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Monday, October 12, 2015

Watching the Elk

It's still autumn here in Colorado but that could change any time now. We are hustling to fit in all our favorite things before it becomes truly winter.
One of our favorite things is watching the elk. As some of you know, we have an elk herd that spends the winter in our neck of the woods. However, they spend the most interesting parts of their lives up higher in the mountains. They arrive up high in the spring, just in time for the mother elk to have their calves. Then, they gorge on alpine food all summer long.

In autumn while they're still higher in the mountains, they have their mating season. It is really fun to watch the behavior of the elk during this tension-filled season. We usually drive to Rocky Mountain National Park to elk-watch during their rut.

This activity has become more popular with lots of people so we try hard to time our visit when it won't be too crowded. This year, it started to rain as we drove. It was still raining hard when we saw the first huge bull elk with his harem of females and calves. Each dominant bull gathers a harem at the start of mating season and defends them from other bulls for the duration of the season.

Here was the first bull elk, with tremendous antlers. He had just let out a piercing "bugle", a sound that bull elk make only during mating season.
One of his cow elk was standing nearby. The elk didn't seem to notice the rain.
We watched that first bull and harem for a while. There was a small amount of drama because a slightly smaller bull was hovering around the edges of the harem.
The main bull kept an eye on him but tolerated his presence. I think that was because it was late in the mating season so most of the cows were no longer fertile.

Here was the big guy, watching the younger guy. If the younger one survives a few more years, he'll have a good chance of having his own harem.
After that group moved into a wooded area, we moved along to watch another bull and his harem.
His antlers were similarly huge, like the first bull's antlers. Bull elk in the National Park live much longer than in our neck of the woods because there's no hunting there. We never see antlers that big near us.

He was moving his harem around. First they headed to our right. The photo has only a fraction of the 15-20 cows and calves in his harem.
 He kept them going.
But then he changed his mind, letting out a loud bugle as he turned them around.
And sent them in the other direction. That's a calf just in front of him with the calf's mother just to his right.
He had them all moving at a good clip but then the situation got messy.
Another bull was in the area, and he might have been the cause of the confusion. He was smaller than the dominant bull but worthy of being watched by the big bull.
So, the harem kept going in the same direction, and the big bull stopped in a quandary. He ended up standing between his harem and the younger bull, letting out loud bugle calls.
In the face of the big bull's anger, the younger bull elk departed, and the big bull caught up with his harem again.
And he checked whether they were fertile for the umpteenth time that evening.
It was another really fun autumn outing, watching such amazing behavior from closeup.
Then the sun went down and the light got dim. The sound of bugles echoed all around us as the sun set in a fiery show.
At this time of year, I start wishing that autumn could last forever!

Not Shyla - she takes life as it comes... and I think she adores every season!
Dogs are amazing examples for us to try to emulate!

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Black Dog Sunday

Our black dog, R, loves the water. He's taught his sister to love it almost as much as he does.
All eyes on the person holding the ball

He hurls himself into the water at top speed to win every race to the ball.

Then he returns with the ball...

Gallops a nice distance from us on the tundra...

And shakes! He's the first dog I've known who doesn't strongly prefer to shake when right next to a person, and I appreciate it.
I wish we had a pond by our house so that he and Shyla could play in the water every day.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Life in the Forest - Bones, Dogs, Bears, and Bobcats

As you know, we spend lots of time in the forest with our dogs. It's a wild forest, with all sorts of wildlife, including predators. Consequently, we often find parts of prey near trails, where animals have left them after finishing all the meat. Elk legs are the most common find, and an elk leg creates a bothersome distraction every time we pass it with our dogs. So, we and other dog owners tend to hang elk legs in trees so that our dogs can't reach them.

Yes, even sweet Shyla will leave a "heel" to enjoy the company of an elk leg for a while. Don't be fooled by her serious expression!
Recently, Shyla noticed an elk leg that someone else had hung in a tree right next to a trail that we use regularly. In fact, Shyla was standing on her hind legs trying to reach the leg - a first for her. When I checked what she was up to, even I could smell the elk leg. It was very fresh.

So, I decided to try an experiment. I hung the stinky elk leg in a secluded clearing where I have trail cameras pointed at a tree.

Within hours, a bear was checking it out. You can barely see the elk leg about 1-2' above the bear's head. This bear was Dot, our youngish sow, and she couldn't reach the leg. That tells me that she's shorter than I am - so she's really not a big bear yet. If she'd wanted to, she could've climbed the tree but she gave up after unsuccessfully stretching to reach the elk leg.

