Tuesday, November 27, 2012

ELK

Myself and a friend, Paul, participated in an elk survey late yesterday afternoon with an expert named, Steve.  Actually Paul and I provided, hopefully, good company for Steve.  I think Steve knew he was in trouble when Paul asked him what kind of trees Elk roost in at night.  Seriously speaking - it was an interesting activity to see and understand what is involved in maintaining these great animals on the designated range.
Wait a minute - that ain't a elk.

No, it's not an elk.  I arrived at the meeting place in Clinton early and visited the Museum of Appalachia.  The grounds there display buildings of the early Appalachian era.  Animals roam freely about the property.  I have been here before but since my move further East I haven't had the opportunity to visit again.  I left so much back West of here!  I took some shots of the museum property to lend a flavor of the place.


All these animals have it made up here as long as they stay within the boundaries of the fence and stay off the busy highway that runs past the property.  They're roaming area is huge.







So, there ya have the cultureal part of this entry :)

At 3:00 PM, I jumped into the state truck with Steve and Paul and we were off.  The destination was the North Cumberland Wildlife Management Area, an absolutely enormous tract of mountainous land that was selected for the Elk Wildlife habitat.  There is a disappointing aspect to this mountain, however.  The entire mountain area has been surface and underground mined for many, many years and the scars from that are very apparent.  Very heavy logging has also left its mark on the land and that enterprise is still being practiced there.  Mining and logging roads cut into otherwise inaccessible areas leaving nothing to total wilderness.  That's not all.  ATV trails are actually maintained throughout the entire range of the mountain.  I can understand having to deal with the remnants of histories inappropriate and careless use of the land but, to actually maintain trails for loud motorized all terrain vehicles to penetrate the interior of the wildest places is unconscionable.  In this mess, somehow, an elk herd is expected to thrive.  Steve is an integral part of making this herd successful by planning field plantings, monitoring the health of the herd, moving animals as necessary and tracking collared animals to determine animal movement and herd migration across the mountain.  Steve is "the man!"  He accomplishes all this primarily alone with volunteered help when he can get it.  TWRA is most fortunate to have Steve's expertise in the field watching over this herd of animals.  

There is an elk viewing area located a few miles down a gravel road.  The viewing pavlovian is located at the top of a hill.  We parked the truck and Steve gathered up a tracking device consisting of a hand held transmitter and receiver.  I picked up my camera, took a step and raised my head to look up the trail.  We were being watched.
They were watching us with great curiosity.  It was funny.  We were there to search them out and observe their activities and they were there watching us.  They heard us coming.

Others appeared just as curious.  I fumbled with the camera and bumped that darned white balance button.  After shooting six or seven shots i noticed the pictures were pure white or gray.  Oh no!  You've heard of buck fever I assume.  Well, I guess emotion ruled at the moment and I was careless.  I didn't have time to figure out what else I messed up so I hit the menu button and pushed "reset all settings" to put the camera back to 100% default.  I hit menu again and made my usual selections guessing on the brightness setting and started shooting pictures again.

It's funny what goes through a persons, my, head in a split second.  The thoughts don't last - they are fleeting thoughts.  I suddenly felt like I was in a cage in a zoo and all the spectators were animals.  I told ya - I have a vivid imagination.  The cows stared and stared - they're curiosity endless.

Noses lifted to the sky and bodies stretched out long and stood tall to extend in order to catch any scents wafting by.
It's an amazing feeling to stand in the presence, so close, to these great animals.


A sweet sight - very sweet!
We hiked up the trail to the viewing platform.  Steve immediately started pointing the antenna in different directions in attempts to pick up frequencies emitted from the collars worn by the elk.  Each collar transmits a different frequency and that individual elk can be identified.
The field before us was covered with elk.  There was over thirty animals there.





It wasn't until I got home and downloaded these pictures that I realized that the contrast setting on the camera was maladjusted causing an over exposed condition.  It wasn't real bad but I was disappointed.  That won't happen again.  I also was using the 300 mm Canon lens because it is light weight and I wasn't sure if we'd be walking or not.  I wanted the big 500 mm lens very badly.  That's the lens I'm most familiar with. I will return ASAP!  The shots came out OK, I guess but not as good as I am capable of.

 Notice the broken antler
There were some large animals in the field but Steve said the big dominant bulls were in the thickets resting up after the rutting seasons.  These guys are heavy weights when it comes to locking horns and engaging in the struggle to be "the" dominant bull and they are exhausted and fairly well beat up.


We noticed two white tail deer come onto the field.  Look what they are up to.  Funny!  You may want to shield the following from your kids.  Wouldn't want them to know too much about what life's about.




No comments required.  Sure wish I'd have had that 500 mm lens though




Most of the animals were docile but, there were a couple of bulls who still needed to work things out as to who's the main guy.






Its interesting to know that there's something very large out in the woods again.  Wonder how bison would do if introduced to the environment again.  Won't work.  The ATV people would complain.




It's a wonderful feeling to know there is someone who still cares about re-establishing these great animals back into the wilds.  Tennessee Wildlife Resource's Agency (TWRA) is doing a superb job up here balancing public opinion (ATV users) with the re-introduction of these elk.  The elk require quiet, natural space and ATV's aren't exactly quiet.  TWRA must find common ground between ATV usage and the requirements of the elk and they do it through education and awareness programs for the public and by putting qualified personnel in charge of the management of both.  This experience further solidifies my very favorable opinion about TWRA and their mission of being the moderator between the public and the wild habitat and its management through the use of professionalism and fairness.  Proud to display the TWRA emblem on my shoulders.





Steve has worked in Pennsylvania with the elk herd there.  We talked about places that used to be at my back door.  He revitalized my interest in Pennsylvania's elk herd. He also mentioned about the differences in how both states manage their resources.  It was interesting to listen to him.  He know's his elk - that's certain.







We left the platform and headed for the truck.  We would drive the trails from this point on and use binoculars and imaging cameras to locate elk.  The antenna and receiver would pick up collars.  I could not photograph this part of the operation as darkness overtook us rapidly.  Steve drove down the cob web of trails to open fields that TWRA plants in food for the elk and deer.  The thermal imaging camera picked up the heat of the animals and transformed it into an image of an elk.  Steve showed us how to tell the difference between elk and deer.  The roads were no more than washed out ruts.  There is no way I could ever remember all those paths to all the fields we checked.  The rain started falling relentlessly and we called off the effort  somewhere around 8:00 PM.  What a neat experience.

I want to thank Steve for having me along and also thank my supervisor for allowing me and actually encouraging me to accompany Steve on his efforts with the elk.  What a great place to work!

I hope you liked this entry.  I promise I will go back to the elk range ASAP with the big lens and make all efforts to capture superb shots of these animals.  I may even take a tripod.   That's something I rarely use due to the fact I usually am working with birds off the deck of a rocking boat.  I can't wait to return to this wonderful habitat.