Saturday, November 30, 2013

11/30/13 Elk Herd Locations & Report

The Ponca field was empty this morning, but elk showed up in the lower valley area, and the all bull herd moved a bit north.  They left pretty early.

Conditions remain pretty dynamic. Gun season ends this weekend and hunters are making one more push. Next week things will be more settled, colder and perhaps more typical of this time of year.

Friday, November 29, 2013

11/29/13 Elk Herd Locations & Report

Elk viewing was good this morning in the north end of Boxley Valley.  Many cars observed the herd near the Ponca Access.  Down the valley there were stray bulls but nothing much else to report.

Absolutely great hiking weather. The trailheads are loaded with the cars of hikers and some deer hunters at the end of modern gun season.  Orange up if you hike.

Late Rut / Post Rut Photography Good This Morning

Great conditions today for relatively close viewing and photography. Viewing should be good tonight as well. 

This Morning in Boxley Valley

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Thanksgiving Donkey

Sometimes I treat myself to normal light and an easy subject. I shot this on the way home. This baby donkey was pretty cooperative. For some reason around here my neighbors are suddenly raising donkeys. They are a nice subject and appreciate a nose scratch once in a while.

Baby Donkey on Old Erbie Road

11/28/13 Elk Herd Locations & Report

This thanksgiving morning most of the elk were back under cover. I am confident the herd locations noted yesterday remain valid, it is really a matter of when herd movements are into the grazing fields.

The one herd visible this morning was the medium sized bulls just north of the mill pond. There are stray elk other places, usually bulls.

Have a great thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Morning Sparring By Mill Pond

Morning sparring just north of the Mill Pond. This is the medium sized all bull herd that has formed recently. This behavior will continue until the antler drop at the end of March 2014.

Morning Sparring Medium-Sized Bulls. 

11/27/13 Elk Herd Locations & Report -- Elk Viewing Very Good

After a few day break due to pretty lousy weather, the elk were out today in force. I saw 4 herds this morning, 2 herds still in a rutting pattern, an all cow herd, and an all bull herd.  The elk are concentrated in the south end from just north of the mill pond to the Smith Creek field.

I expect this pattern to hold for a few days.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Whitetails Crossing the Buffalo Pano

Another cold, icy day.  Time to fiddle with more post processing. This picture is the 4th from the shoot I got from the Ponca low water bridge. Nice to get the deer all the way across the Buffalo. 

Getting stir crazy to get out and shoot. These gray skies can't last forever. 

Whitetails Crossing the Buffalo River at the Ponca Access

Sunday, November 24, 2013

11/24/13 Elk Locations & Report

The bitter cold of this morning is only now abating. This morning, while there were no elk herds to be seen, there were quite a few bulls scattered around.

These conditions will flip pretty soon, they always do. I am visiting the valley less now, but still 3 or 4 times a week.

No need for a map today.  If you visit just check the whole valley. A herd could pop out -- they are not very far away.

Why Not Black and White?

Days like today are great for working on your ideas and learning some new things. I took the river crossing image into my preferred  BW plugin and played around with it.

I applied a red filter to bring up the deer. Took the tree trunk and roots behind the deer down darker so the deer would pop out a bit. I lightened up the deer still more. I burned down the foreground water, again to lighten up the deer.  No formula, just eyeballing the end result.

Why not play with black and white?  It will teach you about how to work with darkness and lightness in the same composition. What you learn in black and white readily translates to your color post processing.  In some ways you might find experimenting with only black and white will help you better manipulate color values. There is the chance you will get hooked on black and white, not a bad problem to have. Whatever makes your photography enjoyable is what matters.

Whitetails Crossing at Ponca Low Water Bridge BW

Making Photo Cropping Choices

There are actually people who think cropping photos is a sin against photography. Seriously? Isn't the point of photography visual expression? Cropping is a fundamental tool. There are a lot of rules created about photography, especially by those who can't figure out composition and visual expression.

The picture below is a crop of the one I posted previously. I don't think it is better or worse, just different. There is no reason to prefer one over the other. I did lighten up the the photo a bit and saturate it slightly. If I were printing this I would spend more time fussing over it.

