Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014 Photo Accomplishments

Today I would like to share two images with you that were published in 2014. Both were somewhat unusual images.  The first is of "Limpy" the great Pennsylvania bull elk that thrilled numerous wildlife watchers and photographers for years before being killed in this year's elk season.  He was most likely the most photographed bull in the state in recent years and his images graced  several publications. This year I submitted a photograph of him to Pennsylvania Magazine for consideration in their 2014 Photo Contest.

Limpy-2013: Canon 70D-Canon 70-200mm f2.8L IS II @ 200mm-ISO 400-1/800 sec. f 5.0
The photo was taken in The Saddle at 6:47 on Wednesday September 25, 2013 as the sun was about to set.  Many will recall this evening as a lot of elk enthusiasts were there to witness the dramatic events and stunning scenery.  At the time I recalled how the  crew from Wild Horizons, who filmed in The Saddle a few years ago, preferred to film in dramatic light and I worked to exploit the situation to the best of my ability as this was definitely dramatic light.  I have never been sure that I made the best choices in the situation.  Perhaps I should have exposed for more detail on the elk, but the way it is shown above is the outcome I had in mind when I pressed the shutter.

Whatever the case, it captured second place  in the Wildlife Diorama category, while Ronald Kauffman of York won first place with a dramatic photo of an eagle flying from a nest and Donald Biresch of Ottsville captured third place with a dramatic photo of wolves photographed at The Wolf Sanctuary of Pennsylvania in Lancaster County.    Winning photos and those earning an honorable mention in the Wildlife Diorama category were published in the September/October issue of Pennsylvania Magazine.

I was also pleased when Bugle Magazine chose the Overlook Bull photograph that was feature in the September 29, 2014 post, "Elk Activity Is Now Spotty" to accompany a short article about the co-operative effort between The Pennsylvania Game Commission and The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation to acquire the Woodring Property.

Overlook Bull:  Canon 70D- Canon 17-40@ 39mm ISO 100-1/60 sec. f 5.0
This is an unusual image and I have mixed feelings about it, but as one photographer pointed out it is a different type image than what one usually sees from Pennsylvania Elk County.  When I saw the situation I had no chance to change anything, I had to go with the camera and lens that was on my chest ready to go.  I have seen a lot of elk around this overlook, but never on it with the mountains visible behind.  The light was very contrasty and it would have been impossible to get acceptable quality with film or with a straight-out -of- camera jpeg image with a digital camera.  As it was, the original RAW file is washed out over the mountains and the side of the elk and tree trunks are deeply shadowed. Even though the mountains and sky were too bright the detail was not washed out and it was easy to bring it to the correct exposure in Adobe CC Camera Raw.  The shadows slider was used to bring out detail in the dark areas, and other tweaks were used as well such as dodging and burning, etc. The end result has somewhat of an HDR look to it. At any rate it is a photo that will always stand out in my mind because of the unusual circumstances under which it was taken and because it was published by Bugle Magazine.

I wish to thank the faithful readers of this blog  that have supported me on the issues through the years and to the many who have purchased "The Truth About Pennsylvania's Elk Herd" and "Running Wild In Pennsylvania Elk Country".  Also a special thanks to those who helped me in the making of the films.  Your assistance is deeply appreciated.  A Happy and Prosperous New Year to all.

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Crazy Legs-A Non-typical Monster

"Crazy Legs, Jr " 2010: Canon 7D-500mm F4.0
Most serious elk watchers and photographer were familiar with the bull known as "Crazy Legs, Jr" that was an impressive rack bull  from 2008 until 2010 when he was killed in elk season that year.  Most have also heard of the original "Crazy Legs", bull  that was killed by poachers in mid-October of 2000, in Grove Township along Route 120 on the Clinton/Cameron county line, but this was before the time of many that visit the elk range today so photographs and video of this bull are much less common than that of  "Crazy Legs, Jr.".

On December 18th I received an e-mail notification that someone had posted a comment on the Support PA Elk Blog asking if I knew of anyone that has photos of the original bull.  When I visited the page; however, I found that the comment was posted back in September so I am not quite sure what went on with the comment notification system.  At any rate I could not find any still photographs of this bull and his time on Winslow Hill corresponded with a period that I was taking very few still photographs, so it is likely that I have none. As a result I searched through my video files from 1996 and 1997, which were years I was sure I had filmed the bull, and made video still captures of some of the better poses.

1995 was the first year I filmed the Pennsylvania elk rut and one foggy morning,  I was filming a bull along Dewey road when Claude Nye, better know to many as Dr. Perk, came along and told me about the bull.  He said, "we used to call him Steve, but now we call him Crazy Legs because he likes to travel". 

"Crazy Legs": 1995:Panasonic AG-455
This film and that from 1996 was taken with a Panasonic AG-455 MUP. This was a popular S/VHS camcorder with wedding and wildlife videographers and featured much better image quality than the 8mm and VHS camcorders that were more commonly used by video enthusiasts at the time.

The bull was larger in 1996 and the non-typical configuration for which he became famous was much more noticeable.

"Crazy Legs": 1996: Panasonic AG-455

"Crazy Legs"-1996: Panasonic AG-455
The following year I switched to a Canon L2 interchangeable lens Hi-8 camcorder, which excelled for long range work. Stills captured from its' footage are also sadly lacking in quality compared to today's equipment, but they do serve the purpose of showing what the bull looked like.

The first frame was captured from  footage of a fight that he lost to anther monster bull on the hillside to the south of Dr. Perk's house in the rut of 1997.  His rack configuration made it difficult to successfully fight, as it was so wide and flat by comparison to a more typical  bull, that the other animal could come right between his antlers and inflict damage.  As a result, it was no surprise that  the Crazy Legs bull was somewhat timid. Most who saw the fight or heard of it were not surprised that he lost, but rather were amazed that he had  fought at all.

"Crazy Legs" 1997: Canon L2
The shot below was captured when he paused from drinking in a water puddle, lifted his head, and lip-curled.  This was taken near the intersection of the road that comes from the Dewey Road parking lot and the road that goes in The Saddle.

"Crazy Legs" 1997": Canon L2
He would survive through three more elk ruts, but as best as I can tell I never filmed him again after 1997.  I was only spending about five days each autumn in the elk range at that time and it was common for this to happen.  There was even a year or so that I didn't film Bull 36 a.ka. "Fred" or "Dogrope" during the rut.  This was usually because the bull was not in the area that I was filming during the time I was there.

It seems that this strain is strong in the Pennsylvania elk herd as currently there are several bulls out that that show signs of this influence.  It is likely in the years to come that  from time to time another non-typical bull with this configuration will appear and be seen for awhile before he meets with misfortune.

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Images From The 2014 Whitetail Rut and Camera Thoughts

It has been over three weeks since this blog was last updated and that has not happened since I began blogging in 2007.  This blog has always been issues oriented, but I find it increasingly difficult to write about this type of subject matter.  It is amazing how time consuming it can be just to write a short article about a controversial subject when one is striving for accuracy and objectivity.  With that in mind, I will limit today's post to sharing some photos from the recent whitetail rut and some thoughts on cameras for stills and video.

With all the talk of the introduction of the 7D MK II I decided to get the old 7D out of mothballs and use it for some long range work this autumn. It turned out that it  and the 600mm was an excellent choice to photograph this buck which was about 125 yards away.

Eight-Point: Canon 7D-Canon 600mm F4.0 IS L-ISO 400-1/2000 Sec. F 5.0
The buck had followed a doe into the meadow and I captured them both in another frame.

Eight-Point Buck and Doe: Canon 7D-Canon 600mm F4.0 IS L-ISO 400-1/2000 Sec. F 5.0
Of course it is always good to capture wildlife other than whitetails and an encounter with Eastern Wild Turkey gobblers is a rewarding experience and no before you ask I wasn't THAT close to the bird. The old 7D can stand up to severe cropping as long as the light is good and it is focused accurately.

Wild Turkey Gobbler: Canon 7D-Canon 600mm F4.0 IS L-ISO 400-1/2000 Sec. F 5.0

Why, you might ask have I even mentioned the 7D MK II when I have not even seen one yet, let alone used it?

I am mostly a video oriented person, but I love still photography also. Beginning in 1997 I used high-end prosumer Canon camcorders such as the L2, XL-1s, and XL-H1, but with the introduction of video in dslrs such as the Canon 7D, T3i, and 70D I found myself shooting more and more of my video with these cameras, although their video quality left something to be desired in many cases.  I saw footage from a Panasonic GH2 in 2012 and it was much sharper than that of the 7D.  This began a period of shooting video with both Canon and Panasonic cameras.  With the advent of the 4K Panasonic GH-4 I have shifted entirely to the Panasonics for video and recently acquired a fixed lens Panasonic FZ-1000 as a secondary camera to use when the GH-4 has a big telephoto mounted on it.  The downside is that the GH-4 is not as good as the old Canon 7D for still photography and the the FZ-1000 is a good step behind the GH-4.

Frosty Morning Buck: Panasonic FZ-1000-ISO 1000-1/100 sec. F 4.0
The thing about the small sensor cameras for still photography is that their image may look very sharp at a glance, but if one zooms in to 100% or higher in Photoshop it is  noticeable that they do not have the fine detail of the larger sensor cameras. With that being said, they are perfectly usable for many purposes including taking images for publication and they have the advantage of being very small  and portable in comparison to the Canons with the big prime lenses.

Now back to the 7D Mark II-- At this point I would not buy one for the video features as there is no flip-finder and no 4K video for starters, but this does not detract from its' appeal as a still camera.  I can understand why Canon does not put a flip LCD on the pro-level still cameras, but it is severely crippling to shoot video without one unless you use an external monitor and as of yet external monitors do not work nearly as well on the Canons as they do with the Panasonics. The main attraction of the 7D MK II to me would be low light performance comparable to that of the 5D MK III. Another point to consider is that technically an un-cropped image of distant wildlife from a 7D MK II sensor should have better detail than a 5D MK III cropped to the same perspective. I do not know, as I have not tried a 7D MK II, but after extensive use of the 70D and original 7D  I still cannot make up my mind if it is really worth using a crop sensor for stills over cropping the 5D MK III image more in Photoshop.

In closing I wish to emphasize that I discuss only Canon and Panasonic cameras here as those are the only cameras I own and  have experience with.  As to the 7D MK II, I look forward to seeing results from this camera and reading users experiences.  At this point it looks like I will not be an early adopter, and perhaps may never acquire one, but who knows?  It may become my favorite wildlife still camera.

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Shenandoah National Park -The Assault On The Whitetail Continues

When I first heard of the CWD study at Shenandoah National Park back in 2012, the first thought that entered my mind was that this was just the preliminary step toward a drastic herd reduction in the park. As it turns out it seems my worst fears are going to be more than realized, but for some time park officials seemed to  divert attention away from what they really intended to do and to downplay the severity of it.

In a News Release dated December 5, 2013  SNP officials announced that their  staff had completed a planning process for a Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) Detection and Assessment Plan.  This followed the park  receiving a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) decision. The purpose of the CWD plan at that point was to establish a framework in which SNP officials could determine whether CWD was present in the deer population within the park and if was found to determine the number of infected animals and their location in the park.  This would all come together in a   management plan to deal with CWD in the park and to co-operate with the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries in detecting the disease, etc.

