Bugling elk a staple of area’s unpredictable September

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By Sylvia Brockner

September is such an unpredictable month. It is a lovely end of summer with warm sunny days and cool nights. It is gray cold days with scattered showers. It often brings the first snow, which usually melts the next day, as well as our first frost. It wants to be summer, but winter is pushing at the door so hard that it will soon be in, whether we like it or not.

It is a full, rich time of the year when I usually have a garden to harvest, but not this year. My fence was down in one place, and the elk and mule deer have both participated in a variety of salads. They love the tender green new growth, and this time of year, all the native growth has turned dry and crisp from the drought.
So, as if I had grown it just for them, they turn to my garden. I started off with a row of beets, and one each of carrots, yellow beans and green beans, and one of mixed kinds of lettuce and escarole. They are now nothing but nibbled stubs.
A friend, Kathanne Lynch, drove me up to Echo Lake, West Chicago Creek and back via Idaho Springs last Friday, Sept. 14, to see the fall color. It was a lovely drive and so close that you can do it in a couple of hours. The color is spectacular with the late-day sun turning the yellow aspen to pure gold. In a few places, the trees had been nipped by frost and at lower altitudes, they were still green, but many places were breathtaking golden tunnels of aspen surrounding you. The color is a bit early this year and should still be good for several weeks, especially at lower altitudes.
September is the last hurrah for many of the mammals we have lived with all summer. They are either eating all they can find to put on enough fat to see them through winter hibernation or storing food as fast as they can carry it to their storerooms where they can retrieve it during the winter.
The Abert and fox squirrels have disappeared from our yard during the last few weeks. I suppose they are preparing winter quarters somewhere in the woods nearby. Golden-mantled ground squirrels have already gone into hibernation, but they are often the first ones back at my feeder in spring.
The least chipmunks and the western red squirrels, both of which are active all winter, are so busy storing food that they can’t even stop to say hello and try to beg some more. They run from dawn until dark with cheeks bulging, and their storerooms must be bulging, too.
I find least chipmunks to be very destructive because they eat any soft green plant material that, of course, is found only in my garden this time of year and in the spring when they eat all my crocuses and other early flowers. They are, however, such incredible little animals that I put up with them because they are so interesting.
They are only about 41/2 inches long and weigh between one and two ounces. However, they can climb trees easily, run all over my roof and can leap to the top of an 18-inch stone wall with the greatest of ease. This is equivalent to a 6-foot man jumping straight up 25 feet with no pole to aid him.
The elk are bugling, a welcome sound every fall. Many tales are told of newcomers becoming quite unglued the first time they hear their call. Actually, I enjoy hearing them. Like the song says, they sound like the “wail of a downhearted frail,” but that’s when they are at a distance.
Up close, it is a powerful blast that is somewhat mournful sounding. The elks bugling is done to attract mates and to warn off other males. The males will fight serious battles until the biggest, strongest male acquires all the females. This assures the best strongest genes are mated and keeps the herds healthy.
This always seems like a poor time for elk mating as it means the females have to carry their young all through the lean, hungry winter months, trying to find enough food for themselves and their unborn young.
However, this system seems to have worked very well for there have been fossils of elk found in the Upper Oligocene. They have been around for a long time and seem to be dong well. Enjoy their fall chorus on almost any back road just after dark.