Better Late than Never…

When I first started this blog I began to notice comments from a Honie Briggs. On my second post I was Freshly Pressed and she was among the very first commenters. Sadly, I was not well versed in blogging etiquette at this early stage, so I failed to reply. What an insensitive oaf I was…

Today I remedied my oversight.

Today I remedied my oversight. Whew! I feel so much better now.

I had no idea who or what a Honie was, but the avatar was always smiling nicely. Even after I failed to respond Honie kept showing up, she was always encouraging and thoughtful. Sometimes she was wicked funny, sometimes our comment threads had more words than my blog posts. As soon as I came to understand the Reader, hers was one of the first blogs I followed and we continued the conversation back and forth.

From Steph’s (Honie’s) blog I have learned so much about writing – about voice, and pacing and rhythm. Whether it’s a rant, a poem, flash fiction, or just an observation Steph’s work is engaging and fun to read. You see, I’m no wordsmith, I’m a photog who fakes it and makes the best of a run-on sentence.  As the kid who grew up being able to draw anything, it used to puzzle me when people would say that they didn’t understand how I could make something look so real. Reading blogs written by writers with actual talent has given me that same sense of wonder about syntax. The simplicity and complexity amaze me. I have no idea how to do it, but I know that I like it. Steph does it better than most and she makes me laugh out loud sometimes.

Last year, my company sent me to Dallas to attend the Gift Mart. I had driven down from Arkansas and was reading blogs in my hotel after my drive. Steph posted a blog that had a rant about freeway on ramps and off ramps. I commented and mentioned I had just driven over a couple of them – soon we were emailing and texting back and forth with plans to get together after my work was done.

Here's Steph - shooting me shooting her at the Italian Deli about 15 freeways away from the Gift Mart

Here’s Steph (Honie) – shooting me shooting her at the Italian Deli about 15 freeways away from the Gift Mart

Standing on a corner in a strange city waiting to meet someone you have only met online is an odd thing. You wonder if this is a smart idea, will they show up or think better of it, will you have anything to talk about in real life. So I waited beside a stoplight outside the mart scanning the oncoming cars for one that fit the description she gave me – soon I heard a woman’s voice with a soft drawl call out “Arkansas!” – Steph and her Loyal Follower pulled up beside me and I hopped into their car. I had nothing to worry about – she was warm and we talked like we had known each other our whole lives.

Wait, this photo has nothing to do with Honiebriggs.com ...

Wait, this photo has nothing to do with Honiebriggs.com …

When I started blogging I knew exactly one blogger IRL (in real life) – my brother Max. He writes The Fruity Chicken and I thought blogging would be a good way to share photos with family. Jumping at the chance to meet someone like Steph was a real treat (they bought me dinner!) – but it was more than that, I have heard the voice behind the keyboard and I was right about her – she’s the real deal. Since then I have had a chance to meet Paula from Stuff I Tell My Sister, she’s even sweeter in person.

You are correct, this isn't about Honiebriggs.com ...

You are correct, this isn’t about Honiebriggs.com …

The bottom line is that I have found that meeting someone IRL has made my interactions with those I follow and who follow me more real – there is a real person responding on the other side, someone who may be profound, kind, struggling, challenging. I hope it’s made my interactions more authentic, because now I know that they mean something.

Steph is celebrating her blogging anniversary this week and this post is a part of that celebration. She kicked things off Friday with this post.  This year she got the chance to meet a few of her followers and is looking forward to meeting more this year. She is going to select from those who write about why they follow her blog to schedule a meet up for next year. Tomorrow Allan from Ohm Sweet Ohm will be posting about his experience meeting Steph. His blog is a wonderful mix of photography, poetry, and history centered around his life and the Golden Gate Bridge – one of my favorite follows as well. I highly recommend this sparky.

But I can't write a post with no bird photos - can I?

But I can’t write a post with no bird photos – can I?

Kudo’s to you Steph – your work is wonderful – keep making me smile, and think, and grow. Next time you need to bring your Alabama self to the Ozarks!

