Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas & A Short Elk Video

I wish all a Merry Christmas. For an added bonus today, I am posting a short video of the highlights of the 2012 Pennsylvania elk rut.  This is an extremely short (2min.-45 sec.), action packed video of the best action and most dramatic scenes I filmed during the 2012 Pennsylvania elk rut.

The film begins shortly after dawn. Early morning  fog shrouds elk country as the scream of bugling bulls fills the air.  There are several clips of bulls locking antlers in brief fights or sparring matches and three segments of a lengthy dominance fight.  Much of the footage of both elk and scenery is exposed and processed somewhat on the dark side as it was taken extremely early or late and I tried to maintain this type of look.

Cameras used were the Canon 5D MK III and the Panasonic GH2. The Canon 500mm F4 was the lens of choice for the dramatic close-ups and the Canon 24-105mm L was used for the scenic clips.  The lengthy fight that was far away and very late in the evening was filmed with the GH2 and Canon 300mm F2.8 L at ISO 3200.

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Deer Wars: Once A Spike--Always A Spike?

At one time it was commonly believed that a spike buck was never going to be anything but a spike, but this is not as widely accepted today.  In my experience it is not ordinarily so and in fact I have not seen one instance of this in a lifetime of watching and photographing whitetail deer.  Neither have I seen an old buck that declined to the point that he only grew a spike rack, although this does seem possible as I have seen this in Pennsylvania elk.

For today's photos, I will post a series of a whitetail buck that was taken from 2007 through September of 2010.  There is absolutely no doubt that this is the same animal.

Buck Whitetail Fawn-Summer 2007
This deer was born in late May or early June and soon came to my attention as it accompanied its' mother to feed in a meadow on most evenings. 

He  grew a modest set of spikes in 2008.  Although I saw him  almost daily, I took few photographs as he was so small.  Most bucks in this area grow antlers ranging from spikes to three or four points during their second summer ( 1 year of age)  with a rare animal growing a six or eight point rack. It seems that most bucks disperse from their home range during the summer or autumn that they have their first substantial rack (many points and decent spread), but many of the spikes and four points, etc. will remain until the following spring or in unusual cases until the rut begins the following fall.

Buck With Modest Spikes In 2008

As it turned out this buck didn't disperse in 2009 and I got to document him as he grew a decent eight-point rack of an estimated 12" in spread. A few years before this had I seen a buck such as this I would have estimated it to be a large  1 1/2 yr old instead of one of 2 1/2 years.

Buck With 8 point rack In 2009
Contrary to all expectations the buck did not disperse that autumn.  He was shot with a rifle in early October, but survived the wound.  Only bow season was in at the time, so this was the result of a failed poaching attempt.

Bullet Wound 2009

It seems likely that this injury prevented him from dispersing that fall as the wound did have a profound effect on him.  He appeared to be very stiff for a long time after this and his neck never became large and swollen for the rut as is normal for whitetail bucks.  He did chase does to a limited extent in November and was in a brief fight, which may be seen in "Running Wild In Pennsylvania Elk Country", but he lost that to a much smaller buck.  Whatever the case, for the first time, I got to see a buck remain in his home territory during his second year.

He did disperse the following May. I had given up all hope of seeing him again, but he returned one evening in early September of 2010.

Buck With 8 Point Rack 2010
He and a buck that was one year younger were traveling together (both had dispersed at the same time). The bucks were still at the meadows at dawn on the following morning, but they left soon after sunup to never be seen again in that area.

I have documented numerous other cases of small bucks eventually growing much larger racks over a period of years, but in the other cases these are bucks that dispersed into my area of operations when they left their home range and I have not been able to photograph another buck from the time he was a fawn until he was over three years old.

Eventually I hope to discuss what I consider to be the major factors in determining antler size and why I think drastic herd reduction is not  the panacea for growing larger bucks that many proclaim it to be.

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Deer Wars: Do Antler Restrictions Work?

Dr. Gary Alt was responsible for a lot of changes in Pennsylvania's deer management program during his tenure as chief of the deer management program, but the two features that drew the most attention were his herd reduction program and antler restrictions.  Of the two ideas, antler restrictions was the one that gained the most approval by Pennsylvania's deer hunters, but one still hears some discontent about them at times.

First we must consider if they work.  In my experience they definitely do, as todays' photographs will illustrate, and I can show case after case of similar examples.  This is a buck that I first photographed after rifle deer season of 2011.  This particular photo was taken on the day after Christmas, which was also the first day of the flintlock deer season.

Yearling Spike Buck: Canon 7D-Canon 300mm f2.8- ISO 400 1/400 sec. f 3.5

Before antler restrictions were implemented it is likely this photo would not have been taken as there is a high possibility  he would have been shot during the traditional two week buck season as bucks with spikes 3" or more in length were legal.  As it happened he lived to grow a larger rack as the photo below illustrates.

Same Buck - 2 1/2 yrs. of age: Canon 5DMK II-Canon 500mm f 4- ISO 1000 1/1000 sec. f  4
Some agree that the buck is bigger, but say he is still not a trophy so what is the point?  I for one believe that anything that contributes to keeping a buck alive is a good thing.  While habitat quality and genetics are important to a certain extent--age of the animal is also extremely important.  I have documented one buck that was a small spike in his first year with antlers, a modest 8 point in his second, and an impressive 8 point in his last.

The fallacy of Alt's view of deer management was that he believed these deer should be growing larger racks sooner.  To a certain extent he is right, but only to a certain extent.  Drastically reducing the deer herd in the hopes that those that remain will be larger is absurd, but it is even more absurd to claim that we had better quality bucks before antler restrictions and that antler restrictions will damage the genetics of the herd.  Some are still so hung up on the concept of getting "their buck" each year that they would be perfectly happy to kill a spike and deeply resent having to pass up the little bucks.

Perhaps the poorest argument I ever heard against antler restrictions was penned by a well know outdoor writer who was upset because restrictions eliminated the surprise factor from buck hunting.  In his view one had to look at the deer so much to determine if it was legal that he knew exactly what he had gotten before he walked up to the deer if the shot was successful.  There is of course cases, perhaps many, where determining the legality of the buck does cost the hunter a shot, but in many if not most cases it is a shot that would have been better not taken anyway, and anyway as I see it the important thing is keeping as many bucks as possible alive to be at least one step closer to maturity.