Note that there is "negative space" in front of the lead deer to the left. That is very deliberate. It is a pretty standard composition strategy to leave space in front of the direction of movement.

This photo is also cropped vertically. I try to place a linear subject along the 3rd lines. Also there is the two tree trunks with roots on the right. I will generally place the vertex of the intersecting 3rd lines between 2 elements that are participating in the composition. These 2 trunks meet that criterion.  Note also, there is not only movement right to left, these trees and roots reinforce the right-to-left sensibility of the composition.

Are these cropping ideas rules? Nope, they are suggested starting points, ways of thinking. If you think differently that pleases me. My concern is that you think about what you do, not whether you agree with me.

The final crop came in at 288 dpi. That is good enough for a pretty good sized print, bigger than most people might want. Might be fun to hack this around in black and white.

Whitetails Crossing the Buffalo (Crop)

Whitetails Crossing the Buffalo at Ponca

I got to the valley late today, almost didn't go because it was so cold.  After a talk with myself, I went -- it was 17 degrees.  No elk to be seen except scattered bulls that offered no great photo opportunity. 

As is my habit, I kept grinding. I made a second visit to the Ponca Access and saw a group of 7 does and fawn north of the low water bridge. Experience has taught me to wait and see what might happen. As it turned out they piled into the river fairly close to my parked car and gave me a nice series of crossing shots. 

Don't underestimate the Ponca low water bridge as a setup spot for wildlife crossings. There are trails close to the bridge both upstream and downstream, and others further on both directions. I have shot deer, otter, white winged crows, bald eagles, green herons, blue herons, king fishers, and elk in the river from the bridge. It is worthwhile. I usually stop there twice on any visit to Boxley Valley, sometimes 4 times if I make a double survey of the valley. 

Whitetails Crossing the Buffalo at Ponca Low Water Bridge

Friday, November 22, 2013


Nights like tonight I dig into my archives and hole up waiting for the next photo shoot. As a rule I don't really remember a lot of what I have unless it is amazing. Around home here there are plenty of subjects sometimes pretty amazing light.

This picture is of one of my two roosters. I call him Checkerbird, he is the last of a line of crosses of the American Java and Black Breasted Red Phoenix chickens I have had.  

I think if you concentrate when you take pictures, you learn a lot. I will never tire of studying light of all types. In this picture I got Checkerbird in filtered light coming through my oak trees. I waited a long time for this picture. Timing the moments when your subject is in these beams of light is a worthwhile skill to sharpen. 

Checkerbird in Filtered Light

11/22/13 Elk Herd Locations & Report

There were quite a few bulls scattered around this morning, but I did not see one elk herd. Elk are very reliable weather forecasters. My guess is that after tonight's miserable weather clears out, conditions are excellent well past Thanksgiving, though much cooler.

Only the elk know for sure.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

11/21/13 Elk Update

Nothing to report on today. I saw one bull and a small herd way back on a private field.

We are now in a frontal change with rain and much colder weather begining tomorrow. This is a great setup for the weekend. Elk love the cold. Maybe they will show up.

Lost Valley will be closed for the next 2 weekends for trail repairs.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

11/20/13 Elk Herd Locations & Report

Nothing to report this morning. No elk herds, and I only saw one elk the length of Boxley Valley. Gun season is still on and things are dynamic. Possible rain tonight and tomorrow could change things. This weekend's weather is predicted to be quite cold and sunny. This could change the viewing significantly.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Godzilla Steering His Herd

Bull elk steer their harems away from danger. This was taken a bit later when Godzilla had had enough of me and it was time to move his herd.

Compositions usually have negative space in front of a moving subject, in this case it is behind. This is because in these steering movements, the bull pivots toward the last cow as he walks back and forth moving them toward the tree line in this case.

Herd Bull Turning His Harem

All Bull Herds Forming

We are in the crossover period where late rut becomes post rut. These bull elk are functioning both as satellite bulls and seem to be an all bull herd. These transitions are never clean, they do overlap, and sometimes the animals will reverse for a few days. 

This group are second tier bulls, not big enough to be in the game. They do trail herds during the rut, but eventually group up roughly by size. They were quite near Godzilla's herd. 

