Monday, January 30, 2012

Not A Magic Trick

It's winter. In winter I see elk from the roads, here and there out on the West End. It's fun to pretend that I make them appear for my guests with a magical power, but in truth I don't manifest them: they're there. I found an estimate number from 2005 of 8,600 elk on the Olympic Peninsula outside the Park.

Elk in the low field by the Bogachiel River bridge, WA 110 (Click for larger image.)

On Friday there were no elk on Beaver Prairie, and I didn't detour up to look on Quillayute Prairie. But after I left La Push and headed back east again, there was a small herd just on the other side of the Bogachiel River bridge.

Park wildlife biologist Bruce Moorhead, in The Forest Elk: Roosevelt Elk in Olympic National Park (1994) says:

A typical herd of about 20 elk, such as you might encounter in the Hoh valley, can have about nine adult females, three calves (or young of the current year), and perhaps eight "teenage" animals of either sex and one or two years of age.

They lose their antlers every year in late winter, February or so. And each year grow back a larger set than the year before.

Moorhead has an illustration of elk antlers, one-year-old and two-year-old and mature. Yuppers, the ones with antlers in the field by the river were definitly teenagers... He goes on to say,

Studies elsewhere suggest that undisturbed herds, such as those found in the park, are a "matriarchy" of older females, their female offspring, and their youngsters' offspring. Other than during the September and October breeding season, adult bulls older than one or two years of age typically remain apart from such herds, either alone or in small groups of males.

I guess we don't know whether the patterns he describes for the populations in the Park are the same for the much patchier and more disturbed (and hunted) populations outside the Park.

About the question of magic, though, it's probably some kind of reverse sorcery which last spring kept me from seeing that other species of charismatic megafauna, the migrating grey whales which should be visible from First Beach; I mean I never saw one single whale one single time all season, and not for lack of trying.

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