Monday, September 22, 2008

North Dakota Trip, June 2008

After being bitten half to death by mosquitoes and black flies in Canada, my brother and I ventured to our next main stopping point on our trip, North Dakota pothole country. Potholes are gouges left by the receding glaciers during past Ice Ages. These potholes today are many small lakes within the grassy plains. These have been a tremendous breeding ground for many water birds and a migration route for many other waterfowl that breed further north in Canada. The pothole region is essentially along the north-south line in the middle third of North Dakota. The area is bursting with all kinds of wildlife and is a favorite place of mine to visit. In good years you can roam around and see ducks even in every puddle. Unfortunately, the cold, dry, Spring in 2008 really created havoc on the bird populations here. The numbers were at least 30% of what we saw two years earlier, and the most of the grassland birds were non-existent. It was rather shocking, but very wonderful to have absolutely no mosquitoes!

We spent most of the time about 20-30 miles Northwest of Jamestown, roaming the back roads. We also visited the Arrow Wood National Wildlife Refuge, which is a good area. Yellow-Headed Blackbird, American White Pelican, Bittern, Snipe, Avocet, Upland Plover, Ring-Neck Pheasant, Blue-Winged Teal, Black-Crowned Night Heron, Marsh Wren, Northern Shoveler, Pied-Billed Grebe, Western Grebe, Cormorant, Red Head, and more are very common here during the month of June.

The first night was spent near a larger lake that had a wooded area left over from an old farmhouse windbreak. I recorded near the lakeshore as Avocet, White Pelicans, and Blue-Winged Teal fed near a reed bed. When it got dark I was able to record some Western Chorus Frogs along the roadway. I could hear lots of Coyotes yelping, but it got real windy and started to rain, so I wasn’t able to record them. While eating a late meal, we saw two Great-Horned Owl perching on some old grain silos.

Earlier the next morning we roamed around a bit to see what was around, which wasn’t very much. It was very windy. Wind is typical to the area, so getting great recordings is always difficult. There were amazing numbers of Marsh Wren calling from some of the reed beds. Yellow-Headed Blackbirds were a bit scarce. We spent some time at the Arrow Wood NWF, but then some large storms came in. We then drove to the Theodore Roosevelt National Park and the Little Missouri National Grasslands for a day, where the weather was very nice. The Little Missouri Grasslands are very scenic, but are mostly an open range cattle area. Sharp-Tailed Grouse, Turkey, and Pronghorn are common here, except I noticed the numbers were down since two years previous. Again, the Spring looked very late and the grass barely started growing for the year. The Bison and Pronghorn still had their full Winter coats on.

The next day we drifted back towards the potholes with a good idea exactly where the best spots were. The weather was now perfect and there was no wind. What a perfect rare day. In the evening we found a no hunting region near some smaller potholes. The music of chattering Marsh Wren, Yellow Warblers, and Yellow-Headed Blackbirds was beautiful. As the sunset, two packs of Coyotes hollered group choruses. It made a perfect recording. A little later nearby another small pond, I recorded ducks feeding, splashing in the water, and flying in, sounding like jets coming in for a landing. Snipe were putting on aerial displays and winnowing. Western Chorus Frogs were calling, a Bittern is heard in a nearby swamp, and a Marsh Hawk was screeching from it’s nest. This was another perfect recording. These recording will be in a new Natureguy Studio CD coming out before the end of 2008. I will also have some sounds from the grassland areas around the potholes.

We left the area the next day. I continued to snap photos of the area. We even found a Red Fox den near one of the dirt roads and I was able to snap some really great photos of one of the kits. It was a beautiful area, but we had to venture off to our next destination, Minnesota in search for Loons.

Kentucky Elk Trip, Sept 2008

Kentucky has been reintroducing Elk into their state for about 10 years. I heard ranges between 7,000 and 25,000 Elk now roam the southeast counties. I finally decided to visit southeast Kentucky to scout around hoping to find large herds to record. The weather looked good around the 19th-22nd of September, so my brother and I loaded up the vehicle and took off.

We first tried to visit the area near Jenny Wiley State Park in Floyd County. We drove on SR 194. It was a nice wooded area, with narrow, winding roads, which were very hazardous to drive on with other drivers crossing the centerline many times. The area was quiet enough for recording, but it is not a likely place to see Elk due to the lack of open fields. From satellite maps, it appeared that there are reclaimed coal strip mines just northeast of Jenny Wiley State park that would make better view areas, but we didn’t have enough time to explore there. We wanted to get to Knott County well before dark. I noted some of the side roads were closed for private recreational parks.

