After two days of meticulous searching in the rain, a crew of about ten people (including two Snapshot team members) dejectedly walked out of the forest. We were searching for elk (Cervus canadensis) calves in the Clam Lake and Flambeau River State Forest regions of Wisconsin, and had not had any luck thus far. Just as we were leaving, a biologist on the crew softly yelled “elk!”. Nestled into the side of a tree was a small brown creature perfectly camouflaged with the surrounding dead leaves. We estimated that we had walked by the little calf three times without noticing her!
The elk biologists put a blindfold over the elk calf to keep her calm. With hushed voices, they took measurements, applied ear tags, fitted her with a VHF (very high frequency) collar for location tracking and then moved away. Collars provide information on mortality, movement and herd interactions throughout the calves’ lifetimes. Collectively, this data can be used to help inform management decisions for Wisconsin’s elk herds.
For more information about Wisconsin’s elk herds, check out this link.
Thanks to a dedicated effort by our volunteers, Wisconsin DNR staff and University of Wisconsin students, we were able to classify all of the elk photos from 2016!
This Science Update features data from the Clam Lake elk area only, due to a lack of elk photos from the Black River Falls area. From GPS collar information, we know that many of the Black River Falls elk prefer to hang out outside of our camera area (perhaps they are bashful?). When we have more Snapshot Wisconsin cameras in the counties surrounding Black River Falls, we hope to have enough data for a Science Update on those elk as well.
There were 120 cameras active in the Clam Lake area in 2016, capturing 3,996 triggers containing elk. After grouping consecutive triggers showing the same elk, we ended up with 305 unique elk events.
We graphed daily activity patterns of antlerless elk and bulls from the 305 unique elk events. Overall, elk were most active between 6 and 9 AM and 5 and 6 PM. Antlerless elk were most active around dawn and dusk, while bull activity peaked later in the morning and evening.
We also graphed monthly elk activity throughout 2016. Because not all of our cameras were active during the entire year, we corrected photo hit rate based on the percentage of cameras active each week. The image below shows this corrected photo count for antlerless elk and bull elk throughout 2016.
The marked spike in bull activity at weeks 36 through 40 indicates the annual rut period. That period corresponds to a sharp drop off in activity level for antlerless elk; cows tend to stay put during that period while bulls move around more. (Curious about why this might be? Click here for more information on elk life history and mating behavior.) The trail cameras give us the ability to pinpoint the time frame of the rut period more precisely than we were previously able.