I for one do not intend to ever kill another buck, but I would much rather see a deer herd in which a significant portion of the bucks live to reach maturity, which is the case at places like Shenandoah National Park.  That doesn't seem possible in hunting country, but it is much better to have a significant crop of 2 1/2 year old bucks coming on that is comprised of a large number of decent bucks of six to eight points or more, than for most of the bucks sighted to be spikes and four or six points.

Watch for more on deer management issues as we continue the "Deer Wars" segment from time to time. 

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Remembering The 2012 Elk Rut

With the whitetail rut effectively over because of the onset of rifle deer season in Pennsylvania, I find my thoughts turning once again to the Pennsylvania elk rut.  I was photographing one of the larger bulls on Winslow Hill on a rainy mid-September morning when I heard a bugle behind me and turned to find an impressive 6x6 staring at the other bull.  I had the 500mm lens mounted and could not get the entire elk in the composition so I decided to try for a dramatic close-up of the head.

Rainy Day 6x6: Canon 5D MKIII-500mm F4 ISO 640 1/200 f4
Rainy weather can yield some dramatic photo opportunities, and cameras such as the 5D MK III have sufficient weather sealing to make this type of photography possible without one having to be overly concerned about protecting the camera.  I do keep a garbage bag over the camera and lens when transporting it, but have no qualms at all about shooting with this camera and lenses such as the 500mm in moderate rainfall.

Excellent opportunities my also be found when the sky begins to clear, especially in late evening.  In this case a rainbow formed as the sun emerged after a shower and the late evening sun bathed a herd of elk in warm, dramatic light.

Rainbow Forms As Late Evening Sun Breaks Through:Canon 5D MKIII-24-105mm L @28nn   ISO 400 1/25 f 13
Bull and Harem In Late Evening Sun: Canon 5D MKIII-24-105mm@88nn L  ISO 400 1/80 f 4
With the the fall rut over for both species, it will soon be time to focus on other species as winter approaches and in about three months it will be time to photograph the spring waterfowl migration.

Originally posted at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

PA Deer Season: Recalling The Past

Mature Whitetail Buck

 As Thanksgiving week comes to an end, the human population of Pennsylvania's rural areas reaches a yearly high with a large influx of deer hunters anticipating the opening of rifle deer season on Monday.  The air resounds with rifle shots, as hunters sight their rifles in and at night spotlights flicker in the air and across the fields and woodlands as hunters scout for whitetails by use of artificial light.  Persons may spotlight for deer until 11:00 p.m., but may not posses firearms while doing so, may not cast the rays of lights on buildings or livestock, and may not attempt to kill a deer in such a manner.  They are not allowed to spotlight during rifle deer season.The taking of wildlife by use of artificial light is commonly known as "jacklighting"and is a common violation.

Deer Killed by "Jacklighters"
PGC Officer With Rifle Seized From Jacklighters
 During my years as a Deputy Conservation Officer for the PGC, this was the "busy" period of the year and Thanksgiving week usually brought a lot of law enforcement work dealing with persons who couldn't wait until deer season to kill a deer.  There was seldom a year went by that several violators were not apprehended killing deer while spotlighting during Thanksgiving week.  Once deer season came in, the most common offenses were failure to tag a harvested animal as required by law, hunting over bait, hunting by use of motorized vehicle, and various safety related violations.

Violator Prepares To Shoot Deer From Vehicle With Modern Rifle In Blackpowder  Season
Things have really changed since I began hunting in the mid-1960s.  At that time there was two weeks of bucks only season, followed by two or three days of artlessness deer season.  By the time I quit hunting in 1997 or 1998, the taking of antlerless deer had been liberalized to a certain extent, with bonus tags being issued in many years.

2000 saw the introduction of a three day flintlock season for antlerless deer , which was increased to a full week the following year. In addition a three day rifle antlerless season was established for junior and senior hunters. disabled persons, and active duty military.

Things really changed with the implementation of concurrent buck and doe season in 2001 and antler restrictions in 2002. The early flintlock season was expanded to include the use of in-line muzzle loaders that year as well.   Since then deer numbers have plummeted in many parts of the state as has the number of hunters, but even with that the yearly deer kill is quite large.

While the "deer wars" had been going on to a certain extent for years, this marked the period that they accelerated to the heights of the recent past.  The controversy continues to this day with some claiming the herd is still out of control and damaging the environment, while others firmly believe that deer numbers are too low and the lack of deer is leading to the death of the sport of hunting.

Whatever the truth of the matter, it seems The Pennsylvania Game Commission has lost the hearts and minds of a significant portion of the hunting public.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Ralph Harrison Receives Rothrock Award

Ralph Harrison: Photo by John Eastlake-all rights reserved
 Each year, the Pennsylvania Forestry Association (PFA) recognizes an individual, organization, or group's significant contributions to the public recognition of the importance of Pennsylvania's forest resources in the same tradition and spirit of Dr. Joseph T. Rothrock, the first president of PFA.

This year's recipient was retired Bureau of Forestry Maintenance Supervisor, Ralph Harrison, Elk County native and resident of Dent’s Run.  Mr. Harrison received a plaque with the following inscription:

"Ralph Harrison has demonstrated a life-long interest in and concern for the elk of Pennsylvania.   He successfully motivated forestry professionals to develop specific elk habitat actions for the Elk State Forest management plan and provided keen observations and knowledge that were essential to the accomplishment of the plan.  A healthy elk herd now populates over six Pennsylvania counties.  Know for his educational talks, tours, and publications, Ralph is the individual most responsive for saving the Pennsylvania elk herd as a valuable component of today's Penn's Woods."

For those unfamiliar with Ralph Harrison I will reprint an edited version of a post from this blog , "Ralph Harrison Above and Beyond The Call Of Duty"  February 13, 2008, which will give the reader an understanding of the conditions under which Ralph Harrison became involved with the elk."

"Mr. Harrison was born in Dent’s run in 1928 and has lived there most of his life except for a stint in the military. Ralph went to work for what was then know as the Department of Forest and Waters in 1951 and worked for them for the next forty years, although the agency changed names over this period. It would take a book to cover his life and in fact Ralph has written three. The first was “The Pennsylvania Elk Herd: published by The Pennsylvania Forestry Association in cooperation with the USDA Forest Service and DER Bureau of Forestry. The Second was a smaller update of the first called, “The Pennsylvania Elk Herd of Today” Published by The Pennsylvania Forestry Association in cooperation with the DCNR Bureau of Forestry. His most recent is, "The History of Pennsylvania Elk Country", also published by The Pennsylvania Forestry Association..