Part of the joy of wildlife watching is to look past what the books say and observe what really goes on. 

Note the back bull's steamy breath. With 5 elk in a single frame it is useful to mix up movement, the line of heads, and eye contact. I have about 6 frames of these 5 bulls and this one is the most visually interesting for those reasons. 

All Bull Herds Are Forming

Godzilla and Harem 11/19/13

The big bull elk was in a front field this morning. I crept up on him at some distance, but he saw me anyway. He walked toward me on an upslope and picked his head up some.  This big bull is visible now just south of the 43/21 intersection, at least he was today.

Generally I will not center a subject, but in this case I think it works because it shows a "day in the life of elk". Godzilla is locked on to me as a threat, some cows are walking away, a couple are looking on. Crossing morning light makes this appealing to me.  Even though it is mid-November, Godzilla is still bugling and showing rutting bull behavior.

Herd Bull Godzilla Protecting His Harem

11/19/13 Elk Herd Locations & Report

The biggest bull herd in the valley showed up this morning, and there were no other herds. It is headed by Godzilla. Some of the past herd bulls are now satellites, and they seem headed to create an all-bull herd. There was pretty good bugling for November.

Whitetail deer are still running everywhere. If you visit, be alert for them.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

11/16/13 No Elk This Morning

My guess is that the weather change pushed the elk back into cover, but only they know.  I did not see one elk this morning at 7:30 AM.

Weather and deer hunting make the situation hard to predict. It it possible tomorrow could be completely different. Only time will tell.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Calf Elk Feeding in Creek

Some days you get just one picture. I am sure there would have been more if I dug around and worked harder, but I had other things to do. I missed an opportunity to get a very big bull -- I spooked him off.

Calf Elk Feeding in Creek 

11/15/13 Elk Herd Locations & Report

As I mentioned yesterday, poor viewing conditions could turn on a dime in modern gun season. That is exactly what happened.

The big news is a large herd that showed up this morning. I would say it is the largest I have seen this year and it is being led by Godzilla, one of the huge bulls. They are in the 43/21 field. My guess is that they were moved in by deer hunters. Another small herd was in the field just south of the elk pullout this morning.

Expect herds to move around a lot during whitetail gun season. The best course is to check the whole valley during this time. We are also in a weather change and that impacts the movements.

Watch out for whitetail deer, they are running everywhere now.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Getting Good Photos on "Off Days", Composition

Pretty sure this is "Hammers", the shag bull. He was grazing around the bridge at Moore Creek this morning and he gave up a lot of shots in crossing light. 

If I didn't tell you, you would not know this is a roadside shot, it is a crop. This composition uses negative space in the direction that the bull is looking -- a pretty standard composition strategy. It creates interest, much more than a centered shot. 

Also, this was taken on a day when there were few elk. The day was carried by roadside bulls, small ones like Hammers, and a medium sized bull in the other picture I posted today. Today paled compared to yesterday with JYD. There were still plenty of elk pictures to get. 

Sunrise Light and a Crop Carries this Compo

Bull Elk Crossing 43 and Tourist Photographer

This is the sort of picture that is available often now. While today there were no herds, there were bulls scattered around and visitors got some pictures. This tourist is modeling the behavior we would like to see. She pulled over outside the white line before she shot the first picture.

Bull Crossing 43 November 14, 2013

11/14/13 Elk Herd Locations & Report

The elk herds took a day off today, at least this morning. In contrast there were quite a few bulls at the roadside in the middle valley. These viewing conditions will turn on a dime so if you visit make sure you look at the whole valley.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

11/13/13 Elk Herd Locations & Report

A pretty good morning today for elk watching and photography. With the colder weather there were few photographers and watchers.  The best shooting and viewing was early when the elk were closer to the fence.  JYD put on a pretty good show romping around close to the fence.

Good landscape weather too. Water-based compositions now have morning fog as an element. There are still plenty of colored leaves as well.

JYD November 2013

Nothing like the end of the rut to get big bull shots. A little steam too. He is still rutting and bugling.  I got within 30 yards of him today. Pretty much had the valley to myself this morning.

JYD November 2013

Smith Creek Sunrise 11/13/13

This is a pretty good example of late fall color.  With the reflections and fog off the reflecting pool, I think it is pretty good.

November Sunrise at Smith Creek

Monday, November 11, 2013

Roadside Bulls More Common Now -- Drive Carefully

Small roadside bulls like this one are feeding on the roadsides, and sometimes on the banks. Drive slowly in Boxley Valley. They are spooked now by the gun shots in deer season.

I shot this little guy at about 10 yards right out my car window. He seems pretty small compared to the full sized herd bulls, but he is still 5-600 pounds. Nothing you want to hit with a car or truck.

Small Bull Elk on Roadside 43/21 Intersection

11/11/13 Elk Herd Locations & Report

Elk viewing was good this morning, especially at the Ponca access with a herd lingering in the northernmost field until about 9 AM. Elsewhere in the valley were small herds and scattered animals.

The elk are clearly being impacted by deer hunters. When you visit be very aware while driving, the animals are nervous and many are feeding along the roadsides.

The big bull herd is in the middle valley area. These are the big boys that will provide great photos for months to come as you can see in my December 2012 photos. This is the emerging late rut pattern. There are still rutting bulls, and the possibility of a bull fight still exists but it is fading.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

The Boxley Stud and a Shag December 18 Last Year

The best bull pictures are ahead from now until the end of March. This picture is from last year on December 18, over a month from now. As I have said a few times before, the best bull elk photography is ahead. If you want big bull pictures, it is easier after the rut starts winding down.

This particular shoot was one of my memorable ones, the kind of days you don't forget. Great light, great bull, and plenty of chances. The frost made getting details in his neck easy. I had the place to myself.

Remember this. The bull elk don't drop their antlers until around April 1. If you are serious about wanting some amazing elk shots we are now entering the very best time of the year. This will be when you get your trophy shots.

The Legendary Boxley Stud Bull Elk (and Shag Elk)

Final Wildflower Photo for 2013

I live in a photographers paradise. There is no shortage of subjects all along the way from home to Boxley Valley. While it might seem I only care about elk, the truth is I often get pictures along the way. 

This wildflower, a black eyed susan, is very late.  In the next 2 days it will be killed by a predicted hard frost. It has managed to bloom and complete its life cycle. Just a month ago there were many similar flowers, now there is just this one. 

For many reasons this year was challenging and I had to set aside the camera during wildflower season. I missed a couple of months for very good reasons, but I really missed the amazing wildflowers around here. This flower was a very nice final gift. I would have been pretty happy with this flower in season, now so late I was very happy to get the picture in crossing morning light. 

The Final Flower for 2013

Watching Herd Bull "Tiny Forks" and His Harem

This group is at the first field south of the 43/21 intersection looking at the big herd bull "Tiny Forks" and his harem. It includes the smallest elk fan of the year. They saw a nice show. Great elk viewing is far from over.

This was taken around 7:30 AM when morning viewing is still pretty good.  Evening viewing starts around 3:30 to 4:00 PM after the time change.

Elk Fans 11/10/13

Herd Bull Tiny Forks Bugling at Surise 11/10/13

This is the herd bull "Tiny Forks" bugling in the field just south of the 43/21 intersection. This herd stayed in the field until about 8 AM. To get a good look at them you needed to arrive around 7 AM. 

Herd Bull Tiny Forks and His Harem

11/10/13 Elk Herd Locations & Report -- Viewing Improves

As I suggested yesterday, sometimes modern rifle deer season drives elk into the pastures for improved viewing. This morning's viewing would seem to support that idea. (Remember to watch out for deer for the next 2 weeks, they are running everywhere.)

Elk viewing was pretty good until about 7:30 CDT, which tracks right along with 8:30 CT. This time has been pretty standard as the time elk move from the fields to the bedding areas in the morning. People who came after 8:30 CDT were lucky to see an elk.

I would estimate that there were at least 35 cars this morning to see the elk. The afternoon viewing shift will begin about 4 PM. Generally I don't go down for that, but I am fairly certain viewing will be good this evening.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

11/9/13 Elk Herd Locations & Report -- Rifle Season Begins

Elk headed for cover early today roughly about 8 AM. The herd locations are pretty stable, pretty much tracking like yesterday. The movements out of the fields are pretty similar too.

