Monday, August 7, 2017

Mid-July Trip To Pennsylvania Elk Country

The River
Temperatures were hot and humid when I arrived in Benezette in mid-afternoon on Monday July 17th for several days of elk filming and photography.  Reports indicated that few elk were being seen in town or on Winslow Hill, but in spite of this I felt optimistic of success.

Even though it was stifling hot, there was little haze in the air with only a slight threat of a thunderstorm and it was a good evening to take a walk with the cameras if you didn't mind being soaked with sweat. Since I usually concentrate on taking video, I carried a Panasonic FZ2500 fitted with a 5" Small HD monitor on the tripod for that purpose and a Canon 1DKMKII with the Canon 100mm-400mm IS II lens in my camera bag for still photography. I saw several small bulls that evening and one was close enough for good still photos.

Alert 5x5
5x5 Looks At Distant Bulls
The best bull of the evening was a decent 6x6, but unfortunately he was in short grass, which provided a less than deal setting and he was always looking directly at me when I was taking stills.

6x6 Pauses From Grazing
Three of the most important parts of elk photography in the summer is being out early in the morning and staying late in the evening.  When I walked I never got back to the vehicle until after dark.  The down side to this of course is that lighting conditions are often less than ideal when you encounter the elk. I prefer the mornings if it is not too foggy, but that is a big problem in elk country as it seems most mornings are foggy--some of them so bad that photography is almost impossible. Fortunately the morning I encountered a fine 6x7 with a bachelor group of smaller bulls, the fog was spotty and there were relatively clear periods at times.

6x7 On A Foggy Morning
4K Video Frame Grab of Bachelor Group
On Wednesday morning another fine 6x7 was grazing in a meadow of tall grasses and I photographed him with the 1DXMKII and 500mm F 4 lens.

6x7  Looks To Distant Hill Side
Another View
Eventually he returned to feeding and worked past my position and I used the 5DMKIII with the Canon 100-400mm IS II to photograph him with a bit more of the surroundings included in the photo.

6x7: Taken with 5DMKIII and 100-400mm IS II at 371 mm
I spent very little time driving around Winslow Hill. I did check for the bulls that I saw last month along the road at the upper end of the hill, but I only saw a small one and didn't film him. Late on Tuesday morning I played tourist and photographed a herd of elk in a camp lawn with the Panasonic FZ1000, which I usually use for close-up video filming when I am not able to set the tripod up. I also used it to take the river photo at the beginning of the post and it does a creditable job with stills as long as one keeps at the lower ISO settings.

A Typical Sighting On Winslow Hill
All in all I have had better July trips to elk country, but this one still gave a lot of photo and video opportunities.  The summer has moved so quickly and it seems impossible to think that very shortly most of the bulls will shed the velvet and soon another rut will begin.

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

June Bulls In Pennsylvania Elk Country

Winslow Hill Bull
 When I first began going to Pennsylvania Elk Country in 1995 it was a much different place than it is today with little in the way of food plots planted for wildlife. There was some planting at the Dents Run Viewing Area and a portion of The Saddle and the plot behind Busy Bee Campground were usually mowed sometime during the summer. Back then my summer elk filming usually consisted of taking a tour around Winslow Hill and out to Hick's Run or Driftwood and to Medix Run in the mornings and evenings. Since many fed elk and there were few food plots, the elk were attracted to the feeding and the green lawn grass. As a result  many of the bulls were to be found in the lawns eating the grass and nibbling on the  flowers.

Today there is a lot of high quality forage in elk country and there are a lot more elk than in 1995. Now it is relatively common so see large bachelor  groups of bulls feeding in the food plots while they are less likely to be seen in town.

During my June trip, I saw two bulls along the road on Winslow Hill every day. The first was the 6x6 at the beginning of the post and the second is the bull below.

Largest Bull Seen on Winslow Hill
At this juncture I am not going to speculate on the number of points on the rack.  A point must be at least an inch in length to be counted and this bull has a lot of points that are still too short to meet that criteria. Some are on the borderline and may become long enough or they may not.

I spent most evenings on foot in remote areas and sometimes did not get back to the vehicle until well after dark.  As usual I concentrated on taking video and carried a Panasonic FZ2500 on the tripod for that purpose, and a Canon 1DXMKII with the Canon 100-400mm IS II  in a camera bag to take still images.

