Friday, July 03, 2009

Wapiti, Red Deer, Cervus elaphus: An elk by any other name

We needed no zoom lens at the Dean Creek Elk Viewing Area near Reedsport. The big guys easily leaped the fence and seemed only wary rather than afraid of us as they strolled across the grass and into the parking lot.

Elk belong to the same family as deer. Both lose their antlers every year in winter. It seems like deer and elk antlers should be all over the place, but rodents love the calcium and quickly gnaw them to nothing.

I found a single elk antler while hiking near the Clackamas River one winter several years ago. I threw it in the back of the pickup to bring it home as a yard ornament. At some point, I noticed gnaw marks on it. I'm not sure who made them, but the fact that the antler is still around gives me hope that our neighborhood is not overrun with rodents.

Like cattle, elk have several stomach compartments. Elk and deer can swallow in haste, then roam off to a safe place to regurgitate the cud, which is then chewed to a pulp. Four stomach wring every bit of nutrition out of the meal.

We've already mentioned the Jewell Meadows Wildlife Area, but we had a much closer encounter with the elk at Dean Creek. Morning and evening are the best times here; we took these photos in early April between 6 and 6:30 pm.

To get to the Dean Creek Viewing Area, head east from Reedsport (on the Oregon coast) on Highway 38. Start looking south three miles out. You may want to bring that zoom lens, just in case.

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