant shadows just above twinforks hips.

The very best opportunities to get great pictures of bull elk are in the mornings. For a brief period of time angular light is warm and soft. At this same time the animals are closer to the road. The results speak for themselves.

Winter Sunrise in Boxley Valley, Buffalo National River

Friday, February 8, 2013

This Morning in Boxley Valley

Prince and another bull sparring right next to Highway 43 just north of the Mill Pond. Decided to do this in BW for a change.

This sparring went on for about 20 minutes. These 2 bulls will vie for a cow herd next year.

2/8/13 Elk Viewing Great -- Best Bull Viewing So Far

This morning was exceptional for bull elk viewing and photography. The big guys were mid-valley and close to the road.  Prince and another big bull did some spirited sparring that required me to dial back to 300 mm to photograph.

Otherwise there is a good sized herd with a bull in the Ponca fields, and another good sized herd hanging around Smith Creek. The bulls are just north of the mill pond in mid-valley so there is viewing from end to end in Boxley Valley.

The big news is the early arrival of the wildflower season. Recent rains and warm weather have stimulated an early bloom. I will be blogging on this later. What we are witnessing is global warming.

The February 8, 2013 elk herd map is below:

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

2/6/13 First Wildflowers Have Arrived Early

Just a quick note. Today I saw a number of wildflowers very early, perhaps a month early.

Harbinger of Spring was joined by Bluets, Johnny Jump Up, and a White Trout Lily -- all in bloom. Earlier I saw Dead Nettle in bloom. Also today some spring frogs were chirping and on the Boxley Mill Pond I observed sunning turtles.

Global warming is changing the cycles of nature. Looks like the early wildflower season will be very early this year. More on this later.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

2/3/13 Elk & Other Wildlife Watching Update

This is an update of my last map.

Elk viewing was very good this morning, probably over 100 animals in 4 herds. The very best opportunities were at the opposite ends of Boxley Valley.  There is a herd hanging around the fields closest to Ponca, and 2 more herds in the south end of the valley near the Buffalo River.

2 bald eagles were on the Boxley Mill Pond, along with hunting otter early, a flock of at least 30 ducks and of course the 2 trumpeter swans.

Today is a perfect day to hike, a perfect activity to combine with your wildlife watching.

Friday, February 1, 2013

2/1/13 Elk Viewing Great

Elk and wildlife viewing is very good now in Boxley Valley. This morning there were 4 herds visible and 2 were very close to the road. It was 18 degrees, perfect elk weather.

On the mill pond there has been pretty big flock of ducks now for a couple of weeks. The 2 resident trumpeter swans add to the show.  Yesterday there was a bald eagle hunting the pond, and this morning there were 2 otter.

Expect wildflowers to bloom early this year. Warm weather has them sprouting already. I photographed the first bloom of 2013 a few days ago -- Dead Nettle. I am certain Harbinger of Spring will show up next week at the latest, and shortly thereafter the rest of the early spring crew.

2/1/13 Elk Herd Location Map