WATCHABLE WILDLIFE AROUND BANFF: HEY, BIG ANTLERS:
This morning I awoke in our tent in the pre-dawn darkness to the sound of a bullfrog--a very large bullfrog. I was too sleepy to realize two important facts: First, that there are no bullfrogs in this part of the Rockies; and second, that even if there were bullfrogs, it was too damned cold for one to be making such a racket. But he was clear, loud, and assertive.
When I staggered out of the tent, my husband informed me that the bullfrog had been so loud that one of our human neighbors had yelled at it to shut up. It was only after we'd drunk our first cup of coffee, and after the sun had really come up, that a visiting park warden informed us that it hadn't been a bullfrog at all. It was the bugling cry of a lonesome, horny male elk.
The male elk spend all summer bulking up and growing magnificent sets of antlers for one purpose -- to attract females during the September matrimonial olympics. I don't know what happens to the poor guys who don't quite measure up. I suppose they get through the winter somehow with renewed determination to grow the biggest, most impressive sets of antlers the following summer so it can be their turn to enjoy a little female companionship.
The park official also informed us that the town of Banff had done some 'hazing' of the resident elk herd. I guess the free lawn fertilization and mowing services aren't worth the problems that occur when one startled human meets one startled elk. The town made a great effort to tick the elk off by firing rubber pellets at them and letting off lots of firecrackers. It seems to have worked; we didn't see a single elk in town.
Elk are intimidated by anything larger than they are. The park wardens use this to advantage when they to clear the schoolyards of wandering elk. All they do is circulate around the playground with a large, red pom-pom attached to the end of a hockey stick. The elk perceive this as being some animal who is larger than they are, so they leave without a fuss. Calves are born in the spring, then, it's the turn of the females to get grouchy and hormonal.
HINTS FOR WATCHING ELK: September in Banff and Jasper brings out solitary male elk, sleek from a summer's browsing and with magnificent antlers fully developed. Watch in wooded or grassy areas by the side of the road. Look for females congregating together in groups, some with their young. Keep your camera's zoom or telephoto at the ready, and DON'T GET TOO CLOSE. Listen for the trumpeting cry of the males in the pre-dawn hours.
Banff: Tunnel Mountain Campground, September 5, 2000