Another autumn has rolled around, leaves are changing, days growing shorter, and temperatures are getting cooler. Once again, the fall finds me in pursuit of autumn sounds, of which my favorite is the bugle of rutting bull elk. A couple of years ago, I had a successful time recording elk at Quemado Lake in New Mexico, so that was where I returned this time, following my departure from southern Utah. The campground at Quemado Lake closes on September 30 each year, but I was able to get one night of recording in before the Forest Service locked the gates.
It was a beautiful day when I arrived. The lake was spotted with some Great Blue Herons and a few ducks, but it was still early for the fall waterfowl migrations. But as dusk settled in, the place came alive with animal sounds. It started with the elk, and they were soon joined by several packs of coyotes that called back and forth most of the night. Some Western Screech Owls landed close to camp and started calling, too.
Some Great Horned Owls called distantly at some point during the night, and I could occasionally hear the ducks talking to each other on the lake. Several bull elk bugled back and forth from various locations around the lake. They were still bugling as the sun rose, but by then they sound a bit more hung over than horny.
After a lazy morning, listening to the ravens calling as the bugles became fainter and further apart, I packed up and headed back to Arizona. I spent a night at Luna Lake, another good spot for elk, but the traffic on the nearby highway makes recording a challenge. I took a hike up Escudilla Peak to monitor the recover after the Wallow Fire. Like the fire, the recovery was patchy. Some of the thick aspen patches were rebounding vigorously. In other places, acres and acres of spruce and aspen skeletons covered the hillsides.
I also camped near a lovely meadow between Big Lake and Springerville. Unfortunately, two RVs pulled in on either side of me right at sunset. One of the RVs was full of elk hunters, who spent most of the evening and following morning trying to call in elk. So I heard lots of bugling, but it was all man-made. I didn’t hear any real elk answering their calls. By that time, I had been on the road for almost two weeks, so I decided it was time to head home, back to the heat of Tucson.
Photo of bull elk by Diana Robinson, via Flickr, under Creative Commons license.
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