One evening I walked back a field road and came upon a fine bull.  After taking video I put the still camera in action and captured several frames.

5x5 Bull Pauses From Feeding
5x5 Bull Scents For Danger
This bull  is currently a 5x5, but looks like he will be at least a 6x6 and possible a 7x7 when antler development is completed. A bit later I found a bachelor group  sharing a food plot with a solitary cow.

Bachelor Group and Cow Share Food Plot
I saw two more similar bachelor groups that evening, but the photo below was taken on the following evening when I didn't find nearly  as many bulls overall on the same walk, but found more of them together so I suspect these were some of  the same bulls concentrated  in one place.

Seven Rack Bulls-One Spike
On Friday morning the last day of the trip I drove the roads around Benezette before leaving for home and photographed the largest bull of the trip. In this case the images were taken from the tripod with the old Canon 500mm f4.0 IS and the 1DXMKII.

Mature 7x7
Mature 7x7-A Different Angle
It will be interesting to see how much larger the bulls have grown if I am able to go back this month.

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Pennsylvania Elk Calves In Late June

Elk Calf  In The Rays of The Early Morning Sun
Most elk calves are born in the period from mid-May through mid-June with a few being born later. I seldom go to Pennsylvania Elk Country during the peak of the birthing period because I concentrate on whitetail fawn photography at this time, and go to elk country only after most of the fawns are born.

This year was no exception, and I didn't get there until June 19th through the 23rd.. I saw plenty of calves, but they were mostly too far for good still photography or they were in situations where it was difficult or impossible to get the camera in action.
Cow and Calf Cross Road At Woodring Viewing Area
This is mostly because the elk are very protective of the newborn calves when they are most vulnerable within the first weeks of life. Also the annual calf capture and tagging program to gather biological data is  still underway or just finished recently so the elk  may be expecting to be pursued when they see humans, which contributes to their skittishness.

Alert Cow Looks For Danger
It didn't help the calf photography either that I mostly concentrated on taking video and  spent a lot of the time in areas where one was more likely to see bachelor groups of bulls. Nonetheless,I did spend most mornings looking for  calves and it paid off on Thursday morning  when I found a nursery group and they gradually drifted my way and came close enough for good still photography.

Cow Nurses Calf
Cow And Calf Nuzzle

Cow And Calf In Early Morning Sun
As regular readers are well aware, I have not posted since October 23, 2016. When I made that post I expected to continue full-bore, but then days turned into weeks and weeks into months and it was very difficult to begin posting again.

I am not sure if I will continue to post regularly, but I do hope to make another post in the near future about the bulls I filmed and photographed during the trip and perhaps make a short video. This post is dedicated to Ron and Gail Thoma for encouraging me to continue.

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Whitetail Pre-Rut Gives Excellent Photo Opportunities

Whitetail Buck Performs Lip-Curl In Early September
For today's post we shift our attention from the Pennsylvania elk rut  to the pre-rut of the Pennsylvania whitetail deer.  The pre-rut begins about the time that the bucks shed their velvet in late August to mid-September. One may see bucks lip-curling or sparring with other bucks while still in velvet, but this activity increases greatly once the velvet is shed and the pre-rut begins.

The pre-rut intensifies in October and whitetail movement patterns change.If you watch the same area on a regular basis, it seems that you mostly see the same bucks throughout the late summer and into early fall. In many cases these are young bucks that were born in that area and have not yet dispersed.

Resident Buck Scenting For Does
As the pre-rut progresses, it becomes more common to see different bucks, some of which are only seen a time or two before moving on to another area, and others which  end up spending most of the rut there. Featured below is a series of photos of a fine eight-point that I have seen one time so far this fall.  It will be interesting to see  if  he returns or if this proves to be the only sighting.

Exciting photo opportunities can develop when more than one buck is present.  No other buck was there to challenge the large buck as he passed through, but on another day a seven-point arrived and challenged a six-point that was already there.

After a brief tussle the bucks broke contact and looked about for danger, before resuming the contest.

This never rose to the level of serious combat, but as the full-blown rut arrives the probability of witnessing a serious fight will drastically increase.

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.