Sunday, March 18, 2018

Middle Creek 2018-Part 2

It seemed that most of the Snow Geese were at Willow Point in the mornings and evenings this year. Quite a few people were there on Saturday and Sunday morning in spite of the strong wind and biting cold, but I had no desire to subject myself to that degree of punishment. It was a different story on Monday morning after the wind  mostly died during the night.

Dawn At Willow Point
A fairly large flock of Snow Geese was there, but they were mostly behind the trees. When they left there were usually trees in the way of getting good photos and as usual I concentrated on taking video so I didn't get many still shots.

That afternoon was a different story as a large number of birds gathered to feed in a field near the viewing area at Willow Point while others were on the lake directly in front of it.

Gathering To Feed
Resting On The Lake
Periodically the flock erupted into flight and then settled back down for awhile before taking off again. All the  while smaller sub-flocks were continually arriving and leaving.



Landing To Feed
Another Take-off
The main attraction of Middle Creek in late winter and early spring may be the awesome sight of the large flocks of Snow Geese, but there are a variety of other subjects to see and photograph as well.The fields along Hopeland Road and a number of smaller ponds are ideal spots to see many  species of waterfowl, birds, and other wildlife.

Whitetail Doe Along Hopeland Road
Mallard Male
It is best to photograph from inside the vehicle if possible as the ducks often shy away if you get out. They usually do not fly, but simply get too far away for good photography.  Even with staying inside it can be hard to get them close enough and powerful lenses and substantial cropping during editing are usually required.

Mallard Female
In addition to the ducks there are usually a few Great Blue Herons hanging around. The shot below is across the big pothole at Stop 1 of the tour route along Hopeland Road.  It was taken with a 150-600mm Sigma Contemporary at 600mm and then cropped to 2 Mega-pixels in Adobe Camera Raw.

Great Blue Heron

Ring-necked Duck-Female
Ring-necked Duck-Male
I also saw other species of ducks in a pothole that is too far from Hopeland Road for close-up still photography so I took video with the GH4 and 500mm Cannon FD lens. Species seen included Northern Pintails, American Wigeon, Green Wing Teal, Gadwall, and Northern Shovelers..

My usual course of action was to check the lake and potholes and then swing through the tour road periodically. I didn't see nearly as much action there as in most years.  I did see an eagle flying once or twice and harriers hovering over the meadows on several occasions,but they were too far to photograph.A Ring-necked Pheasant co-operated one morning and I got several still photos of him.

Ring-necked Pheasant-Male
 There were usually Canad Geese in the fields along the road and I sometimes took a few photos of them.

Canada Geese
It was crystal clear and the wind wasn't blowing On Tuesday morning  when I pulled into the parking lot at Willow Point. I was surprised to see and only one other vehicle was parked there. As I app-roached the viewing area I could hear the chatter of a large number of geese and as it grew light I could see a large flock resting on the lake. To my surprise no one else was at the viewing area.

Dawn At Willow Point On Tuesday
At times the many of the geese lifted-off and circled the area before settling back down, but soon after sunrise many of them left for the morning.

Sunrise Take-off At Willow Point
No One Was There

Leaving To Feed
Canada Geese
I met another person walking to the viewing area as I left, but I never saw anyone from the vehicle that was parked there at dawn. In one way it was good to be alone with nature without people taking and children screaming in excitement, but in another way it made me sad that no one else was there to enjoy the wonderful experience.

I went to Willow Point again that evening. It was so pleasant at the parking lot that I almost didn't put on a heavier sweater, but as I began walking the sun vanished behind the clouds and by the time I got to the viewing area it was overcast and gloomy..  A good number of geese were there, but a strong breeze was gusting off the lake and I was glad I dressed as I did as it was slightly uncomfortable even with the heavier clothing.

Cloudy Evening At Willow Point
Actually you can still see the blue skies to the north, but the sun was gone and even that blue sky soon vanished.  It was snowing next morning. Since the weather forecasters were calling for a major snow storm I did not go to Middle Creek, but the forecast was wrong and there was only light snow with little to no accumulation, so I should have gone that day as well.

With that another trip to Middle Creek was over.  In retrospect it was an enjoyable experience even though I did not film as wide of a variety of wildlife as in the better years.

Thanks so much for reading--I hope you enjoyed the photos and story.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Middle Creek 2018-Part 1

Snow Geese At Willow Point
Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area on the Lebanon/Lancaster County line near Kleinfeltersville, Pennsylvania is a premier spot for birding enthusiasts and outdoor photographers during the spring waterfowl migration. Of special interest is the peak of the Snow Geese and Tundra Swan migration as it is a stunning sight to watch a massive flock of Snow Geese lift off.

