Fall foliage hangover? Let autumn wildlife help

/ Source: The Associated Press

Leaf-peeping season may be coming to a brown, crunchy close, but there's still plenty to do and see outdoors during the last gasp of autumn into early winter.

Take a drive on state Route 555 in northwest Pennsylvania and watch for herds of majestic American elk during the rut. Listen for their bugling as bulls display their full racks of antlers and ward off competitors while they search for mates.

The call of elk bulls begins low and builds to high-pitched crescendos and grunts. The best time to hear bugling is dusk to daybreak.

Elk were first reintroduced in Pennsylvania in 1913 and have thrived ever since. Now numbering about 800, the heart of elk country is in the counties of Elk and Cameron, anchored by the town of Benezette along Route 555. The Benezette Hotel is open seven days a week and a good place to start. The Moore Hill area in Cameron County is popular with local elk enthusiasts.

Warning: Do not approach the elk. Safe public viewing areas and blinds are plentiful.

While elk herds remain out and about in Pennsylvania, the rut in the West has peaked. Instead, watch for Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep along the Interstate 70 corridor on the western slope of Colorado.

The Georgetown and Mount Evans areas are two noted spots for the sheep, the official state mammal of Colorado. Take a drive along the stunning Mount Evans Byway for good viewing at an altitude of more than 14,000 feet.

Georgetown hosts the Georgetown Bighorn Sheep Festival on Nov. 8. Co-hosted by the Colorado Division of Wildlife, visitors can watch one of the state's oldest herds through spotting scopes, take a guided hike or learn about other aspects of the state's great outdoors. Specific seminars and speakers were still being worked out, so check back.

Come the last week of December, the Oregon coast is alive with gray whales as they migrate south to Baja California in Mexico. Sightings are plentiful but farther from shore than during their reverse trip near the end of March after females give birth in the warm waters off Mexico. The whales rarely stop to eat on their way south but have been sighted at a rate of 30 per hour that week in years past.

The Whale Watching Center in Depoe Bay, Ore., is a good spot to load up on information. At midday, volunteers are abundant to offer whale-spotting advice and assistance.

October through January is prime bald eagle watching in Alaska.

In Haines, as many as 4,000 eagles gather to take advantage of the late chum salmon run up the Chilkat River. Watch the eagles landing as they feed during the Alaska Bald Eagle Festival Nov. 5-9. The festival includes guided bus trips to the 48,000-acre Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve twice a day. The trips take about three hours but can be extended if prearranged. The activity level is moderate, with two miles of level trails, viewing areas and boardwalks. Dress in warm layers with waterproof outerwear.