Monday, November 10, 2014

Elk Viewing Improved by Cold Weather and Hunting Pressure

The evening of the 9th was very good for elk viewing and bugling. Today, Monday should be less so because of high winds and warm temperatures. Bugling was strongest in the Smith Creek field in the south end of the valley. That bull was being followed around by a second smaller bull that really irritated him. He bugled all evening. Strong winds today signal the frontal change to much colder weather as winter storm Alex contols the weather going forward. These cold temperatures should improve elk viewing all the way through next weekend. 

Remember to respect private property. Last night elk watchers were running all over private property, in some cases jumping on bales of hay. This is not acceptable behavior and can result in a fat ticket from the NPS that patrols the valley. This really upsets the residents of the valley. 

Friday, November 7, 2014

11/7/14 Elk Herd in Mid-Valley South of Pullout

Elk are now in a mid-valley pattern. This morning there was a nice herd about a 1/4 mile south of the Elk Pullout. Just a bit further south was an all-bull herd with some big bulls. Just after the rut, bull elk form all-bull herds, generally according to size. Today's all bull herd included some big bulls, herd bull size but they stayed back from the road offering only long shots to photographers. Elk had steamy breath today in the cold temperatures.  There are reports now of a herd in the Steel Creek area. In the Steel Creek Access there are a couple of pastures that elk frequent. Photographers will want to get a photo of an elk herd against Roark Bluff. The best time to see an all bull elk herd is in the morning.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

10/23/14 2 elk herds now visible

In spite of cattle grazing in the north end of Boxley Valley, a second herd has moved north to just south of the elk pullout in the first pasture. This makes 2 herds visible in the North end of Boxley Valley. Heavy morning fog makes evening viewing best. The northernmost elk herd is very close to the Ponca Access. Elk viewing is pretty good and there is occasional bugling when satellite bulls are nearby.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

10/21/14 Elk Herd Location Map

Elk viewing remains best near the Ponca Access due to cattle grazing in the other fields on the north end of Boxley Valley. This morning there were quite a few elk watchers and photographers from many states. Relatively heavy fog made photography difficult. 

Sunday, October 19, 2014

10/19/20 Elk Remain in the North End of Boxley Valley

Elk viewing was not good this morning in the heavy fog. The best prospects for viewing remain in the Ponca Fields, espeiially closest to the Ponca Access. Evenings will be best for photographers. It will take a couple of days for the elk to re-establish normal movements since the cattle entered the Ponca fields. Until then things remain pretty unpredictable. Fall color is a couple of weeks off to peak, if it can be predicted. This is the sweetspot of the year for hikers and horsemen due to moderate temperatures for as far out as it forecast. The trail-heads are very busy now.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

10/18/14 Elk in Ponca Field Closest to the Ponca Access

Cattle grazing in north Boxley Valley have pushed the elk herd to the very north end of the valley closest to the Ponca Access. Heavy fog this morning made viewing difficult. They are bedding down on the north end and should return to the same field tonight. Until the cattle move, this will likely be their location.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Cows moved to Ponca Fields, Elk Will Move

Grazing cattle are now in the Ponca Fields, so the elk herd will move elsewhere. Possible destinations could be the northernmost Ponca field, and possibly Lost Valley fields, or some other place up river. Steel Creek could be in play. I will have a look tomorrow morning and report back. Elk hate cattle, this will change their pattern.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Good Ponca Elk Viewing for Weekend near Ponca

Elk Remain in Ponca fields for now over a week. They show up mornings and evenings. This is a mature herd with a herd bull and many satellite bulls. The river remains up, some are floating from Ponca. Weather is to turn cooler Saturday and Sunday, this will only make elk viewing better.  The NPS Old Mill Tours continue 10 to 1 all weekend down by the Mill Pond. Friday and Saturday is the Ponce Elk Education Center's Color fest from 10 to 4:30 each day. I will be doing free workshops on elk photography at 2PM each day. Please call the center to register, seating is limited. Color Fest Brochure is below the map. 

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

10/15/14 After Storms, Elk Returning to more normal Pattern

This morning the elk were in the Ponca Fields. Last night a good sized herd bedded down near the access road to the Ponca Access. I saw them about 7AM when I went through the area. If you like to float we now have a rare fall opportunity in the upper river, contact one of the outfitters listed at for more information. Elk viewing in the Ponca Fields should be good all weekend. There are 2 bulls with that herd, they are close in size so they could fight anytime. The weather is ideal, after a couple of warmer days temperatures are turning down to the 60's beginning Sunday through Friday the 24th. 

