Saturday, April 9, 2011

Camera Critters: Trying To Capture The Perfect Moment

An early April morning in Pennsylvania's backcountry and an Eastern Wild Turkey Gobbler is in full strut, while a Gray Squirrel watches the action from the vantage point of a nearby tree.

Eastern Wild Turkey Gobbler: Note how tail is fanned out and extended wingtips
This was an exciting encounter, but unfortunately the bird never posed exactly as I wanted for the camera.  We would become bored with wildlife photography were it not for the challenge of trying to capture that perfect moment.  In an encounter like this the perfect moment is happening  a lot of the time, but the problem is to have that happen where one is in a position to capture it.  These birds are elusive and one cannot get out of the blind and move to a better position when they are present, although I have seen some acclimated birds in Cades Cove in The Smokies that would permit this.

Observing and photographing Gray Squirrels often helps to relieve the tedium of waiting for a gobbler to arrive,

Gray Squirrel Surveys The Countryside
Whether one sees a lot of wildlife or not,  being in the great outdoors on a beautiful spring morning, is time well spent!

For more Camera Critters Photos: Click Here!

Originally posted at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Pennsylvania Deer Wars: Should The Cougar Be Re-introduced?

Fawn Nursing, July 2005
 I have mentioned the Pennsylvania Deer Wars in several posts, but have not actually given a definition of them to date, as I assume that most readers are aware as to the issues involved, but for those that are not I will explain in a grossly oversimplified manner. (I hope to expound on this in much greater detail in the future)

One camp contends that there are too many deer in Pennsylvania for the natural habitat to support. This results in over-browsing by deer, which destroys many species of trees, wildflowers and other plants that are essential for food and cover for both deer and many other species of wildlife. In short, too many deer destroys the habitat and causes populations of competing species to decline.

The other camp insists that the deer herd has been reduced too much by a herd reduction program which began with the appointment of Dr. Gary Alt as head of Pennsylvania's deer program in 1999. Alt's program featured concurrent buck and doe seasons, an October blackpowder and Jr., Sr. citizens antlerless deer season, along with antler restrictions. Some contend that the program has impacted deer numbers so severely that Pennsylvania deer hunting has been destroyed.

In light of this, it was interesting to read a letter to the editor In the April 2, 2011 edition of "Endeavor News" (the full article is available to be read by the general public in two weeks) .  Entitled "Nature Out Of Balance", it is by Christopher Spatz, President of the Cougar Rewilding Foundation. This was in reference to a recent announcement by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that the Eastern Cougar is officially extinct. (To see the NFWS release in its' entirety, click Here.)

Spatz makes the case that,"the extinction of the cougar has tolled a death-knell for eastern ecosystems". He goes on to say, "The cougar’s extermination in the East imperils the habitat of animals such as the endangered Karner Blue butterfly and the declining New England cottontail rabbit because of overbrowsing by superabundant whitetailed deer. Many plant species, including trilliums, lady’s slippers and wild American ginseng, are at risk from uncontrolled deer herbivory that threatens forest regeneration, rare plants and habitat for wildlife.

The potential collapse of our restored deciduous forests is the biggest underreported ecological crisis developing in the eastern third of the country. Step into your nearest woodlot, state or national forest. Notice the deer browse-line five-feet high, the missing seedlings and saplings, the carpets of ferns and invasive weeds that suppress tree-growth. Our forests are standing graveyards."

From there he goes on to make a case for the re-introduction of the cougar in the east. I can't help but wonder how the deer oriented members of the outdoor community are going to react to this one, if this letter is widely disseminated, and he has likely sent it to a lot of newspapers.

From reading this letter, it sounds as though the woods is over ran with deer and no one is doing anything about it, yet according to the Pennsylvania Game Commissions figures, 316,240 deer were harvested in the 2010-11 seasons (PGC News Release #031-11).  There is also no mention of the toll that black bears and coyotes have on fawn populations,or the impact of animals killed illegaly yet the re-introduction of the cougar is needed to save the forest!

Coyotes Impact Whitetail Deer Populations
Black Bears Also Contribute To Fawn Mortality
Illegal Killing Of Deer Further Decimates Populations
 It is likely that the letter is of necessity a greatly condensed version of the organization's position, but after reading it I can't help but wonder if they have any comprehension of the politics of wildlife management in Pennsylvania, or the attitude of many if not most rural residents toward a cougar reintroduction.

Originally posted at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill