Arkansas Wildlife Blog and Gallery
Buffalo National River and NW Arkansas

2012 Elk Narrative Gallery #3
Crossing the Buffalo

Silence is, after all, the context for the deepest appreciation of art: the only important evaluations are finally, personal, interior ones. 

Robert Adams
Photography is not documentary, but intuition, a poetic experience. . .  First you must lose your self. Then it happens.
                                         Henri Cartier-Bresson
There is no closed figure in nature. Every shape participates with another. No one thing is independent of another, and one thing rhymes with another, and light gives them shape. -

                                                Henri Cartier-Bresson
Alpha cow elk crossing the Buffalo Natoinal River
Satellite bull during river crossing
Cows and calves crossing the Buffalo National River
cow elk protecting calves during a river crossing
Junk Yard Dog with final cow
Bull Elk JYD Bugling in the Buffalo Naitonal River
A final check of the rear for other bulls
This gallery is of my first real elk crossing for fall 2012. This was October 5 in the morning. What I like most about it is the light. What makes it so difficult is the light. These pictures were taken over a one hour period. This crossing was the elk bedding down in the morning. Cutting light from the rising sun creates cool painting-like tones in the photos. This is the sort of thing I look for. The narrative that follows discussed what is going on. There is more than meets the inexperienced eye. Crossings tell parts of the story of rutting elk. This was about my 20th crossing.
When elk move from one place to another, the herd is led by an "alpha cow". Here you can see her blazing the trail to the daytime bedding area. As she crossed in front of me, she stopped and looked at me for a long time. I did not move at all. If she had determined I was a threat, she would have bolted and led the herd to another locaton. (yes, I do have that shirt.)
This satellite bull was mixed in the herd. He followed the first few cows in the trip to the bedding area. Here it looks like he is drinking, but what he is doing is sniffing the rocks for cow elk scent. This is my favorite picture of the series because it looks like a painting.

A tip I would offer is to observe carefully an elk migration and identify where the faces are lit selectively in filtered light. I figured out where to take this picture by watching the cows that went before this bull noting where their faces were lit, then picking a landmark to help me time the shot. When he came through, I nailed that beam of light, getting the shot I wanted. Not the biggest bull, but light is everything to me. I will probably hang this picture in my own home.
This is a pretty standard nose-to-tail picture of the line of elk on the way to the bedding area. Note the calves in between the cow elk. This is a pretty standard way that cow elk provide extra protection for the calves when they move.
This is a closeup of the two cows trailing the group above. Note how they look around, you can see they doing more than just moving. They are on alert for danger that might threaten the herd, especially the calf elk.
This is the herd bull -- practically always they are dead last in the line of migrating elk. This herd bull is JYD (Junk Yard Dog), now in his 3rd year as a herd bull. He is in the prime of life.

Early on I called him "eyebrow" because one of his left eye guards was torn and broken down during his velvet period this year. His rack is very symmetrical, kind of hoop shaped and has tines that curl inward. This very unique look has made him easy to ID over the years. The last two years he has also been one of the very last bulls to remain in the rut. We shall see if that pattern holds for this year.

He has tended to favor the north end of Boxley Valley.
Here the herd bull JYD stops to bugle before he enters the bedding area. This is also pretty standard. Bull elk bugle when their herd moves. From the rear of the herd he is declaring his territory.

I harp on photographers taking "elk landscapes". This is a good example of the power of a setting in making an elk photo effective.
A final look back before bedding down. You can see his broken eye guard here. After this was taken, he headed up the bank and was gone.


There you have it. My 7 favorite images from the October 5 river crossing. You can see from these images why I don't take so many field pictures anymore.

River crossings tell many stories about elk behavior. Morning light, in particular, cutting across the river bed, yields emotional photos that are very painterly. In many ways this is my voice.