Shutterbug notes:

I shot these birds through my 100 year old wavy glass windows. Ordinarily I don’t shoot through windows but there was really no other way to capture this scene as the icicles were hanging like curtains over my view. Shooting through windows, no matter how clean leaves you with an under exposed look, so I adjusted the exposure compensation a bit. Since flash would only bounce off the glass, I chose aperture mode and shot with the aperture wide open. I was about 3-4 feet from the birds. 

You are my Sunshine

I live in that wide swath of the country that was hit by arctic storm Cleon. Funny, I didn’t know that they named winter storms, but I guess they do. Anyway, I have been housebound since prepping Wednesday night. I worked from home as a layer of ice blanketed the roads on Thursday. By the end of the day I thought the storm might be a bust – just some sleet and freezing rain. I felt silly for getting out the Carharts and putting the survival kit in the Jeep so early – after all it is still autumn. Cleon raged on Friday and by noon there was a foot of snow over that ice. I would work at my computer for a few hours and then I would have to get up and pace up and down the hallway – the signs of cabin fever were beginning to show. I was out of bread, apple cider, and chocolate. I stepped outside over my lunch hour and shot some birds during the flurries (I’ll save those for another time) but as I passed the 48 hour mark my mind was on all the things I didn’t have. A trip out to the firewood pile to restock was about as much fresh air as I had gotten and I was feeling a bit stir crazy.

Well, this post isn’t really about me (although it sounds like it so far – right?). You see, I live in the Stone House with 4 dogs – 4 very active dogs. Three terriers – Kirby, Velcro, and Squeegee – and a lovely Goldendoodle named Sunshine. I have written posts about all the terriers and their journey to the Stone House, but I’ve only written a dog shaming piece on Sunshine and that is a shame. You see, Sunshine is a very special dog and deserves his own story.

Sunshine is the last dog to be added to my pack. I never imagined that I would own more than two dogs, but then I saw sad Velcro at and adoption fair. After one of my pups was killed by uncontrolled dogs and Kirby came to live with us I began to think about the safety of my terriers. They say that a terrier is a big dog in a small body, but the truth is that when a big dog approaches aggressively these small dogs are scrappy but no match. I started thinking about what kind of dog would blend in with my pack, have a significant size, and would be gentle enough not to harm the smaller pups. I began to research Labradoodles and Goldendoodles. I had made a few calls to breeders and was considering a drive north to look at some dogs. The reputation of the doodles – crosses of Labs or Golden Retrievers with poodles – is one of gentleness, playfulness, loyalty, and they are supposed to be hypo allergic to boot.

I was talking one day with some friends when I mentioned that I was interested in looking at some doodles, but that I was hesitant to buy a dog from a breeder. I really prefer to rescue pets if possible. Someone told me about a group of Goldendoodles that she was fostering. The story was that their owner had died and they had been left unattended to when they were still nursing puppies. He was shy, tall, easily frightened, and had been unsuccessfully placed more than once. He sounded perfect!

When I met Sunshine he was going by the name Duke. I sat down on the couch and he immediately approached me – a good sign. I took him home and he was a little tentative getting out of the car. He walked behind me, hiding behind me as I moved towards the other dogs. As they approached he just laid down on the ground and looked them in the eye. Before the first evening was over he was fast friends with all three terriers. I saw his long blonde mustache and beard and thought he reminded me of an old mellow hippie named Sunshine – so Duke became Sunshine.

Sunshine is the complete opposite of a terrier. He is mild-mannered, gentle, careful, protective – he is a tiny dog in a tall body. He likes to try to hide under tables, even though he just doesn’t fit. When he plays. you can see the poodle in him – he gets his body low behind his outstretched front legs, ready to pounce. He has only two fears, thunder and gunfire – both of which are not uncommon in the woods. Beyond that he will defend me from any danger. He hikes with me, camps with me, and just hangs out with me. I probably neglected to write about him because he is easy. He isn’t pushy or demanding, although he does like his hand held at least once a day.

What made me think about writing about Sunshine today was the sunshine on that foot of snow in my yard. The dogs have been cooped up just like me – running outside for less than 5 minutes in the extreme cold. Today’s sunshine beckoned us all to come out and play. Sunshine hates it when it’s snowing, but the boy loves fresh snow. Here’s a gallery of him as he enjoys that virgin powder in the glorious sunshine – click through to get a sense of his movement:

Sunshine is that dog that watches you and anticipates your next move. He very gently inserts himself into your routine. He lies on a rug while I cook. He’s laying at my feet under my desk as I type this. He is always close by. He is not, however, hypo allergic. He sheds like a horse. I find blonde dust bunnies in ever corner on the floor and his addition to my home has necessitated another addition – a Dyson Animal. Speaking of the Dyson, I need to wrap this up and vacuum – it’s getting awfully fuzzy in the corners of the Stone House.

Because Sunshine doesn’t have as jealous bone in his body, I know he would not mind me including a slide show of his best pal in the snow. Snow is the one thing that Sunshine is the front-runner in their relationship. Kirby had to watch Sunshine run before he was sure he wanted to try it out. Again, click through for a sense of movement.

Everyone needs a little Sunshine in their life!

It’s hard to believe that this is my 200th post. I have been thinking about where I want to take theeffstop. I know I want to take good photos and share thoughtful or silly stories. I get a lot of comments about the camera settings I have shared, so I will continue to include those, but I will put them at the end of each post. I’m not really interested in writing a how-to blog, but I love sharing the knowledge I have picked up along the way. Thanks to all of you who have taken this journey with me. Your support and friendship have meant more to me than you will ever know.

Shutterbug Notes:

Both of these galleries were shot using Shutter Mode. On a bright sunny day you don’t have to push the ISO too high, especially in the snow. I set my ISO to 1000, Shutter Speed 1000. If you keep the focus point in the center of the frame you can focus on the face even as the running dog moves through the frame, in other words, give him room or you will cut his head off. 

Black Friday in Boxley Valley

When I moved to the Ozarks I imagined that I was leaving behind the pressures of city life, that I would be living at a slower and more manageable pace. I’ve always avoided the mall on Black Friday like the plague. People change under the pressure of the potential deals laid out before them. You won’t catch me camping out at Best Buy for a week or fighting off another shopper for the last bathrobe on sale. I’m not opposed to Black Friday at all, it’s just that for me the three dollar savings on an iPod is just not worth the stress. I have also found that with all those rabid shoppers occupied there are other places that are magically tranquil and serene – at least that was what I expected to find as some friends and I made our annual Black Friday pilgrimage to the Boxley Valley to visit the elk.

Now I have posted about Boxley several times, it’s not like I only visit on Black Friday – but it is a day that is typically quieter. Shoppers are otherwise occupied. It is the last half of the rut and action is often sparse. Personally, I find these creatures to be magnificent and love to see them any time – in velvet, during the rut, in the dead of winter – I’m game for the drive over.

The peaceful setting of Boxley Valley is no stranger to the pressures of Black Friday...

The peaceful setting of Boxley Valley is no stranger to the pressures of Black Friday…

Sadly, the consumerism and pressures of the outside world have intruded into my peaceful valley sanctuary.

It all begins with the crowds lining up to get a look at sales and specials.

It all begins with the crowds lining up to get a look at sales and specials.

They're opening the doors - I'm headed straight for that shiny new crock pot!

They’re opening the doors – I’m headed straight for that shiny new crock pot!

Listen up! Don't even think about heading to the crock pots - that new red Sunbeam is mine!

Listen up! Don’t even think about heading to the crock pots – that new red Sunbeam is mine!

I'm not kidding - I will fight you for that crock pot! Don't even think about it!

I’m not kidding – I will fight you for that crock pot! Don’t even think about it!

The doors are finally open - crock pot, today you are mine!

The doors are finally open – crock pot, today you are mine!

I told you buddy, that crock pot is mine!

I told you buddy, that crock pot is mine!

