Saturday, June 23, 2012

Pennsylvania Elk--Photographing The Calves

Distant Cows and Calves In Early Morning: Canon 5D MKIII-500mm F4
 It is always a special treat to photograph the young of any species and I have spent a lot of time lately documenting the arrival of the whitetail fawns.  This past week I temporarily shifted my attention to elk and traveled to Pennsylvania Elk Country with my primary goal being to photograph  the calves and bulls in velvet.  Most calves have been born by now although it is still possible for a few late ones to arrive.

The family groups are extremely shy--in fact the cows are much wilder now than during hunting season, even after other animals in the herd have been killed.  Part of this may be an instinctual thing, with the cows reflexively trying the protect the calves from any perceived threat, or it may be because the PGC captures several calves each year and fits them with collars and ear tags, which would tend to make any animals that have been around this activity somewhat spooky, or it may be a combination of the two.

Alert Cow and Calves on Winslow Hill: 5D MKIII-500mm F4
 Cows usually only have one calf unlike whitetails, which often have twins.  I am almost certain that the above case is not an exception as another cow was standing just out of the photo frame to the left side and one of the calves likely belonged to her.

On Tuesday morning I filmed a herd at a distance with the 5D MK III and 500mm lens and as usual they quickly worked away from me.  I parked in a nearby parking area and walked into the back country taking both the 5D MK III and the T3i.  I worked in the direction the herd had gone and saw two cows standing about 150 yards away.  One of these was definitely an acclimated cow as it had a numbered collar.  This cow is usually not shy, but the cow that was with her immediately picked me out even though I was partially obscured by brush and was as cautious as though I were after the wildest whitetail deer.  I put the T3i in position with the 100-400mm lens and filmed these elk.  The cow that was not collared started walking in my direction, until it was only 50-75 yards away and then barked at me.  After a time it left to rejoin the collared cow.  I remained in the woods and after awhile these elk started to leave and several other cows and calves came out of a nearby strip of woods and ran across the meadow with these two following.  There is a scenic overlook in that direction so I decided to go there and take some scenic photographs.  At this point I was striding through the meadow quite rapidly as it seemed the elk encounter was over.  Suddenly I noticed a large brown shape to my left out of the corner of my eye, and was surprised to see that it was a calf lying in the grass.  This was only a few yards past where I first sighted the two cows standing together. 

Elk Calf Hiding In Grass: Canon 5D MK III 24-105mm
The young animal was not fearful at all and I photographed and filmed it for nearly an hour.  In time I saw fellow photographer, Paul Staniszewski walking along the edge of the meadow and motioned for him to join me, and he too was able to enjoy this special encounter.

Elk Calf Up Close: 5D MK III- Canon 100-400mm @ 320mm
I have  spent only a limited amount of time in the elk range during calving season, and this is the first close encounter I have had where the light was excellent and there was not too much grass in the road.

Calves will become easier to photograph in the weeks to come, as the herd settles down somewhat and the cows become less protective of the calves.

Originally posted at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.


Ruth's Photo Blog said...

Beautiful shots. Baby animals are a treat to see.

Marci said...

Wow! These photos are fantastic, Willard! You guys were fortunate to see these little ones. Thanks for sharing.

JimB said...

Really nice images-love those calves. You got great catch light in the eyes.

city said...

thanks for sharing.