Friday, February 24, 2012

Late February In Elk Country

For the past several years I have spent a substantial portion of either the last week in February  or the first week in March in Pennsylvania elk country.  I decided to do so again this year, so late Monday morning found me traveling up I-99 under sunny skies with the goal in mind of arriving in Benezette in time to photograph the evening's elk activity.  The ground is usually covered with snow at this time of year, but today conditions were more like mid to late March, with  most of the fields being bare.

View From Gilbert Viewing Area-Usually Snow Covered In February
There was some snow cover in wooded areas--especially in areas protected from the direct rays of the sun, and some portions of  back roads were treacherous as well.  There was light snowfall on a few occasions  during the week, but there was only minimal accumulation and that melted quickly. All in all it was more like early spring than winter.

I did see quite a few elk, but not as many as usual, and bull sightings were few and far between.  I checked out Gray Hill several times, which is where many have seen bulls lately, but I did not see one elk let alone a bull.  Two young bulls were sighted at Devil's Elbow on Monday evening, but I filmed them with the Canon XL-H1 and  have no still photos to post of this encounter.

After checking Gray Hill and Winslow Hill at dawn on Tuesday, I traveled to Hick's Run where I found a herd between RT 555 and Bennetts Branch.  Eventually most of the elk crossed the river and again I concentrated on filming them, rather than taking stills, but I did pause at times to fire a few still frames.  It is always a special treat to film and photograph elk in the water.

Cows Crossing Bennetts Branch
A beautiful 6x6 was with the herd. He is not really a large bull, but is impressive enough to make an excellent photographic subject.  This was evidently one of the most commonly seen bulls this week as I have seen his photo posted several times on Facebook and on blogs.  Again I concentrated on video rather than stills as I have not filmed a bull crossing the river in my many years of going to elk country (I spend most of my time in the meadows and mountains, instead of the low-lands).  Of course I would love to have still photos of a river crossing also, but since video is my primary focus, I wanted video clips much worse. Eventually he walked to the edge of the river and paused to drink, and I took a still at this point.

Bull Drinking From River
One only needs to push a separate button the remote to take a full 18 meg-pixel still while in video mode, but the main problem is that one needs to use a shutter speed of between 1/30 and 1/100 when filming, with 1/60 being recommended in most cases.  It is of course possible to shift to higher speeds to take stills, but one cannot resume filming until they drop back to a more acceptable speed, or they end up with unnatural looking motion.  I took the still  without boosting the shutter speed as it seemed likely he could take off across the river at any moment and catch me changing settings in which case a wonderful opportunity would be wasted while I fumbled with camera settings. This resulted in a bit of softness in the image, due to either camera vibration, subject movement or both. As it turned out, I successfully film him crossing the river, which made an otherwise lackluster trip into one that I will not forget.

Originally posted at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.