There is no way I'm losing out on this crock pot to a crack pot like you!

There is no way I’m losing out on this crock pot to a crack pot like you!

I'm gonna have to dig deep to hold onto this crock pout!

I’m gonna have to dig deep to hold onto this crock pout!

Can you believe these two are tussling over a crock pot when everything is half off at Old Navy?

Can you believe these two are tussling over a crock pot when everything is half off at Old Navy?

You messed with the wrong bull buddy - you are going down. No crock pot for you!

You messed with the wrong bull buddy – you are going down. No crock pot for you!

I can fight on forever knowing that I will get 20% off that crock pot! Savings like that fuel my fire!

I can fight on forever knowing that I will get 20% off that crock pot! Savings like that fuel my fire!

I will never surrender my crock pot!

I will never surrender my crock pot!

Victory is within my grasp - I can see that crock pot and it has my name on it!

Victory is within my grasp – I can see that crock pot and it has my name on it!

Victory is mine! A red Sunbeam self timing crock pot with a thermometer and a locking lid - I'm living the dream baby!

Victory is mine! A red Sunbeam self timing crock pot with a thermometer and a locking lid – I’m living the dream baby!

You cows can't touch this! I got the crock pot! I got the crock pot!

You cows can’t touch this! I got the crock pot! I got the crock pot!

Doing my crock pot victory dance!!

Doing my crock pot victory dance!!

Victory is so sweet, but not as sweet as the deal I got on that crock pot!

Victory is so sweet, but not as sweet as the deal I got on that crock pot!

Maybe I should go over and check out the specials at Old Navy...

Maybe I should go over and check out the specials at Old Navy…

Meanwhile at the Food Court…

Family Dinner

Family Dinner

Girls night out

Girls night out

Open Seating

Open Seating

Frozen dinner

Frozen dinner

Kids Meal

Kids Meal

Meanwhile our victor is enjoying the spoils of his shopping day…

Wanna come to my place and check out my crock pot?

Wanna come to my place and check out my crock pot?

The holiday season is officially here and I am thinking that the madness of Black Friday will pass soon in Boxley Valley, although I hear that Cyber Monday is madness. Be careful out there, it’s not worth an antler in the ear to save a couple of bucks.

If you want to read more about the amazing Boxley Elk, check out these links:

The Boys are Back

Dancing Elk

Seeing Spots

Stuck in a Rut

Boys will be Boys

Frozen Flora – the Season of the Frost Flower

The hills of the Ozarks are a wet place. Rain water becomes spring water or ground water as it passes through our limestone karst topography. As it gets colder out the bluffs leach out this water in the form of icicles. On the ground below the bluffs the water trapped inside the stalks of tall plants expands. This ice takes on amazing forms – frost flowers appear at the bases of these plants. They appear on mornings where the temps are below freezing and disappear as the temperature rises.

It’s been unseasonably cold for a few days. I have been lighting a fire most evenings to warm up the old Stonehouse. This kind of sustained cold is more common in January or February. This morning when I took a look at the forecast I thought that even though it’s a couple of months early, the conditions were right. I packed up my macro lens and hit the highway. I had to slog through some semi frozen mud, but is it was worth it. Fields and fields of frosty blossoms.

I used a macro light on the super close-ups and a flash on a couple of shots. I wish I had taken the tripod, but the white light of an overcast day let me shoot fast enough to get away without it.

Click through and get a sense of the flower and the intricate shapes that make them up. I’m off to the kitchen to make some hot apple cider. Stay warm.

A Tilt-shift View of Eureka Springs

I have written a couple of posts about using my tilt-shift lens set up recently. I wrote about using the technique to give motion and focus to a country road, and used it to take some portraits of an old friend. I thought I would do a post how tilt-shift is typically used. The tilt-shift lens can be angled so that it is not parallel to your camera’s sensor – this gives you a slice of focus and changes the perspective of your shot slightly. It is mostly used to give a feel of miniaturized cityscapes. I don’t live in a city so I went to a scenic overlook in town. It’s a tree covered area that is about midway between the bottom of the hollow that is Main Street and the top of the ridge where the Crescent Hotel sits. Shooting through trees makes it tougher than the shots you typically see – classic tilt-shift is shot from high above and focuses on the tiny details below. It’s all manual – you tilt then focus by hand. You can set the shutter speed and ISO in camera, but the rest is all done by the photographer.

