Monday, September 12, 2016

Video Highlights From Mid-August Trip To PA Elk Country

I realize that most elk enthusiasts are mainly interested in the elk rut that is now underway, but for today I wish to post a short film featuring highlights of  the mid-August trip to Pennsylvania Elk Country.

It opens with a Beaver and Cedar Waxwings feeding one evening in a remote wilderness area,  then shifts to a large bachelor group of whitetail bucks and a bull elk that has not  yet shed the velvet. Next, you get to see clips of a calf elk that show how the spots are fading, and bulls in various stages of shedding the velvet.

It then returns to the wilderness area. As noted before, the evening began with filming the Cedar Waxwing's and the Beaver. As it grew late a few whitetail deer appeared but at this point  it didn't seem likely that elk would be seen, but then I noticed a deer  feeding in an area of bushes and tall grass  beyond the meadow. While looking at it through the lens, I was startled when a set of shining, bare elk antlers came into the finder as a bull came walking through the brush toward the meadow.  I pressed the record button and began filming.  Soon a larger bull and a cow came into view and then in a few moments a herd of elk came pouring into the meadow.

To show how rapidly it was growing dark,  I began filming at ISO 1600 at 8:21 p.m.and I was using ISO 5000 when they came into the meadow at 8:27 p.m.and a short time later I was at ISO 6400, which is the maximum for the Panasonic GH4. I like to keep the ISO as low as possible and when I get on 1600 I will drop to 1/30 sec. shutter speed if necessary before changing to a higher setting.  1/60 is the recommended shutter speed for shooting video  at 30 frames per second, but I have found that if action is not too rapid that it is possible to get reasonably good footage at 1/30.

For those who are interested in such things all of the footage shown today except for the still of the shed velvet and the non-typical bull horning bushes were taken with the GH4 with the old model Canon 100-400mm L lens and either the Metabones Speedbooster or Smart Adapter.

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Whitetail Bucks Now Shedding Velvet.

Bachelor Group Of Whitetail Bucks In Pennsylvania Elk Country-4K Video Still Capture
This summer I have been filming and photographing wildlife as much as I ever have, but one would not know it by looking at this blog.  I am usually in the field each morning and evening photographing and observing whitetail deer when I am not in elk country.  It has been a busy summer what with a major refurbishing project on a large deck on the house and a lot of work on the family farm so it seems that it has been the writing and video editing that has suffered and I have done very little of either.  At any rate, I was still a bit surprised to see when I took time to review the blog, that I have not posted about whitetail deer since early June.

I saw a bachelor group of extremely nice whitetail bucks late one evening during the mid-August trip to elk country, but didn't have the still camera along so I extracted some stills from the video footage using Vegas Pro 13.

8 Point Pauses From Feeding

Back home in Fulton County, the beautiful six-point shown below was the biggest that I photographed with a DSLR although I filmed several much larger bucks on video.  Nonetheless he is a beautiful buck and I was able to document his development throughout the summer. 

As His Velvet Cracks In Preparation For Shedding,  A Fine 6 Point Buck Lip-curls
He was a small spike last year and the marked increase in size from last year to now proves that a spike can develop in to a fine buck and in fact  many, if not most, do so if they survive to their second year.

Same Buck-October 17, 2015
This year the velvet was cracked on August 28th. When he appeared shortly after dawn on the 30th, the velvet was mostly gone on the left antler and a long strand dangled alongside his head. This seemed to irritate him greatly and he spent a lot of time rubbing branches and also trying to grab the velvet in his teeth and dislodge it.

Buck Pauses From Horning Trees And Round Bale
Grooming And Attempting To Tear Velvet Strip Free
The velvet was completely gone by the following morning and the buck roamed about the meadows interacting with other deer and feeding.

Bucks Nuzzle When Pausing From Sparring

Buck Pauses From Feeding
What a thrill it was to be able to document the velvet shedding process once again.  Another buck that I see frequently has had bloody spots on his antlers, but has not shed yet.  In the photo below he is watching the larger buck from inside the tree line.  He tries to avoid close contact with him as it seems he does not want to spar until the velvet is gone.

