Elk Sightings

Elk are on the move this time of year, ranging ever higher as the snow melts. In the past couple of weeks, the girls and I have seen many during our morning runs or evening rambles.

Sometimes we only hear them. Elk and deer make a distinctive sound as they trot or run through the forest. It's a bit like a far off rumble of thunder, sometimes with the rustling of the shrubs they push through thrown in. A sort of deep, ground vibration.

The elk are easily distinguished from the deer: big white rump, as opposed to big white diaper (tail) on the deer. And just plain bigger. (I "borrowed" this photo of elk off a web site.)

Usually, my first sense that elk are in the area comes from seeing both girls stop in their tracks and put their noses straight up into the air, to better pick up the elk scent. Their attention focuses, their bodies tense a bit, they become more animated. Meadow especially becomes very excited. While she's sniffing the air currents, her tail drops, as if all her body's energy and effort must go into the singular task of smelling to find just where the elk are. Once that's determined, she starts moving down the trail at a fast walk or trot, tail back up, body tense, eyes scanning the hillsides until she stops again, looking feverishly into the forest at...elk! This is how I'm able to spot the elk; otherwise I'd probably miss them, unless I accidentally got so close that they felt it necessary to run from me. When Meadow stops to stare, I quickly grab her collar - often actually putting the leash on her - to prevent her from giving chase. I can literally feel her body vibrating with excitement as she watches the elk move through the forest to get away from us.

While Maia is interested in the elk, she's mostly content to watch from a safe distance. On a walk this morning, when a group of eight elk moved through the forest below us, she actually sat, in her prim and proper way, watching them calmly with perked ears and intent eyes. I had Meadow by the collar. Had we been watching chipmunks or squirrels, however, I would have had Maia by the collar. It has always amused me, how each dog differs in what they look for and want to chase: Maia prefers the small stuff (squirrels, quail, turkey) which Meadow doesn't even both to pretend to chase; Meadow almost levitates with eagerness to chase elk, moose, bear while Maia prefers to just look or even turn away in fear. I guess that's why the two of them make such a good team. And why I'm able to see so much wildlife when we're all out in the forest - all I need do is watch the body language of both girls and I know what to anticipate.

Deer have become so commonplace - crossing by the house with the girls watching quietly from the yard - that they hardly elicit a reaction from the girls when we're up in the forest. But elk - we never see them crossing the lot, so a sighting in the forest is still a big deal for them. My hope is that by the end of this spring we'll have seen so many that I won't have to worry about Meadow giving chase any more.

A couple of evenings ago I actually had my camera with me when we spotted some elk. I let go of Meadow to try to take photos. She took that as permission to give chase, and of course Maia followed along. They went crashing through the underbrush, totally deaf to my cries of "leave it!" Their chase didn't last long, thankfully; they quickly realized they hadn't a prayer of keeping up with the fleeing elk. Maia returned with a small tree branch stuck into the ring on her collar, while Meadow's orange vest sported a hole where a branch had caught and torn it (see photo).

Never a dull moment.