Here’s a little tour of the city I call home at just past the peak colors of autumn – Eureka Springs, Arkansas, one of America’s favorite SMALL towns. All of these shots were taken from the East Mountain Overlook, facing west.

So what do you think of tilt-shift photography – is it interesting or does it make you dizzy?

Chasing the Sunset

I love a colorful sunset. I live about 15 miles west of my place of employment. It’s a winding country drive. On a few special evenings a year I spot some color and chase it down as I drive westward towards home.

Standard Time sure limits my opportunities though. Late last week – on October 31st – I got the chance to capture the last sunset of October. It will likely be the last one I catch on my drive home until spring.

I shot these with my fast 50 portrait lens. I end to close down the aperture a bit shooting sunsets – I am not looking for blur or bokeh. I want color. These were all shot between f4-f6.3. Shutter speeds are slowed down a bit for detail around 1/60 sec – ISO at 200 except for the shot of the Crescent – it was at 800 because I was losing light fast.

Country Roads – a Tilt-shift View of Autumn in the Ozarks

My bird lens is on the fritz, 9 days at Olympus for repairs and counting. Arrrrgh! Peak fall color hit about 10 days ago so I have not been able to get my leaf shots – it’s something I look forward to all year. The last two weeks have been rainy off and on so shooting days are few and far between anyway. Last weekend a kind of panic hit me – shoot now or miss the whole season. I started by taking a couple of snaps on local roads with my portrait lens – not my favorite for these kinds of shots – but serviceable.

Shooting down roads has always been a mixed bag for me. I tend to shoot things that I can isolate like birds or leaves or objects. A scene can take me in, but capturing it effectively can often elude me. I had been playing around with a tilt-shift set up and wondered if I could use it to look into the distance on these country roads – to use it in a way that would help the viewer to get a better sense of what I feel when I am driving down one of these roads – crisp air, crunching swirling leaves, filtered sunlight. Can I take a photo that makes you feel these things?

I know I have explained this before, but just in case – a tilt-shift lens lets you move the lens at an angle so that the plane of focus is not parallel to the camera’s sensor – it gives you a “slice of focus” and lets you hone in on certain objects that you want to highlight. It is often used to distort an image to give it the feel of miniaturization.

Shooting gear that you are not completely comfortable with is often a good thing – it gives you a new perspective – it pushes you to try new things. Sometimes the distortion is unsettling, sometimes it’s almost painterly. For me, many of these shots give a better sense of the feel of the roads in the autumn.

These shots were all taken in the last few days, some from the same locations as the earlier shots.

OK – so no skyward leaves or birds amidst the color for me this year. Not having my favorite lens should limit me – but instead it’s forcing me outside of my happy place – and that’s a good thing.

An Old Friend and a Camera Lens

I recently saw an impressive tilt-shift image posted by a friend on Facebook. It was a long shot of the autumn color here in the Ozarks. It made me think about my neglected tilt-shift set up. Languishing in the old camera bag, I hadn’t touched it in over a year. Frankly, it intimidated me. I used it a couple of times and got 2-3 images that I liked – but it took more work. It was less intuitive. Getting good color was not as easy since the set-up only works in manual – you can set your shutter speed and ISO – but the rest is all you. I wrote briefly about using it ages ago in one of my early posts, and I got one shot from that afternoon that I regularly sell prints of.

This is an image I took last year with the tilt-shift lens at a local lake. The tilt lets me focus on a small portion of the image and lets the rest blur. It takes a boring angled shot of a dock and makes it pretty interesting to investigate visually.

This is an image I took last year with the tilt-shift lens at a local lake. The tilt lets me focus on a small portion of the image and lets the rest blur. It takes a boring angled shot of a dock and makes it pretty interesting to investigate visually.

Here’s how tilt-shift works – the lens is offset at an angle from the sensor – so your plane of focus is not parallel. That angle lets you selectively focus on a single portion of the image and lets the rest blur. If you have seen images of city shots where the people and cars look like dioramas – those images are tilt shift. That plane of focus shifts the perspective creating the illusion that things are smaller than they really are in proportion to the overall image. The gear it takes to do this is pretty cool. It kind of looks like a mix between Frankenstein and Steampunk –

This is my tilt-shift set up - note the aperture ring in the center - its a coated metal disc held in place by magnets. To change the aperture you change out the ring. f22 is like a pinhole. f1.4 is no ring at all.

This is my tilt-shift set up – note the aperture ring in the center – its a coated metal disc held in place by magnets. To change the aperture you change out the ring. f22 is like a pinhole. f1.4 is no ring at all.

A side view of the tilt-shift set up on my tripod. Each of the threaded rods help you to fine tune the shift. For the shots in this post I went with a more casual approach - point, focus, shoot, try again.

A side view of the tilt-shift set up on my tripod. Each of the threaded rods help you to fine tune the shift. For the shots in this post I went with a more casual approach – point, focus, shoot, try again.

You compress the outer ring towards the camera body at an angle until you see something that you think is interesting. Once you get a sense of the image you lock that ring and then you can focus using a slide on the ring. I find that it works best to find a sweet spot and then look for things to focus on within your field of vision. At this point it becomes more intuitive.

I’ve been shooting some landscapes this way and will probably write a post about them soon, but last night on my way home from work I had a chance meeting on my road – an old friend approached me as I was checking my mail box. All of the shots that follow were taken shortly after sunset. I removed the aperture ring altogether to let in as much light as possible.

My road at sunset - by choosing that one spot of brighter color in the distance to bring into focus, I make your eye look down the road and into the photo.

My road at sunset – by choosing that one spot of brighter color in the distance to bring into focus, I make your eye look down the road and into the photo.

Ben is a wonderful old friend. Every time I see him at the mail box I roll down the window and say hi. At first he was much more interested in some petting than in being the subject of a blog post, but he rolled with it. The wonderful thing about tilt-shift is that it lets you look at something you see all the time and see it with new eyes – a fresh perspective.As I shot I thought about his noble look, his curious and kind eyes, his friendly posture. It’s always good to look at an old friend with new eyes.

Round and Round

I know my brain is not normal, and I’m OK with that.

Last week I went out to take care of my mushroom logs, and holy shiitake, I had tons of fungi to harvest. Before I could remove any shrooms from the logs I had to take some photos to mark the occasion. I crouched down on the ground and snapped this…

Holy Shiitake, Batman - I think it's ready to eat!

Holy Shiitake, Batman – I think it’s ready to eat!

I suppose most people would put down the camera and grab the butter and garlic, but not me. The sight of something round and smooth in the midst of the woods sent me off on a tangent. My right brain took over and I spent the next hour shooting round things. By the time I was finished it was dark and too late to harvest and sauté mushrooms. I had some Oreos and called it a night. What follows is my right-brained tangent – see if you can identify them all.

1. Ozark Treat

1. Ozark Treat

2. Happiness

2. Happiness

3. Pedal to the metal

3. Pedal to the Metal

4. Sparky

4. Sparky

5. It came before crossing the road

5. It came before crossing the road

6. Pogs went here

6. Pogs went here

7. Scratch

7. Scratch

8. The Source

8. The Source

9. Vrrrrom

9. Vrrrrom

10. Savor

10. Savor

11. Hammered

11. Hammered

12. Sweet

12. Sweet

13. Spirit

13. Spirit

14. Stang

14. Stang

15. Water

15. Water

15. Open

16. Open

17. Getting Warmer

17. Getting Warmer

18. Cellar

18. Cellar

19. Stumped

19. Stumped

19. Line

20. Line

21. Fair

21. Fair

22. Vintage

22. Vintage

23. Short Sighted

23. Short Sighted

OK – so some of them were pretty obvious – this should be pretty simple. Whoever gets them all right first in the comments wins an 8X10 print of their favorite (or if you don’t like any of them you can pick something from another post)

You guess – I’m gonna sauté some shrooms.