Two days later, a bobcat showed up, very interested.

He sniffed the bone on the ground (this area sometimes seems like a huge bone yard).

Rapidly, his attention was on the elk leg in the tree, which is far fresher than the bone on the ground. He leaped up onto the tree trunk.

I was surprised to see him cling to the tree for an extended period while he checked out the elk leg.

Then he lowered himself to the ground and walked off.

His departure...

I was worried about having lured him into the tree and whether he'd hurt himself when he jumped down. My first tenet of watching wildlife is not to hurt them in any way! But then I saw another photo of him nearby, walking quickly and very nimbly. I think it was a routine leap for him.
Since then, I've placed a video trail camera pointed at the elk leg, hoping to get a better view of the bobcat actually leaping. Unfortunately, no animals have tried to investigate the elk leg since then.

Neither has Shyla. I'm glad for that. We've had some notable interactions with elk legs with every generation of our dogs. Usually, our dog is lying on the ground about 20 yards away gnawing on the elk leg, and I'm freaking out because I can't see where the camouflaged dog is. Acadia, K, and Shyla all did this to me. Now, every interesting animal bone gets hung in a tree!

That way, our dogs can't use their natural coloring to trick us when they're very nearby quietly enjoying a bone!
I hope you're enjoying your weekend. I've had a really big setback with my neck with the worst pain I've had in a long time. If I don't post on any day in the near future, it's just because I can't handle being on the computer. I'm still holding out hope that it will ease up on its own.

Friday, October 9, 2015

An Autumn High Alpine Swim

Yesterday, we did a long-standing tradition - visiting a special lake where every one of our dogs has swum except the one who died before we moved to Colorado.
The lake is off-trail, and it doesn't appear on any maps. It's in a popular area but there is never another soul near the lake, except wildlife, of course. We love this spot. We call it "Dog Leap Lake".

I realized that this was Shyla's 4th attendance at our annual autumn swim in this lake. My, how time flies!

And it must have been R's 8th autumn swim here. He is no less enthusiastic now than when he was a puppy!

Because we did this outing very late in autumn this year, the water was cold! The Duo spent a lot of time running around and playing on the tundra.

I love the autumn color of the tundra. It's so vibrant and rich. Very soon, it will be snow-covered.

This is a great activity for R's elbow. Swimming is great PT and the tundra is soft that it's not very jarring to his elbow when he runs.

For a dog who was once dubbed as having little drive for retrieving, Shyla sure is intense about it now! Waiting for the throw...

Launching herself to fetch the ball...

Sprinting back to the Runner to give him the ball...

R is the master of over-the-top intensity so he always retrieves the first ball thrown while Shyla waits for the second ball that the Runner throws.

After about a half hour, we had to call it a day when R started shivering so hard that we could see it from 20 yards away. I think that water was cold! The dogs shook off, and we were on our way. They warmed up quickly as we hiked.
I love having traditions like this one. I think we missed our autumn trip to this lake only once. That year, our elderly yellow Lab, S, couldn't do the off-trail part of the hike. So we all sat by an easily accessible lake and enjoyed the views.

I think that traditions like these help me to remember how fast time goes by. Each day is as precious as the one when we visit Dog Leap Lake. It can be hard to remember that each day is a gift, especially when faced with the trials and tribulations of life, but I try!

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Winter Lurking in the Night

It feels like winter is nipping at our heels. It is here at night and then sometimes goes away during the day. During the other night, Old Man Winter decorated the high mountains. I love the juxtaposition of the snow on the peaks and the gold/red aspens on the lower forested slopes.
I've been getting out on the trails in time for sunrise most mornings but there's been a layer of clouds to our east almost every morning. By the time the sun is above those clouds, its reddish hue has dissipated. However, the sunlight is still softer and prettier than later in the day.
I hate all the extra clothes I have to wear to ride when the temperature is in the 30's (F). However, Shyla thinks the cold is tremendous. She does zoomies around me for the first part of every cold ride!
She's in that unbelievable phase of life when she seems like she can run at top speed forever. I know it's a fleeting phase so I try to remember to revel in it each day!
She leaps for no particular reason, except that she is filled with joy.
Old Man Winter has caused some aspen groves to lose their leaves but others still glow against the blue sky.
I vote for autumn sticking around a little longer... but I'm not sure that voting helps!