We arrived in Knott County, labeled as the “Elk Capital East of the Rockies”. While at a gas station I asked where the best places to see Elk were. They told me to go to the place I already was planning on going to, CR 1098, and Elk View Drive beside Sutton Memorial Park. I read on the Internet, Robinson Forest was one of the best places for Elk in the state, and that was adjacent to CR 1098. Sutton Memorial Park and the near area are on reclaimed coal lands. Large tracts of open fields are found here. Many horse and ATV trails are found throughout the area. We did find Elk tracks and brush damaged by bull Elk, but we didn’t see any Elk. I wanted to visit another Elk viewing site in Breathitt County along CR 1098. That viewing site was on a hilltop, beside a cemetery. The only thing I saw was a couple of wild horse at dusk, and a Timber Rattlesnake along the road. We drove back to Elk View Drive to see if we could hear any Elk bugling that may have come out after dark. We heard nothing. We were going to camp here, but people started streaming in with their ATV’s to camp, and for what I am trying to do, loud ATV’s don’t mix. So, we drove back north and drove on some back roads in the reclaimed coalfields just north of Robinson Woods, and camped. We heard one Elk bugling in the distance. At sunrise, two bull Elk came near camp, bugling. They got quiet after someone came along and started shooting rifles nearby. I didn’t see any cows, and the bulls looked like maybe 3-4 years old. We drove around the area, and north of CR 1098. We only saw wild horse roaming around. There were plenty of Elk tracks around and many turkeys. The horses looked absolutely famished and boney, which isn’t a good sign of viable food sources in the area. There is a lack of grasses growing in the general area; mostly weeds filled the open areas. We left Knott County. The county didn’t live up to its namesake this time, but again, it was quiet enough of an area to record. The jet traffic even seemed low enough to get stretches of 15-30 minutes free of jet sounds.

We ventured off to the Begley WMA around the borders of Bell, Harlan, and Leslie Counties. We found a nice reclaimed coal land with open fields of grass. This area is the second area I read as being one of the best areas to view Elk in Kentucky. This is just on the southern edge of the Daniel Boone National Forest, so there was lots of wooded cover next to fields. It looked perfect. We again found lots of Elk sign here. Unlike many states, Kentucky seems to allow ATV’s and vehicles drive the trails around the Wildlife Management Areas, so there where some really great access to the area. Beautiful views of the rugged terrain were awesome. Near sunset we were glassing the open fields for animals. We saw a large Black Bear about a mile away. Then we started to hear a bugle or two from some Elk. Other people were in the area looking around as well. We asked a gentleman, who walked up to say hello, about the area. He thought the peak of the bugling wouldn’t be until the first and second week in October. He said it was still too hot. We stopped beside an area we thought was one of the best areas, and it was. This was the west side of the area along a trail that appeared to go to CR 2011. At dusk three, large bugling bulls emerged from the deep, wooded valleys. I saw with the aid of night vision that there were also cow Elk with two of the bulls. Later, the cows disappeared from view. A group of ATV’s drove through scaring the Elk away for a while. We drove to a location to get closer the action, as it appeared that the bulls were closing in on each other. We were a little late. We caught a large bull and a group of cows heading to the grassy field along the road and had to cut them off, pretty much causing the bull to retreat further away. I started recording at an overview where two bulls were in a grassy area. It didn’t make the most exciting recording, but at least I finally got something and the sound of insects were good. The Elk bugled most of the night, intermittently, as they roamed the area. Later in the night, one of the bulls came within 60 feet of camp, bugling. Once the sun rose, all the Elk disappeared. The Elk in Kentucky appear to be very nocturnal, probably due to the hunting and general human pressure. This is in contrast to what is like in Pennsylvania, where the Elk can often be seen moving about during the daytime, and lingering in the open areas during the evening and morning hours. Audio recording in the Begley WMA has promise. It is quiet from highway and road noise, jet traffic is low enough not to be a big issue. The only issue is active mining is in the area and can be heard from the hilltops. But, once you descend a little over a hill, all is quiet.

I am sure we didn’t scout all the areas to find the best locations during this brief trip. There are probably better areas to view Elk and where Elk are more plentiful. I really didn’t see the herds I was expecting to see from the numbers given. The Elk herds are better seen in Pennsylvania if you ask me, probably due to more open areas are available, but the jet traffic in northern Pennsylvania is very bad for audio recording.

We almost could have gotten stuck in Kentucky. Gasoline supplies were suddenly limited in the region. Some gas stations were closing their pumps and many were limiting customers to 20 gallons. We found out when we got back that a major supply line to the Southeastern states was disrupted during Hurricane Gustov and Ike. It was a sudden surprise to everyone that gasoline supplies were running out. We were lucky we got back in time. Stations in Tennessee and Georgia were running on empty. It was a surprise to me, because I specifically tried to see if there were any fuel concerns before I left due to the two hurricanes. This makes me want my 200-MPG vehicle even more…if only I could figure out how to get it licensed.