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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!


  1. It was great to get to watch the elk. Thanks for sharing them with us.

  2. I'm trying to be more like Shyla! Yay for good role models. :)

  3. What a wonderful opportunity, those antlers, I wonder if they get caught up in branches? Thick coats, ready for your winter. Enjoy those gorgeous sunsets.

  4. They are such amazing creatures!

  5. Truly amazing animals!!! That must be incredible to watch. Thanks for sharing.

  6. I love elk! They are so neat! We have a few herds down in the Tillamook forest by the coast! I always love driving through there trying to spot them!

  7. Those were beautiful pictures. I love the picture of the cow in the rain. Do they shed their antlers. Just a sliver of an antler sells for big money in pet stores as animal chews.

  8. What a thrill to see a National Geographic show in real life and all by yourself. I loved the photographs and descriptions. Lucky you. And thanks for sharing with us. Wonderful glimpse of nature.

  9. My momma said she loved watching the elk in Estes Park. So many. I have not seen an elk yet, but momma says I will AND I must learn elk manners. Kisses to Shyla, she is so beautiful.

  10. So much beauty and wonder- in your world!

  11. Elk are so majestic!
    Mr Bailey, Hazel & Mabel

  12. What a treat to see such natural behavior through your camera's eye as you tell the story. Interesting you mentioned that due to hunting you don't see such big antlers around your home. That's actually one of the scientific arguments I've heard against hunting as currently practiced - by removing the largest animals hunters are basically selecting for small size as the small males are who's left to reproduce. Perhaps that is partly what you're seeing.

  13. I love to hear them when they bugle. Such majestic animals.

  14. Love, love, love that first photo! Animals are amazing to watch. BUTT of course dogs are the best!

    Your Pals,

    Murphy & Stanley

  15. Those elk are so big. We are waiting for your snow pictures. However, the weather has been unseasonably HOT!
    Lily & Edward

  16. Beautiful I miss the elk and aspen. Thanks for sharing them with us!

  17. All the years I lived in CO...Boulder, Berthoud, Four Mile Canyon...and I never saw that! What the heck was I doing out there, anyway??


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