Sunday, August 21, 2011

Watching Elk in the Rockies

When you read this, I should be in Colorado, visiting Rocky Mountain National Park. I won't be home until Tuesday. In the meantime, here's one of my posts from a visit I made to the park last fall. This year I'll probably be too early for most of the elk action but I'm hoping that I'll see plenty of birds instead.

I drove into the Rocky Mountain National Park at 6:45 on Sunday morning and immediately came across a group of elk grazing by the roadside. Suspecting that these might be the only elk I would see in the park, I grabbed a couple of quick shots in the low dawn light.

I needn't have worried! Over the next 6 hours I was to see a lot of elk: dozens, perhaps scores. My second sighting came as I was driving up to Upper Beaver Meadows and pulled into a picnic area to let another vehicle pass. To my surprise, three more elk were wandering among the picnic tables.

When I arrived at Upper Beaver Meadows, I was greeted by the sight of another group. Several does grazed peacefully while two young males practiced butting heads and the bugling calls of older bulls echoed eerily all around.
After leaving Upper Beaver, I drove around several different areas of the park and saw (and heard) many more elk. Some, like the doe below, were in groups.

Several were lone males.

After driving up to the Alpine Center and back, I returned to Upper Beaver Meadows just after noon. Following a small path into the woods, I hadn't gone 50 yards before I found I had strayed right into the middle of a group of resting elk.

None of the does seemed to notice me but a young male made me a little nervous when he showed some interest in my presence, stood up and walked over to check me out. I sat quietly down beside a tree and he seemed to forget about me.
BTW, until this point I had always thought of elk as being just like deer. However, seeing this young male up so close made me realize that elk are big - really big. In fact, they're at least a foot taller at the shoulder and more than twice as heavy as white-tailed or mule deer.

It wasn't until the young male wandered away that I was able to examine the group more closely - and to realize that he was not the animal I should have been worried about. The one that I should have been nervous of was a large bull sitting with a doe perhaps 40 feet away.
He looked me over quite carefully but must have decided that I wasn't a threat because he didn't even bother standing up.After I had been sitting with the elk for a while, another bull started bugling loudly from the edge of the trees. This really agitated "my" bull, who stood up and started bugling back.
Then he got to his feet and led his herd away, stopping every few yards to bugle back at the unseen male.

Deciding that anything else I saw in the park was going to be an anticlimax, I headed back to the car.


Pam said...

Wow, quite an experience, I think I may have been a little scared with those large males about!

Jeff said...

I was nervous, Pam. However, probably naively, I have a theory that most animals will not bother you if you don't appear to pose a threat to them. So I try to make it obvious that I'm not sneaking up on them. I even talk to animals as I approach them! And I sit down to show I'm not threatening them. It usually seems to work. I wouldn't want to try it with bears, though.

Pam said...

It's nice to be able to get so close and your way worked well here but I'd definitely not recommend trying it with bears!! :-)

Elizabeth said...

That's amazing! Last weekend I was in eastern Utah and heard elks bugling for the first time. Such an eerie sound. I would love to see it up close.