Ready. Set. Go!

 

 

Stuck in a Rut

Not me silly – I’m as busy and curious as ever. I honestly don’t have time to find a rut, let alone time to get stuck in one unless we are talking about “The Rut”. The Rut is the magical dance that male elk enter into each fall. Massive bull elk bugle and pose to attract or steal a harem from another massive bull. Sometimes there is a street fight with a clash of antlers – to the victor go the spoils.

The stages of the rut were described to be by wildlife photographer, Michael Dougherty, last week – it’s like a bell curve. The cows are not ready to mate yet, but the bulls are posturing so the bugling and fighting has begun. We are on the front side of the bell curve – rising but no final victors.

I made a trip to the Boxley Valley early last week hoping to see the big bulls and to hear some bugling. The elk are most active an hour before sunset or an hour after sunrise – this was an evening visit, so I was loosing light as time passed. What I saw was a massive harem with a single bull lording over them.

This low field was filled with 35 cows that we could count plus all their calves and some adolescents.

This low field was filled with 35 cows that we could count plus all their calves and some adolescents. I didn’t have a wide enough lens to capture the whole harem. The bull, known as Pretty Boy moves about the harem keeping his girls together.

This is Pretty Boy - he is a 6X6 Bull - about 6-7 years old.

This is Pretty Boy – he is a 6X6 Bull – 6 spikes on each antler. He’s about 6-7 years old.

Pretty Boy defends his harem from intruders…

Pretty Boy sees a threat and moves into action.

Pretty Boy sees a threat and moves into action.

Pretty Boy is serious about his harem - he is chasing off a young male yearling. This young bull is possibly his offspring. It's like telling your teen that it's time to pay his own car insurance and do his own laundry. Soon the youngster will be kicked out and will join a bachelor herd for the rest of the season.

Pretty Boy is serious about his harem – he is chasing off a young male yearling. This young bull is possibly his offspring. It’s like telling your teen that it’s time to pay his own car insurance and do his own laundry. Soon the youngster will be kicked out and will join a bachelor herd for the rest of the season.

Once the threat is addressed Pretty Boy will make is move on the ladies. They express no interest.

Once the threat is addressed Pretty Boy will make is move on the ladies. They express no interest.

With the threat passed, Pretty Boy will sit down for dinner with his leading ladies.

With the threat passed, Pretty Boy will sit down for dinner with his leading ladies. Note that our teenager is eating clearly outside the family circle.

After watching Pretty Boy I made a run down to the other end of the valley and noticed that most of the other bulls were doing their own thing or hanging out with the boys…

This Big Boy is a 6X7 and was hanging out alone in a pasture. He's not wasting his energy waiting on 35 ladies.

This Big Boy is a 6X7 and was hanging out alone in a pasture. He’s not wasting his energy waiting on 35 ladies.

This big fella is killing two birds with one stone. He is eating and polishing his antlers by digging into the grass and brush. He's gearing up for a fight.

This big fella is killing two birds with one stone. He is eating and polishing his antlers by digging into the grass and brush. He’s gearing up for a fight.

Before I left the valley I spotted at least 4 bulls larger than Pretty Boy. None of them were taking care of a harem. There was a lot of bugling away from the harem – boys calling each other across the highway – it was like they were calling each other out, staking their claims.

I returned to the valley on Saturday at dawn with some friends. We saw a few adolescents as we checked out both ends of the valley. As we headed north we saw a lot of parked cars alongside the highway – always a good sign. We parked just in time to see Pretty Boy moving his harem into the river cane. The size of his group was markedly smaller – maybe 20 cows. We saw him at the corner of the meadow, he bugled and all those cows bolted and followed him behind the curtain.

This line of river cane separates the elk's public and private spaces. After feeding they bed down on the other side for the day.

This line of river cane separates the elk’s public and private spaces. After feeding they bed down on the other side for the day. Pretty Boy guides them to a more secure area.

Michael, the photographer I mentioned earlier, told me that he moved the harem because he knew there was a rival in the area.

We cruised the valley hoping for another siting and were about to call it a day when we saw the same harem emerge in another meadow downstream.

Pretty Boy positioned himself between the cows and the line of river cane - clearly he was concerned about a rival beyond the cane.

Pretty Boy positioned himself between the cows and the line of river cane – clearly he was concerned about a rival beyond the cane.

He gradually moved the cows away from the river and they came very close to the road where we were watching.

He gradually moved the cows away from the river and they came very close to the road where we were watching.

We were standing along a treeline - shooting through it - when the cows started checking us out.

We were standing along a treeline – shooting through it – when the cows started checking us out.

The harem was getting restless - wanting to move away from the road...

The harem was getting restless – wanting to move away from the road…

But Pretty Boy was holding his ground - barring them from the cane.

But Pretty Boy was holding his ground – barring them from the cane.

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Even our young teenager is moved along with the cows.

Pretty Boy moves even closer to the road - barring the harem from the cane.

Pretty Boy moves even closer to the road – barring the harem from the cane. He bugles to let the girls know that he is the man in charge.

In chaos, the cows turn as they hear another voice in the distance...

In chaos, the cows turn as they hear another voice in the distance…

Pretty Boy looks on as the cows start to move.

Pretty Boy looks on as the cows start to move.

Pretty Boy Bugles in an attempt to stop the cows from running towards the cane.

Pretty Boy Bugles in an attempt to stop the cows from running towards the cane.

The cows break for it and run to the cane. They hear a new voice calling from the river.

The cows break for it and run to the cane. They hear a new voice calling from the river.

Pretty boy sings his heart out as the girls run for the river.

Pretty boy sings his heart out as the girls run for the river.

Calling the cows is not working, Pretty Boy heads for the river.

Calling the cows is not working, Pretty Boy heads for the river.

As the cows leave, we hear chirping from the cows, calling to their calves. This youngster ran with the lead pack of cows only to discover his mother wasn't there - he seemed caught in no-man's-land, not sure which group he belonged with.

As the cows leave, we hear them chirping, calling their calves. This youngster ran with the lead pack of cows only to discover his mother wasn’t there – he seemed caught in no-man’s-land, not sure which group he belonged with.

Pretty Boy drops his head and moves towards the cane. We hear bugling from him and from the river as the cows leave him.

Pretty Boy drops his head and moves towards the cane. We hear bugling from him and from the river as the cows leave him.

Pretty Boy looks crestfallen as he moves towards the cane - but he has a plan...

Pretty Boy looks crestfallen as he moves towards the cane – but he has a plan…

Pretty Boy shows his stuff - he digs those antlers into the ground and calls to the girls...

Pretty Boy shows his stuff – he digs those antlers into the ground and calls to the girls…

They are not impressed. He loses all but 4 cows in less than 5 minutes.

“Don’t go!” They are not impressed. He loses all but 4 cows in less than 5 minutes.

Michael told us to watch for a potential fight, but the rival beyond the cane never appeared. Pretty Boy had put in so much work and lost it all in moments. According to Micheal, this is the third year he has lost his harem – he’s had his pocket picked three times now. He’s just not big enough to take on the big boys yet. His strategy was to start with a large harem and try his best to hang onto them, meanwhile his rivals rest and eat and wait for their opportunity to steal the cows. The good news for Pretty Boy is that the big boys will tire out before the rut is over. There are 4 cycles of mating and by the end of the third they are spent. That’s when the fellas like Pretty Boy take over. Between now and then he will likely spar as he tries for a piece of the harem, but the truth is that he only really has a shot at the last cycle.

Until next year, Pretty Boy really is stuck in a rut.