The news release went on to list four options for the detection and/or assessment of CWD within the park.,
 1. Opportunistic sampling (mostly testing road-killed deer)
 2. Targeted surveillance(looking for and sampling sick/emaciated deer)
 3. Enhanced live-testing (live-sampling healthy appearing)
  4. Lethal removal

At this point the lethal removal option appeared to be downplayed as the third paragraph of the news letter states, "Sampling will occur in areas of the park within 30 miles of a known CWD case. If needed to achieve a statistically valid sample size for the detection or assessment of CWD, the park may lethally sample up to 150 deer over a three year period for detection or approximately 70 over a two year period to determine prevalence and distribution. The park will only lethally remove deer for sample after exhausting all other non-lethal sampling methods (e.g., enhanced opportunistic (mostly road-kill), enhanced live-testing, and hunter-harvest/road-kill testing by the VDGIF within the surveillance area).The park will primarily sample and remove deer near the closest developed areas (e.g. Dickey Ridge, Mathews Arm, Skyland,and Big Meadows). Deer will be sampled from developed areas because these areas have higher deer densities and are, therefore, at greater risk of CWD introduction and spread .Lethal removal sampling would occur during periods of low visitation."

Pay special attention to this sentence from the paragraph above, "The park will only lethally remove deer for sample after exhausting all other non-lethal sampling methods".  If someone read this in a positive frame of mind, it tended to relieve their concerns as it gave the impression that lethal removal was extremely unlikely to happen or be minor in nature if it did,  but if we jump forward to late 2014 and read the SNP  CHRONIC WASTING DISEASE DETECTION AND ASSESSMENT PLAN AMENDMENT of October 2014 it becomes clear that they did employ lethal sampling methods on park deer or at least they certainly seem to say that they did.

If one goes to page 21 and looks  under the heading, "Impacts of plan with addition of proposed response actions" they state, "As previously analyzed (NPS 2012a), the current detection and assessment actions have some adverse impacts on visitor use and experience when visitors are unable to access certain areas of the park because area closures are required for safety reasons during lethal removal for sampling". They go on to point out on page 22 that "The addition of the proposed response actions may require additional area closures to conduct density reductions but these are not expected to noticeably change the level of impact on visitors beyond what was previously analyzed for detection and assessment actions, alone." Even if one reads the document quite closely there are times that you are not sure if they are writing about something that has already happened or if they are stating that something that is to happen in the future will result in little difference in visitor experience, over something that has already been planned for the future, but not yet implemented--it is that vague. .

The conclusion on page 23 does a good job of summing it up; however, and seems to leave little doubt that that they have already removed deer by lethal means when beginning with the second sentence they say "The adverse impacts of area closures for density reductions would not be noticeably different than what visitors currently experience when areas are closed for lethal removals for detection and assessment. Closures for density reductions may be somewhat longer or at different times of the year, but the overall adverse impacts would not change from existing, either individually or cumulatively".

Concerning negative impacts, the conclusion states, "The main difference as a result of adding response actions is decreased opportunities for visitors to regularly view and photograph deer in favored locations such as Big Meadows. Deer would still be present but in smaller numbers, on a less regular basis, and may be less tolerant of human presence. This would probably reduce the enjoyment of visitors who come to the park specifically to see deer in Big Meadows and other favorite viewing areas.  It goes on to justify the herd reductions by pointing out that, "This would not reduce the overall visitor experience of the park because deer densities in these areas would be more similar to natural deer densities that occur throughout the park, which is in keeping with the natural conditions and experience that the park was established to conserve and promote."

The conclusion sections ends with, " Public outreach and information may promote greater understanding of the need for the response actions, alleviating some of the adverse impacts".

 Thoughts  From Blog Readers

 Wildlife biologist, Kirk, commented on my last post, . " If your interest is in the conservation of the whitetail herd, let's agree that the current density of WT's on NPS property from Shenandoah to Gettysburg is somewhere between 20 and 50 TIMES the threshold for "high likelihood" of transfer of CWD as it's practiced in much tougher, sparse terrain out west. Not 20%. 2000%! And that number is likely pretty low.
I'm not arguing this as a hunter (Lord knows that hunting on NPS ground is a debacle at best), but as an actual wildlife biologist. Photography is important. Visitors (and fee payers) are important. But there's absolutely nothing in anyone's action plan to reasonably react to a 50% or 80% herd die off."

(I assume from this that he is meaning that  a 50% or 80% mortality rate from CWD is possible  rather than the lower rates usually reported  in states like Colorado are because of the much higher deer density in SNP.)

Kirk goes on to say, "There's no "non harsh" way through this, is what I'm proposing. Thanks for bringing up the issue, I hadn't heard about this, and I'm well versed in NPS' typical aversion to lethal management of anything, even exotic 30 foot long pythons."

Kirk  also made a follow-up comment-" Also keep in mind that all of these actions occur in context of multiple, often competing, management plans for the NPS units. NPS has been burned badly in court numerous times for not aggressively acting to take precautions to preserve designated habitats and species from "forsseable" threats. Whitetails are at a high density on NPS lands, we all agree on that, and guess what, they don't eat the invasive plants."

A Virginia wildlife photographer, Larry W. Brown, who is very familiar with SNP said, "To state that this is a bad situation for the SNP whitetails would be a major understatement. The ignorance of the SNP wildlife management officials to continue on with these herd reduction plans makes no sense whatsoever. There have been 7 known cases of CWD in that county since 2009, so if CWD was as bad as they make it out to be, wouldn't the deer populations in that area have already suffered? And have already spread into SNP? Since 2002, over 7,600 deer in Virginia have been tested for CWD. The Va DGIF has diagnosed ONLY 7 positive cases of CWD in Virginia. The statistics speak for themselves.

