Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Gobbling Activity Continues, While Whitetail Antler Growth Accelerates

With April almost gone and May just a few short days away, it is turning summer-like here in southcentral Pennsylvania, with warm weather and a lot of thunderstorms..  I used to think of spring gobbler photography primarily as a warm weather endeavor, but since retiring in 2007 and spending most mornings afield in pursuit of wildlife photographs, I have found that a lot of gobbling activity occurs during March and early April when many mornings are quite cold.  It has only been in the last week or so that one is comfortable without wearing gloves and heavy clothing, while waiting in the blind during the early morning hours for turkeys to appear.  While I haven't  heard as much gobbling recently, it is still common to see gobblers strutting.

Mature Gobbler Struts During Courtship Ritual
A gobbler usually performs this courtship ritual of strutting and posturing when hens are nearby, but it is common for them to neither strut or gobble during an encounter with them, which makes photographing them doubly difficult as one needs to not only see the elusive bird, but see him when he is engaging in this behavior, the light is right, and intervening trees and brush does not obscure him.  The process is somewhat easier, when the birds are found in the meadows.  While turkeys are in many ways a woodland bird, they do like open, grassy areas and may be seen in them, especially in spring and autumn.  For some reason, they especially like to use them on rainy days.

Turkeys May Be Found In Both Woodlands And Meadows
While I tend to concentrate on the turkeys at this time of year, it is also interesting to watch the whitetail deer and document the antler growth.  Antlers size gradually increases in April, and will become more rapid as the season advances.   Below are two photos taken on the morning of April 26th.  This is the same buck that was featured in the post of April 16th, and the photo in that post was taken on April 10th., so one can see how much the antlers have grown in 16 days.

Antler Size Increases Gradually During April: Note Appearance Of Winter Coat
A close look reveals that a branch is developing on the right antler.  This buck should have at least four points by the end of May, but it is also very likely that he will disperse before then, so we may never know how large he will grow.

A Point Develops On The Right Antler
In addition to growing antlers, the deer are slowly changing from the winter to the summer coat.  The winter coat is bleached and ragged in appearance and the hair  falls out, to be replaced by the reddish colored summer coat, which is developing underneath.  Most deer will complete this process by mid-June.

Originally posted at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.