Orange up if you hike -- modern rifle season opened today. Whitetail deer are running everywhere now as a result of modern rifle season.  Be very careful driving too. This morning I had 2 different close calls that would have been certain accidents were I not driving relatively slowly -- 40 mph vs. 55. There was a deer fatality in Boxley Valley this morning.

Sometimes deer hunting season drives elk herds into the fields. I would definitely survey the whole valley when you visit because things will be pretty dynamic for a couple of weeks.

Friday, November 8, 2013

11/8/13 Elk Herd Locations & Report

This morning there were 3 elk herds in Boxley Valley.  One in the first Ponca field, an all bull herd in mid valley, and a large herd with a big herd bull in the Smith Creek field. The south herd bull is Godzilla, the biggest bull currently visible.

I have heard consistent reports of good evening viewing. This should be a good weekend for elk viewing. My recommendation remains get to Boxley Valley early and survey the whole valley before settling on a spot. Should be great viewing and photography weather.

Think about taking a November float trip. Conditions are ideal now and should hold all through the weekend. Take a change of clothing in a waterproof bag or consider renting a wet suit. for details. This is also prime time for hiking and horsemen.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

November Runoff Buffalo National River at Beech Creek

This definitely looks like a Hailstone picture, but it is not. Just a few days ago the Buffalo was dry at this spot, today it was flowing hard after 2+ inches of rain in the watershed. Just a week ago we had peak color, now it is like this. 

It is an adjustment shooting leaf off, post color landscapes. I am a minimalist so I welcome hitting the brakes a bit on fall color. This looks like a moody painting. 

Buffalo River at Beech Creek

Resting Trumpeters

I have been driving past this shot and many variations for days. The trumpeter swans on the Boxley Mill Pond have been snoozing on the mounds in the pond. Today they were at different heights and I liked the look of it better.  Very bright light now in late morning, tough to protect texture in the highlights. This could be better, especially earlier in the day. 

Resting Trumpeters Boxley Mill Pond

11/7/13 Elk Herd Locations & Report -- Elk Return After Rains

Elk viewing was pretty good this morning, especially for those who arrived early. Viewing was pretty much done by the time sunlight hit the fields, so it is important to arrive as early as you can, ideally around 7AM, CDT or earlier.

The action has shifted to the south end now with a small herd at the 43/21 intersection, and a large herd with a huge bull with satellites in the south end of the valley by the Upper Wilderness Trailhead. This second herd has a couple of big satellite bulls as well as over 30 cows. Viewing was good last night according to a reliable report

Be sure to check the whole valley. The Ponce field could come alive with the weather change.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

No Elk this AM & Weekend Outlook

No elk this AM. If my experience means anything, this afternoon's weather change to clear and cold will be pivot point for at least good viewing extending through the weekend.

I will update you tomorrow AM.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Late Fall Color -- Why Not Try Black and White?

Steel Creek like you never see it. There are plenty of different ways to interpret the place. I found myself draw to this odd tree -- very geometric and eccentric.  This is late fall color when tree trunks emerge to provide form and interest. 

I think this compo is better as a BW.  I could spend an afternoon interpreting this in black and white with different filters and presents.  This conversion is pretty straight ahead.  Maybe more contrast would be better with a mild red filter. I use Silver Efecs 2.0 from NIK for conversions. Easy to work with, and you can focus on the end product. (And no, I don't hype anything I don't use and like.)

Not Your Standard Steel Creek Compo

Maybe a Touch More Contrast

Steel Creek Morning Fog

Morning fog off the river at Steel Creek, west end.  An odd day with constantly changing light. Still some fall color left. Basically I waited 10-15 minutes watching the fog until I got some interesting twists and turns that I liked.

Steel Creek River Fog

11/5/13 Elk Herd Locations & Report

The valley was pretty quiet this morning largely due to weather. As I write this we are in a changing weather pattern transitioning from rainy weather to cool, clear weather on Wednesday.  In these conditions elk seem to move around a lot.

