It happens every September. Throughout North America (but mostly in the West), the Elk rut commences and the steroidal flute notes and belching grunts of male elk signal the change of daylight and temperature as we slip into fall. I also have my fall ritual which centers around the gathering of these hormonal beasts and their massive hood ornaments of bone. I go to watch their antics and listen to their aggressive music at a place where they have become accustom to having an audience - the Slippery Ann Elk Viewing Area on the Charles M. Russell Wildlife Refuge.
The viewing areas is closed to hunting, an artifact of the need to protect the area around a long gone work station. The elk took advantage of the closure and congregated in the cottonwoods along the river during the fall. When the work station moved to a more convenient location along the highway, the hunting closure and the resultant elk congregation persisted. A number of years ago I spent a portion of a summer working out of the work station before the last of the buildings were removed which gives my annual visits a tinge of homecoming to go along with the spectacle of elk.
It seems like I have only been able to carve out a day or two at the most for my trips north and this year was no exception. My oldest son got out of school early one day last week and we took advantage of the time to make the two hour dash to the elk. The day had been clear and I was looking forward to a well lit evening, but just as we arrived at the viewing area the clouds slipped in from the north and it appeared that the good evening light was gone for the day. However, for a short stretch of time the evening rays managed to find a gap in the clouds and lit up the riverbottom in some wonderful golden light.
|This is cow #154 - a participant in a study to see where cow elk spend the hunting season. I suspect she previously had a GPS collar around her neck which fell off last winter.|