After spotting a herd of elk (F301 -Aspen Ridge group) during our stay last month, we were hoping we would get another chance to conduct our survey during the fall rut. We were not disappointed! In the early mornings we spotted small groups of cows and calves that would emerge from the ridge of trees across the creek to graze in the meadows.
Then late one afternoon, we hit the jackpot! A herd of 48 elk which included members from both the Aspen Ridge & Mt. Baldy herds came down to graze and frolic in the meadow below camp. We watched them for almost 20 minutes, before they got spooked. Some of the older calves were really feeling their oats, challenging each other and racing around the meadow. I managed to get some decent video of this merged herd before they became aware of our presence.
We also got to witness some of the larger bulls from the Mt. Baldy Herd sparring with each other which was a real treat. These weren’t deadly duels like you might see on Animal Planet, where two big bulls fight to the death over a harem of females. These fights were more like friendly wrestling matches with the bulls flexing their muscles, and testing each other as if to establish a pecking order. I will be posting a couple more videos of the elk that we spotted, and also videos of a family of wild turkey we spotted on a couple of occasions.
All in all we had several very productive sessions during our stay, and using photographs I was able to positively ID several of the cows and bulls we had tracked in the spring near Mt. Baldy. Using this data we were able to establish both the Spring and Winter ranges of both the Aspen Ridge and Baldy herds, which merged in the fall.
In addition to the turkey, we spotted a beautiful pair of grey foxes in the early mornings, as they made their way across the ridge at the end of the marsh. Last time we were here I found several dens on the lower part of the ridge during a short hike, but couldn't tell what animals had made them. At the time, I thought that perhaps they might have been made by coyotes or badgers, but now we are pretty sure they belong to the little family of foxes. It makes since that they would make their home in an area where their primary food source (chipmunks) is so plentiful.
In fact I have never seen so many chipmunks in my life. There were several family groups spread out all over the place with kits of varying ages. Some of the babies looked like they could not have been more than a couple weeks old (so cute). I spent several mornings watching the babies playing on rocks near the cliffs, trying to get some good pictures of them, but they are so hard to photograph. They never stand still long enough for you to get a decent shot- 2 seconds max. By the time I had lifted my camera up to take a picture they were gone. I ended up with a lot of pictures of just rocks and tall grass because they were so fast. At least the adults would stop and pose for several minutes so you could take your time setting up the shot.
These little guys were always on the move - very difficult to capture on film. I probably have at least 10 pictures of that rock with no chipmunks in it. Finally the timing was right.
This little guy couldn't have been more than 3 weeks old. Isn't he the cutest thing ever!
The adults were quite brave and would often make daring runs into camp to steal dry nuggets of dog food from Cricket’s & Rocket’s food bowls. They somehow knew when the dogs had shortened their cables by winding it around the tree a couple of times. Our dogs would go absolutely berserk because they couldn’t reach the chipmunks, who would take their time sorting through the nuggets of dog food. Even the stellar jays took advantage of the opportunity to steel some dog food. They would sit up on a tree branch just above the bowl, chattering away and generally try to harass the chipmunks into retreat. Sometimes it worked but most of the time it didn’t and the chipmunks pretty much monopolized the dog food. Entertainment at Aspen Creek was nonstop with the amount of wildlife activity we saw.
What a cheeky little devil! This little guy made half a dozen trips to raid the dog's food dish, each time just stuffing his little checks full of nuggets. We figure he didn't have time to eat everything he made off with, and was just storing food for winter.
In the evenings Don and I would set out by the campfire and watch the some of the most beautiful sunsets. Brilliant pink capped clouds would form over the mountains to the southwest of us in the late afternoons. Then just about dusk, we were frequently visited by bats that would swoop in low just above our heads, going after insects that were attracted to the light from our campfire. They appeared every night, at the same time and would dazzle us with their aerial acrobatics as they honed in on a particular insect. I tried to take a few videos of them, but it was really too dark to get anything descent. My camera just wouldn’t focus in on them, and basically all I could catch was dark fleeting silhouettes against the night sky.
The campfire ring was quite large and the views were spectacular!
I always thought that Steller Jays were quite handsome birds with their dark top knot even if they can be a bit noisy!
The campfire wood we left had been used since our first visit, so we are not the only ones who know about this little jewel of a campsite. One of the first things Don does after we set up our tent is collect kindling.
One night we were sitting by the campfire enjoying a late dinner of spaghetti & French bread that I heated in tinfoil over the coals of the campfire, when suddenly we heard the vibrating ping of the antenna of the Blue Goose. Apparently one of the bats had hit it. Then later on, it happened again and we realized that the bats were using their sonar to hone in on it - mistaking it for a flying insect. The next night, Don got curious and decided to scout out the cliffs below our campsite just before dusk. He kept noticing that the bats seemed to be coming from below our campsite. His instincts paid off and he spotted a couple of the bats emerging from a deep dark hole within the rocks, that was partially covered by some small branches. Too cool!
We also had a great horned owl in the area, who would become very vocal late at night as we snuggled in our sleeping bag. It was comforting listening to him call to his mate who would answer back from the grove of trees across the creek. Once, I did manage to catch a sighting of him/her hunting for chipmunks in the aspen grove at the back of our camp. He/she made a low stealthy silent glide through the trees not more than 3 feet above the ground hunting for chipmunks. However he was spotted by a couple of the sentries who stand watch over the colony, and when they sounded the alarm, all the chipmunks in the area scrambled for cover. The owl hovered for a few seconds over a pile of dead wood, but then gave up, and flew off toward the top of the ridge. I love owls, but that is only the second time I have ever seen one in the wild.
I managed to upload the videos of the turkey to you tube, but have been having problems getting the elk videos to upload because of the large file sizes. I won’t give up until the elk videos are posted - so stay tuned!