Sunday, February 7, 2016


"The Crick" after the recent snow
 A medium-size stream flows along the border of our farm.  It is officially known as a "Creek", but to old time Fulton County backwoodsmen it is known as a "Crick"  Since I love the old time vernacular I always refer to it by this name.  There is a fording which one uses to access  the other side which I call "goin' acrosst the crick". I have spent a lot of money on repair bills through the years due to water damage to hubs, brakes, and universal joints incurred by "crossin' the crick" as when it is low enough I usually cross it every day to look for wildlife, but that is a story for another day.

When I was young the creek was usually frozen for most of the winter and we spent a lot of time walking and sledding on the ice.  It was an exciting time when a combination of heavy rainfall and melting snow caused the ice to break up, but in recent years this has not happened nearly as often and I have little photos or HD video of this. This changed somewhat this  past Wednesday when I got  photos and footage of  ice flowing down the creek shortly after it had broken up, but it was not as dramatic as some of the ice-outs that I witnessed as a youth.

We received about 24" of snow from winter storm Jonas.  The weather moderated after a few days and the snow went down substantially raising the creek to levels that required a vehicle with  high ground clearance such as my old Ford Bronco.  There was heavy rain last Tuesday night and I really didn't expect to be able to cross on Wednesday morning,, but it if found that it was still a few inches below the maximum level that I would try.  It was plain , however, that  the level would soon be too high for crossing as the feeder streams running into it were high and muddy. As it turned out I was able to return home the same way, but that was the last crossing until this afternoon.

I  drove to the fording that afternoon in hopes of documenting   the ice going out. When I arrived the ice was already gone from the pond immediately above the fording and the water was high and muddy. As I stood there,  the rushing water grew louder and I could hear the grinding and crashing of ice and looked up the stream and saw it was gorged with ice rushing toward me.  I mostly took video of this, but here is a still of the same general area shown in the first photo except part of it is a bit to the right of the area shown above.I usually cross just above the small trees that the ice is smashing into in the center of the photo.  There are certain reference marks that I know to look for to determine if it is safe to cross and there is little to no risk involved when the stream's flow is stable or declining, but the problem with crossing while it is rising is that if the vehicle stalls it must either be gotten out right away or it is almost certain to be severely damaged. In this case, had I stalled out near the trees when I crossed in the morning,and not been able to retrieve the vehicle before the ice went out, it would have been hammered severely by the ice and likely destroyed.

After taking photos and video in this area, I moved on down the stream to a better vantage point and  took more photos and video, but again I concentrated mostly on video. Immediately below is a short video of this.

Ice Out from Willard C. Hill on Vimeo.

 The old timers had a saying  that the creek only froze over solid enough to walk on once a year and that the ice-out was only a once a year occurrence. Now that the ice is gone, and it is only early February,  it will be interesting to see what the rest of the winter brings and if this saying will prove to be accurate.

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Blizzard Makes Life Difficult For Wildlife

Gobbler Struts On Frosty Morning: Canon 5D MK III-Canon 500mm F 4
 In Southcentral Pennsylvania we usually have measurable snow fall before the rifle deer season is over and sometimes it is substantial, but this year there has been nothing but light snow squalls until late last week. Living was relatively easy for wildlife as the meadows were bare, deer could graze easily, and turkeys could move about freely. It was even common to see some of the birds strutting and gobbling, but this all changed when weather reports indicated a substantial blizzard was approaching on Friday, January 22nd and light snow began falling late that afternoon.

Snow Arrives: Canon 7D-24-105mm @95
By the time the snow ended on Saturday there was nearly 24 inches on the ground with much deeper drifts in spots.  It was not until Sunday that I was able to reach the area where I normally photograph and I only had the Panasonic FZ 1000 along as I was plowing snow with a tractor and had no way to transport most of my equipment.

Finally on Monday morning I was able to capture some shots of the deer contending with the deep snow.  It was very hard for them to move through it and they moved by a combination walking slowly or dashing for short distances and then pausing to rest.

Whitetails Struggle To Travel: Canon 7D 500mm F4
Only two days before, food was easy to find, but now the grass is covered and the deer mostly rely on browsing to survive.

Doe Pauses To Browse: Canon 7D 500mm F 4
Even though the snow is still very deep it has settled a bit and it seems the deer can move much easier through it now.  This morning I was able to capture a few more photos of deer dealing with the winter conditions.

Doe Browsing: Canon 5D MK III-100-400mm IS II@400mm
Young Doe Pauses From Feeding: Canon 5D MK III-100-400 IS II @263 mm
Most deer will likely survive the brutal weather if we do not get continually hammered with storms like the last one. As of now there are not any in the forecast and the weather has moderated considerably, but with that being said it is still likely that conditions are severe enough that deer with infirmities will perish before the winter is over.

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.

Monday, January 11, 2016

A Rainy Morning On Dewey Road

Mature Bull-Herding Cows In Falling Rain
Looking back 2015 was certainly a good year for elk and whitetail deer photography in many ways, while in other ways it brought disturbing changes--especially to Pennsylvania Elk Country, but for today we will strive to focus on the positive.

It was raining lightly on the morning of September 30th, and a large herd of elk was feeding across the road from the ponds on Dewey Road. A large number of elk watchers  and photographers were there when we arrived shortly after 8:00 and my brother and I soon joined in. The bull shown above was there along with  some satellite bulls.  This was possibly the largest bull seen at the Gilbert Farm Viewing Area this year and he was usually somewhere in the Dewey Road area during the two weeks I was there. This is also the bull that was in the video clip I posted recently.

