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Monday, April 13, 2015

Elk and Mountain Lions

It's springtime so the elk herd seems to prefer our elevation. I love watching them, and photographing them with a hand-held camera and with trail cams.

Whenever I spot the herd, I go back out in my car and shoot some photos without getting out. It seems that elk are not concerned about cars but they are very concerned about people on foot.

Last week, I watched a young and shedding bull elk lie down. The "spots" on his coat are clumps of fur that he's shedding. Lying down appeared to be quite a procedure for a big animal. Here he was, standing up and grazing.
Then he decided that it was time to rest his hooves and began the process of lying down. He lowered his front end first.
And then his hind end followed.
Soon, he was lying there relaxing. I suppose that this is one of the safest times and places for an elk to rest - in the midst of a big herd in a sunny meadow. Mountain lions, the elk's main predators, are not likely to stalk the elk in this situation.
I've also been seeing elk on my trail cameras. This is a somewhat older bull with broken antlers that tell the story of him fighting with other bull elk during mating season.
Then, he heard some people approaching but he also seemed to notice my trail camera at the same time. He gave the camera a quizzical look before heading up the hill and away from where people and their dogs walk.
When there's such a big elk presence in our area, the mountain lions soon focus on our area too. The collared cat followed in some snowbike tracks, heading toward the herd. It's a smallish cat so I'm guessing that it's a female.
A couple of miles from where my camera captured the image of the collared lion, another trail camera captured the image of a collar-free muscular muscular mountain lion, also heading directly for the elk herd.
In the case of that second lion photo, I wasn't planning to check that particular trail camera that day but Shyla "told me", loud and clear, that something scary had been in the area. She starts sniffing the ground incredibly intensely when a mountain lion has been through.

Based on her behavior, I think that the big collar-free lion had been on top of Hug Hill in the wee hours of the morning, in the same spot where Shyla and I play many days.
I once daydreamed about teaching Shyla to signal me when she found the scent trail of a mountain lion. That's starting to seem like a reasonable proposition because she reacts so obviously when she catches the scent of a mountain lion.

The elk and mountain lions always tide over my curiosity about our wildlife until the bears become active. Although I suspect that some bears are outside their dens now, I haven't found any tracks or trail camera photos of them yet, perhaps partly because their favorite routes are still snow-covered. When I find bear tracks for the first time in the spring, it's a day for celebration!


  1. it's neat (and i suppose natural) that elk and mountain lions go together, but i wouldn't have thought of that without your posts.

  2. That elk going into a lying position made me think of Phantom - that is how he would move from standing to lying down too.

    We hope the bears are out soon too - we love seeing them here.

  3. I love elk! We get to see some occasionally in Oregon, more towards the coast! The other day when we were hiking at Thousand Acres, we found deer prints in the mud and it's so unusual. I never see any game out there! Probably a wise move since there are so many dogs.

    That's awesome that Shyla is alerting to mountain lions! Zoe does a similar thing with coyotes! She does the sniffing thing and also acts kind of nervous.

  4. I didn't realize elk have spots or is that only on young elk?

    Aroo to you,

  5. I love seeing elk. But aren't their coats funny this time of year? I have never seen a spotted elk before.

  6. Wow! Just, wow. I always get sad when I see a collared lion. Sigh. Love these shots!

  7. Otto went through rattlesnake aversion training when I forst got him two years ago. Twice now he has alerted me to snakes I didn't see. He has a very distinct behavior - put on the brakes and stand stock still until released. What a good boy!

  8. Shyla is a very smart girl and surely recognizes the lion smell. You are very intuitive to recognize her alerts too. Thanks for sharing your amazing pictures. I have to laugh at the elks funny face looking at the camera.

  9. Hi Everyone,

    The elk are shedding in a huge way. The "spots" are big clumps of fur that are coming out of their coats. They look really odd at this time of year because they "blow their coats" so dramatically!

    Thanks for the questions.

  10. Never saw an elk shedding it's winter coat. Shoot it's been years since SHE's seen elk and it's been in high summer.

  11. That shedding elk is so interesting - never saw that before. Are you ever nervous about the mountain lions?

  12. That's so interesting that the Elk's are spotted because they are blowing their coats! I guess I never really thought of them doing that!

  13. What a great picture of you with your Wubba, Shyla! You are such a smart girl!

  14. We showed our dad your pictures and he went all coocooforcocoapuffs over the elk......silly dad.......I faught I saw you Shayla at the vet on Saturday and went over to talk to you, but as I got closer I realized it was a Sam and not a Shayla, embarrassing...stella rose

  15. Spotted Elk!! how interesting they look when they are shedding
    Mr Bailey, Hazel & Mabel

  16. The elk are sure interesting to see and the big cats are always amazing!

  17. I guess the elk are not as aggressive toward humans as the moose tend to be? That was cute how the elk looked right into your camera!

  18. Love that trail camera. There was a mountain lion under someone's house near Los Angeles yesterday. They were still trying to lure the 150 pounder out
    Lily & Edward

  19. Elk seem to lie down using the same process as sheep. There's a fact that's probably not worth mentioning. I would love a trail camera. Nothing as exciting as a mountain lion around here though. Wandering domestic cat, perhaps.

  20. Be careful, that's a lot of activity!

    Your Pals,

    Murphy & Stanley

  21. Those elk are so beautiful and fluffy looking. Very interestinghow they shed.
    Are the elk hunted like in most areas? We do not like to see any hunters come around here,,, cause they are looking for ANYTHING to shoot.

  22. I love the wildlife you photograph, it's very cool. Do you ever worry that you might encounter one by surprise? That would be concerning for me. :-)


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