This weekend the 17th and 18th  from 10AM to 4:30 each day is theColor Fest at the Ponca Elk Education Center. After taking a year off, I am doing a free photography workshop at 2PM both days. Please call the Center to reserve your seat. See the flyer below. The timing for Color Fest is ideal, 10AM is about the time that elk viewing ends most days. 870-861-2432. 

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Elk Viewing Good in the Morning by Ponca before 10AM

Cold weather and no rain has the elk moving again. I think elk viewing will be good tomorrow morning until about 10AM in the Ponca Fields. There was evidence this afternoon that the elk were holed up behind the Bible Camp. They probably moved down this evening, or will tonight.

Monday, October 13, 2014

10/13/14 Elk by Ponca Access Road after Storm, River High

Mandy and I got back from LR late this afternoon and drove through Boxley Valley. The main Ponca Elk herd was just coming out when we arrived at 3PM.  No doubt they holed up during the big rain storm. Not sure how much rain fell, but the river is running quite hard now.  All the waterfalls will be running well for days. Another half inch of rain is predicted for today and perhaps a half inch tomorrow. Our land is saturated I assume it is about the same everywhere. Shooting should be good tomorrow.  The elk will be out if there are no thunderstorms.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

10/10/14 Elk Herd Location Map

Elk Viewing and bugling this morning was good. This maps shows the elk herd locations this morning. 

10/11/14 Elk Bugling Strong this Morning by Ponca

There are 2 rutting bulls with abou 40 cows total near the Ponca Access at the north end of Boxley Valley. In addition, there were 3 or 4 large satellite  bulls hanging around. All 6 bulls were bugling and fussing over the cow elk. The bugling was over by 10AM. I am certain this evening and tomorrow morning will be good for elk viewing and bugling. With all those bulls there is a good chance for a bull elk fight. The Smith Creek field on the south end was empty this morning. On high river levels sometimes herds seem to be blocked from visiting the fields where they can be seen.  This might be true in the south end of Boxley Valley.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

When I don't Post

I think some imagine if I don't post a new map every day they would be flying blind visiting Boxley Valley and could come up empty. Let me say just this, the elk during the rut settle into pretty stable patterns that you can rely on. Right now the Ponca fields north of the elk pullout are quite good. On the south end of the valley the field North of Smith Creek is reliable. These two fields have been best for almost 2 weeks now. Will the elk ever leave them?  Sure, but they don't go far as a rule. Why is this so reliable?  Habitat.  Both areas have outstanding habitat with food, water and large bedding areas nearby. They are an elk paradise. This pattern will hold until it doesn't. When you visit, drive the whole length of the valley and check the fields. Percentages favor the elk being in one of these 2 areas. If they are not, look nearby. Typically elk don't move very far, but they might. Drive carefully, the bulls are still running everywhere. T'is the season.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

10/4/14 Elk Herd Locaoins & Report

The rutting bulls in Boxley Valley have established the herd positions for late September and Early October. The most interesting of these are the 2 herds in the Ponca fields. The bulls for these 2 herds are very well matched up, and should fight often. This size match-up is one of the key factors that increases the likelihood of fights, Little bulls don't fight bigger bulls,  Big diffeences in size is enough to intimidate them. The 2 bulls in question are probably the same age. It was clear last night that a fight was coming. It was setup when a handful of cows wandered off between the two herds.  Bulls work to keep their herds compact, so when a few cows drift off, it is like bait to a competing bull who will run to meet them and this gets him close to the original herd bull. Once the 2 bulls get close together it fires off the instinct to fight. The bulls will walk along beside one another sizing each other up before squaring up to fight. It is very interesting to observe. The fight was of short duration last night. I think these 2 have already fought many times this year. In this cool weather conditions are perfect for the herds to be in the pastures most of the day. Viewing will be best at the ends of the day. Remember that elk don't like heat and sunlight very much. Maverick bulls near the fence seem more common in the morning. There are still a number of these big guys coming into the rut.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Saturday Evening 10/4 Report

Elk viewing this evening was  outstanding.  I witnessed my first bull fight of 2014 in the Ponca Field just north of the pullout. It was brief, but one I had predicted. These 2 bulls are about equally matched and will fight again. Their herds are fairly close together so that guarantees there will be more fights. The valley was full of cars and some bikers.  They heard a lot of bugling and had great opportunities for photos. NPS rangers ticketed people for illegal parking. I have a video of the fight that I will post, I don't think it lasted a minute, but it was the real deal. Sunday morning should be great end-to-end in Boxley Valley. Best in the Ponca Fields.  Got a reliable report on an otter shoot at the Low Water Bridge today.  Be there at 10AM to have good chances to see them.

