Western Wild

Dave Showalter's Conservation Photography Weblog

Prairie

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May 25, 2011 | Comment Below

Elk along South Boulder Creek

The Plainview Resident Elk Herd Spotted Along Coal Creek, Jefferson County, CO

Many people associate elk with the mountains, but they’re really a plains animal that has been pushed from the prairie by development. Once numbering around 30 million on the Great Plains, they are seldom seen in small herds on grasslands. One of the great things about living on the edge of the Denver/Boulder metro area is all of the wildlife sightings in open spaces and greenways. Animals on the fringes of the metroplex. Plainview Road is one of those places, just a few miles from home, in the prairie/foothills interface. Coal Creek runs through the open space as it breaks free from nearby Indian Peaks Wilderness and Coal Creek Canyon. There’s a little of everything at Plainview, an eco-hotspot in a small package.

The elk herd stays in the foothills most of the year and can be viewed in early spring when they make their way from the west side of highway 93 (which runs parallel to the foothills and connects Boulder to Golden) to Rocky Flats NWR on the east side. Rocky Flats is their calving area, so they’re hard-wired to make the treacherous journey, and a few cows pay the price every year. I’ve been planning to visit the elk at Rocky Flats this spring and thought I’d give them a little time with newborn calves. They don’t allow a close approach while on the nursery and it’s best to give newborns and protective cows some space anyway. Knowing the animal’s movements and their small migration, I was very surprised to see the small herd on the west side at Plainview today. They were in the trees along the creek and didn’t move much when they saw me – because calves were nearby? I made a few images and left them alone, wondering if they chose not to migrate this year and if they’re using Coal Creek as the nursery. I didn’t see any calves, but they’d be small and easily tucked in tall shrubs. I’ll make a trip to Rocky Flats soon and look along Rock Creek to see if any elk migrated there. These elk have likely been using this corridor for thousands of years and it wouldn’t be surprising if they decided it was no longer worth the effort to cross the highway, a scenario playing out across the West.

Elk nursery at Rocky Flats NWR

Elk With Spring Calves in the Rock Creek Drainage at Rocky Flats NWR, Jefferson County, CO

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