This year the peak of the migration was sometime in late February. I usually wait until the tour road opens on March 1st before going to Middle Creek so the peak of the migration was over when I got there on Friday afternoon March 2nd, with an estimated 20,000 Snow Geese, 5,000 Tundra Swans, and 2,000 Canada Geese remaining according to the March 1st estimate.

Tour Road Opened From Dawn-Dusk on March 1st
While the website states the road is closed from dusk until dawn it did not open until after 7:30 on the mornings I was there and one morning it was almost 8:00 until it opened .As you enter the tour road there is a sign that tells  you to tune to 1620 AM for a brief history of Middle Creek and what to expect to see at this time of year.

As one continues along the tour road they find signs encouraging you to  respect the small creatures that may be crossing the road and avoid hitting them.

Middle creek seemed empty of people compared to what I was used to in other years. It was amazing that only a few vehicles were on the tour road in mid-afternoon on March 3rd. This may be because the peak of the migration was past, but it also was likely influenced by the brutal winds that were still blowing after a strong front passed through on Thursday night.

Tour Road-Mid-Afternoon Saturday March 3rd
Things changed a bit shortly after 4:00 p.m. when geese began landing in and along a plot of standing corn, but even then most of the flock landed over the brow of the bank where they could not be seen.

Snow Geese Near Road
I continued around the tour road and returned at 5:00. The late evening sun made dramatic lighting  for photography as some geese arrived while others left.

Snow Geese In Late Evening Sun
Snow Geese Landing
The lighting makes it seem the weather would have been pleasant when these photos were taken, but the wind was so cold and brutal that it was hard to remain out of the vehicle for long. The weather improved over the next few days making it easier to photograph the waterfowl.

In the next post we will look at some photos from Willow Point as well as more taken along the tour road and other areas of Middle Creek.

Monday, October 9, 2017

A Mid-September Morning At The Winslow Hill Viewing Area

I have been back home for a little over a week since my annual trip to photograph and film the Pennsylvania elk rut and have finally got caught up enough to post some video and stills. A bit of morning fog is fine for elk photography, but this year it seemed most mornings were foggy and sometimes it was bad enough that filming was impossible. To make matters even more difficult, some of the evenings were so hot that the elk did not come out until almost dark.

In spite of this I was able to film several bulls, but I didn't record any exceptional action such as fights. I only saw one short fight late one evening and I was unable to exploit the opportunity as  I was carrying the 500mm F4 with the 1DXMKII and it was very dark and too far for good still photos. To top it off they went out of sight into a hollow before I could get a few frames off so even had I been carrying the video rig, there would have been no chance to record it. In light of the lack of a lot of dramatic footage,  I plan on only posting a few short video clips and still images rather than making a more lengthy video of highlights of the entire trip and we begin today with a  1 min.-30 sec clip from the first week of the trip. The events of the morning will be described in detail in the story below.

Tuesday September 19th looked promising as I drove up Winslow Hill from Benezette as it was breaking day and the fog was patchy and not nearly as thick as usual. Several elk were around the parking area at the intersection of Winslow Hill Road and Dewey Road while even more were in the food plot in front of the viewing area.  I drove on down Dewey Road and checked the area by the ponds and no bulls were there. I seldom film from the new viewing area, but considering there were not a lot of people there yet this morning and that is where the elk were, I drove back to the parking lot and prepared to go into action.

 While I was getting the camera set up I noticed a large non-typical bull crossing Dewey Road from the parking lot and heading south, while a small bull was standing just outside the rocks in front of the viewing area so as soon as the camera was ready to go I began filming from the parking lot. When he moved out of sight I moved on to the overlook and most of the elk had already left the food plot in front of it, but soon appeared on the hillside across the hollow shown in the photo below.

Distant Herd
 This photo was taken with a full frame DSLR and a 17-40mm lens at 40mm so bear in mind when looking at the video how far the elk actually are away when I filmed them.

The filming was done with a Panasonic FZ-2500 camera, which has a fixed zoom lens.  When shooting 4K video it has a zoom range of 36mm-720mm 35mm equivalent. In addition the camera has an intelligent zoom mode which will get you to an equivalent focal length of 1440mm on the long end and that setting is used a lot in this video.  This performs much better than the better known digital zoom function, which I do not use because of quality loss. For the technical minded, the camera is fitted with a cage to support the external mike and the monitor.  I don't think a cage is available that is specifically made for this camera so I modified one that was originally made for the Panasonic GH4 interchangeable lens camera.  The monitor is a SmallHD 501 5" monitor.