This morning there was a small herd at the 43/21 intersection and a handful of bulls were elsewhere. There are 3 active areas in the valley now and I recommend checking the whole valley when you visit. Viewing conditions are changing all the time now until we get into more of a settled weather pattern. Viewing times should lengthen with the predicted much cooler weather.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Looking Back

Today was an off day for me so I dig around old photos and see if there are any I have missed, or never did anything with.  The photo below is from November 5 a couple of years ago -- proof that great photos are still possible, really for months to come.

This is a river crossing with JYD, a bull still with us and very active in the 2013 rut. Here he is at the end of a river crossing. He is drinking getting ready to bed down. I will never forget this crossing. It included nearly a hundred elk and 3 different herd bulls over a 45 minute period.  You can see the buffalo is a trickle in the bottom of the picture.  The satellite bull is wary of JYD, the 3 cow elk seem to be admiring JYD.  I love the light in this picture.

Taken November 5, 2010

Late Fall Color on the Hailstone

Late fall on the Hailstone. Last week's peak color has become late color. I personally like it better than peak color, but that is completely subjective. 

Late Fall on the Hailstone

11/4/13 Elk Herd Locations & Report

Elk viewing was limited to the south end of the valley today where there was a nice herd being run by Godzilla, a bull that has not been around until now.  He put on a show for a while then moved back in the woods with his harem.

Otherwise the valley was quiet.  The first Ponca field that was so active yesterday was empty today and it is being mowed. That will put a damper on elk activity there for a while.  Straggler elk elsewhere.

500 Post Milestone

I'm taking a moment to savor the milestone of crossing 500 posts for this blog. This blog is for all of you who love nature and taking pictures.

I want you to see what I see, and take better pictures.

The experience of nature is calming and makes a crazy world seem unimportant. If you embrace the natural world and think deeply about it you will be transformed.

There is no better place than this one to become whole. Hopefully this blog will help you experience nature.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Tips for Elk River Shots & Crossings

Setting up for river shots is pretty simple, but one must be mindful that it is roughly like swinging for home runs -- you will strike out a lot, BUT when you connect with a river shot, you are hooked for life.

The photographer below was heading to one such sitting spot. He was hoping to get elk drinking at the river on the opposite bank. The formula for this is simple. Locate the field where the elk are, get behind them (or beside them) and wait. The will come to the river to drink, and they might cross too if it is possible (or not).

Going for an Elk River Shot
Fall color reflections can easily be brought into these photos. The key here is to locate a great river reflection and locate the elk trail that crosses it. Elk trails are easy to find. Good landscape compos are pretty easy to make. Bring the two together, add elk, and you have it.

Elk River Shots With Fall Reflections Can Be Dramatic
The crossing shot below puts an even finer point on the composition. This elk is cross lit by sunrise light cutting right down the trail toward him. This shot kind of looks impossible, but really it is about time of day, pre-visualization, and moving elk. If there are reflecting pools they add a lot.  

TIP: One thing that makes these photos much easier is that the herd bull is nearly always last when herd moves.  This give you plenty of time to think through your composition, exposure and timing.  You set these up with the cows that precede the bull. In this way, this is nothing like a snap shot, it can be very well planned. In the shot below, at least 20 cows that preceded this bull. They made it easy to get this shot and help me plan the final compo.

Think About Painting with Cutting Light -- Get Creative

11/3/13 Elk Herd Locations & Report

Great elk viewing this morning at the Ponca access field. A nice bull and his harem put on a show from daybreak until at least 11 to the delight of hundreds of onlookers. The Ponca field remains the strongest viewing opportunity percentage wise, but there is a fine bull and his harem around the 43/21 intersection field, but he was not visible this morning.

Elsewhere in Boxley Valley there were many bulls and evidence that other herds were around but not visible.  Definitely search the entire valley before settling on your final viewing location.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

11/1/13 Elk Herd Location Map

Great elk viewing last night. Another month and now cold weather. This could significantly change the elk herd patterns.  Outstanding bull with harem last night by the 43/21/ intersection.  Nice elk herd in the Ponca field too.