Mr. Harrison never had an official job in elk management. There was no big title, just a simple love and respect for the animals, which led him to go above and beyond the call of duty and dedicate his life to them. He has seen elk population grow from less than twenty to over 800 animals. Although he would never claim responsibility, he was an important factor in this increase.

First, a greatly condensed history of the Pennsylvania elk herd to illustrate the backdrop against which Ralph Harrison's life work took place. The last Pennsylvania Elk was killed sometime in the late 1860s or early 1870s as a result of unregulated market hunting. In 1913 The Pennsylvania Game Commission released fifty animals in the north central part of the state. These animals were obtained from Yellowstone National Park. There were additional releases and in time the herd grew to the point that The PGC established a hunting season in 1923. Anyone with a general hunting license could kill an elk (bulls of 4 or more points were legal). In 1931 only one bull was killed.  The season was closed in 1931 and remained so until 2001.

During this time the PGC lost interest in the herd and at times few even knew they existed, as what few remained stayed well away from human habitation in most cases. The population began to increase slowly in the 1950s. Ralph recalls how he realized the elk herd was rebounding in the mid-1970s after a late August evening encounter with cows and calves in a meadow in which he heard bulls bugling in the woodlands. This so inspired him that he approached his boss the next day and outlined a proposal to help the elk herd survive and expand. Things progressed from there. A management plan was developed which included more public land acquisition and development of suitable elk habitat.

 In a nutshell the PGC did re-introduce the elk in 1913, but when the population declined too much to support a hunt, they lost interest in the species. It was The Bureau of Forestry, inspired by Ralph Harrison that picked up the torch and brought the elk herd to the position it was in a few years ago. The PGC only entered the fray after Forestry had done the hard legwork to bring the herd back from the brink. It should be noted that this was the agency as a whole, not some of the dedicated Game Commission employees who were assigned to the area. These included District Game Protectors Norm Erickson who served from late 1940s-1965 or 66, and Harold Harsbarger who ably filled the slot from 1966-97. PGC Wildlife Biologist Bill Drake was also numbered among these dedicated individuals. All were very interested in the welfare of the elk, even at times that The PGC as a whole was not.

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

PA Rut Peaks-Collaring Ends at SNP?

Mature Buck Makes Lip Curl: Canon 7D 500mm f4 ISO 400 1/800 sec. f4.5
My brother Coy of Country Captures and I returned from an abortive trip to Shenandoah National Park last week, to find the whitetail rut going strong in southcentral Pennsylvania.  As regular readers are well aware, whitetail photography in the park was destroyed for the time being by a massive research program in which most of the mature bucks in the Big Meadows area of the park were fitted with huge radio collars, and many of the deer at other high tourist use areas are collared as well.  Many that are not collared, have large ear tags in each ear.

Early this week,I spoke to fellow PGC retiree and wildlife photographer, Billie Cromwell who arrived in the park the first day (Wednesday) of our trip, but decided to stay for a few days.  Sometime later in the week he spoke extensively with a ranger near the Big Meadows campground.  According to that ranger, the radio collaring program had ended two days prior.  If this is the case it is entirely possible that we saw the collaring crew on the last day that program was in effect.

What a relief to photograph a buck without a collar: Canon 7D 500mm f4 ISO 400 1/800 sec. f4.5
The buck shown above is not a lucky SNP buck that escaped collaring, he is a Pennsylvania buck that is exposed to significant hunting pressure each year.  In our area bucks seldom live to grow as large as the better bucks that SNP can produce. As a result if one wants to consistently see or photograph bucks as large or larger than this one they need to visit a place such as SNP or Cades Cove in the Smokies.

The big question at the moment is how long the study will affect the deer of SNP.  If they do not collar more deer or replace the collars on those already processed, within a few years things should return to normal as the collars are designed to fall off in time. But all to often research programs gain a momentum and keep going and going.  Of course an even worse disaster would be the actual arrival of CWD in the park.

Is this alert doe looking for bucks, predators, or a radio collaring crew?
The picture of the alert doe is primarily posted for humor, as it is not likely that she will be radio collared in the area in which she lives. But she actually faces a far worse threat with the extreme likelihood that CWD will soon be found in our part of Pennsylvania, as it has already been found to the southwest in Maryland and to the east in Adams County, Pennsylvania.

Originally posted at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

PA Elk Season Report 2012

For the past two years I have observed the first several days of the Pennsylvania elk season, but due to a variety of reasons I did not go this year. Most important was a significant conflict with photographing the peak of the whitetail rut as elk season was a bit later this year and I wanted to be in Shenandoah Park for most of elk season week,.  For reasons described in the last post ,that trip did not work out and it would have been better had I gone to elk country.

Upon returning from Virginia I learned from David Anderson that two of the character bulls that were favorites with the elk watching/photography community were killed during the first few days of elk season. I partially predicted this outcome in the post of September 30, 2012,"Will The Biggest and Best Be Lost?" In that post I predicted the loss of at least one, most likely two, and perhaps all of the bulls shown. I did not include the famous bull "Attitude" in this list as in my opinion he was not as large as the three shown, plus he often spent a lot of his time in downtown Benezette once the rut was over, which gave him a better chance of surviving than most. His luck ran out this year when he was killed on Monday morning, the first day of season well away from Benezette.

"Attitude" 2012
Another favorite bull known as "Uncle Bob" was killed on Wednesday. He first gained wide attention in 2011  when he was named in honor of Bob "Uncle Bob" Woodring ,who is a close friend to many in the elk photography community.  This came about when we photographed him extensively in August of that year in Mr. Woodring's meadow. This was his first year with an impressive rack and he would likely have been killed in the hunt that year, but he broke his left main beam during the rut, which destroyed his trophy value. This ensured his survival that year, but he had a beautiful set of antlers this year and no one was likely to pass him up.

"Uncle Bob" 2012
Today well known elk enthusiast Jeff Thomas sent me what information he has on the hunt as of late this afternoon and I will share it with you below as reported by him.

"Attitude was taken Monday morning on Rock Hill road. I dont' have other details on him. Uncle Bob was taken Wednesday near Weedville. He weighed 649 lbs field dressed and green scored 365. The guide was Eric McCarthy. I heard he got away from them on Tuesday and on Wednesday they spooked him, but the hunter made a good shot and dropped him. They brought a large bull in from Mason hill on Monday and he scored 405 green, it was the 6c bull, I never saw him before. Watch the Endeavor news for Carol Mulvihill's story on him, its a real human interest story.