Herd Bull "Son of the Beast"

This big bull is down by the Buffalo River at the South end of Boxley Valley. He reminds me of the Boxley Beast, a bull I photographed for many years. His antlers are quite similar and he seems to not be too timid and has a gentle nature. The Beast was always easy to ID because he had tall Tines just like this big guy. I got within 30 yards of him this morning. In full size I can see the pores on his nose. Note his irregular eye guards with extra points and a double point on one.

Otter Active Yesterday at Ponca Low Water Bridge

River Otter have been active a lot in the last month just below the Ponca Low Water Bridge (downstream) and yesterday was no exception. Looking downstream from the bridge there is a den on the left bank. The most reliable time is about 10AM.  River otter are a bit hard to spot, but look for wakes and unexpected ripples in the river. Usually as they feed they will work their way up river feeding along the bluffs.  Photographing river otter is an athletic event requiring fast reactions and a fast shutter speed. Expect them to stop and look back at you as in the photo below. There are at least 2 families of otter one with much smaller juveniles. Altogether there are 8 otter I think. Many photographers have shot them recently as a result of my postings about them and conversations.

River Otter Buffalo National River
River Otter by Ponca Low Water Bridge

Friday, October 3, 2014

As October kicks off, there are more elk in Boxley Valley, and many more bulls showing up. 3 herds were visible this morning, but the 2 main herds are at opposite ends of Boxley Valley.  If you want to hear bugling I would rate the north herd the best, if you hope to catch a bull fight, I would say both herds offer great prospect for a fight as new bulls arrive. This weekend the NPS has the old mill open for tours, it is a worthwhile visit. The Boxley Mill is a turbine mill rather than a water wheel. It is an interesting tour. It is located just north of the mill pond and is open 10AM to 1PM each Friday, Saturday and Sunday in October. The mill dates from the 1870s. 

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Free Wildlife Photography Workshop During Color Fest

This year I will resume doing free wildlife photography workshops at Color Fest on the 17th and 18th of October. This year the topic will be about how to think like a wildlife photographer. This workshop will cover the thought process a wildlife photographer uses to figure out how to photograph a certain species. Elk will be used to illustrate the thought process of working with any species.  This free workshop should be useful to everyone who wants to take better wildlife photos. I will illustrate the talk with pictures and mind maps. There will be a powerpoint that eventually will be posted online. We need to manage demand for this free 2PM workshop, so if you plan to attend, please call the Ponca Elk Education Center ASAP to reserve your seat at (870) 861-2432. If the class  
gets too large I will do a second session. Be sure to leave your phone number so 
we can contact you if necessary about an overflow session. 
October is kicking off with great elk viewing this year. There are 2 rutting herds in Boxley Valley, one on each end of the valley. Both herds have extra bulls hanging around so there is a lot of bugling. In both locations, there is the possibility of a bull fight. See the map below for the locations as noted by the dates. Tonight and tomorrow the weather is predicted to turn colder. The low Friday night will be 39 degrees or less. This cold snap should really kick the rut into another gear. This weekend viewing should be very good. 

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Bulls Arriving in Force, 9/30 Viewing Very Good

Visitors had a great view of a bull and his harem this morning and last night. Apparently there have been more fights and the contol of valley herds has changed the last couple of days. It is pretty standard for the first rutting bulls to be pushed off by the later arriving bulls that are much larger. The Ponca Bull bugled a few times this morning. I did not hear bugling in the south end. There is now a very strong North and South Pattern in the valley now. Morning visitors will want to visit at daybreak -- the elk move out of the fields to bedding areas along the river when the fog lifts and the sun hits them. October 1 is the traditional peak for the arrival of the biggest bulls and that has been evident the last few days. Bull fights are likely now -- I have heard reports of a few both morning and evening this week. There will be more. 

Sunday, September 28, 2014

9/28/14 Elk Herd Map

Tonight there were 2 good herds in the valley and a nice crowd. They were at opposite ends of the valley. Godzilla had his harem out tonight in the south end. At the other end of the valley a bigger cow herd was in the Ponca Fields.  I would say the Ponca Fields will be where the next bull fight will take place. That bull is kind of small. I saw quite a few bulls headed to the north end of the valley.  A couple of them were quite large and right on time. The only question about the fights is will they be in the daytime. Elk do fight at night and in very low light. 