Another Virginia wildlife photographer, Jim Fields, who I first met on A Sunday summer  morning in Big Meadows back in the film photography day,s  chimed in with a very relevant comment, " SNP is using CWD as a scare tactic to convince the unknowing public that an 80% cull is needed in Big meadows. If CWD was a valid concern the parks efforts would focused at the North Entrance of the Park nearer to the CWD positive specimens. As Larry mentioned Virginia does not have mass numbers of deer killing over from CWD. There has only been 7 CWD positive deer found to date and none of these were in SNP.

As you know in the Amended plan there is no mention of herd management with consideration given to keeping genetically strong specimens or proper buck to doe ratios to produce quality bucks, does, and fawns for future generations. This is purely a kill plan to eliminate mass deer numbers specifically in Big Meadows.

Additionally If you visit SNP you will find no information regarding this subject displayed for the public at any of the park facilities. I purposely went in the Byrd visitor center yesterday I was handed a copy of the press release from behind the counter only after I inquired about the deer reduction in BM. There was no copies of the amended plan available at the center."

Another wildlife enthusiast,  Kaleen, said, " The Shenandoah National Park situation is heartbreaking. I have been going to the park for over 40 years and have loved and photographed the deer and other animals all that time. The park's plan is insane and illogical. There is not enough evidence to support such drastic action, and the only way to completely prevent this disease in the future would be to eliminate all the deer, which the current park plan would almost do. The park has ruined wildlife photography, to say nothing of the suffering, evident in photos, of the collared deer. The poor deer do not stand a chance, and this planned nighttime shooting will lead to poor shots and injured and suffering deer. The whole plan is senseless and will do nothing to prevent the disease from ever reaching the park, which is not likely anyway. The park officials seem to have lost their minds. They should take a lesson from Pennsylvania's game management."

My Thoughts

When we sift to the bottom of all of this it boils down to the fact that they are willing to sacrifice 80% of the deer herd at the popular whitetail areas such as Big Meadows because, according to Larry Brown , 7 deer have tested positive for CWD in the State of Virginia and this is confirmed by The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries Website.

Remember they intend to Shoot 80% of the Big Meadows herd because of  SEVEN (7) positive deer in the entire state of Virginia, although it does appear that they need to find a positive deer within the 5 mile trigger distance from the park or within the park itself to begin the 80% reduction. According to a chart on page 8 this means the removal of 130-150 deer from the Big Meadows area to match the populations density of surrounding areas, yet  already  reports are surfacing of experienced outdoors people seeing only a few deer in the Big Meadows Area. Does this mean that a substantial number of deer have already been removed from the Big Meadows area to provide the samples needed for lethal CWD testing if enough specimens were not available from non-lethal methods?

Of course the fear is that CWD will spread and become established resulting in a permanent herd reduction if nothing is done, but even the most optimistic official in my experience will not contend that CWD response plans as implemented by any conservation or federal agency has any chance of stopping the disease--only in slowing the spread of it. 

Remember-To slow the spread of the disease down they plan to shoot up to 80% or the herd to prevent a loss that in a worst case scenario MAY reach 80% of the herd, but would more likely top around 30% and this is assuming that the disease becomes widely established in the park, which is by no means a given.

It is always easy to criticize, but much harder to be responsible for a plan of action, so it is fair to ask what would you do if you were in charge of the situation?

 If I were responsible for the management of the SNP whitetail herd I would manage the herd much as it was before the inception of the CWD study of 2012.  Only visibly sick or injured animals would be removed from the herd and there would be no preemptive shooting.  Expenditure of funds and efforts would be geared toward finding a cure for the disease if possible. It may be that this is something like the gypsy moth was with the oak forests and it will run its' course regardless of efforts applied to stopping it.

As it stands,  The SNP plan is currently being implemented and future amendments will likely meet with approval.  At this writing it appears that the outstanding whitetail viewing and photography  at SNP are over for my lifetime and perhaps for all time although it is to be hoped that at some point in the future responsible people will shake their head at the way war was declared on the whitetail deer in the name of saving them from CWD.

A special  thanks to those who submitted comments  on the November 12th post "Herd Reduction Looms For Shenandoah National Park Whitetails, which are featured in today's post.

Originally Published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Herd Reduction Looms For Shenandoah National Park Whitetails

Future Uncertain For Whitetail Deer
It seems there is no good news these days if ones' primary interest is big game photography--especially whitetail deer photography.  Here in Pennsylvania there have been several cases of CWD and three DMAs (Disease Managment Areas) have been established.    So far the Pennsylvania Game Commission has been fairly conservative in dealing with the disease. On the other hand,  The National Park Service is planning to launch a severe response to the disease once  certain triggering thresholds are met.

We first reported on this in the October 26, 2012 post: "Shenandoah Whitetails Under Assault"  At that time the Park had fitted  a large number of deer with ear tags and/or radio collars and were conducting a whitetail deer study geared to charting deer movements.  In conjunction with this a certain number of deer were to be live tested for CWD. Almost overnight they destroyed the world class whitetail photography at Big Meadows which until that time was one of the best areas to observe and photograph whitetail deer in the United States. 

Mature Buck at SNP 2011
 Last week  fellow retired PGC employee Billie Cromwell traveled to SNP to photograph the deer and returned home after two discouraging days.  He called me to ask if I had been there and advised me to cancel any plans I had to visit the park this fall. I had already decided to avoid the park this year due to my disappointing summer trip this year so this meant no change in plans, but it did re-in-force my sense of discouragement about the situation at the Park.  Billie reported that he saw only a handful of deer in the Big Meadows Area.  Places where they were once seen in plenty now were either empty or there was only a deer or two.  He did report seeing a buck or two that was collared last year, but now were wearing none. Soon after talking to Billie, well known Virginia wildlife photographer, Larry W. Brown, contacted me to tell me that the assault on the whitetails of Shenandoah was not over.

