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Sunday, December 27, 2009

Sunrise ride, elk, lion signs, and dog calming signals

Amid a sea of contemplation of whether there's any way I can put off my surgery for another year, I rode my bike out into the crystal world at sunrise. The sun barely peeking over rocky pinnacles nearly blinded me. The beauty made me forget my turmoil as it almost always does.
Looking over my shoulder, I saw the golden hue on the mountains. It's worth waking up early to feel the world awakening around me.
I rode down a shaded gulch that the sun hadn't touched yet. I heard the soft high-pitched mewing of a yearling elk separated from his mother. When I scanned the meadow, I spotted a splinter faction of elk observing my passage. The youngest elk in the herd were born last May or June, up high in the alpine meadows. Thus, they're about 7 months old now. To my surprise, one of the youngsters knelt down on his front legs and nursed from his mother's teats. He repeatedly jerked his head upward, as if he was trying to force more milk out of her breasts. It's the first time that I've seen an elk calf nursing at this time of year. The nursing elk wasn't in this photo.
As I coasted further into the depths of the gulch, the world darkened still more. In the foreground of the photo below, the dark gulch surrounded me but the snowy mountains stood out like beacons to the west.
In this gulch, I noticed a huge, fur-filled scat. My chemical handwarmer serves as a scale - it's 3.5" long. I think that a mountain lion left this scat.
Very nearby, as the crow flies, I found a fascinating cat sign the other day. In the photo below, a muddy paw print is on the left and the blood of a prey animal stained the ground in front of it. Around this spot, I saw signs of struggling, lots of cat tracks, and many bits of fur.
The paw print was large, almost 3.5" in length and width - as you can see by comparing it to my handwarmer below. Moreover, because it was a mud print rather than an imprint, it couldn't have been enlarged by melting. My best guess was that a smallish mountain lion left the track as he hunted.
Today, shortly after I saw the lion scat, tracks from a huge elk herd crossed my path. The pattern continues - when I see elk signs, I tend to see lion signs nearby.
After my intriguing ride, replete with myriad animal signs, I headed home and picked up the pups for a short ski. They'd already had a romp in the morning (without me) but I needed my own 'doggy fix'.
We visited our favorite lookout. The mountains shined a brilliant and sparkling white in the late morning sun. The three of us sat on a log together and enjoyed the silence of our mountains. It rejuvenates my spirit to visit spots like this one.
When we arrived home, the dogs still had energy to burn and began wrestling. They wrestled for a while with both of them seeming relaxed. As R became revved up, K started giving calming signals, like this tongue flick, even though R was trying to be very non-threatening by lying on his back.R saw the calming signal and returned it. They mutually took a break before restarting the fun. It's amazing to spot these subtle forms of communication between the duo.
After wrestling, K found a spot in the sun, where her fur glowed resplendent with what I hope is good health.


  1. Wow - these lion signs made my heart race! You definitely came upon signs of a struggle. Your wilderness is a wonderful combination of gorgeous views and secret sleuthing. The last photo of K is so pretty - she is basking!

  2. you saw some incredible sights today...most of all, thanks for sharing!
    love the animal prints and the carnage...
    i'll have to pay more attention to my dogs calming behaviors..i have to say even though i've seen it many times with your dogs, i haven't noticed this with mine...hummm
    do you think the mom elk was still lactating?
    keep your eyes on the mountain...

  3. I love going to 'nature school' at your blog..... I must say, of all the Photos' of K, this velvety one shows me his beauty in a very special way !

  4. Thinking about putting the surgery off now? Is that a possibility? It seems like you've skiing more, which I thought was kind of painful for you. It'd be nice if you are feeling better.

  5. This is better than Nat. Geo!!!
    Take care!

  6. Love that last picture of K! Looks like close encounters of the mountain lion kind for you! Very cool!

  7. Aw sweet! Love seeing K and R wrestling and working it out. What a great ride you had. And, the beautiful and peaceful mountains!

    Hugs and snaggle-tooth kisses,
    Sierra Rose

  8. It's as if you're a detective out in the woods, piecing together bits of information that you find to deduce what happened there earlier, such as with the lion tracks and blood stains.

    Speaking of calming signals, a strange thing happened today. On my way to my agility practice, a large dog was leaning (dangerously) over the side of his car and gazed into my car to Marge and I. Then, he started rapidly flicking his tongue at us - not the usual lip licks that I see, this was different. I never figured out if it was a calming signal or totally unrelated, for the traffic light turned green and we went our separate ways.

  9. Always love the pictures, but really enjoy that last one with the sun glistening off the fur.

  10. Always love the pictures, but really enjoy that last one with the sun glistening off the fur.

  11. As always KB, coming here is such a relaxing calm treat! Thanks! xoxo

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  13. I'm going to rain on the parade.

    Elk in the winter and dogs don't mix. Even though the elk don't seem harrased they are. There are no wolves yet in Colorado but canines are the number one predator of elk historicaly and the elk are extremly nervous when they see them. The small extra stress on the herd can burn precious calories and exacerbate winter kill.

    In colorado it's not only legal but in some circles encouraged, to shoot on site any dog harrassing deer or elk, so it can be lethal to dogs as well as elk. The elk herd above Caribou where these photo were taken seems small for the large area of good habitat available. Chronic Wasting disease hasn't been detected in the heard for quite a few years and death due to hunting is so small as to be insignifigant. I can't help but wonder if the heavy usage of this part of the National Forest has contributed to the small population of this shy animal.

    Link below to a stoy in the Vail paper.

    end of rant.

  14. Somchai,

    You're not raining on my parade. Our elk herd is about 120-strong and regularly passes within about 100 yards of my home. The small group that I showed was less than a tenth of the herd. The rest of the herd was grazing nearby.

    My dogs never, and I do mean *never*, chase elk. They earn the right to be off-leash through a ton of training. Look back through my blog and you'll see that I devote a huge amount of time to training them so that they can be good citizens in our forest.

    I understand what you're getting at and I agree that dogs and elk (or other wildlife for that matter) don't mix. But, a dog can be trained, with meticulous work, to travel through the forest with his/her human without chasing wildlife.

  15. KKS,

    Some research has told me that elk cows usually lactate for only about 100 days so I doubt that the mother elk was still lactating. Perhaps it was a hopeful, but disappointed, calf! A lack of milk might explain the nose butting as he tried to get milk from the teat.

  16. That bloody print would have done me in. You are so much braver than I am.


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