Color Fest 2014

Plan to attend the 10th Annual Ponca Elk Education Center's Color Fest this October 17& 18 at the center. This is a great event and perfect for families. There will be more than 20 artists in attendance and there will be demonsrtations, and a kid's booth on Saturday. I will be doing a free photography workshop each day (@ 2PM) focused on wildlife photography in Boxley Valley and getting the shot. These have been popular in the past. Please call the center to reserve your seat. This helps me plan for the crowd size. Seating is limited. I will share tips based on my 7 years of chasing elk and other wildlife around Boxley Valley and the Buffalo River.  Color Fest is held during the peak fall color period. The elk rut is still going strong on these dates. The best elk viewing times in October are before 10AM and after 4:30PM, so the Color Fest is timed perfectly to mesh with elk viewing.  

Regardless of when you visit, you must visit the Ponca Elk Education Center on the east side of Ponca. It is the recipient of a national award for wildlife education and the highest attended facility of its type in Arkansas. The center has many outstanding displays and free materials for visitors.  The center also has a nice gift shop with nature-themed gifts. It is open 10-4:30 Thursday through Monday.  Open 7 days a week in October.  If you need to locate a place to stay and other things to do, visit for cabin and campground listings. 

9/28 Elk and Boxley Valley Report

It feels now like we are entering the customary fall rut. Boxley Valley now has hundreds of viewers of all ages from all over Arkansas and adjoining states. Many rely on these reports to plan their visits. The elk are cooperating with bugling and herd movements especially in the north end of the valley closest to Ponca. Safety is now becoming an issue with so many people milling around the parked cars. Visitors with children need to keep them close, unfortunately drivers continue to speed through the viewing areas. Please drive slowly, watch the road, and never double park. There has never been a fatality but those of us who follow the rut are very aware of the danger. I would say if you are coming to hear bugling you need to visit zone 1 (see map) closest to Ponca morning or evening. Picture taking is easier in the evening when there is no fog. I prefer mornings because the elk are closer to the fences.  We are still in the peak bull fight period. There are reports of fights and evidence of them in slightly wounded bulls. In other wildlife attractions, there is a single trumpeter swan on the mill pond. River otter continue to be very active just downstream from the Ponca Low Water bridge most often in late morning around 10AM. Otter are a bit hard to spot, look for feeding in the weed beds and ripples and wakes. It is a treat to see otter and photograph them. Otter seldom sit still.  The good news is that feeding begins when sunlight hits the pools, so you can set your camera up for a fast shutter speed.  I like to shoot at least at F8 so focusing is easier. 

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Bull Fight at Dusk Thursday Near Ponca

I received a reliable report that there was a bull fight near Ponca Thursday night. According to my source, Little Forks was deposed as the herd bull. There is no question the Ponca fields are setup now for bull fights. I have seen more fights in those fields than anywhere else in the valley.  There are many cow elk and many bulls arriving for the first time. This is prime time according to my records and experience. If you hope to see a bull fight, get here now. Read the entry I posted on listening for a bull fight. It will improve your percentages. Bull fights are happening now as the first herd bulls are being challenged by bulls only now coming to the rut. Don't forget to check for the Otter just downstream from the Ponca Low Water Bridge they were active Thursday there about 10AM.  Worthwhile to both see and photograph.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Thursday Evening Report

Great elk viewing this evening and a lot of bugling and a huge crowd of watchers and photographers. Probably 80-100 elk in the Ponca fields. There were many bulls all along the valley. The herd dynamic is changing right on time. More bulls = more bugling and the possibility of bull fights is increasing. Morning and evening viewing Saturday and Sunday should be good. Biggest bulls in the south end.

Wading the Buffalo

Today the river otter made an appearance at the Ponca Low Water Bridge. This Photographer is hiking upstream to get close to the otter family that is feeding in the pool in front of her.  The weedy gravel bars of the Buffalo River are pretty easy to wade, the water is seldom a foot deep. The safest gear for wading the river are felt soled boots with studs to cope with slippery rocks.  Hip boots are more than enough. These can be pretty affordable from big outfitting stores like Bass Pro.  If you wade the river, you need to make sure your camera equipment is insured as well.  If you hike into remote areas of the river you should have an Emergency Beacon. The best ones use the FAA Band. This could save your life. 

Wading the Buffalo for Otter Photos

Little Forks near the Ponca Access

This is the herd bull "Little Forks" near the Ponca Access. This bull has just gathered up his harem that was straying toward the fence line. Bulls compact their harems when they wander off. It is a good time to see them up close. Here he paused to bugle.  This herd is visible morning and evening. 

Little Forks compacts his harem near Ponca

 This morning elk viewing was pretty good but still not at peak. 1 herd was visible in the Ponca field wiht a nice bull with it. In the south end there was a handful of bulls in the Smith Creek Field, including Godzilla. They were bugling a little, but the best bugling was in the North end by the Ponca Access.

An Otter family was active by the Ponca Low Water bridge this morning just after 10AM. A number of photographers got a good chance to shoot the otter. Recently the otter have been visible near the Ponc Low Water bridge at around 10AM or so. The feed in the tall river weeds. They are fun to see and shoot.

Elk Locations 9/26/14

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

South Valley Satellite Bull

Nice satellite bull in the south valley area down by the buffalo and cave mountain road. Contrast this young bull with Hammers and you get the idea. This guy is tracking a cow herd to set up office as a satellite bull nearby. 

Hammers is in the House

This Hammers. I call him Hammers because he is as dumb as a bag of hammers. You can see it in his eyes, nobody is home. He hangs around the 43/21 intersection and has for years.  Had a couple of ladies with him today so he is living the dream for now. He was on the west side of 43 this morning up the bank. 

Godzilla Arrives in Smith Creek Field

Godzilla the legendary herd bull has arrived in the Smith Creek Field. You can tell he is the real deal by looking at his pot belly and thick body. He is a real fighting machine. This it not the best picture of him, but he is something to behold. He is the first of the really huge bulls to arrive. Bulls this size often take over harems by just gesturing. I think there is an excellent chance for a bull fight now all across the valley, his presence signals the crossover from smaller bulls to the big guys arriving from elsewhere. Bulls often favor one field or another. I have taken many pictures of Godzilla in the Smith Creek field. He also co-starred in the best bull fight video of recent years taken by my wife Mandy. See it here.

Satellite Bull on Highway 21 @ Buffalo National River

This little Bull Elk is tracking a herd of cow elk in the 2014 elk rut. It is normal now for bull elk to start coming to Boxley Valley as the elk rut heats up. He will not be a herd bull, he is too small. He is a satellite-class bull and will hang around the edge of a herd intent on picking up cows that stray. According to biologists, these bulls breed more than the dominant bulls that control the herds. 
Be careful now if you visit Boxley Valley, these satellite bulls can show up at any time, they have 1 thing on their mind, and it is not traffic safety. 

Rut slowly heating up, more bull elk are arriving.

 Good elk viewing this morning. Multiple Bulls in the Smith Creek Field. 3 herds in the rut, see map. The Ponca Herd (Zone1) is the most reliable now across a number of days. The most bugling is at the south end in the Smith Creek Field. Bulls are showing up now and running all around as rut progresses. The best viewing is in the morning before 9 and in the evenings. Elk traffic hazard is greater now with bulls moving to the cow herds. Watch the roadsides. Don't forget the live chat at AWP if you want more details.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Today there was only 1 rutting herd visible. That one in the Ponca Fields in the north end of Boxley Valley. There was little bugling, that bull is pretty secure at this time with few if any challengers. Elsewhere in the valley there were scattered elk from the Smith Creek field and north. Evening viewing should be pretty good. There were quite a few people in the valley elk watching. 

Safety Issue Alert: visitors should be aware that thick fog has a negative impact on their safety. This morning there were two people dressed in camo standing on the white line at the edge of the road by the 43/21 intersection. I did not see them until I was right next to them. Someone not looking for pedestrians could have clipped one of them.  NEVER assume you are easily seen on the roadsides. Also, if you are driving be very aware pedestrians and be on the lookout for them.

9/23/14 Elk Herd Locations

Monday, September 22, 2014

Insider Tip. Listen for Bull Elk Fights

Everyone imagines that bull elk fights are something you just run into. The truth is if you are paying attention, you can hear bulls getting ready to fight long before they lock up.

Here is the setup:

1. You hear lots of loud bugling. Usually all the noise is from the herd bull who is attempting to warn off the challenger bull who he knows is nearby. Bugling becomes more frequent, and if you listen closely you can hear the two animals trading bugles, I call this "Counter-Bugling"

2. Counter-Bugling will get pretty intense. You can hear the bugles getting raspy and growly and deeper, less melodic. Sometimes the bulls are right next to each other bugling in each other's face. The herd bull will now be in a rage, and you can tell easily. I have seen the herd bull froth at the mouth at this stage.  

If you hear this kind of bugling get to the location it is coming from. The stage is set for a bull fight. Usually you will find the bulls facing off when the noise starts toning down. Then there is a transition to the bull fight.  They may lock up right away, if they do you can hear them for quite a distance. In Boxley Valley this can be well over a half mile. 

I listen in 2 ways, generally when I drive the valley I have my radio turned off and the windows rolled down. I both look and listen intently in placed where I pull off. I am listening carefully to the bugling as above, and for the clatter of antlers. When I stop and shoot I continue to listen carefully. I always move to counter-bugling, especially if it is raspy.
This is the first engagement in a bull fight, I call it the "run along"
Note the herd bull is bugling angrily. From here they will face off
and lock up.  This is from 2008.  

