Thursday, July 30, 2015

While Construction Continues-Calf Sightings Abound On Dewey Road

Intersection OF New Portion Of Dewey Road -Winslow Hill Road
 On my mid-July trip to Pennsylvania Elk Country, I arrived on Monday , the 13th, to find the new section of Dewey Road completed and open to traffic.  The old portion of the road was still there, but it was closed to the public.  On Tuesday they began re-contouring the area and the old portion of the road slowly vanished.

Old Portion Of Dewey Road Vanishes
The view from the new portion of Dewey Road toward The Saddle and the distant mountains is exceptional.

View From New Portion Of Dewey Road
The photo below is taken looking down the new portion of the road to where it intersects the old portion. The road to the new parking lot is not visible, but is directly to the right of the lower right corner of the photo.

New Dewey Road
I didn't film any bulls at the Gilbert Farm. A large herd of cows and calves were in the area, but it was hard to find them close enough for good photographs or to find situations where there were not unwanted objects in the background, or the fog was too thick.  For example, one morning a herd of cows and calves were feeding along the fence shown in the photo above.  While a bit of fog adds to the atmosphere, it was just too thick in this case for good detail and the combination of short grass in the foreground, and orange netting in the background further complicated the situation.

On Friday morning I found them near the Ponds below where the Gilbert Barn once stood.  This time some of them walked into the edge of the parking lot after I stopped and I got a few frames taken with the 5D MK III and the 70-200mm rested over the window-sill of the SUV.

Calf Grazing

Soon the elk crossed the road and began feeding on the hillside above Rucki Road and I got out of the vehicle and mounted the 5D MK III on the 600mm and alternated between taking still photos and filming with the Panasonic GH4.

Alert Calf
The elk worked across the meadow, slanting toward Rucki road, and heading for the woods in the distance, but they did this very slowly and along the way some interesting action took place.  In one instance a cow and calf touched noses and somewhat later they began nursing.

Touching Noses
Nursing
 I did not walk into the Saddle one time this trip, and all in all I did not spend a lot of time on Dewey Road , but I did check it out at least once on most mornings and evenings. Even with the new construction this is still one of the more reliable areas for producing up-close elk sightings in Pennsylvania Elk Country.

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

The Passing Of Ralph Harrison


Legendary Pennsylvania Elk advocate, Ralph L. Harrison, 87, of , Dents Run, died Wednesday, July 22, 2015, at his home after a battle with pancreatic cancer.

I first learned of Ralph from Billie Cromwell, the PGC Game Lands Maintenace Supervisor for Fulton County, who was my foreman at the time.  Billie shot a significant amount of the video footage for the rut portion of The Pennsylvania Game Commission's film, "Pennsylvania Elk: Reclaiming The Alleghenies" and  met Mr. Harrison sometime during this period.  The film featured an interview with Mr. Harrison.  This was my first exposure to him and  and I was impressed with his knowledge and low-key unassuming manner.

I first met him sometime in the late 1990s. During the elk rut that year, Billie Cromwell and I  walked far back in the mountains one evening to a food plot the elk were using heavily and the air resounded with the bugles of several bulls as darkness closed in.  We were walking back to the vehicle in the moonlight when we saw a dog standing in the roadway and a man sitting on the road bank.  It turned out that this was Ralph Harrison, sitting there in the moonlight listening to the bulls bugle, with his dog along for company and as protection if he unexpectedly came upon a bull while walking in the darkness. Within the next year or so I was in the same area once again and Ralph came by.  This time we had a long conversation and this led to many more meetings and discussions about wildlife conservation and elk in particular over the remainder of his life.

Mr. Harrison was an Elk County native and resident of Dent’s Run. He was born there in 1928 and  lived there most of his life except for a stint in the military. Ralph went to work for what was then know as the Department of Forest and Waters in 1951 and worked for them for the next forty years, although the agency changed names over this period. It would take a book to cover his life and in fact Ralph has written several, the latest being on the history of the Quehanna Wild Area..

Mr. Harrison never had an official job in elk management. There was no big title, just a simple love and respect for the animals, which led him to go above and beyond the call of duty and dedicate his life to them. He saw the  elk population grow from less than twenty to the 900-1000 of today. Although he would never claim responsibility, he was an important factor in this increase. Like many true experts, he professed to know little about elk, and was not a self-promoter, but rather tried to give as much credit as possible to others.  He will be deeply missed.

Originally Published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.




Friday, July 17, 2015

A Tale Of Bulls And Thunderstorms

By mid-July the antlers on the bulls are mostly grown. It is always a special treat to photograph them with the velvet covered antlers and I usually spend several days in Pennsylvania Elk Country in this time frame.  Most of the photographers report seeing average size bulls for the most part and most of the bull pictures posted on Facebook seem to bear this out.  This was also my experience in most cases and I saw a lot of nice young 4x4 and 5x5 bulls, but I did see one very nice 6x7 and this is mostly the story of that encounter.

5x5 Bull Pauses From Browsing
I don't need to tell anyone that it has been an exceptionally wet July and a lot of my photography earlier in the week involved dodging thunder storms.  On Tuesday evening I traveled to a remote area to film and when I arrived water was running in streams down the ruts in the dirt road.  At that point the cloud cover was broken with the sun peaking through at times.  I took the video rig with tripod and carried the 7D MK II with the new 100-400mm L IS II lens strapped around my neck and hiked to a meadow that showed some promise.  I had no sooner reached the spot I wished to watch than the sky became very threatening and thunder began rumbling.

The Gathering Storm
It seemed a wise course to pursue a hasty retreat to the vehicle and as I was half-way back to the vehicle when I noticed two large bulls had just emerged from the  woods and were feeding in the meadow.  I concentrated on filming them with the video camera, and also fired a few frames with the still camera.  The bulls were at least 150 yards away.

Mature Bulls Feeding-Taken At 110mm
Mature Bulls Watch Photographer-Taken at 400mm
It was raining lightly when I saw the bulls and it became heavier and heavier as I filmed.  While this doesn't show up in the still photos, it made for especially appealing video as there is something so wild looking about film of wildlife in falling rain or snow. While the still equipment can endure quite a bit of rainfall I had an external monitor on the video camera, which is not weather sealed, so I filmed for a short time and then covered it with a garbage bag and took cover in the vehicle.

In time the rain dropped off to desultory sprinkles and I considered the situation.  Should I move on to another area or should I return.  There was a likelihood that the bulls would be gone, but my gut instinct told me there was a very good chance  they would still be there and that other animals would have joined them.  The next decision was which camera rig to carry.  Usually I would carry video when the light is very murky, but I finally decided to carry the best long-range low light still rig I had along, which was the Canon  5D MK III and the 600mm F 4.0.  Sure enough when I got back to the meadow I found they had been joined by two more bulls so I took several frames of them at about 150 yards distance at ISO 1000 with a shutter speed of 1/100 at F 4.0.

Two Bulls After Thunderstorm
The one on the right, which is also pictured directly below, was the most impressive of the group because of his wide spread. He appeared to be a 6x7 while the smaller bull was at least a 5x6.

Largest Bull After Thunderstorm
The photo below shows the fourth bull standing on the right while the animal on the left is the smaller bull from the first encounter.

Bulls After Rain
With that it was time to leave as darkness was rapidly approaching and the sky cleared soon after sunset giving the promise of more pleasing weather conditions for the next few days.

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Consturction Continues At Gilbert Farm Viewing Area

I arrived in Elk Country last week to find construction going full bore on the new parking lot atop Winslow Hill at the Gilbert Farm Viewing Area.  Thanks to photos posted on Facebook by Tom Dorsey and others and verbal reports from Ron, "Buckwheat" Saffer and Billie Cromwell, what I found was not a great surprise..  The first photo posted below is taken from Winslow Hill Road going north up the hill.  I was standing in Winslow Hill Road at the point where the new Dewey Road branches off from Winslow Hill Road.  Where the equipment is parked is just in front of the old parking lot.  At the time this photo was taken, construction netting was across the new section of road at both ends and also along the entire frontage with Winslow Hill Road.

New Dewey Road And Parking Lot Construction
Billie Cromwell reports that he was there on the day the hard surface was torn up.  A big dozer arrived with a scarifier attached to the blade and in a short time the blacktop was removed.  This section of Winslow Hill Road is now a narrow gravel road for the time being.  Below is the view looking up the hill with the old parking lot being on the left.

Winslow Hill Road
In the photo below I am standing in old Dewey Road and looking up the new portion of the road which was fenced off at that time.

New Dewey Road
 I was somewhat surprised to find that the old portion of Dewey Road was still there and was still being used  when I arrived, but I suspect that situation will change soon if it has not already as by Thursday the workers were spreading a coat of gravel on the new portion of the road, which seemed to indicate they were getting it ready to use in the near future.

Old Portion Of Dewey Road Still In Use Last Week
Spreading Gravel At Winslow Hill-New Dewey Rd Intersection
Below is a photo of the intersection of the old portion of the road with the new.  As I understand it the old portion will be covered over and landscaped into the new viewing area.

Intersection Of Old And New Portions Of Dewey Road
Spreading Gravel On New Portion Of Dewey Rd
It will be interesting to see what this all looks like when it is completed and how it impacts the elk viewing experience.  An important concern to many is whether parking will still be permitted  along the portion of Dewey Road that will travel along the meadow to where the old farm house used to be.  If parking is not permitted it is at least hoped that people will still be allowed to stand along the side of the road where the current parking strip is.  If this is not permitted and one must remain in the viewing area at the top of  the hill if they wish to watch this portion of the meadow it will effectively ruin elk photography at this spot.

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.