Following the links that he sent me, I found that on November 10, the Park released its' CWD Response Plan Amendment/Environmental Assessment plan , which amends the 2013 CWD Detection and Assessment Plan.  To read about CWD and an overview of the  amended plan click Here.

To read the plan in its' entirety or to comment-Click Here:

While the original 2013 plan allows lethal sampling of deer to detect CWD, the proposed amendment allows deer population reduction by lethal means in front country areas of the park to manage the disease.  This would attempt to bring the herd at areas such as Big Meadows in line with  deer numbers in back country areas of the park and in areas outside the park in an attempt to minimize disease transmission.

Big Meadows is listed as the area in the park with the highest deer density/square mile.  Under this amendment 77-81% of the deer would be removed to equal the density of surrounding areas.

If the proposed plan is approved, it will be implemented when two or more positive CWD cases are found within 5 miles of the park boundary or if detected inside the park.  According to the news release this could happen fairly soon (1-3) years or it could be many years away, but it is expected to happen sooner or later.

Also of importance to photographers is that there will be no protection for the mature bucks and all adult deer will be targeted equally.  When it comes to killing deer for CWD testing, the bucks will receive priority in targeting as bucks 2 years of age or older are more likely to have CWD and as they roam over a wider range are supposedly more likely to spread the disease.

Mature Bucks To Be Targeted
Herd reduction will most likely be done at night, from November-March. Specific nighttime area closures may be necessary from November - March in the Central District of the Park so that deer way be shot at areas such as Skyland and Big Meadows.

Public comments may be made either online or by mail.
Comments should be posted online at
Or, send to: Superintendent, Shenandoah National Park, Attn: CWD Response Amendment/EA, 3655 US Highway, 211 East, Luray, VA 22835. 

Public Meetings
Public meetings are scheduled on November 17 (Crozet Public Library, 2020 Library Avenue, Crozet, VA), November 18 (Elkton Community Center, 20593 Blue and Gold Dr, Elkton, VA). All meetings start at 7:00 PM. 

Look for more commentary on this and the situation in the Pennsylvania Elk Range within the near future.  

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Iconic Pennsylavania Elk Killed In 2014 Elk Season

Today I received news that the most famous and likely the most photographed  mature bull elk in Pennsylvania was shot and killed on the second day of elk season by a young hunter from Erie.  This was the bull known as "Limpy" which I filmed and photographed  for the first time in 2009 when he was already a mature 7x7 bull. The 2014 elk season began on Monday November 3rd and will continue through Saturday November 8 with an extended season in certain areas on November 10--15th.

"Limpy" 2009
 He became known as "Limpy" in 2010 when he was injured and walked with a limp thereafter.  My Brother Coy of Country Captures photographed him silhouetted against a dramatic sunset that year and I used that for the cover photo on my documentary film, "Running Wild In Pennsylvania Elk Country", which was released in 2012.

"Limpy" 2010
He had a smaller rack in 2011.  This was probably because of the  effects of the injury.

"Limpy" 2011
 He rebounded from his injury in 2012, and grew an impressive rack.

Limpy: 2012

Through the years I filmed and photographed him and always expected that each year would be his last, but somehow he survived.  I suspected that he spent elk season on posted ground and likely quite close to someone's home or cabin as this bull was completely acclimated to humans and had no fear of them whatsoever.

Limpy: 2013
The Pennsylvania Game Commission Calendar has featured photos of  "Limpy"taken by my brother Coy in  the 2014 and 2015 Calendars.  One thing is certain, he will not be featured again unless photographs from the past are used.

Limpy: 2014 The Final Year
There are a lot of elk in Pennsylvania with many  bulls of respectable size out there. This should continue for the foreseeable future, but the death of this animal marks the passing of a time on Winslow Hill when one could follow the life and development  of a bull through the years and brings a final conclusion to a definitive era of elk watching and photography on Winslow Hill and we are the worse for its' passing

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Fall Color and The Whitetail Rut

It is hard to believe that two weeks have past since I last posted here. I still maintain a heavy shooting schedule on mornings and evenings, but have been involved in other projects in mid-day and evenings, which has made it difficult to keep up with the posting and video editing.

Even though I have spent a lot of time outdoors I took very little photos or video of the fall color this year.  Fall color was a bit late in arriving and I held off shooting a lot in hopes that it would intensity, but then a rainy period arrived. When it was over many of the leaves that had bright scarlet and yellow colors such as maple were gone, so we never had a period in which most of the leaves were at their peak and the weather was ideal for capturing them in their glory.  In spite of this, I was able to capture a bit of fall color on the evening of October 19th.

Autumn Stream: Panasonic GH4-LUMIX- 14-140/F4.0-5.8@ 17mm-ISO 200-1/60 Sec. f 10

Autumn Color: Panasonic GH4-LUMIX- 14-140/F4.0-5.8@ 17mm/F4.0-5.8 -ISO 200-1/320 Sec. f 10
Throughout the summer one usually sees the same family groups of does and  fawns with the one-year old bucks still usually traveling with them. Occasionally a two-year old buck is still with the extended family group too, but this situation usually changes sometime after the velvet is shed and the pre-rut begins.  At this point many of the yearling bucks and most, if not all, of the remaining two-year old bucks disperse . The mature bucks spend the summers alone or in bachelor groups and they ordinarily travel over a  large area searching for food, while the extended family groups usually remain in the same general area throughout the year. With the onset of the pre-rut and the rut, the bachelor groups fragment, and the bucks become much more visible as they travel about looking for does in heat.