When you are working elk use all your senses. A lot of conversation will result in missed opportunities. You are a hunter, not a visitor to a zoo. Stay alert. 
Maverick Bull Elk, 2014 Elk Rut in Boxley Valley, Buffalo National River
Maverick Bull Elk 
I took this picture in thin fog. 1/20th of a second wide open at ISO 2000. This is a maverick bull hanging out near the rutting herd by the 43/21 intersection. It is just a matter of time before he joins that group and challenges for the harem. In the meantime he is hanging out in the woods.  I am told that evening viewing is good. Would be nice to have better light. This shot is more or less impossible.

9/22/14 Elk Report

Elk viewing was good this morning. There were 3 herds visible. More bulls are showing up now every day to the rut. This is prime bull fight season, as existing herd bulls defend their harems from arriving challenger bulls. Typically the biggest bulls arrive around October 1, but there are some big boys among the early herd bulls. There is a small all-bull herd at the 43/21 Intersection. There are now a good number of photographers and elk watchers coming to the valley to see the elk and hear them bugle. We now have perfect early fall weather, ideal for being outside hiking, riding, floating, and wildlife watching. Evening viewing is strong too according to photographers I talked to.
9/22/14 Elk Herd Positions in Boxley Valley, near Ponca, AR
9/22/14 Elk Herd Location Map

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Live Help Chat

Visit for answers to your questions live. I am testing the chat room now 12:30 on Sunday, otherwise, I will be there evenings after 8PM.

9/21/14 Elk Map & Report

This morning there were 2 rutting herds in Boxley Valley, one in the Smith Creek Field and a second in the Ponca fields. In both places there was bugling. In the Smith Creek Field there were 4 challenger bulls to the current herd bull so there was more bugling on the south end. A number of photographers and elk watchers were in the valley. I would estimate at least 50 elk fans today. Elk viewing was done by 9AM. The Smith Creek field is now primed for a bull fight. There was some evidence this morning. 

9/21/14 Elk Herd Location Map, Boxley Valley, near Ponca, AR
9/21/14 Elk Herd Locations

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Danger in Boxley Valley -- Gawkers and Blind Spots

 These pictures are from this morning and illustrate what many of us fear about the way people drive in Boxley Valley.  The photos below were taken moments apart. The passengers in the car on the right are looking at the elk herd on the left as they pull off the road. They don't see the kneeling photographer on the left. He is blocked by the line of cars.  Just moments later they decide to pull over and could have hit the kneeling photographer.  It didn't happen, but I have seen this scenario a few times. There are 2 takeaway points here:

1. Photographers and pedestrians should take care to be visible. Sitting or kneeling creates a blind spot making them more vulnerable. Parents keep your kids close.
As they approached to pull off they double parked briefly
2. Drivers should not gawk at elk and drive. This "distracted driving" in area with many elk viewers when combined with "distracted parking" is very dangerous. 
These drivers are still looking at elk while pulling off
I have seen families with small children on the loose in the pull off zones. Kids are hard to see anyway and are unpredictable. It is essential for drivers to stay focused on driving and only look at the elk after they park. Driving in these areas is more dangerous than driving in a neighborhood. Speeding is a terrible idea in these areas.  I would say 25 MPH tops in areas of elk viewers. You don't want to be the person who runs over a pedestrian.
9/20/14 Elk Herd Positions in Boxley Valley
This morning the herd bull and his harem near Ponca was in the second field south of the Ponca Access.  A number of people were there wildlife watching and taking pictures. I did not hear any bugling. This field has traditionally a good one for bull elk fights. It, like the Smith Creek field, has many attack points from the river that set the stage for bull fights.  The current bull I call "Little Forks" is here for the second year. He was part of the last bull fight I photographed. It was in this same field. See photo below:
Past Bull Fight in Ponca Field  
If you happen to witness a bull fight you will never forget it. This is my favorite fight picture because it was near the end of the fight and the bull on the right was pinning down the bull on the left. Note the eye contact. 

If you come to see the elk remember The Ozark Mountain Artist Tour is underway. Visit their website for details. Most of the artists are east of Ponca along Highway 74 and along Highway 7 near Jasper. There is printable a map on the website above. Artists cover the range of visual arts.  It is a great family activity. The event complements elk viewing that is best early and late in the day. 

