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 buffaloriverchamber.com 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 http://arkansaswildlifephotography.com/phpchat/ 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.