Where I usually hang out is not the best spot for seeing bachelor groups in the summer, but it has a good population of does, fawns and young bucks. Buck sightings usually increase dramatically once the pre-rut begins and especially once the full-blown rut gets underway.  Some of the bucks only visit once or twice, while others are seen with varying degrees of frequency throughout the rut.

This year the first strange bucks arrived on October 9th and one peered from the edge of the meadow while another checked out the resident doe herd.

First Strange Buck: Canon 5D MK III-Canon EF600mm f/4L IS -ISO 400-1/200 Sec. f  4.5
 Buck Checks Out Family Group: Canon 5D MK III-Canon EF600mm f/4L IS -ISO 400-1/400 Sec. f  4.5
Many who write about deer would say that the above bucks are "nice" or even perhaps "small" 1 year old animals, but I feel confident in saying that both are 2 years old.  Bucks may grow larger, sooner in other areas, but in the area I am familiar with the average first year buck's antlers  usually range from small spikes to four and six-points. Over the years I have observed many buck's development from the time that they were fawns through their first year with antlers and I have seen several that remained until they were two years old and I got to see what rack they had at that age.  In one case a buck did not disperse until he was three years old.  The bottom line is that I am talking about deer that I am absolutely certain were the same deer and I knew exactly what rack they grew each year and how old they were when they grew it.

At any rate some of the visiting bucks will be seen only a time or two, while others remain in the general area with some being seen almost every day while others will only swing by once or twice a week looking for hot does.   The small three-point buck below is a non-resident buck that abruptly appeared and began spending most of his time with the resident doe herd.

Young Buck Chasing Does: Canon 5D MK III-Canon EF600mm f/4L IS  -ISO 800-1/200 Sec. f  5.0
The buck below is either an exceptional yearling or more likely a two year old.  He is not a daily visitor, but rather is usually seen once or twice a week.

8 Point: Canon 5D MK III-Canon EF600mm f/4L IS  -ISO 800-1/200 Sec. f  4.5
I have noticed in the past few years  that it is fairly common to see a certain buck for a week or so and then he vanishes, where in the not too distant past this was seldom the case. In an instance like this, it is likely that the buck has either been legally taken with a bow, hit by a vehicle, or killed by poachers.  In most cases it is likely because of  the upswing in bow-hunting hunting pressure brouth about by a longer bow season that coincides with the peak of the rut and the legalization of the cross bow.

With the full-blown rut getting underway, I should have more and more opportunities to photograph the bucks in the next few weeks, but only time will tell if any impressive ones will appear.

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Panasonic GH4-Disaster Brings New Method of Shooting

Extreme Long Range Tool: GH4 With Cage- Canon 500 f4.5 FD Lens-Ronsrail Support, Rode VideoMic Pro
Most of the readers of this blog that encountered in Pennsylvania Elk Country this year have already heard the story that I will relate today, but I would like to share it with all blog readers as this is about an experience that changed my approach to filming wildlife.  I only wish that learning this had not been so traumatic or so expensive.

I have mentioned in several posts that I am now using the Panasonic GH4 as my primary video acquisition tool. I got my first one on May 1, 2014 and liked it so well that my Canon 70D was retired from taking video and became a backup still camera to the 5D MK III and the Panasonic GH3 was used only in situations where the GH4 was on the tripod with a long telephoto attached and wildlife got so close that I needed a smaller lens.  An example of this is that when filming spring turkeys from a blind I kept the 14-140mm Lumix  attached to the GH3 and used it if widlife got so close that I could use a short focal length, shoot hand-held and still get stable looking video.

Fast-forward to early July, which is one of my favorite times of year, as the whitetail bucks and  bull elk have substantial size antlers.  A favorite activity is to take a walk in the back country at the crack of dawn and check out meadows where bucks either feed in the cool of early morning or cross the meadows on their way from feeding areas to bedding grounds in the nearby woods.  A major reason I love taking video is that it is easier to get acceptable results with it at long range than it is with still cameras and many of the bucks that I see are very intolerant of humans, which makes long range encounters the norm. On the morning of July 8th I  found a few decent bucks in a meadow complex and got some video of them.

7P At Long Range: GH4 Video Still Capture
There was really nothing all that special about the situation except that the GH4 worked so well for this long range shooting compared to the cameras I had been using.  The LCD was much better than the one on the GH3 and as I reviewed the clips I had filmed I thought about the trip I had planned to elk country that coming Sunday and I felt on top of the world as I thought about the excellent whitetail and elk filming opportunities that the near future offered and what a pleasure it would be to use this camera.

As it was still fairly early I drove to another spot where fawns are frequently seen and set theGH4 up on the tripod.  A fawn soon appeared and I took some video  footage and then decided to go for a few still frames from my 70D, which was close at hand with the 70-200mm f2.8 attached.  I fired a shot or so from eye level and as the fawn was not spooky I dropped to a kneeling position to get a better perspective and fired a few frames.

Young Fawn: Canon 70D-70-200mm f2.8 L IS II
 When I stood back up, I stumbled a bit, felt a small bump on my back, and glanced over my shoulder. To my dismay, the tripod with the Panasonic GH4 attached was  falling over backwards.  It all seemed to happen in slow motion and before I could turn completely around I heard a sickening crunch as something broke.  I was in denial and didn't even want to look at the camera, which must be whey I took no photos of it after the accident.  I walked up to it and reluctantly assessed the damage.  I had the LCD opened and at a 45 degree angle which is my favorite position for video and the camera fell in such a way that the LCD and mike input jack bore the brunt of the impact.