Roaring A Challenge
The bulls are so impressive that we often focus much of our efforts on photographing and filming them, but it is also good to photograph the cows and calves as well. It was especially noteworthy today that one of the calves still had the spotted, summer coat and was small compared to the other calves so it was evidently born much later than normal.

Spotted Calf In Late September

Calf - Normal September Coat
All too soon the elk rut was over and now the year is over. I look forward to the photo and filming opportunities that 2016 will hopefully bring, bur as for the mature bull--he will not be back next year as he was killed during elk season.

All photos posted today were taken with the Canon 5D MK III and the Canon 600mm F4.

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Bull Elk At Long Range-The Panasonic GH4 and Canon 500mm f 4.5

It doesn't seem possible, but it has been over a month since the last activity on this blog.  There were so many things I wanted to write about, but what with being preoccupied with photographing the whitetail rut and other things I have let things slide. I intended to write an article or a review long before this about how the new parking and viewing areas worked out on Dewey Road in Pennsylvania Elk Country  but that has not happened as of yet. Hopefully I will get to this soon.

To prepare for the article, I spent two weekend evenings there during the peak of the rut, documenting how humans and elk adapted to the new situation. While doing this on Friday evening, September 25th, I noticed a large 7x7 or 7x8 bull come into the food plot near the log cabin on the hill.  ( I  give these details as many if not most blog readers will know exactly where I mean) At that point I was behind the stone wall at the upper end of the upper Gilbert Farm meadow and took a photo with the full frame Canon 5D MK III and the 24-105mm F4 lens at 105mm. I have never been certain how far this is as my Bushnell range finder will not read that far.  I can usually get accurate readings with it in ideal conditions to somewhere between 300 to 400 yards so I would assume it is further than this and perhaps quite a bit further.  We can safely say as the old mountain men did that the bull was, "a right fur piece away".

Elk are barely visible on hillside in front of campers and cabin with 105mm on full frame camera
Since this was the most impressive bull I had yet seen here this year I broke out my tool of choice for extreme long range filming, which is a Panasonic GH4 fitted with an old Canon 500mm f4.5 FD lens and I walked to the edge of the new parking lot near the entrance from Dewey Road and set the rig up and filmed several clips of the action.

For me the main attractions of the GH4 are that it films in 4K mode and also features an ETC mode, which basically reads a 1080P or Full HD frame from the center of the sensor so that it has a crop factor of 5.2. This gives the 500mm a 35mm full frame equivalent of  2,600mm. There is some controversy about this figure and it varies with the source, but suffice it to say that it is powerful enough to be an extremely effective long range tool.  Many ask why one wants to shoot in 4K when 4K displays are not yet the standard or even commonly available.  The long and short is that it enables one to crop extensively in post-production and still have a high resolution image.  Is it better to use the ETC mode or is it better to crop to an equivalent size? I don't know for sure, but I often prefer to shoot in ETC as it gives a dramatic up and close image in the finder.
 I only use this rig in certain specialized situations as in many cases it is too powerful to easily find the subject.  While it is very good for filming small birds, it is difficult to locate them in the finder  unless they are perched conspicuously on a branch in the open..  The same is true of flying birds such as waterfowl, eagles, etc., so for general purpose, medium to long range use, I much prefer to use the old model Canon 100-400mm L lens.  With it one can quickly zoom wide to locate the subject and then slam the zoom back to the composition that you want to film.  Since I use an external monitor and manual focus with these lenses, I can begin focusing as soon as I stop zooming, while with the new model 100-400 you must shift your grip from the zoom ring to the focus ring.

Cheap adapters are available to mount the Canon EOS lenses to Micro 4/3 cameras, but they do not control the aperture so they are of very limited use for video. I use either a Metabones Smart Adapter or Metabones Speed Booster to attach the EOS lenses to the camera These adapters allow the Panasonic cameras to control the aperture, utilize  the image stabilization of the Canon lenses ,and permit auto-focus. I do not use the auto-focus: however, as it does not perform  acceptably well--at least with my rig.

With the Smart Adapter the focal length retains the full crop factor of the Micro 4/3 sensor of the GH4, and f stop value remains the same as the lens on a Canon body which is f4.5--f5.6 with a 100-400mm.  With the Speed Booster the crop factor is reduced, but one gains low light performance with the lens becoming a f3.2--f4.0 and it has the same equivalent focal length as when it is mounted on a Canon APS-C crop sensor camera such as the 7D MKII.

The Canon FD lenses were made back in manual focus and manual exposure days and they have aperture rings to select the f stop.  This makes them naturals for adapting to a wide variety of modern cameras for special purpose use, without having to invest in a complicated electronic controlled adapter.  In the case of the GH4 and the 500mm I use a Fotodiox Lens Mount Adapter, which is available from for a bit over $20.00. While the Canon FD lenses have not been manufactured for many years, most of the reputable internet dealers such as Adorama, B&H, and Keh usually have a good selection of these lenses in their used department. Although these are usually the smaller fixed power and zoom lenses, 500mm and 600mm lenses are available from time to time.

If you already have an EOS telephoto, it may be best to  buy the Metabones adapters as the current 500mm and 600mm lenses are f 4.0 vs the f 4.5 of the FD, and you are able to gain this long range ability with only the cost of the adapter,  but if you are solely a Panasonic user and own no EOS lenses, the FD lenses may be worth considering as both the adapter and the FD lenses will be much cheaper than buying the new EOS lenses and Metabones adapters.  I bought my 500mm FD because the Metabones adapters were not yet on the market and the adapter I was using with my EOS lenses left a lot to be desired. Would I buy it today if I had it to do over again?  Probably not since I already have the EOS lenses and the Metabones  adapters, but I have never been sorry that I got the lens and I continue to use it regularly for long range filming.

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.