Smaller Buck Looks On
I hope I have the opportunity to document at least a portion of  his velvet shedding process as well.  With the shedding of the velvet, the pre-rut gets underway and will continue until late October or early November when it will explode into the full-blown rut.

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Pennsylvania Bulls Shed Velvet

I spent most of last week in Pennsylvania Elk Country with my primary objective being to film and photograph the shedding of the velvet from the bulls' antlers.  Many of the bulls had already shed by the time I arrived late Monday afternoon, but I found a bachelor group on Tuesday morning in which some of the bulls still had velvet.

6x6 With Velvet
This was a dark, overcast morning with a light shower of rain or two so the Canon 5D MK III and the 300mm f2.8 lens were the perfect choice for this situation.  This bull was in the edge of the woods along a meadow and most of the other bulls were feeding and horning bushes that were scattered throughout the meadow. While I took a few still images, I spent most of the time filming them on video with the Panasonic GH4 and Canon 100-400mm lens.

This is a 4K camera and I film in UHD mode.  With this one is able to capture 8 megapixel stills from the video.  Panasonic has a method for doing this, but I have not tried it.  I simply load the video into  my video editing program, Vegas Pro 13,  and scroll through the timeline until I find a suitable frame and then capture it.  Below are two stills captured in this manner that shows how the velvet cracks and bloody spots appear before the actual shedding occurs.

On Thursday morning I photographed two bulls that were feeding on apples.  The first photo shows how the velvet shedding process progresses from the stage depicted in the the photos above.

Almost Shed

The second photo shows a bull that is completely shed and also documents how bulls dislodge apples from the trees by striking the branches with their antlers.

Trying To Dislodge Apples
With the shedding of the velvet, the bulls begin sparring with other bulls and engaging in other pre-rut activity.  On this trip I did not get to photograph this activity , but I did get to see a mature bulls herding cows  late one evening as darkness fell in a remote wilderness meadow.

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Mid-Summer Elk Calves

Cow Grooming Calf

At the conclusion of the post about the bulls I saw during my mid-July trip to Pennsylvania Elk Country,  I promised to post some calf photos from the trip and today I have finally got around to doing that.  I was not as successful at photographing and filming the calves as I was with the bulls.  In most cases, areas that are good for seeing bachelor groups of mature bulls are not usually the best spots for seeing elk calves and I spent the most of the best elk sighting times in prime bull range.

Prime Summer Bull Range Is Often Not Best For Calf Sightings

But on at least one evening and one morning, I concentrated on working with the calves.  At times it was easy to see a lot of calves on Winslow Hill, but they were usually a bit far away,  or it was too early or too late for the best quality photos.

Calf At Woodring Farm In Early Morning

Cows And Calves Shortly After Sunrise On Winslow Hill

Cows And Calves Near Sunset On Winslow Hill
An encounter at the ponds on Dewey Road had the potential for exceptional photos when a cow nursed a calf on one the pond banks, but as luck would have it the grass was too tall in front of the cow and the calf was mostly obscured.  Otherwise the grass contributed to the wild look of the photo and made for a much more pleasing setting than short, lawn type grass.

Cow Nursing Calf On Pond Bank
When nursing was completed the cow stepped away and  the calf stepped into a more open spot, licked its' lips, and  looked out at the surrounding countryside.  The only problem here was that it was a bit far even for the 600mm for a close-up portrait. In this case I cropped the photo to 2MP in Adobe Camera Raw  which which works quite well for the web, but would start to fall apart on big enlargements.

Alert Calf
All in all it was one of the better, if not the best, July trips to elk country that I can recall. After filming on Friday morning it was time to return home and it was with mixed feelings that I headed for Fulton County.  For one thing it is always good to get home and see the family and resume photographing the local wildlife, but on the other hand it seemed that had I been able to stay for a few more days that I was getting a system worked out that seemed likely to yield a lot more good photos and video.

Soon the bulls will be losing the velvet and sparring will begin in earnest. In fact a few bulls may have lost it already, but most will do around the middle of August or a bit later.  Soon I hope to return to elk country to document this exciting event and when this is over it will be only a short time until the rut begins.

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.