Horny Elk and Their Mountains


My traveling partner and I awoke early one morning to loud bellows that resembled a mix of honking and grunting. Opening our cabin's door at the Fairmont Resort, just a crack, we peered at an enormous bull elk glaring back from less than 5 feet at the porch step, posturing and bugling as a female deer elk pranced across the yard. The male elk was as startled as we were but then ignored us, unimpressed by our interference. He had made his 13 points (antler-speak) – “leave me to my rut.” The estrus cow drifted into the woods, and our guest stud soon followed. Antlers could be heard clashing elsewhere; more bugling and more stud elk made appearances.

A staff member from the lodge eventually materialized with a pellet gun. These large mammals were becoming a nuisance and possible danger to the human population in the camp.

I was fully awake now. A frosty morning unfolded as I devoured a decent breakfast at the main lodge. This first day within Jasper National Park was spent hiking along the trails shared with elk and other animal inhabitants of the vast forests of central Alberta. Plenty of strategically placed signs here warn about bears (travel in pairs or groups), both black and grizzly. Snow was in the air too, already. All around are hints of winter, but sunshine melted most traces of ice by noon. The low light of the angular late September sun targeted the shimmering aspens, triggered bursts of rainbow-like reflections off the diverse flora and trees, dispersed the fog and warmed up the damp paths.

The reference books put the elk, or wapiti (Cervus canadensis), within the deer family, Cervidae. The larger moose (Alces alces) also is referred to by the name"elk" in British English and applies to deer populations in Eurasia. The only other member of the deer family to rival the elk in size is the south Asian sambar (Rusa unicolor). The largest of four surviving elk subspecies, living in the Pacific Northwest rain forests, is known as the Roosevelt (or Olympic) elk.

Male elk antlers are shed each year. Males also engage in ritualized mating behaviors during the rut, including posturing, antler wrestling, and bugling that establishes dominance over other males and attracts females. The name "wapiti" is from the Shawnee and Cree word waapiti, meaning"white rump”.

It is only September 26, but fresh snow fell overnight on the peaks bordering the shores of two large glacial lakes that I navigated over the next two days -- they are Medicine (Disappearing) Lake and Maligne Lake. However, Medicine Lake isn't a lake at all; rather, it is a body of water created as the Maligne River backs up at a point where the flow passes into one of the largest underground stream systems in the world. This "lake" disappears.

I spotted a dot of a person far out in the boggy flats of the emptying river bottom. He/she fished undisturbed and alone, with all of earth's majesty watching. The position suggests quicksand, but my speculation would deter only me from what appears to be folly. The solitary individual below tended the task without apparent trepidation and fully with nature's blessing, my private anxiety notwithstanding.

Here, the four corners (pillars) of substance -- earth, air, water, fire -- abide in fragile balance. Evidence of massive forest fires in the Maligne Valley area have left scars across vast forest collections along the backed-up river gorge that eventually courses underground. A slow healing is underway as new underbrush takes hold in the rocky soil. I should rest easier, but the magnitude of the natural wonders of Jasper sow both awe and doubt about my own role in all the splendor.

Alas, Medicine Lake boasts rainbow trout and brook trout and "is a fly fisherman's paradise." Bears, mule deer, caribou, wolves, moose and mountain sheep frequent the valley during the summer season, joining the bald eagles and osprey that live off the fish populations.

I should mention in conclusion that the rut in many species, including elk, apparently is triggered by shorter day lengths. Elk begin their ritual during the September equinox on or about September 21. (Note: The second full moon of October and November is dubbed the “rutting moon.”) The loud vocalizations (screams) of bulls can be heard for miles. According to Wiki, bugling is often associated with an adaptation to open environments such as parklands, meadows, and savannas, where sound can travel great distances. Females are attracted to the males that bugle more often and are loudest. Those calls are most common early and late in the day, and life goes on.

#Canada #elk #mountains #MaligneLake #fall #autumn #scenic #JasperNationalPark

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