Wednesday, November 28, 2012


Today is a continuation of yesterdays introduction to the elk herd at the North Cumberland Wildlife Management Area.  This morning was one very exciting morning.

I was up and at em at 3:30 AM.  I got some coffee made, gulped it down and was off for the elk range.  I hoped I could find it in the dark.  Yesterday was the first time I had been to it and I rode with Steve and Paul.  It's different if I can drive myself.  Routes get logged into the old brain better.  I felt great when I got on the gravel road that leads to the elk fields.  It's a long, long drive up this road and I was beginning to wonder if I missed a turn.  The signs are very few between the highway and the turn to the viewing tower.  I'll have to mention that to someone.
Day break found me at the gate below the viewing area.

  It was cold.  Did I say it was cold?  I put on my coveralls and parka, gathered up the binoculars, camera and water bottle and was off up the trail.  I guess it's about an eighth of a mile or maybe a quarter of a mile walk to the viewing tower.  About three quarters of the way there the forest burst into activity on both sides of the trail.  It was obvious that elk were crashing through the brush.  They were running up hill towards the elk meadow.  I wish I would have been there earlier, ahead of them.  Two huge animals crossed the road at a run just ahead of me.  Wow - they are very big!  The camera was in an instrument case so both hands were carrying things.  I sat all the stuff down and unlatched the camera box as elk were continuing to cross the road in front of me one after the other.  I smiled to myself and sort of laughed out loud at the probability of catching them in the open field.  I got the camera out and gathered everything up and started off again.  An elk would show itself and I'd quickly snap shoot a picture - no easy task with two feet of heavy lens hanging off the camera.  But, I got a lucky shot or two.

I did mention that these animals are really big, didn't I?  I walked in the grass alongside the trail to minimize noise from my footsteps.  I realized how absurd the effort was as the Indians already detected the white man's approach.
The viewing tower appeared ahead and I scurried as fast as I could up the steps to survey the huge fields that lay in front of it.  The herd was there.

They all watched me.  It was funny.  I had the same feeling as I did yesterday of being the subject inside the cage in a zoo with "them" the spectators.  It seems I spooked them out of the woods while coming up the trail to the tower and they didn't stop until they got to about the center of the meadow.  That must be the safe zone for them.  They probably feel they can see anything coming from any direction from that vantage point.
I moved slowly while undoing all the gear and prepping the camera.  I even avoided eye contact with them.  When I was prepared to use the camera - I sat still with hands on my knees while everyone settled down and realized there was no danger.  They loosened up and started to go about their normal routines.  Perfect!  The cow below resembles a dog.  It's the shape of her head.  

I looked closely at each animal.  I saw the scrapes and abnormalities as well as differences in the way some of the animals stood or walked.  Some appeared more alert than others.  The calves were foot loose and fancy free.  One calf actually did a couple prong jumps before running to his mother to suckle. 

They were settled down and totally ignoring me.  Well, most of them ignored me.  They were grazing and slowly moving toward the back end of the field where the woods and thick brush was.

One young male did a little stand up routine that I couldn't figure out.  It probably had something to do with impressing a young female.  Just a guess.  That may be a young male directly in front of him and they could be sparring for dominance within their own little circle.

These animals are most interesting to observe.  Some become interested in something another is doing and just as fast - drop the interest and move on to something else.
Above and below is your intrepid wildlife observer and reporter diligently working to gather all the information possible to bring home and publish here, on this blog, so that you the reader remains fascinated by the material presented.  That's a mouthful.
I did mention it was cold, didn't I?  There's a breeze blowing and it's very cold up here on this platform but I'm hermetically sealed up in a really warm outfit.  This platform is a great place to take pictures from.  I can lay everything out where I can get to it and there aren't any humans around to steal anything.  This is great.  The best part about this is that I'm not on the deck of a wave tossed boat trying to hold this monster, heavy lens on a critter.  Today's situation is great for photography.  I could use a bit more sunlight, however.
If one is going to observe wildlife, one must be able to identify the byproducts of the critter under investigation.  It's important.
 Give ya a hint.  There ain't no dogs up here.