There were 16 bulls in by 1 o'clock on Wednesday and at least 24 cows. A lot of the big bulls were coming from the New Garden area and below Karthaus near the Kuhn farm. I heard that on Tuesday evening there were 19 bulls in one bunch. They brought 5 cows and possibly 1bull out of the gates at the bottom of Dewey.I didn't actually see the bull brought out.

I spent Sunday afternoon on Dewey and saw a cow bred by a 6x6 with a brown collar. There were elk everywhere. I saw 75 on the big hill, 45 in the first field on Dewey Road and another 35 in the second field. They took a cow in the new field in front of the limestone pile on Monday morning."  Jeff Thomas reporting from Pennsylvania Elk Country.

A special thanks to Dave Anderson and Jeff Thomas for providing us with this important information.

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Whitetail Photographers--Avoid Shenandoah National Park!

As I write this post, I originally planned to be in a motel room in Virginia, savoring the memories of a day s afield photographing  the whitetails of Shenandoah National Park and anticipating another full day and Friday morning doing likewise.  Instead I find myself  at home in Pennsylvania, sitting at the computer and pondering how easily whitetail photography at Shenandoah National Park was destroyed.

Let's face it--I knew conditions were less than ideal at the park based on information received from many sources such as Larry Brown, Billie Cromwell, Jim Fields, and Todd Mann, along with my own experience from a brief morning visit in late October.  I did not realize: however, that things were as bad as they turned out to be.

My brother Coy and I left for SNP in the early morning hours and saw not one whitetail as we drove from the Thornton Gap Entrance to Big Meadows before dawn.  Shortly after dawn we found this superb buck at the Tanner's Ridge overlook.  This did not seem all that bad as the tags could easily be removed with Photoshop, but unfortunately this proved to be the best encounter of the day.

Buck 91--One of the few that has only ear tags
Most of the does that we sighted had either ear tags or collars.  We did see one mature buck without a collar or tags, but he was shy and we did not get good photographs.  I think this buck is a bit too wild for the tagging team to dart him, but in hopes of protecting him, I will not reveal where he was sighted.  With the exception of this buck--every buck that we saw from medium size to mature rack bucks were fitted with the ridiculously large numbered collars.

Buck With Damaged Collar that is damaging the hair on the neck.

In late morning we saw a group walking toward the Visitor Center carrying equipment, with a least two of the party wearing uniforms and we realized too late to take photographs that this was most likely the deer tagging crew returning from a mornings' work in the field.  We talked to Billie Cromwell in the early afternoon and he said that every mature buck that he had seen had a collar, including a large 12 point that was collar free just two weeks ago.  We did see some yearling bucks that were not collared or tagged, but it seems likely that this is because they are concentrating on mature deer--likely in hopes of studying the movement patterns of mature bucks in particular.

Another Victim
I could perhaps understand it if a modest percentage of the bucks and does in the Big Meadows area were marked for study, but it appears that the vast majority of the animals are so marked and that the tagging crew is still at work trying to process those that have escaped so far.

We originally planned to stay for 2 1/2 days, but this was so frustrating that I called the motel where we planned to stay and cancelled our reservations--telling the owner why we were doing so.  The management was aware of the situation at the park, was very understanding, and did not penalize us for cancelling on such short notice. This was one of the few bright spots of the day.  In the future, I may visit the park on rare occasion to observe the effects of the study, but my frequent trips to SNP are over--at least until the study has run its' course.

While this is distressing for the photographer/wildlife watcher, the worst aspect of the situation is the undue stress and discomfort that this places on the deer.  The negative aspects of this study could perhaps be justified if it would significantly benefit the well-being of the deer or combat the spread of CWD, but at this point many are not convinced that it will do so.  With that being said, even if the study proved to be fully justified and extremely necessary, there seems no reason to use such a large sample size, which negatively impacts both the animals and the wildlife viewing/photography experience at Shenandoah National Park.

If you have not already done so, be sure to check out the links in previous poss to other writing on this issue by Larry W. Brown, and Todd Mann.  Also be sure to check Country Captures for Coy's take on this situation.  If his post is not up already--it should be soon.

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Twilight Buck and More Thoughts on SNP Whitetail Management

Pennsylvania Buck At Twilight: Canon 5D MK III -Canon 500mmf4-ISO 6400 1/40sec. f4
The rut is picking up here in southcentral Pennsylvania, but many of the bucks are seen either very early or extremely late.  These conditions put the low light capability of the MK III to the test.  Even the larger bucks in our area cannot ordinarily compete with those in Shenandoah National Park when it comes to antler mass and they are definitely a lot harder to see.  With that being said, it is possible that I will be spending less time than ever in Shenandoah National Park since many of the bucks at Big Meadows have been fitted with radio collars.

My last two posts have dealt with this in depth and Todd Mann, another wildlife photographer from Pennsylvania recently wrote an excellent post about the situation titled, "Deer contraception, politics, and the future of deer in the US".  Be sure to visit Todd's blog and read this timely article.

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Shenandoah Whitetails Under Assault Part 2

While I appreciate most wildlife and spend countless hours afield in pursuit of it with a camera, I am more fascinated by whitetail deer and elk than any of the other species.  Even though I am primarily noted for my interest in Pennsylvania Elk, if it came right down to it I would have to choose deer over elk, if I had to pick one favorite species.  Whitetails have always been a heavily hunted species in Pennsylvania and there are no areas of public land that I know of where one can easily observe whitetails going about their daily life without fleeing at the sight of humans.  It is my understanding that one could see this at one time at Gettysburg National Military Park, or at Valley Forge, but both have utilized sharpshooters to reduce the herd.  I cannot speak from personal experience, but I am told that neither area is what it once was for seeing deer.

Shenandoah National Park has been a special place to so many of us because of its' easily visible deer herd. Since I worked for the Pennsylvania Game Commission for many years, I have always been finely attuned to deer management issues, which translated into concern that in time the herd reduction people would focus their attention on the deer of SNP and attempt to manage its' deer herd.. As I mentioned in the previous post, a study is now underway which is being portrayed as part of a plan to protect the deer from CWD, but many are concerned that it is more than this.

As a result of the study, several of the deer in the big meadows area have been fitted with radio collars, and/ or ear tags. Billie Cromwell was at the park last week and photographed three bucks fitted with the radio collars.  He stopped by yesterday and dropped off 4x6 prints of them, so the photos for today are scans of the photos.  They do not do justice to the originals, but they effectively show the problem and will give those who follow the SNP deer herd a look at three of the bucks that had collars as of early last week and may still be found in the Big Meadows area. I wish to thank Billie for sharing these photographs with us and granting permission to use them on the blog.