The Aftermath-Broken LCD Hinge
The LCD was still attached to the camera and the glass was not broken, but the hinge was damaged and it would not display an image. On a positive note the internal electronic viewfinder worked OK and the remote control jack still functioned, but it was very limiting to shoot video this way after the freedom of using the LCD

In one short moment I went from being on top of the world as I thought about the coming summer and shooting 4K video to being faced with the possibility that it would be some time before I could shoot 4K video again.  There several options open to me including going back to the 70D and The GH3 or breaking the XL-H1 out, while the camera was sent to Panasonic for repair. Pursuing this option meant no 4K filming while it was gone, an unknown turn-around time, and even the possibility that Panasonic would simply want to replace the camera at full cost and not repair it.  Another option was to replace the camera with another new body.  The downside to this was the expense and as it turned out it was not possible at the time as they were out of stock everywhere.  This left the option of using the camera with the electronic viewfinder only, but then I realized that I had time to get an external monitor before the trip.

I have considered using an external monitor for years, but never made the step as there was always some other piece of equipment that I felt it was more pressing to obtain. Also there were concerns about the added bulk and complexity of the equipment once a monitor was attached.  Back in the SD days I filmed some performance videos of bands using multi-cameras and a mixer with an output plugged into a TV set for monitoring, but I never used a dedicated on camera monitor while filming wildlife in the field.

Considering the options facing me, I decided to got with a 7" Ikan VK7i Monitor and I got it in time to make a home-made bracket which I used in conjunction with a Zactuo Gorilla Plate, to fit it to the GH4.

GH4 and Ikan Monitor attached by Zacuto Gorilla Plate and home-made bracket
This saved the day and I had a great trip to elk country and continued to enjoy filming whitetail deer, elk, and other wildlife in 4K

Foggy Morning Elk-Video Still Capture
Doe Feeding As Seen On Ikan VK7i
As it turned out I was less than pleased with my homemade bracket and once I was back home, I acquired a GH4 Camera Cage from Amazon and after altering a few minor details I was relatively happy with my setup. Even though I was pleased with this set-up I still missed having the touch-screen on the GH4 and once GH4 bodies were in stock again I got another one and I am using it with the monitor, while the damaged GH4 has so far been relegated to the spot of the camera to use with a small lens for handheld work at close range.

There is always pluses and minuses to any set-up and there are several draw-backs to using an external monitor. The GH4 is a joy to carry--especially with the 14-140mm and 100-300mm lenses, but once a camera cage, external monitor, and microphone are fitted to the camera it is no longer light and compact and with a configuration such as that shown in the first photo, it is very cumbersome indeed, but the offsetting factor is that it is a serious tool for serious long-range work.

Hopefully we will explore this more in the near future including showing more video clips taken with this camera.

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Pennsylvania Elk Rut 2014 With The Panasonic GH4

I arrived in Pennsylvania Elk Country on Sunday, September 21st to find the rut going full-bore and there were several days of intense activity, but then the rut abruptly crashed on Wednesday night and Thursday was very slow.  Things were a bit better on Friday, but the rut never really took off again during the next week and good filming opportunities were difficult to find.  I went home after the morning shoot on Friday October 3rd and have not heard if there was an upswing after that.

Starting in 2012 I have made a short video each year featuring the most dramatic  video footage from that year's elk rut and today's post features the 2014 video which I just completed yesterday. All of the dramatic footage of the bulls running about and fighting was taken on the first four days of the trip.

Today I have posted the same video on both Vimeo and You Tube to show help analyze the difference between them.

Vimeo Version

You Tube Version

The video was filmed with the Panasonic GH4, with the exception of the sunset scene used in closing which was shot with a Panasonic GH3. I used the14-140mm Lumix for the scenic clips and some of the close encounters with elk, but most of the material was taken with the Canon 100-400mm L lens. The 70-200mm f 2.8 L IS II was used in some cases, most notably the shot of the bulls in velvet in the fog. The  100-300mm Lumix  was used to film the bull following cows and calves into the woods near the end of the video.  Use of the Canon lenses was made possible by the Metabones Canon EF MFT Speed Booster, which enables the GH4 to control the aperture of the Canon lenses and permits image stabilization to be used. An added benefit is that it increases the maximum aperture of the lens making the 70-200mm f2.8 a f2.0 and the 100-400 f4.5-5.6 becomes f 3.2-f4.0, which is a big help in low light. The bad news is that it does not support auto-focus with the Canon lenses.

GH4   fitted with external mike, video cage external monitor.and Canon 70-200mm f2.8L IS II Lens Note Metabones Adapter at rear of lens
This video is the first I have made that was shot in what is commonly referred to as 4K, although it is actually Ultra-HD (UHD)which has a frame size of 3840x2160 versus the 4096x2160 of true 4K and the 1920X1080 of full HD.  As few, including me, have 4K TVs to view this on some might ask what the benefit is of using this technology at present? There are several valid reasons,

4K edited on a 1080P time line supposedly yields a better 1080P finished product than using 1080P original footage.  Another advantage and the one perhaps most important to me is the ability to crop the footage substantially in post production and still maintain a 1080P or more resolution.  Of almost equal importance is that 4K is the immediate future of video and it is likely that the trend will continue through 6K and eventually 8K, etc.  Shooting 4K now means that one's footage will hopefully retain commercial value for a longer period of time.

Unfortunately the advantage is not visible on Vimeo.  I rendered the file to 1080P, but when the upload was complete a message came up that it was advisable to allow Vimeo to convert the clip to 720P so that it would play better for those that have a slow internet connection and I permitted it to do so. The clip was uploaded at full 1080P to You Tube.  Be sure to selected that playback setting for best quality.  If it gives problems with playing back smoothly, allow it to play through once while you are doing something else and then play it again and it should go better. This is a major reason that I hesitate to post a lot of video.