Several of the animals wore neck identification collars.  I think I remember counting five cows with collars.
 The entire herd was almost to the woods.  Just a little further.

They entered the thicket and milled about until they found that perfect spot to lay down.  

The scene was peaceful.  Without binoculars - one would never know they were there just inside the edge of the woods.  They seem to know they are safe here.  Oh, the radar is still up but, they appear lackadaisical and care free back in the cover.  The meadow was empty.  I sat down and waited for something to show.  I waited and waited.
Two white tail deer appeared in the adjacent field.  They were very, very far off.  I took a couple pictures to pass the time.

They seemed to be so insignificant in comparison to the huge elk.  They aren't though.  All wildlife shares the same importance equally.  These deer rotate on the same wheel of life that all wildlife does - as do we.  They, as the elk, will remain safe as long as they stay close to this meadow and immediate surrounding fields.

I waited and waited and got colder and colder.  I climbed down off the tower and took a couple shots of the surrounding meadow.  It's really pretty up here.  The elk have a wonderful place to live.

There's no breeze at all down here on the ground.  I can't see anything down here either.  Time to get back up on the platform.  I sat down and glassed the entire meadow looking into the forest between trees and stumps trying to see critters - any critters.  A fox would be nice or maybe a coyote.  It was 10:00 AM and probably late for elk to show in the field.  I was getting that "time to leave" feeling.   I lifted the water bottle to my mouth and saw a movement in my peripheral vision to the right rear.  Great Scott!  Look at him!

 He was huge.  No - he was enormous!  I kicked into ultra low gear and moved my hand slowly toward the camera, picked it up and very slowly drew it to me.  I then went down on one knee and rested the big lens on the railing that surrounded the deck of the tower.  No rocking boat deck or rollers and white caps to overcome here.  This morning was mine.

He turned his head in my direction and stopped.  He was staring directly at me.  Does he see me?  Does he suspect I am here?  My heart beat faster until he looked away for a moment.  Then, he quickly snapped his head up and looked at me again.

Is he on to me?  No, no he's not.  His head turns.  It was just him and me.  We are sharing this little space on the meadow together.  What a privilege it is to be this close to such a magnificent animal.  What a privilege!   I am truly humbled in his presence.
I breathed easier.  He slowly moved forward.

He was headed directly toward the herd at the edge of the woods.  There was no doubt about it.  He did not rush.  Every foot step appeared to be calculated and it seemed the effort was to move silently and cautiously.

He stepped into the trees and laid down beside the cow you see to the left of the shot above.  I took a breath - the first breath in what seemed minutes.  I sat the heavy camera down and put my hands on my knees and relaxed.  Wow - what an experience!  The wonderful thing about the whole encounter is that I have his photographs to mark this moment for the rest of my life and he is alive, well and contented in his environment.  It was time to leave but, wait.  Another bull was moving out onto the meadow.

He was a smaller fellow but beautiful none the less.  He also walked the length of the meadow and joined the others who were all still laying down.  What a fantastic morning.  I put the camera into the Pelican box and slid the binoculars into their case.  That's when the third bull stepped out of the woods taking me by total surprise.

 I pressed the shutter down and he looked directly at me at the sound of the mechanical click.

He, like the others, slowly moved toward the herd at the edge of the woods.

He was not as large as the huge bull who came before him but, he was no less impressive..

I watched him move across the field and join his friends in the tall grass and brush.  What a morning!  What a fantastic experience!  I took over 400 shots this morning and selected these arbitrarily.  I'll go through the rest as time allows.  I hope you enjoyed this entry.  Opportunities like this do not often or frequently occur.  

I jumped into the truck and turned the key in the ignition and thought - "TWRA - what a great place to work!"