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.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Photos And Thoughts From The 2016 Elk Rut

In an unprecedented move since this blog was founded in 2007, I have gone a month without posting. This is partly because I had difficulty getting internet access for with my laptop while I was in Pennsylvania Elk Country for the last two weeks of September and I did not want to try posting with a smart phone.  Also I find it harder and harder to write a post as time passes.  It is relatively simple to post a few photos, but I always like to do a bit more. To make a long story short, I found I had a lot of other things that needed done when I returned from elk country and it was easier to devote my time to that and put posting on the back burner until now. For today's post, I will share a few images from September's trip and refer you to a post by Bill Taylor on his "Down The Fall Road" Blog that resonates with me in many ways. It is titled, "The Elk Rut, Photography, & Thoughts".

A major point he makes is how each year seems to have a set of circumstances that make it stand out from years past, For me this was how elk activity was not centered nearly so much around the Dewey Rd area as it usually was in the past several years, but perhaps this was because I avoided this area as much as possible.  With that being said, I did have a few good experiences there and the first was  late in the afternoon on the first day of my trip. I arrived so late that there was not time for more than a drive around the Benezette/ Winslow Hill area and I found two bulls chasing a herd of cows over an area ranging from the food plot by the cabin on the hill to the Gilbert meadows and beyond. The first was one that many refer to as the U bull and he gave a dramatic pose when he paused and looked over his shoulder at a rapidly approaching 6x7 that was contending with him for control of the harem. It was good to be joined by fellow photographers, Jim (Muck) McClelland and then later by Tom  Dorsey and his wife Jeanne.

The U Bull Looks Back At Rapidly Approaching 6x7

6x7 Arrives

6x7 Pauses
Another bull that was photographed by many is a fine 7x7 that  frequented the river bottoms.  This brings us to another point that Bill Taylor made, which is that with so many photographing the same animals in the same set of circumstances that it is very hard to get a photo that is truly unique.  I usually try to capture them either in a dramatic pose in a good natural setting or capture them doing something unusual, but of course most every one else is trying to do the same thing.  In the first photo below I tried to capture him at the moment that he erupted from the woods in pursuit of a cow and then I got him as he came almost sliding to a stop.

7x7 Emerges From Woods In Pursuit Of Cow

Sliding To A Stop
Another dramatic opportunity was when he paused from tearing up the ground with his antlers and bugled.

Bugling With Grass In Antlers
I would have liked to get photos and video of the elk in the river, but I did not spend enough time in that spot this year to be there when this happened. Whether one succeeds in capturing a unique photo or not, it is good to see the increase in serious elk photographers as it will hopefully help insure the future for wildlife photography on public lands in Pennsylvania if this user group becomes large enough to achieve recognition as stake-holders in or public lands and the wildlife which inhabits it.

Like Bill, I would usually rather be somewhere else than the areas where a lot of other photographers are congregated in hopes of getting something different (although I really enjoy the bull sessions),  but many if not most times trips to remote areas result in very little or no elk sightings or filming opportunities.

Remote Food Plot In Clearfield County-No Elk Were Seen
I had a lot of different spots that I wanted to check out this year and I did get to a few of them, but in those cases I was not successful in getting video or stills of bull elk although these excursions were successful from the standpoint of seeing different country.

Quehanna Wild Area
When one is successful in places like this, it does seem like you have accomplished more and it is truly an experience to treasure.  The photo below  illustrates this and it is also a warning to always be prepared.  I took my brother Coy to see a remote meadow late one morning.  It was so late that I saw little reason to bother with a big lens.  As the 70-200 was mounted on my 5D MK III, I just carried it and the 24-105mm.  Needless to say this was the time that I would see a large coyote close enough for an exceptional shot with a larger lens, but there it was and I had to make the best of the situation. This is cropped severely and I do mean severely. An image from the MK III is 22.1 megapixels when opened in ACR (Adobe Camera Raw), but in this case I cropped it to 3.6 megapixels at 300 d.p.i.  which is suitable for the internet and actually good enough to print a modestly large print. Actually I could probably have gotten away with 2 megapixels or less, but this was a good compromise.

Quehanna Coyote
 The bottom line though is  that with a limited amount of time to spend and more problems from getting older, it gets easier and easier to hang around the tourist areas and alternate between watching what is going on and then pitching in and doing some serious photography when the opportunity presents itself. This is what I was doing on the last Thursday evening of my trip when I saw a large bull bedded in the field beside the Woodring House. In time he stood up and I took this photo and also the one featured at the beginning of the post.

Before someone gets their "shorts in a wad" about how close this photo is, I will point out that this was taken at an entirely safe and respectful distance with a 600mm lens and the photo was cropped substantially also.

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.

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.