Saturday, September 10, 2011

More August Elk Encounters

Most who are interested in Pennsylvania's elk herd are now focused on the rut, which begins in late August and really gets underway during September.  Activity should gradually intensify, with the last two weeks of September or very early October being the best time to travel to elk country to witness the sights and sounds of the rut.  Unfortunately we do not yet have any photographs from this year's rut and are still catching up on photographs from the August trip and the western trip.

Dawn on Wednesday August 17th found me driving up Winslow Hill Road from Benezette.  At 6:30 I spied two bulls feeding on vegetation by the side of the road, so I pulled my Ford Escape to the side of the road.  I was concentrating on video this morning and had the Canon T3i with 70-200mm f2.8 mounted on the tripod and resting on soft padding in the rear of the vehicle, so I carefully exited the vehicle, got the camera set up, and began filming the animals.  A major reason that I am using the DSLRS more and more to film wildlife is that one still has the option to take high resolution still photos without using another camera and when I had enough footage, I took a few still shots of the animals when they paused from feeding to look at me.

Young Bull Pauses From Feeding In Early Morning
The Second Bull Pauses Before Vanishing Into Brush
As it grew later, the bulls vanished into the brush, headed in the direction of a meadow.  As I was to find out later, Paul Staniszewski came along about thirty minutes later and found them in the meadow.  He got two excellent photographs, which he was good enough to share with us.

Bulls Posing In Meadow
Many make the mistake of snapping a photo of animals and then quickly moving on in search of another, but patience often pays off and Paul stayed in position for awhile in hopes that something interesting would occur, and he was rewarded when they engaged in a sparring match.

Bulls Sparring-Not To Be Confused With Fighting
These are beautiful bulls, but they are not large mature bulls--not even close.  I was amazed during the August trip how many people would tell me there were two large bulls just down the road and I should go and photograph them.  I am almost certain that this is the two they were talking about and I knew I would get photos of them when the time was right, but at that time I was working a really large bull--at least for August on Winslow Hill after several years of trophy hunting, which has really hurt the resident mature bull  population.  The bull below is one of the few large resident bulls on Winslow Hill and his chances of surviving to reach his full potential are not great.

A Large Bull With The Potential To Become Exceptional If Allowed To Live

I am told by reliable sources that there are some outstanding bulls in the outlying areas and that some if not many of them should show up on Winslow Hill for the rut.  Many bulls do travel extreme distances to visit the traditional breeding grounds on Winslow Hill, but in the past there were several large bulls that lived in the immediate area the entire year.  At this point most of them have been shot in hunting season or died of old age (Fred & Bill Jr.) and have not been replaced by younger bulls as they are taken either before, or immediately when they become exceptional.

When visiting elk country be sure to look for Paul Staniszewski's  floral note cards and photographs in the Elk Country Visitor Center gift shop.  If you have not already purchased my two part documentary film, "The Truth About Pennsylvania's Elk Herd", please stop by Benezette Store and Restaurant and have them show you a portion of the film on the wide screen HDTV in the store and consider purchasing it.  The film gives a brief overall history of Pennsylvania elk, but concentrates on the period from 1995 when I first began filming elk until 2008 when the film was completed.  It gives a detailed view of the life cycle of the elk, with an emphasis on the rut.  It also covers the most famous character bulls of the period such as Fred, Bad Boy, Mean Bill, and Screamer.  The film closes by taking a look at elk management issues and the controversy surrounding the hunt.  While some things did change for the better since then, the PGC largely negated the positive changes this year by boosting the bull allocations in Zone 2 and Zone 8 this year and again unwarranted hunting pressure is being directed at the bulls that live around the viewing areas.

Originally posted at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer Goes West

Rocky Mountain National Park-The First Destination Of Our Western Trip

The morning of August 27 found my wife and I traveling with our daughter Amy and husband Justin, to BWI-Marshall airport as we embarked on a nine day western trip.  The morning was marked by anxiety rather than  anticipation of the trip, as hurricane Irene was due to arrive later that morning.  After checking our baggage and passing through TSA security we proceeded to the boarding area to find that the airport was closing at 12:00 noon.  We were scheduled to leave at 11:45 and it was none too soon.  There had been no wind all morning and little to no rain, but as we waited for take-off, angry clouds arrived, the wind began to stir, and a light rain started falling.  We had to wait a few minutes for transfer passengers from another flight, but soon they arrived and the flight began.  In no time the plane flew into sunny, beautiful weather and we landed in Denver, Colorado to bright sunshine and temperatures in the 80s.

Our first destination was Estes Park, which we used as our base for one evening and three full days of  exploring Rocky Mountain National Park.  One of the primary attractions of the park is the stunning scenery and it seemed there were beautiful vistas almost anywhere one pointed the camera.

Horseshoe Park From Fall River Road

We only saw a few mule deer, magpies, and crows on Saturday evening,  but this changed on Sunday morning when we took scenic Fall Road from Horseshoe Park to The Alpine Visitor Center.  This is a one-way, narrow, dirt and gravel road with a lot of switchbacks.  We saw a lot of elk as soon as we got to timberline, but all were too far for good photography, although I did get some excellent video as I used the T3i and 500mm lens with the 3x crop mode.  This rig enabled one to "really reach out and touch them", especially if one used the 1.4X extender also.

Needless to say, we returned that evening to photograph the rutting activity.  By this time we had learned that the weather is very unstable at this elevation, and one can expect a rain squall to suddenly materialize, but when we arrived at timberline this evening there were only a few fluffy white clouds in the sky and elk were everywhere, with a bachelor group of several young bulls lying so close to the road that the 70-200mm f2.8 and the 28-135mm were the best choices for photographing them.  I went into action with the 70-200mm on the 7D and the 28-135mm on the T3i.  While I mostly used the T3i for video, I took the two photos below with it as the it was already on the tripod and the 28-135mm gave the composition that I wanted, without the hassle of changing lenses.

Seven Bulls In High Mountain West-28-135mm lens at 117mm
 Pennsylvania has an excellent elk herd, that is usually fairly easy to photograph, but dare I be somewhat disloyal by saying that while the elk themselves are just as photogenic, that the western scenery in many cases presents a more stunning backdrop against which to photograph them--although I must say that Pennsylvania Elk Country does have a charm of its' own and is very beautiful in its' own way.  Perhaps it is partly because that we were brought up thinking of elk as western animals and in a way they look more at home in the western meadows, but we must remember that they are every bit as native to Pennsylvania as to Colorado and it was the uncontrolled hunting and exploitation of the species that caused it to vanish from  Pennsylvania's woods (although there is some grounds to believe that a few of the native elk did survive).

Bulls Resting In The Stunning High Mountain West

Originally posted at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill