Saturday, May 16, 2009

Camera Critters: Elk County Trip-Part 2

While I enjoy photographing any type of elk, whether it be cow, calf, or bull, it is always most interesting to concentrate on what is the most outstanding at a particular time of year. Now elk and deer are physically less attractive than that any other time of year, as they are in the process of shedding the coat from the winter to summer hair and they have a somewhat ragged, disheveled appearance.

The Ragged Winter Coats

The calves will be born shortly, providing exceptional photographic opportunities, and the other animals will be more photogenic as well, since they will be completely changed to the summer coat.

For now however, the bulls are of primary interest, but they were hard to find during my recent trip. This changed on Wednesday morning when I encountered a beautiful mature bull and spent well over an hour photographing and filming him.

Mature Bull

This one should have an exceptional rack this year. The bull pictured was completely acclimated to humans so I suspect that he is one of the bulls often found in downtown Benezette. (I only found one bull in town during my recent trip)

Which Bull Is This?

For more Camera Critters Photos, click Here!

Friday, May 15, 2009

Elk County Trip: Part I

I traveled to Elk County this week, leaving in late morning on Monday and returning home late Thursday morning. The weather was very cool with periods of clouds and sun. There was frost on Tuesday and Wednesday mornings.

Elk Grazing By Winslow Hill Road

Elk sightings were decidedly average. There were times it was nearly impossible to see an elk, but at other times they could be found with relative ease.

My main purpose for visiting, other than just to spend time in the elk range, was to attempt to photograph bulls in velvet and thus document this particular stage of antler development and to check on the progress of the reclamation project at the Gilbert Viewing Area.

Reclamation At The Gilbert Viewing Area

The far hillside was a partially reclaimed strip mine, which was excellent wildlife habitat. There was leakage of polluted water from it and other mines in the area, which emptied into the Dents Run watershed. A project was planned and implemented to strip mine the top of the hill, removing a coal deposit that was there while accessing an area of limestone. The limestone was mined and deposited in other areas to create filtration devices to help purify the water. This is designed to drastically reduce acid mine runoff. The project began in 2002 and now appears to be nearing completion-at least at this spot. The final reclamation began at the bottom of the hill in 2006, while mining in the central portion continued. Last year substantial progress was made and vegetation was planted much further up the hill. It appears that the mining is now confined to an extremely small central portion of the hill while restoration of the land to a natural appearing contour is proceeding rapidly. I didn't speak to officials about this, but based on appearances, it is entirely possible that this will be completed before the major fall tourist season

A Shy Cow

Elk were feeding heavily on the fresh vegetation that was planted on the part that was seeded last. This cow was somewhat shy and ran when I came into sight, as I walked by on an access road. When she realized I was no threat, she re-joined the rest of the herd, which was feeding nearby.

But the question remains, did I see any bulls?

My Balzer: Not Tom Wigley's Land Rover, But It Was A Contender!

I have not posted or visited blogs this week, as there have been a lot of things going on. Late last week I decided to replace my 96 Chevy Blazer as it has been a "money pit" for the last few years.

It loved gasoline even more than I love Diet Mountain Dew, which is saying something. In addition the air conditioning compressor died, the front driver's seat needed re-upholstered and I no longer trusted it on long trips as its' wheel bearings and CV joints had been subjected to a daily diet of stream crossings, which is not conductive to longevity.

The Final Day

Deputy Wildlife Conservation Officers furnish their own vehicles for patrolling and this one was the official color. Strangely, I never photographed it with the decals and red light attached. (We were furnished with magnetic Pa. Game Commission Decals for each front door and attached a rotating red light with magnetic base to the top of the vehicle-these had to be removed when we used it for private purposes) I used it for this purpose from 2004 until I resigned from the deputy force in late 2006. It looked so much like the real thing that a conservation officer from a neighboring district saw it parked at a PGC maintenance building and wanted to know if someone from the Harrisburg Office was visiting and I had to point out that it had the magnetic decals and that the red light was not as large as a state issued one.

Friday was mostly devoted to making the deal for a 2005 Ford Escape, and then cleaning out the Blazer and transferring my base of operations to a 2001 Ford Escape, which I have used for the past year for long distance photographic trips and general- purpose travel. The 2005 Escape in turn will replace the 2001 for this purpose.

Moving Out

It is with mixed feelings that I think about subjecting the 2001 Escape to the beating that I gave the Blazer and two Ford Ranger pickup trucks before it. I wish I had had someone photograph some of the stream crossings I have made with these vehicles. Once I was crossing when two people were traveling down stream by canoe. One shook his head, and said, "I don't think I would have done that!" It basically boils down to a choice between a twenty minute to 1/2 hour drive to reach my favorite spot if one doesn't cross the stream, and goes to the nearest bridge, or five minutes or less if one uses the fording, which is featured in the post of April 30th.

For those of you who are familiar with Tom Wigley and his famous Land Rover, I must say that I still think he has me beat. I have seen photos of him crossing water much deeper than I and the Blazer have attempted.

I was in Pennsylvania's Elk Range from Monday afternoon and returned Thursday afternoon. It was a moderately productive trip and I hope to post photos from that trip soon, and return to visiting your blogs.