Friday, September 19, 2014

River Otter Guide

Recently river otter activity has picked up at the Ponca Low Water Bridge. The otter seem most active mid morning around 9:30 to 10:00 AM. There are 2 different otter families, one with last year's litter, a second with tiny babies, clearly this year's litter. The key to locating the river otter is to be patient and carefully watch the left pool just below low water bridge. When the otter are feeding, often there are ripples that can't be explained, and river weeds will move as the animals forage along the bottom. Sometimes you will see an otter upside down in the pool with its tail poking straight up out of the water as it digs through rocks on the bottom.

One of the best traits of otter are that they are not timid around people. They might swim up to you to get a better look at you, often when they are swimming away, they will pause and look back in shallow areas (see photo below).

Otter are a fast moving subject and a bit unpredictable. This is handheld shooting and my 100-400mm zoom lens seems ideal. Stabilization and a fast shutter speed are important.  I usually shoot ISO 2000 and wide open. Because they are a dark subject, I will overexpose to get texture in their shiny wet fur.  When you visit the valley to see the elk, you must stop and check for otter.  If you see them, stop and shoot a while, you may never see them again.

River Otter Buffalo National River pausing to look back. 

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

2 Rutting herds now in Boxley Valley.

2 elk herds in Boxley Valley this morning at opposite ends of the valley. They were gone by 9AM. There was some bugling with the herd in the first Ponca field. 

In other news a small otter family was active around the Ponca Low water bridge around 9AM for about an hour. Look for ripples and weed movements to spot the otter. Always a treat to see. 

Monday, September 15, 2014

Stage Set for Bull Fight in South Boxley Valley

The stage is set now for a bull fight in the south end of Boxley Valley. There is a herd bull with a harem in the Smith Creek field. This field has a few trails down to the river where challenger bulls can attack the current herd bull. This can happen at any time of day, visitors are most likely to observe a fight mornings and evenings. See the video below so you can get the idea of what a real fight is like. It happened in this same field.  The current herd bull is bugling a lot so he is nervous about protecting his harem.  The timing is ideal now. Usually around October 1 the very biggest bulls arrive and they roam along the river.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Strong Bugling by Smith Creek Saturday Evening

Son of the Beast herd bull was bugling a lot tonight (Saturday). He feels there is a threatening bull nearby and seemed pretty nervous. If you are thinking about coming Sunday the 14th, he should be real active in the morning in the south end by Smith Creek.

Bugling begins in Boxley Valley's 2014 elk rut

This morning the herd bull down by Smith Creek began bugling in response to a shag bull that was hanging around. I am sure this has been going on for a few days.  Boxley Valley had about 70 elk between 2 herds and a few stragglers. Be on the lookout for roadside animals in the south valley area.

September 2014 Elk Location Map
groups.  Viewing was good early, and later the herds bedded down in the fields in overcast, cool weather. The peak of the rut is ahead. Usually the biggest bulls arrive around October 1 as more cow elk go into heat.

Friday, September 12, 2014

2014 Elk Rut has Begun

Today I saw a huge bull with a herd of cows in the Smith Creek field. He showed all the behaviors of a rutting herd bull. The Smith Creek Field is at the south end of Boxley Valley just north of Smith Creek and South of the Buffalo River bridge on 21.  This bull is easy to spot but about 80 yards from the road. Cool weather had been key to triggering the rut. This is the 3rd year running that the first visible rutting bull and cow herd has been in the Smith Creek Field.  Elk have been in a south valley pattern for quite a while now. The good news is this is probably the safest place for elk viewing in the valley. Please respect private property.  This bull looks like the departed Boxley Beast who dutifully bred in Boxley Valley for years. A fine looking animal.

Son of the Beast

Thursday, September 11, 2014

2014 Elk Rut Starts Anytime

If past experience means anything, the elk rut will be in full gear in 2 weeks. Current activity in Boxley Valley shows only the smallest hints of the rut. 2
herds of cow elk are awaiting the bulls. Elk are concentrated from the 43/21 intersection and south, especially south of the Buffalo and Cave Mountain Road. I have been down in the valley a few times in the last few days and that is what I see. I parked for a half hour listening for a bugle and heard none. The boys should arrive any time.  The Smith Creek field is most active.

Friday, August 22, 2014

River Otter Low Water Bridge Pool

The river otter family I have photographed a few times was in the pool just downsteam from the low water bridge at the Ponca Access this morning at 9:30 AM. Not sure this pattern will repeat reliably, but I know quite a few photographers who are interested in otter. Look for ripples along the banks and you might see them. Otter are curious and will stop and look at you (like below).  I usually over-expose to get more detail in the dark areas that tend to block up. 

My survey of the valley showed no elk this morning. Typically in 90 degree weather the elk pack it in early as soon as the sunlight hits the fields. If you want to see elk I recommend getting to the valley before 7AM. 

River Otter at Ponca Access, Buffalo Ntional River

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Butterfly Photography is in Prime Time -- The Mating Dance

Real happy with this photo. Our road, Old Erbie Road is lined with wildflowers now. These milkweeds drive the butterflies wild. I got this by waiting and watching. I am convinced the best way to get good butterfly pictures is to post yourself near a few pre-selected flowers and let the butterflies come to you. 

I much prefer to shoot butterflies in flight. When I get 2 at once it makes my day. This was shot 1/3,200 of a second at f 10, 400 mm, ISO 2,000, hand held. 

Mourning Cloak Butterfly

Mourning Cloak Butterfly at Sunrise
There seem to be a lot of Mourning Cloak Butterflies around this year. Lately I have seen quite a few near our home bordering the Ponca Wilderness. I think it is a pretty good addition to your butterfly collection.

If you want to get detail in that very dark wing you need to overexpose in most situations.  I don't think this species is rare, but it is not common around my home.  Maybe all the rain this year has changed things.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Pileated Woodpecker Leaving the Nest

I have wanted this picture for a long time. Pileated Woodpeckers aren't so easy to photograph in most places, they keep their distance. Out back of our home they are very timid. I found this nest in a dead pine and have been sitting on it on and off for a couple of weeks.

One of the first principles of wildlife photography is to "first observe". You have to spend the time patterning your subject. I have 12 hours or so on this bird collecting clues about how to get the picture.

It is clear now this nesting female is feeding her brood. Today I watched her for an hour and a half. At about the 1 hour point I finally timed her correctly leaving the nest. Images like this take a lot of time to get a chance. Because everything happens so fast, I missed this a couple of times.

It is always lucky to get this kind of picture. Time and determination are rewarded. Early in the shoot I caught her half way out of the nest. Never give up, results come to grinders.

Pileated Woodpecker, Ponca Wilderness
Pileated Woodpecker, Ponca Wilderness

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Nesting Pileated Woodpecker

This picture could be better, but it is one I have spent quite a bit of time getting. This pileated woodpecker built a nest out back in a dead pine tree. I spent at least 5 sessions sitting waiting for any decent picture. It seems like any time I would look away this bird would fly off. 

Things have changed now. I think there are babies and she comes back rather than flying away and staying away. This morning I finally got the picture. I will be working this nest for a while now. 

Pileated Woodpecker at Nest

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

5/7/14 Elk Viewing Report -- Heat Causing Mid Summer Pattern Now

This morning there were a lot of elk in Boxley Valley when I drove through at 6AM. There was a herd bedded down close to the Ponca Access, a second bull herd at the 43/21 intersection, a 3rd in the Smith Creek Field, and a 4th by the Upper Wilderness trail head.

Here's the bad news. By 7AM, most of the elk were gone, headed for cooler ground under cover. This is the classic summer pattern that leads people to think there are no elk in Boxley Valley in the summer.  If you want to see them, they will be there very early in the morning most reliably. Today they were heading for cover at 6:30 AM.

Interesting note that the bull elk now have velvet antlers about 6 inches long.

The next big thing on the annual elk calendar is the birth of calf elk starting in June. That will be my next report on the elk, otherwise, you can see them most every day now very early in the morning, and possibly late evening. Cooler weather will extend viewing. Rainy weather also brings them out.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Dogwood Bough at Sunset

The dogwood season is now just past peak. There are plenty of great trees left, but the early bloomers are now declining by the day.

I shot this on my trek out back to a pileated woodpecker nest. Like so may other photos, I go out for one thing, and get another. Think about chasing the angular light at the ends of the day.  I am real happy with this dogwood image, but like most every image, it is something given more than something taken.

Dogwood at Sunset
Dogwood at Sunset in Cross Light

Saturday, May 3, 2014

The Chase

This was taken the moment the male hummingbird jumped off the limb as he was chased off by the female. This happens all day long. Very hard to single out and capture.

The Chase

The Moment of Attack

An impossible shot. All it took was observation, a couple of hours and over 1,000 frames. Very happy with this image. This happens so fast it is impossible to observe with the naked eye. What you are shooting at is the percentage, knowing that the conditions and the signals of the perched bird point to it.

A lot is made of fancy rigs to get these pictures. Usually complex flash setups and the like. I shoot these hand held at ISO 1,250 and F8 or F13 if there is enough light at 400mm. I like to have the exposure around 1/2,000 of a second. I take test shots for exposure, often settling at 1 stop over exposure. I don't like flash because it washes out nuance. To me the animation of this photo by shadow is part of its appeal. If flashed, it would be relatively flat.

The Moment of Attack