Saturday, August 22, 2015

The Shedding Of The Velvet-2015

Ready To Shed Velvet
The last two weeks have been a period of change in Pennsylvania Elk Country, as the bull elk shed the velvet. The new velvet covered antlers begin growing soon after the previous years rack is shed in late winter and early spring. with new antler growth beginning almost immediately. The new antlers are covered with "velvet" which is composed of a soft velvety feeling tissue, which contains a network of blood vessels that carry nourishment to the developing antlers. The antlers reach their full size during July and by early August the velvet begins to dry and crack and eventually peel away, exposing the hard bone like antlers that the animal will carry throughout the autumn and winter.

The bull in the photo below is starting the process with small bits of loose velvet hanging from the antlers and bloody areas with patches of the underlying antler structure showing through.

 Starting To Shed
When the velvet is completely ready to be shed, the animals hasten the process along by aggressively horning trees, saplings, and the ground. At this point it is common to see the velvet hanging from the antlers in long, loose strips.

Shedding Almost Completed
The process  is usually completed in a day or so and the bull is left with the hard, bone like antlers that he  will carry throughout the autumn and winter.

Shedding Completed
Now that the velvet is gone sparring intensifies as the first stirrings of the pre-rut sweep through the herd. While I prefer to photograph elk in a natural setting, it seems that many of the bulls were hanging close to cabins and houses this week and on Wednesday morning I photographed two fine bulls sparring close to a cabin.

 Sparring Beside A Camp
By late August or early September the full-blown rut will get underway and thousands will travel to Benezette to experience the exciting sights and sounds of the rut.  The rut should be very intense by mid-September and should peak late in the month, or in early October.

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Mid-Summer Wildlife

It seems that most of my recent posts have been about Pennsylvania Elk and the new construction in elk country, but I actually spend most of my time afield observing and photographing whitetail deer so today's post will be mostly about deer and some of the other local wildlife.

Mature Doe
 It is relatively easy for me to get good still photographs of does, fawns, and small bucks as I am around an extended family group of deer almost every day and they have come to tolerate my presence quite well. It is always a special treat to get a close-up look at a fawn or to see a doe and fawn nursing.

Fawn In Late June

Currently no mature bucks are using this area as summer range so I must travel to other areas to look for rack bucks. The ones I see are extremely skittish so it is hard to get close enough for good still photos.  As a result, I concentrate on taking video with the Panasonic GH4 and long lenses. With this rig it is possible to take acceptable video at very long range and it is common to get usable footage at ranges such as 300--400 yards--although it is still better to be close if possible.  At times I also carry a still camera if I am not walking too far and fire a few frames even if the range is long. 

8-Point Buck At Long Range
The photo above was taken with the Canon 5D MK III and the new 100-400mm lens.  I didn't have my range finder along that day, but the buck was somewhere between 150-200 yards away.  This was taken hand-held from sitting position and then cropped at  a 4x5 aspect ratio in Adobe Camera Raw to 2MP., which yields a file capable of printing a 4x5 print at 300 d.p.i.  Of course this is not enough resolution for a large print, but it does make a usable photo for internet purposes.

It adds a lot of interest to an outing to encounter other species of wildlife as well. I frequently see a lot of interesting things that are impossible to get the camera in action to photograph, but sometimes things do work out.  I got the photo below as I was fording a back country stream with the Bronco and noticed a flock of Mergansers perched on rocks in the stream. Fortunately they did not become alarmed and I photographed them with the 7D MK II and the 100-400mm.

Mergansers Resting
While I do not see Eastern Wild Turkey as often in the summer as at other times of year, sometimes a good encounter does occur.

Mature Gobbler Looks For Danger
I have seen several flocks of hens and young turkeys--or perhaps I have seen one or two flocks several times--but I have not been able to get either good video or stills of them.  This usually changes once the farmers have harvested the grain and hay fields which makes the birds much more visible when they are feeding in them.  I did get a photo of a hen with a lone poult one summer evening.

Eastern Wild Turkey Hen With Young
I suspect that she had a larger flock, but the others stayed a bit further away and were hidden in the taller grass.

Soon my attention will be shifting to recording the bull elk and whitetail bucks losing their velvet and the onset of the pre-rut and rut.  Bull elk are shedding their velvet now and the elk  rut will get underway in early September and peak toward the end of the month, while the whitetails will not lose their velvet until late August through mid-September and the whitetail rut will not peak until about mid-November.

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.

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
 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.