Saturday, May 14, 2011

Fatal Plane Crash In Elk County

According to a report from WJAC News in Johnstown, a Connecticut man was killed Friday in a plane crash on Winslow Hill.  From footage shown on their website it appears to have been in the area of The Gilbert Viewing Area, which is officially known as the Porcupine Run, Winslow Hill Viewing Area.

Accident Must Have Been In This General Area: Photo May 2008 by W.Hill
In the video posted on the WJAC website, one gets a brief look at vehicles parked in the distance in what appears to be the area pictured below, so if this is indeed the spot, it is likely that the accident happened somewhere in the area around the mining activity, which many refer to as the saddle. 

Area In Question-Gilbert Buildings Are Gone Now: Photo Sept. 2010 by W.Hill
In time the exact details will become known, but for now it seems safe to say that a tragic accident did occur in this general area on Winslow Hill on Friday evening.

Friday, May 13, 2011

A Rattlesnake Encounter In Pennsylvania Elk Country

On May 12, 2011, Paul Staniszewski and Ronald "Buckwheat Saffer" traveled to Pennsylvania Elk Country for a day of wildlife photography and Paul shares the results of a special encounter with us that they had that day.

In Paul's words:
 "The main goal of the trip to Benezette was of course to obtain photographs of bull and maybe cow elk on Gray Hill and Winslow Hill. We found the bulls starting to sprout their new antlers and the cows getting ready to give birth. Things quieted down about 9:00AM as usual and then we decided to look for rattlesnakes. A drive put us in an isolated area and after a short walk, we discovered five black phase timber rattlesnakes basking in the morning sun. After a few minutes, the snakes quit buzzing and we were able to approach to within six feet of the group and took several photographs.

Timber Rattlesnake: Photo Courtesy of Paul Staniszewski all rights reserved
In the end, the snakes were left undisturbed and did not seem at all upset.

A special thanks to Ronald J. "Buckwheat" Saffer, a naturalist and professional wildlife photographer for sharing his experience and knowledge of nature and photography. I will remember this great day in the wilderness with Buckwheat and the new respect and appreciation I have learned for these beautiful creatures of nature."

Paul Staniszewski

I wish to thank Paul for sharing this special experience with us.  Reading this brings to mind how things have changed since my youth.I  well recall when game animals were held in a certain esteem to the extent that they were considered to have a useful purpose, which of course  meant to many that they could be shot for food, but most other species such as hawks, owls,eagles,  and snakes were considered vermin and shot or clubbed to death on sight.  Attitudes and laws relating to wildlife have changed greatly since then.  Now we have liberal deer and turkey seasons, and the Pennsylvania Game Commission even decided to establish a porcupine season at its' last meeting,  but some of the formerly persecuted species are now highly protected.  The Timber Rattlesnake is not yet on the Endangered Species list in Pennsylvania, but it is considered a "candidate species" under study and consideration for listing as officially "threatened" or "endangered."

Here is a summary of the rules and regulations covering the taking of Rattlesnakes and Northern Copperhead snakes in Pennsylvania. Source: Summary Book 2011 Pennsylvania Fishing Laws and Regulations.

Timber Rattlesnake: June 11 through July 31
1 annual limit (must be at least 42 inches in length, measured lengthwise along the dorsal surface from the snout to the tail, excluding the rattle, and must possess 21 or more subcaudal scales.

Northern Copperhead: June 11 through July 31 1 annual limit

It is unlawful to hunt, take, catch, or kill timber rattlesnakes west of Route 15 and south of Interstate 81 to the Maryland line where there is no open season.season.

It is unlawful to possess, take, catch, or kill more than one timber rattlesnake or northern copperhead per calendar year except as provided in Chapter 79.7(f) (Fish & Boat Code) relating to organized reptile and amphibian hunt permits. It is unlawful to possess more than one timber rattlesnake or northern copperhead at any time except as provided in Chapter 79.7(f) (Fish & Boat Code).

Subcaudal scales are large flat scales located on the underside of a timber rattlesnake between the vent (anal scale) and the base of the tail rattle.

A permit is required to hunt, take, catch, kill or possess timber rattlesnakes and northern copperhead snakes.

DCNR and the Pennsylvania Bureau of Forestry makes the following recommendations for dealing with nuisance rattlesnakes in the publication "RATTLESNAKES in Pennsylvania State Forests :

Rattlesnakes that take up temporary residence in high use areas such as in or near cottages,residences, and parks should be removed. It is best to contact the local Conservation Officer of the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission to move such snakes. According to a recent scientific study, displacing a timber rattlesnake 110 yards from its suspected direction of travel is a reasonable solution,considering the well-being of both the snake and the person. The study’s subject snakes were able to get their bearings and continue on, not returning to the incident sites. Displacing rattlesnakes long distances has been shown to drastically affect behavior and jeopardize survival.

Originally posted at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Early May Brings Mixed Feelings About PA Elk Herd

Bennett's Branch Near Benezette
Early May with its' superb scenery,  mild temperatures, and abundant wildlife is a wonderful time to visit Pennsylvania Elk Country.  The photo above was taken near the Benezett river bridge early on the morning of May 5th, 2008 and I liked it so much that I included video footage of this scene in "The Truth About Pennsylvania's Elk Herd", the documentary film that was released that September.  There is truly something special about a beautiful spring morning spent afield whether it be in a turkey blind, hiking the backcountry, or photographing scenery and big game.

For me, the primary focus of an early May trip is to document the growth of the bull's antlers and the 2008 trip yielded several excellent encounters.  The best photo sessions with a large bull was when I found the magnificent bull that many referred to as "Kisser" in the woods near the Dent's Run Viewing Area.

"Kisser" or "Odie" Near Dents Run Viewing Area
This bull could usually be found somewhere between Devil's Elbow and Benezette, but the area around Dents Run Viewing Area seemed to be an especially favorite spot for him in May.

"Kisser" The Gentle Giant
It seems most Pennsylvania bulls are not as aggressive as some of the western bulls such as Bull 6, which was a famous character bull at Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone Park.  That bull was known for chasing people and attacking vehicles, but "Kisser" was the exact opposite of this.

Bull 6 Mammoth Hot Springs-Yellowstone National Park
 Well known photographer and guide Phil Burkhouse wrote an article "Fred Is Dead" in his "Wandering Aimlessly " column in the Jan 19, 2011 issue of The Cameron County Echo, about "Bull 36" also known as "Fred" shortly after he died last winter.  In this Mr Burkhouse tells how that tourist flock to Winslow Hill to see elk and that Fred was "the brightest star in the tourism trade and perhaps the most valuable animal to local businesses in the state".  He goes on to say that, "Fred was a first class citizen".  "Fred, huge beast that he was, was always friendly and gentle.  Fred was undoubtedly the largest bull elk in the herd for ten years running and did not have a mean bone in this body."  While "Kisser" was overshadowed by Bull 36's reputation, he was well know and was every bit as acclimated and harmless.  He was the most likely "heir apparent" to Bull 36, but that was not to be as he was killed in the 2010 elk hunt. I cannot comprehend why there cannot be a sufficient no hunt zone,  that a few bulls can have a large enough home range to reach maturity and live a normal life span.   I began hunting at an early age and was as avid a hunter as any until 1997-98 so I completely understand the pro-hunt point of view, but I cannot comprehend how we can be so obsessed with the need to make  every "elk a hunted elk", that we cannot allow anything special to exist such as a few bulls like this. 

Apologists for the hunt as it is currently implemented never tire of pointing out that elk were re-introduced for hunting purposes and that the re-introduction was paid for with hunting license dollars, therefore the herd should be managed primarily for hunting purposes. At times lip service is given to the concept of managing for tourism, but when the actual management decisions are made, the elk and the non-consumptive user are usually the losers.  Attaining the proper balance between hunting and tourism  is the key, and the herd can be managed in such a way that it is a win, win situation for both the tourist and hunting industries, but at this point a win, win situation does not seem likely.  Instead what we are doing is much like hunting elk in downtown Mammoth Hot Springs.  We are killing our biggest, best and most visible elk and it is WRONG!!!

Originally posted at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill