Back in 2007, I was recording elk bugling in Pennsylvania late at night. Often, the sounds of elk bugling cause other animals to vocalize, or otherwise be disturbed by all the ruckus. Often owls would vocalize in response to the bugles. This night, I managed to record a relatively rare, Barred Owl scream. The Barred Owl scream is not very well documented and is absent in recorded sounds of Barred Owls on the Internet. Over the years, I have heard many people get confused, and scared by this scream that most people have never heard. In this recording, the Barred Owl is directly responding to the elk bugling, and the elk seems to respond to the owl. The elk is primarily on the right, and the Barred Owl is on the left. Barred Owls generally have this scream response to things that might upset or startle them, or it is used in confrontation with a competing owl.
Kentucky has been reintroducing Elk into their state for about 10 years. I heard ranges between 7,000 and 25,000 Elk now roam the southeast counties. I finally decided to visit southeast Kentucky to scout around hoping to find large herds to record Elk bugling. The weather looked good around the 19th-22nd of September, so my brother and I loaded up the vehicle and took off.
We first tried to visit the area near Jenny Wiley State Park in Floyd County. We drove on SR 194. It was a nice wooded area, with narrow, winding roads, which were very hazardous to drive on with other drivers crossing the centerline many times. The area was quiet enough for nature recording, but it is not a likely place to see Elk due to the lack of open fields. From satellite maps, it appeared that there are reclaimed strip mines just northeast of Jenny Wiley State park that would make better view areas, but we didn’t have enough time to explore there. We wanted to get to Knott County well before dark. I noted some of the side roads were closed for private recreational parks.
We arrived in Knott County, labeled as the “Elk Capital East of the Rockies”. While at a gas station I asked where the best places to see Elk were. They told me to go to the place I already was planning on going to, CR 1098, and Elk View Drive beside Sutton Memorial Park. I read on the Internet, Robinson Forest was one of the best places for Elk in the state, and that was adjacent to CR 1098. Sutton Memorial Park and the near area are on reclaimed coal lands. Large tracts of open fields are found here. Many horse and ATV trails are found throughout the area. We found Elk tracks and brush damaged by bull Elk, but we didn’t see any Elk. I wanted to visit another Elk viewing site in Breathitt County along CR 1098. That viewing site was on a hilltop, beside a cemetery. The only thing I saw was a couple of wild horses at dusk, anda Timber Rattlesnake along the road. We drove back to Elk View Drive to see if we could hear any Elk bugling that may have come out after dark. We heard nothing. We were going to camp here, but people started streaming in with their ATV’s to camp, and for what I am trying to do, record nature sounds, loud ATV’s don’t mix. So, we drove back north and drove on some back roads in the reclaimed coalfields just north of Robinson Woods, and camped. We heard one Elk bugling in the distance. At sunrise, two bull Elk came near camp, bugling. They got quiet after someone came along and started shooting rifles nearby. I didn’t see any cows, and the bulls looked like maybe 3-4 years old. We drove around the area, and northof CR 1098. We only saw wild horse roaming around. There were plenty of Elk tracks around and many turkeys. The horses looked absolutely famished, which isn’t a good sign of viable food sources in the area. There is a lack of grasses growing in the general area; mostly weeds filled the open areas. We left Knott County. The county didn’t live up to its namesake this time, but again, it was quiet enough of an area to record. The jet traffic even seemed low enough to get stretches of 15-30 minutes free of jet sounds.
We ventured off to the Begley WMA around the borders of Bell, Harlan, andLeslie Counties. We found a nice reclaimed coal land withopen fields of grass. This area is the second area, I read as being one of the best areas to view Elk in Kentucky. This is just on the southern edge of the Daniel Boone National Forest, so there was lots of wooded cover next to fields. It looked perfect. We again found lots of Elk sign here. Unlike many states, Kentucky seems to allow ATV’s andvehicles drive the trails around the Wildlife Management Areas, so there wassome really great access to the area. Beautiful views of the rugged terrain were awesome. Near sunset we were glassing the open fields for animals. We saw a large Black Bear about a mile away. Then we started to hear a bugle or two from some Elk. Other people were in the area looking around as well. We asked a gentleman, who walked up to say hello, about the area. He thought the peak of the bugling wouldn’t be until the first and second week in October. He said it was still too hot. We stopped beside an area we thought was one of the best areas, and it was. This was the west side of the area along a trail that appeared to go to CR 2011. At dusk three, large bugling bulls emerged from the deep, wooded valleys. I saw with the aid of night vision that there were also cow Elk with two of the bulls. Later, the cows disappeared from view. A group of ATV’s drove through scaring the Elk away for a while. We drove to a location to get closer the action, as it appeared that the bulls were closing in on each other. We were a little late. We caught a large bull and a group of cows heading to the grassy field along the road and had to cut them off, pretty much causing the bull to retreat further away. I started audio recording at an overview where two bulls were in a grassy area. It didn’t make the most exciting recording, but at least I finally got something and the sound of insects were good. The Elk bugled most of the night, intermittently, as they roamed the area. Later in the night, one of the bulls came within 60 feet of camp, bugling. Once the sun rose, all the Elk disappeared. The Elk in Kentucky appear to be very nocturnal, probably due to the hunting and general human pressure. This is in contrast to what is like in Pennsylvania, where the Elk can often be seen moving about during the daytime, and lingering in the open areas during the evening and morning hours. Audio recording in the Begley WMA has promise. It is quiet from highway and road noise, jet traffic is low enough not to be a big issue. The only issue is active mining is in the area andcan be heard from the hilltops. But, once you descend a little over a hill, all is quiet.
I am sure we didn’t scout all the areas to find the best locations during this brief trip. There are probably better areas to view Elk and where Elk are more plentiful. I really didn’t see the herds I was expecting to see from the numbers given. The Elk herds are better seen in Pennsylvania if you ask me, probably due to more open areas are available, but the jet traffic in northern Pennsylvania is very bad for audio recording.
If you would like to hear some excellent examples of Elk bugling, Natureguy Studio sells a CD and MP3 album titled, Pennsylvania Elk. Here is a just a short sample from the album.
Natureguy Studio – Titans-Battle
We almost could have gotten stuck in Kentucky. Gasoline supplies were suddenly limited in the region. Some gas stations were closing their pumps andmany were limiting customers to 20 gallons. We found out when we got back that a major supply line to the Southeastern states was disrupted during Hurricane Gustov and Ike. It was a sudden surprise to everyone that gasoline supplies were running out. We were lucky we got back in time. Stations in Tennessee and Georgia were running on empty. It was a surprise to me, because I specifically tried to see if there were any fuel concerns before I left due to the two hurricanes. This makes me want my 200-MPG vehicle even more…if only I could figure out how to get it licensed. The EPA is the biggest hurdle to new, high-mileage vehicle developments as odd as that sounds.