Mature Buck With Collar Big Meadows Campground: Photo by Billie G. Cromwell
Buck Near Tanners Ridge Overlook: Photo by Billie G. Cromwell
Ten Point Buck With Collar SNP: Photo by Billie G. Cromwell
I was pleased to receive a comment on the previous post from well known wildlife photographer, Jim Fields, who lives in the area and has spent countless hours afield in the park observing and photographing the deer.  Here is what Jim has to say about the situation.

"The secretive way this assessment was handled and the fact they have concentrated their efforts in an area with a high habituated deer concentration instead of distributing the test throughout the entire park certainly leads us to believe there is more to this than a CWD assessment. There are SNP documents from past years that elude to other purposes for 38 deer being captured in Big Meadows out of the 70 being tested in total.

The SNP site does not have up to date information on current status of Big meadows. To date I have found (7) collared bucks in the Greater Big Meadows area. Park officials have informed me that “bucks collared in the Big Meadows area will likely be nine (plus one ear-tagged buck)”. Thus (18) collared deer and (20) deer with ear tags just in the greater Big Meadows area. The parks estimate is 20-25 bucks reside in this area so this give you an idea of the percentage of bucks remaining. I can tell you that in the past 5 weeks I have seen very few bucks without collars in Big Meadows. I am sure there will be less habituated bucks showing up during the November rut, but it will not be like years past. This has been a tuff hit for wildlife photography in the park." --Jim Fields 10/29/2012.

Also be sure to read the full comment by professional wildlife photographer, Tom  who expresses concerns that the National Park Service may be doing this to discourage photographers.  I will post a bit of it below, but be sure and visit the comments on the previous post to read it in its entirety.

"I suspect that the purpose may be that they want to discourage photographers from constantly hanging around the deer with their cameras. They may just think that if they put huge, obtrusive collars on the biggest bucks, then photographers will not pursue the deer so persistently. If that is the reason, or part of the reason, they the NPS should be ashamed of themselves."

Tom goes on to say, " I will get every image I possibly can, fully documenting the collared bucks and the impacts of the "study".

Whatever the reason for the study, it is sad to see so many of the Big Meadows herd fitted with the collars and tags.  The next few weeks will tell what the short term impact on deer watching and photography will be.  I for one hope that this is not the beginning of a program to drastically reduce the SNP deer herd as was done at Gettysburg and Valley Forge.  This would effectively destroy SNP as a haven for wildlife enthusiasts and photographers.

Originally published by Willard Hill at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Shenandoah Whitetails Under Assault

Some time ago I received an e-mail from fellow wildlife photographer, Jim Borden, which directed my attention to a post on Flickr by Larry W. Brown.  Mr. Brown specializes in  photographing the wildlife of Shenandoah National Park.  In a post titled, "Public Input is Important?", Brown informed us that a large number of whitetail deer in the Big Meadows area had recently been fitted with either radio collars or ear tags.

Will Bucks Without Radio Collars Or Ear Tags Be A Rarity At Big Meadows?
This program is ostensibly about studying and controlling  Chronic Wasting Disease  (CWD), but many think it has to be more than this and I am inclined to agree.  There is no cure for CWD and no way to effectively control it.  Shenandoah Park has posted a photo of a doe with ear tags on their facebook page and linked to their page on CWD, which may be found by clicking Here.  They state on the facebook page' "this research is being done to protect the deer herd from a horrible and fatal disease--Chronic Wasting Disease", but they fail to point out that there are basically only two forms of response to the presence of CWD--either do nothing or kill as many deer as possible in a designated containment area in hopes of eliminating all infected animals.

Also in a real puzzler, they state on this page that 50-70 deer will be tested for the disease and then tracked through ear tags and radio collars, yet according to many sources-- there is no effective test for chronic wasting disease on living animals.  I just heard Pennsylvania Game Commission personnel who are involved with the CWD program make this statement at a meeting last evening.  This is also stated in the October 26th  issue of "Pennsylvania Outdoor News"  in the article, "Expert: Outlaw the feeding of deer, mineral, salt licks" This article by editor Jeff Mulhollem quotes  David Wolfgang, a veterinarian in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences and  past president of the Pennsylvania Veterinary Medical Association as saying, "The only certified test for CWD requires killing an animal and examining its brain-stem" 

The Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection;  however, sayst hat it has been possible since 2008 to test living animals.  This excerpt from their web page on CWD:

"How is CWD diagnosed? Prior to 2008, the only method to definitively diagnose CWD was to examine the brain, tonsils, or lymph nodes in a laboratory. No live-animal test, vaccine, or treatment for CWD existed. In 2008, researchers from the USDA-APHIS and Colorado State University evaluated and validated the first live rectal-tissue biopsy method for detecting chronic wasting disease (CWD) in captive and wild elk. The live rectal biopsy test appears to be nearly as accurate as a post-mortem diagnostic test. The key advantage to the rectal biopsy test is that it can be performed on live animals. With this technique, managers can detect CWD in animals not showing any signs of the disease and, thus, remove them to decrease the likelihood of infecting other individuals. This new live test will improve management and control of the disease, especially in captive settings."

So what is the real scoop on this--I do not know, but whatever the case there is no solution to the problem and the best that can be hoped is to slow the spread of the disease once it is found and that involves killing a lot of deer.  At least at this point Pennsylvania officials have said they will not pursue this path as Wisconsin did, but it remains to be seen what Park Officials will do if the disease is found there.

It is highly recommended that all readers who are traveling to Shenandoah National Park this autumn read Larry's post in detail.  He has done an excellent job of compiling links to information about why this has been done and numerous people have responded with their thoughts on the situation.  He also has written at least two more detailed posts about this as he has learned more about the situation.  He has links to these on the page I linked to above, but I will now list all three links directly below for your ease in locating the material..

Public Input Is Important
This Assessment Cannot Be Just About CWD
National Park Toys

I traveled to the park on Monday morning ,October  22nd, and found few deer using the meadow.  Of the small number of does and fawns present about 1/2 or more had either radio collars or ear tags.  I saw a nice buck without tags or collar, but he left the meadow pursuing a doe which had ear tags, before I could get  photographs.  I saw two small bucks along the drive that did not have collars or tags and a small group of does and fawns by the campground that were tag and collar free. I cannot show you any photos of deer with the tags and collars as a Park Police Helicopter landed in the Meadow shortly after sunrise to transfer a stretcher to the ranger on duty and at that point all of the deer left the meadow.  I soon departed for home after one of the poorest trips to Shenandoah Park in memory.