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Pennsylvania Elk Rut-Activity Is Now Spotty

Elk rutting activity was very slow on Thursday--at least where I was--but it picked a bit on Friday. That morning was extremely foggy, as is usual for Pennsylvania elk country.  As the fog started to lift a bit, I pulled into a Game Commission parking lot and heard bugling coming from a nearby meadow. Upon checking the situation out, I found several cows and calves feeding along the tree line at the edge of the meadow while a bull watched them from just inside the woods and bugled periodically. At first it was so foggy that the bull was almost impossible to photograph, but then the fog lifted and suddenly a  larger 6x7 bull came running in from behind me and to my right and  locked antlers with the smaller bull.

6x7 Charges Smaller Bull
Bulls Fighting
They locked antlers several times and fought violently for  brief periods before the smaller bull ran off and left the 6x7 in control of the harem.

The Victor
That evening I decided to check out a favorite scenic overlook and found a Wildlife Conservation Officer there.  While we were talking he suddenly whispered, "look behind you" and I turned to see a beautiful bull walking directly toward us along the rim of the overlook.  I had the 70D around my neck with the 17-40mm attached so I brought it to eye level and took several photos. This was the Conservation Officers' first trip to elk country and he was very impressed with the experience.

Overlook Bull
I saw more elk including a few bulls before darkness fell, but the photo above was the highlight of the evening.  These events raised my hopes for the remainder of the weekend, but the trend did not continue, and activity was flat on Saturday and Sunday.

The highlight of Saturday was the Benezette Elk Camera Club Picnic.  I wish to thank the club for the opportunity to address them and play a few banjo tunes.  I also thank them for the courtesy and kindness the members extended to me.

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Pennsylvania Elk Rut Explodes

Mature Bull Herds Cows During Peak Of The Rut

I arrived in Pennsylvania Elk Country just as a northwest cold front was moving through on Sunday afternoon.  Elk enthusiasts who were there all last week said that activity was good earlier in the week, but crashed as the weather got warm later in the week.  With the passing of the cold front; however, activity exploded again and it was very intense for a few days.

I took mostly video for the first few days of the trip, but on Wednesday evening several bulls were working a herd of cows in ideal lighting conditions for still photography so  I broke out the Canon 5D MK III with the 600mm f4 lens and the 70D with the 300mm f 2.8 and took the photos used in today's post. At first only one bull was present, but soon more arrived on the scene.

Bull Runs Toward Action
One of the bulls has large, sweeping antlers and is called "The Western Bull" by many as  his antlers look more like those seen on bulls in the western states.  It seems that the antlers on most Pennsylvania bulls are more likely to be relatively narrow in relation to their width, while many of  western bull's racks tend to be long, thin, and sweeping in appearance.  This bull is very aggressive and one point on the right antler is broken off from fighting.

"The Western Bull" A Damaged Warrior
Bulls locked antlers at times during the evening and I got a few frames of the action, but there was always some high grass between me and them when this happened and the blurry, out of focus grass detracted from the quality of the photos.

Bulls Fighting
Most expected the activity to continue this morning (Thursday),but most of the elk left the meadows shortly after daylight and there was little bugling.  Later in the morning, a solitary bull was seen feeding and resting along Winslow Hill Road near Elk View Diner and he soon became the major attraction on  the hill.

Old Bull Along Winslow Hill Road
This is the bull that many elk enthusiasts call "Limpy" He is a mature bull that is showing the signs of advancing age.  He has been in the center of the fighting for much of the rut, but now it seems he has moved away from the herd for a time, to rest and avoid confrontation with the other bulls.  He was still there in mid-afternoon when I drove past as I headed out for the evening's photography session.

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Whitetail Bucks Shed Velvet

Whitetail Buck Lip-Curls As Pre-rut Begins
Most whitetail bucks shed there velvet in a period ranging from late August through mid-September. This buck still had velvet on September 2nd, but a close look revealed that the velvet was dried and cracked looking.  By September 7th, small bloody areas and bare spots were visible.

Shedding Is About To Occur
He still had velvet at dawn on September 9th, but I have no still photos at that point as I was filming the deer with the Panasonic GH4 as he alternated between feeding and grooming.  Suddenly the time was at hand and he walked to a group of nearby hay bales and attacked them violently.  Again all of this was filmed, but no stills were taken.  The video is not the best quality as it was still too early for good light, but I hope to post a short clip  in the near future.  I took a still photo of the bales after the action was over.

Hay Bales After Buck Attacked Them
I did get some still photos after the action was over.  Unfortunately as a result of using the bale instead of a a tree or brush to loosen the velvet, the buck ended up with a tangle of vines and baler twine caught in his antlers.

Vines And Baler Twine Tangled In Antlers
At this point there was still a lot of velvet on the antlers and for some time he ran about the meadows trailing a stream of vines behind him as he went.  I have not seen anything like this in over forty years of whitetail deer photography.

I saw the buck again that evening and the velvet and vines were gone, but a tangle of baler twine remained.

A Tangle Of Twine
I was a bit concerned at this point as the tangle seemed so severe that I was afraid he could not dislodge the twine.Luckily he was able to free it from his antlers eventually.

With the shedding completed pre-rut activity such as sparring and lip-curling becomes more common and will continue throughout the fall with activity growing more intense until things explode as the full-blown rut begins and bucks are more visible than at any other time of year as they frantically chase does and compete with other bucks for dominance.

Bucks Spar As Pre-rut Begins

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.