I clicked on the Niwot Ridge TundraCam this evening at about 6:30 pm MDT and was met with a screen full of elk. A big herd. What an exciting surprise. I watched for almost two hours, with only a short break to grab dinner from the oven. It was such a treat to watch a big herd completely undisturbed by the presence of humans. So unlike those typical in Rocky Mountain National Park in the fall (the park is about 20 miles north of Niwot Ridge). Not that I haven’t often enjoyed being there and seeing and hearing the elk in person. But there was something so serene about this herd grazing peacefully high on the tundra, with snow pack on the ridge behind and a glassy mountain lake.
The first — and best — thing I saw was a half-grown elk dashing through the herd, all the way from one side to the other and back again. It was the sort of wild, joyous dash that your family dog probably executes on occasion. Full speed. No reason. Just because.
Someone else was also using the camera and we took turns for a few minutes. But when it became apparent that the other person was skilled with the clumsy controls and equally interested in watching the elk, I just let him or her take over. Zooming in for closer views was problematic as the camera doesn’t refocus that much, but we kept trying to see what was happening, whether a certain animal was a bull, etc. Also, evidently the camera has a weird wide-angle lens or something because the more distant things are, the less level they appear. The beautiful lake in the background appears at a really crazy angle compared to the elk.
There were several young bulls — “spikes” — with the herd, not as mature as most bulls I’ve seen in RMNP during the fall rut. One looked slightly bigger than the others and I saw a few casual head butts exchanged. Nothing serious this time of year. The antlers are harder to pick out in these still shots, but I counted four bulls altogether.
There were two elk hanging out back in the trees, away from the others. They were so still, I wasn’t even sure at first that I was seeing elk. But zooming in confirmed flapping ears and moving heads. They seemed to be browsing on the tops of young trees. Tasty, apparently; they didn’t move from the spot for an hour.
Lying down off to the left was a cow with her calf. I thought there was only one animal until the calf finally moved. They stayed there so long I was afraid something might be wrong with one of them, but they eventually got up and left with the herd.
Lots of browsing was followed by a mass rest period. Chillin’ on the tundra. I thought it might be for the night (I’ve no idea what elk do at night), but a half hour or so later they were up and browsing again. Eventually, almost two hours after I first tuned in, they all moved off to the north, seemingly with some destination in mind. Maybe a lower, more sheltered area for the night.
All of that was right here, free for the viewing, live on my computer screen. I love technology.