Helicopter Taking Off From Big Meadows
 Billie Cromwell, who many readers of this blog are familiar with, spent a few days there this week and confirms that there is little whitetail activity in the meadow.  There are mostly feeding on acorns in the wooded areas and a lot of them have either collars or ear tags.

According to the SNP CWD Page," Up to 70 deer will be tagged and/or collared. As of mid-October, 15 were radio collared (six bucks and nine does) and 20 were ear tagged (one buck and 19 does".

"Because we need to test and monitor deer in high density areas, visitors may see them in the areas of Big Meadows, Mathew's Arm Campground, Skyland, Rapidan Fire Road, Elkwallow Wayside, and Dickey Ridge."

It is plain to see that this targets the areas where one has the best opportunity to see whitetails and it seems likely that an inordinate amount of attention was directed at Big Meadows and at the mature bucks.

Whatever the reason or reasons for this study, there seems little doubt that it will negatively impact the whitetail viewing and photography experience at Shenandoah National Park for years to come.

A special thanks to Larry W. Brown for his intensive work in gathering information on this problem and making us aware of it.

If you are unhappy with this study, please voice your displeasure to the appropriate officials:

Tweet them at

Comment on their facebook page at

 By Mail

Shenandoah National Park
3655 Hwy 211 East
Luray, VA 22835

By Phone (540) 999-3500

By Email 

Rolf Gubler Biologist
Division of Natural and Cultural Resources
Shenandoah National Park 540-999-3500 x3291

Karen Beck-Herzog
Management Assistant and Public Information Specialist
Shenandoah National Park 540-999-3500 x3300

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Autumn Colors and Rutting Whitetails

The autumn colors are slowly reaching their peak here in Southcentral Pennsylvania.  This is not one of the most colorful fawns I can remember, but it is good. At first the colors were reserved and subtle as the scene below, taken late in the evening on September 30th illustrates.

Early Autumn: Canon 5D MK III 24-105L @ 35mm-  ISO 1000-1/40 sec. f4
Autumn color was nearing its' peak by mid-October, so I spent some time concentrating on taking scenic shots.  Unfortunately early morning and evening is the best time for photographing both scenery and whitetail bucks, so I usually end up picking the deer over the scenery.  I would preferred to have taken the following shots under a bit different lighting conditions, but still I think they capture the essence of autumn to an acceptable degree.  Woodland steams and cornfields are an integral part of the autumn landscape here in Fulton County. A circular polarizer was used on the second and third shots, which enhanced the richness of the colors.

Autumn Glory: Canon 5D MK III 17-40L @ 17mm-  ISO 100-1/50 sec. f8
Autumn Cornfield: Canon 5D MK III 24-105L 4535mm-  ISO 100-1/100 sec. f8
This is the backdrop against, which the bucks are chasing does during the early stages of the whitetail rut. The rut began early this year and most days yield one or more buck sightings, but the tempo should pick up even more in the next few weeks.

Whitetail Buck in Hot Pursuit of Doe: Canon 5D MK III 500mm F4L-  ISO 1600-1/640 sec. f4

Whitetail Buck Pauses From Chasing Doe: Canon 5D MK III 500mm F4L-  ISO 1600-1/800 sec. f4
Soon the leaves will be gone and the whitetail rut will be at its' peak and then all to soon fall we be over, and once again we will face the bitter winter months.

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Round Island Falls-A Scenic by Paul Staniszewski

While this blog focuses more on wildlife photography and video than scenics,or close-ups of flowers, they are still special subjects to me. In fact I always try to incorporate a liberal amount of video clips of this type of subject in any film that I make and it is always good to see an excellent photograph of any subject pertaining to nature. Today Paul Staniszewski sent me a photograph of the Round Island Falls in the Quehanna Wilderness Area, which I decided to share with you.
Round Island Falls: by Paul Staniszewski all rights reserved
Paul also included a link, which gives information on the falls and how to find them: .

A special thanks to Paul for this information.Also I will try to post a bit more frequently--it has been so good to take some time off after the intense effort of bringing the editing and release of Running Wild in Pennsylvania Elk Country to a conclusion.  I have promised in the past to write some articles about various subjects and I hope to address some of them soon.

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Running Wild In Pennsylvania Elk Country-The Introduction

Today I am posting a condensed version of the introduction to my latest film on Pennsylvania Elk, "Running Wild in Pennsylvania Elk Country". The introduction makes the point that when most think of elk, they think of the high mountain west, but elk were once native to Pennsylvania as well. Today Pennsylvania has a dynamic elk herd with great elk viewing and photography opportunities. The actual introduction shows more wildlife and scenery and features a short segment on the Elk Country Visitor Center.

The film goes on to take a look at the life cycle of the elk and what other key species that live in elk country are doing at different seasons of the year as well. The majority of this segment was shot with the Canon Rebel T3i,. Other cameras used were the Canon XL-H1 with nano Flash, and the Canon 5D MK III. Music is licensed by Getty Images.

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Whitetail Pre-Rut Accelerates as Leaves Change Color

Poison Ivy: Canon 5D MKIII-500mmF4
It is looking more and more like autumn  in southcentral Pennsylvania. The foliage becomes more colorful with each passing day, and the whitetail deer are also more active as the pre-rut picks up tempo. Some of the yearling bucks have not dispersed yet and are still traveling with the family groups which they grew up in.

Young Buck Scents For Danger: Canon 5D MK III -500mmF4 ISO 3200 -1/125sec. f4

Others have dispersed from the family groups and are now exploring new territory and looking for receptive does to mate with.

Buck Performs Lip Curl: Canon 5D MK III -500mmF4 ISO 1600- 1/320sec. f4
In our area many bucks disperse during their first autumn with antlers, but others do not disperse until the following May--assuming that they survive the hunting seasons.  I can recall one buck that was shot by poachers when he was two years of age.  He survived the wound, but did not disperse and did not travel far during the rut because of the effects of the wound.  He did not leave his home range until he was three years of age.

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Book by Marci Geise Features Photos from PA Elk Country

Mid-afternoon September 22, found me traveling to The Wildlife Center at  Sinnemahoning State Park where author/photographer Marci Geise was holding a book signing for "Elk Scenic Drive"  The book features photos of points of interest and wildlife that may be seen while traveling the elk scenic drive, a 127 mile route through the heart of elk country.  I arrived to find Marci and her father, Phil chatting with attendees.

