On this beautiful, warm February afternoon, I joined my daughter and her two bassets for a walk through Elk Meadow Open Space, just north of Evergreen, Colorado. Stretching along the base of Bergen Peak, at an elevation of 7800 feet, the meadows and their groves of ponderosa pine attract wintering herds of elk.
This afternoon, birds were few and far between along our 3 mile circuit; a few Steller's jays and pygmy nuthatches were observed in the pines and a lone red-tailed hawk soared above the meadow. However, we were treated to the presence of two elk herds, resting beneath pines at mid-day; elk graze primarily at dawn and dusk and are best observed during those periods.
Following their autumn rut, which peaks in early October, the bulls settle down and allow their harems to disperse. Large mixed herds of male and female elk live in peaceful coexistence during the winter months, descending to lower elevations where snow cover is less of a problem. As spring advances they reverse course, moving to higher and cooler terrain; females generally spend the warmer months on Subalpine meadows, where conditions are less harsh for their newborn calves, while males tend to move higher, often grazing on alpine tundra near timberline.