Panasonic FZ2500
While I was filming the action on the hillside the non-typical bull came back and crossed the meadow in front of the viewing area and paused before going down the hill toward the elk on the hillside..  This was a good opportunity for still photos so I changed from the 17-40mm to the 100-400mm on the 1DXMII and got several shots of him before he went out of sight.

Non-typical Bull Pauses To Bugle
I didn't see him again until after the other elk went in the woods and then he appeared on the far  distant hillside. The video clip closes with him  walking along the lower edge of the second row of trees that runs from left to right in the photo.

After The Action At The Winslow Hill Viewing Area
After this the action died down for the morning and did not see bulls again until almost 7:00 that evening.

I hope you enjoyed the post.  If all goes as planned I will have a few more photos and short video clips to post in the near future.

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Pennsylvania Bulls Shed Velvet

Early Stages Of Shedding: Canon 1DXMKII- Canon 500mm F4.0 IS
Pennsylvania bull elk usually shed their velvet in a time frame centered around mid-August.  This is likely why the annual Elk Expo is scheduled for mid-month as it is an especially good time to visit the elk range..  As I did not plan on attending the Expo this year I decided to avoid the large crowds that are there that weekend so it was a question of whether to go the week before or the week after.  I finally decided on the week before and as we shall see it was good that I did.

I got there late  in the afternoon on August 14th. There was only a slight chance of thunderstorms that evening, so I took a long walk and checked out several remote food plots. As I did on the last two trips, I carried the Panasonic FZ2500 on the tripod for video and the Canon 1DXMKII with 100-400mm IS II lens in a shoulder bag to take stills.  It was hot as usual and the sweat ran freely, but I was rewarded handsomely when I came to the edge of a back country food plot and saw a fine 6x6 grazing. I filmed him for some time and when he lifted his head I switched to the 1DXMKII for  a few still photos. . You cannot see it in the photo below, but when I looked at the video of the encounter it was easy to see blood spots and several cracks in the velvet.

6x6 Before Shedding: Canon 1DXMKII- Canon 100-400mm IS II

Eventually a small bachelor group of young bulls came out and none of them had shed the velvet yet either.

Bachelor Group: Canon 1DXMKII- Canon 100-400mm IS II
Next evening I repeated the walk. The 6x6 was with a group of smaller bulls and now his velvet was hanging in strips. 

Bachelor Group: Canon 1DXMKII- Canon 100-400mm IS II
Velvet Hanging In Strips: Canon 1DXMKII- Canon 100-400mm IS II
I didn't make that walk again during the August trip, so I didn't get to record this bull once his antlers were completely bare.

A few large bulls showed no signs of shedding yet which was the case with a fine 6x7 that I photographed  shortly after dawn on Wednesday morning. As is usually the case in Pennsylvania Country, it was a foggy morning and I saw several other bulls but got no more good still photos.

6x7 On Foggy Morning: Canon 1DXMKII- Canon 70-200mm IS II
Thursday morning was also foggy and I saw several bulls in a meadow shortly after dawn.  A large 7x7 had not yet shed.

7x7 In Fog: Canon 1DXMKII- Canon 100-400mm IS II
7x7-Another View: Canon 1DMKII- Canon 300mm F2.8 IS
The 7x7 was with a large group of  bulls which were in various stages of shedding.  At one point two squared off in a sparring match, which gave a good photo opportunity.

Bulls Sparring As Dawn: Canon 1DXMKII- Canon 300mm F2.8 IS
Bulls Sparring As Pre-rut Begins: Canon 1DXMKII- Canon 100-400mm IS II
After sunrise I found more bulls sparring in a meadow quite a distance from where I photographed the other bachelor group.

Sparring After Sunrise:Canon 1DXMKII- Canon 500mm IS-1.4x extender
Sparring After Sunrise:Canon 1DXMKII- Canon 500mm IS-1.4x extender
On Friday morning there was time for a short trip around the Benezette area before leaving for home. I found the bull that is shown at the beginning of the post and he was just beginning to lose the velvet. A bit later I  photographed one that was completely shed and had  a branch caught in his antlers from polishing his antlers in trees and branches.

Completely Shed:Canon 1DXMKII- Canon 500mm F4.0 IS
As it turned out choosing this week was the right decision as few of the bulls had shed when I arrived on Monday, but by Thursday and Friday mornings most were well along in the process. Had I waited until the week after the expo, opportunities for getting velvet shedding photos and film clips would have been mostly over.

With the velvet  shed, the bulls are sparring as the pre-rut gets underway. In a short time the full-blown rut will begin and it will peak sometime after mid-month and then wind down in October.

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.