Marci Geise Poses With Her Book  The Wildlife Center: Photo by W.Hill
Marci Geise maintains an active presence on the internet and her work may be viewed at Marci Geise Photography or on Facebook.  In addition, she was recently featured in the Monday September 17th edition of The St. Marys Daily Press.

Marci graciously contributed video footage and still photographs to "Running Wild In Pennsylvania Elk Country", a film which I released in late September.  Of special note are two video clips of bears playing and several photographs of bull 36, better know as "Fred" or "Freddy".  One of the featured photos is shown below.

Fred In 2009: Photo by Marci Geise-all rights reserved
Geise will hold another book signing on October 12 at the Cameron County Artisan Center.  Her book may be purchased at Benezett Store & Restaurant, Cameron County Artisan Center, Elk County Council On The Arts, Wharton General Store, The Wildlife Center at Sinnemahoning State Park, and the Cameron County Artisan Center. In addition the book may  be ordered directly from the author.  Please visit her website for  ordering instructions.

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Will The Biggest and Best Be Lost?

Mature 7x7 Bugling: Panasonic GH2 Canon 500mm F4
I was in Pennsylvania elk country from September 16th until late Friday morning on the 28th.  Overall it was one of the best trips ever, yet I was experiencing  grave misgivings about the bull situation by the time the trip was over. I saw more bulls than ever, and more antlers together, both  in sparring matches and brief fights, which is unlike recent years in which I seldom saw this.

Mature Bull: Canon 5D MK III Canon 500mm F4
Mature 7x7: Panasonic GH2 Canon 300mm F2.8
At first glance it would seem that the photographs I posted indicate there are a large number of mature bulls on Winslow Hill and there certainly are quite a few, but none that I photographed are likely to approach or exceed the magic 400 Boone and Crockett score that so many view as the holy grail of elk hunting.  The one that comes closest is an acclimated animal that has no fear of humans whatsoever.  With him apparently being the largest bull on the hill, there seems little likelihood that he will survive elk season.  Last year we lost two of the best on Winslow Hill and none have replaced the largest to the best of my knowledge.  I would expect the loss of at least one, most likely two, and perhaps all of the bulls shown today in the coming season.

It seems we are striving to become like Kentucky, which has a large elk herd, but which judging from most of the photographs I see, are distinctly second or third tier bulls compared to the best that Pennsylvania can offer.

Last year the largest Pennsylvania bulls came from the outlying areas, with the exception of the 7x8 which was killed near Weedville. It will be interesting to see if this is the case this year.

There seems little doubt that the PGC will address the large number of elk around the viewing areas on Winslow Hill. It is certainly true that the herd cannot be left to grow unchecked, but there is little excuse to kill the biggest and best bulls each year in an area that is home to the Elk Country Visitor Center and the hotbed of elk related tourism.  That being said it is a difficult situation to address as many of the bulls travel a long distance from Winslow Hill after the rut, with many going to Spring Run, the Weedvillle-Gardner Hill area, or further after the rut is over.

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

New Film To Be Available Late Sunday

The new 2 hour wildlife documentary, "Running Wild in Pennsylvania Elk Country" should be available at Benezett Store by late Sunday afternoon.

The film gives a close look at many wildlife species one may see in Pennsylvania Elk Country, with elk receiving the most attention. Whitetail deer and the eastern wild turkey are also given an in-depth look.One of the most noteworthy features is a bull fight from 2011 filmed by John T. Koshinski.  This was between the bull known as "Earhook" and a superb 7x8.  A brief sample is posted below.

They should be playing the film on the televisions in both the restaurant and store.  If they are not and you would like to see it,  please ask them to do so.

Also be sure and check out my first film, The Truth About Pennsylvania's Elk Herd, if you have not already done so.

Thanks to all for their support, and I hope to see you in elk country.

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Running Wild In Pennsylvania Elk Country

Magnificent Pennsylvania Bull: From the opening scenes of "Running Wild in Pennsylvania Elk Country"
 It has been a difficult past few weeks, trying to bring the post-production process to a close on a new film about Pennsylvania Elk.  In the four years that has passed  since I released  "The Truth About Pennsylvania's Elk Herd", I have spent countless hours afield in pursuit of elk.  It has truly been a pleasure to document these magnificent animals through the seasons of the year.

I had originally intended to title the film "Pennsylvania Elk Country", but after input from others it was decided to go with, "Running Wild In Pennsylvania Elk Country".  I decided to include a lot of other wildlife in the film that one can expect to see "running wild" in elk country.  I will say up front that most of this other wildlife was not filmed in the Pennsylvania northwoods, as I spend a relatively limited amount of time there and of course concentrate on the elk when I am there.  With that being said it is wildlife that one can reasonably expect to see in the elk range.  The film is 2 Hrs. long, which many will say is too lengthy, but it should be looked at as a modular film.  One can easily break viewing up over multiple evenings.  There are not nearly as many chapter breaks as in "The Truth About", but it is broken up between the four seasons of the year, with some further division in cases, which makes for easy viewing in segments.

Sadly I have not successfully filmed any sustained bull fights since the fight between Bull 36 and The Test Hill Bull in 2001, but I did film a lot of brief encounters.   One of the most exciting was on October 1, 2010, which is included in the section on fighting in "Running Wild"

I arrived at a meadow before dawn to a spine chilling serenade as several bulls were after a large herd of cows. Several mature bulls were in the area as well as a large number of young satellite bulls that were hanging around the edges of the harem.  I positioned the XL-H1, which has an excellent shotgun microphone and recorded several minutes of the bugling in the pre-dawn darkness.  It was frustrating, as in time one could see the dim shapes of the animals.  A lot of exciting action was going on, but it could not be recorded.

This was my first year with the Canon 7D and before I had a 300mm f2.8 lens, so at that point my best choices were the 70-200mm f2.8 or the 300mm F4, but the 70-200mm did not give satisfactory image size at that distance, so I used the 300mm F4.  The video was shot at 1/30 sec. F4.  IS) 2,000.  The amazing thing is I could not have recorded this a year earlier as the XL-H1 simply would not work acceptably in that light level.  The most exciting part of the action was over by the time it was bright enough for it.  To me the amazing thing is that this clip would have been a piece of cake for the Canon 5D MKIII as one can get extremely good video quality at esoteric ISO settings such as 6,400 and 12,800.

I hope you enjoy the clip and look for more information soon.  Hopefully the film will be available at Benezette Store by the end of the weekend.  I will try to post later today or tomorrow with an update on the situation.

Originally posted by Willard C. Hill at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Pennsylvania Elk Rut Gets Underway

Elk Rut Peaks Last 2 Weeks Of September: Canon 7D-Canon 300mm f2.8
According to reports coming in from Pennsylvania elk country, the rut is now underway, but activity is very spotty and sporadic.  Things should improve once a strong cool front comes through, but I never  go north until the middle of September and if I had to pick one week, it would be the last week of the month.

For those not familiar with the area, there are almost always a lot of cows and calves on Winslow Hill, but bull sightings can be spotty at certain times of year.  Winslow Hill is the traditional breeding grounds and bulls travel from far and wide to visit the hill during the rut, so the chances of seeing bulls increases exponentially.

Activity is usually best as soon as you can see to photograph in the morning and usually slacks off somewhere between 8:00 and 10:00.  Fog is often a problem in the early morning, although a certain amount of it adds wonderful atmosphere to photographs.

Late Evening In Elk Country: Canon 7D-300mm F2.8
Activity usually resumes in late afternoon.  The elk stay out later in the morning and  emerge to feed earlier in the evening in cool or unsettled weather.  In addition to being the best times to see elk, early morning and late evening usually present the best photographic light.

In a change from previous year, there is now a no parking sign along the right side of Dewey Road, shortly after one comes off of Winslow Hill Road.  I assume one is required to park only in the parking lot.  In recent years a lot of people parked there at peak times.  Also you are not permitted to walk down the bank there and watch the meadow where the pond and the green water treatment tower is.  In past years the restricted zone ended at the end of the Gilbert Meadow and it was permissible to do so, but now the restricted signs go toward Winslow Hill the entire way to the Game Commission Boundary.  It had been freshly posted when I was there in August and I assume it has remained that way.

Restricted Zone Signs Along Dewey Road
There are many more signs than usual across from the ponds on Dewey Road also.  It is not quite clear how this is to be interpreted as the signs line both sides of the dirt and gravel road going back through the meadow to the tree line, and they are posted quite thickly.  As usual there is a restricted sign on the gate when it is closed. It has never been clear if one is permitted to walk the road or not, but some do so.  I have heard conflicting answers from PGC officials, so it is best to stay off of the road.  At least one full time resident lives back that road and they and any other property owners and guests may drive this, but elk watchers may not and it seems that each year several people have to try  this if the gate is open.  If you do be aware that you can catch grief either from the landowner or the PGC.

Originally Posted at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard C. Hill.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Elk Calves'-The Spots Fade- Using the 5D MK III & GH2 in Elk Country

Spots Fade on Calf Elk: Panasonic GH2-Canon 500mm F4
 During August, most visitors to elk country may be focused on the bulls and the shedding of the velvet and the first stirrings of the pre-rut, but other important changes are occurring in the herd as well.  Like whitetail fawns, the calves are spotted at birth, which creates a camouflage pattern that helps them escape predators, but the spots start to fade in late July and this process continues until the coat is a solid color. The process begins at the top of the back and gradually works down.  By mid-August most of the calves are only partially changed such as the one in the photo above, but a small number have only a few spots still faintly visible. By the time the rut peaks in mid to late September most of the calves will have completely lost the spots or will have only a few faint ones.

Cow and Two Calves at Gilbert Viewing Area- one with spots almost gone: Still capture from video Panasonic GH2-Canon 500mm F4
 Two Calves at Gilbert Viewing Area- one with spots almost gone: Still capture from video -Panasonic GH2-Canon 500mm F4 -extended telephoto mode -35mm equivalent focal length approximately 2,000mm
This is the second trip to elk country that I have used the Panasonic GH2 as my primary video camera.  I was very unhappy when Canon did not include  the 3x crop mode in the 5D MK II or the new Rebel T4i.  I have no personal experience with The T4i, but I am told that the it does not have a better picture quality than the T3i.  I do have a fair amount of experience with the MK III in video mode and it is significantly better than the T3i in either still or video mode.  I am very happy with it when one can get close enough to the subject, but I missed the reach of the old Canon XL-H1 and the big L lenses, so after extensive research, I decided to try the Panasonic GH2 hybrid camera.

The GH2  uses a micro-4/3 lens mount and the sensor has a 2x crop factor.  The camera also has an extended telephoto mode, which takes the 2mp of resolution required for video from a small central portion of the sensor. This is how one can "really reach out and touch them" in video mode.  A decided down factor to this equation is that to use the Canon mount glass, one must use an adapter, and one that will electronically control the aperture costs almost as much, or more than the camera body--depending on which particular adapter one buys.  The bottom line; however,  is that the 500mm F4 , which is just that on a MK III becomes a 1,000mm F4 equivalent focal length on the GH2.  This is true in either still or video mode.  It becomes a 2,000mm focal length equivalent  in video mode when the extended telephoto mode is engaged.  The image is degraded somewhat , but it is still very usable.  I understand that unlike the T3i, one can also use this mode while shooting stills, but it will no longer utilize the full resolution of the sensor and as this is primarily a video camera in my case, I have not tried this yet.

Although one may not be able to tell from images posted on the internet, the bottom line is the GH2 cannot compete with any of the later Canon DSLRs as a still camera, but it is very usable and when one is concentrating on video it is an acceptable option to switch to still mode and take photographs.  Stills captured from video after the fact will be only 2MP resolution and will not be nearly as good as stills actually shot in still mode.

Calf Near Winslow Hill Road: Canon 5D MK III: Canon 500mm F4-ISO 400 1/640 sec. F4
A decided plus for the GH2 is that this is the first DSLR with which I have been able to follow-focus on moving animals or birds, in video mode, with any degree of success .So far manual focus  must be used in filming with a DSLR to have any hope of success and the LCDs are simply too low in resolution to reliably maintain sharp focus on moving subjects, even with the Zacuto Finder attached(the Rebel T3i did work better in this aspect than anything I had used previously).   The GH2 works better, because it has a blistering sharp electronic view finder in addition to a decent LCD.  I prefer to shoot video with the camera slightly above waist level and the LCD swiveled out and at a 45 degree angle, so I am standing above the camera, looking, down, and bent slightly forward.  This often gives a better perspective on the subject than standing erect, and using the eye-level finer, and it  is a good position to follow action from as one's head is not bumping the camera to disturb smooth camera motion, but the downside is of course the focus thing.  I find I am using the eye-level finder on this camera more and more, simply because I no longer have so much problem focusing.  

The bottom line is that one needs to keep an open mind about some of the options out there with the new high end Canon video cameras costing $16,000.00 without lens. 

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.