Monday, February 3, 2014

January Wildlife

The ground has been bare more often than not this winter and snowfalls to date have been light, although as I write this it is snowing and more snow is forecast over the next several days. The lack of snow has not helped winter photography as the countryside is drab looking without it. I see wildlife each day, but it is difficult to capture it in exceptional poses or doing something extraordinary.  It seems most of the local turkeys have congregated in a large flock some distance from where I ordinarily set up to photograph. I saw a large flock in a distant food plot on both January 19th and 20th on a farm which I drive past each day.  This field is one of the first spots that the early morning sun hits and on both mornings they were taking advantage of the relative warmth of this area. Both of the photos below were taken from about 250 yards away.
Distant Flock: Panasonic GH 2-Lumix 14-140mm@48mm-ISO 200-1/200 sec. f 11.0
I continually write about how far away something is and I think this comes from my  first futile attempts to photograph wildlife back in the mid to late 1960s, with an old fashioned 120 roll film box camera and a small 127 roll film point and shoot.  Both of these cameras had wide-angle lenses.  Deer were scarce back then and bolted at the sight of a human so it was hard to get within 30-50 yards of one. When I finally got some photos at ranges like this, I was discouraged to find that the deer were only small blobs in the picture. Consequently, I am most appreciative of how far we can reach with the equipment that is easily available today. I used the Panasonic GH2 for the wide shot as I had it on the front seat of the Bronco with a 14-140mm zoom lens fitted to it, which was perfect for an "environmental" type shot. The camera/lens combination of choice for the long shot was the Canon 7D and the 600mm f 4.0.

There were several mature gobblers with the flock. They were feeling the first stirrings of the fast approaching mating season for turkeys and were strutting and gobbling. 

Strutting and Gobbling: Canon 7D-Canon 600mm f4.0 IS- ISO 400-1/160 sec. f  4.5
The local whitetail herd is dealing with the winter quite well and I see them every day, but I seldom see them doing anything that is especially noteworthy or photogenic. I have only seen one rack buck since season, but two spikes were frequently seen. One of these shed his antlers in late December as was reported in the December 24th post, "Whitetail Buck Sheds Antlers".  The other buck carried his spikes through most of January and I photographed him on several occassions.

Yearling Spike Buck: Canon 5D MK III-Canon 600mm f4.0 IS- ISO 400-1/250 sec. f  8.0

Spike 2 Days Before Shedding: Panasonic GH 2-Lumix 14-140mm@140mm-ISO 200-1/200 sec. f 11.0
 He still had both spikes when he came into the meadow last Monday morning, but in a few minutes I noticed that one was gone.

 Spike After Shedding: Canon 5D MK III-Canon24-105mm f4.0L@105mm  IS- ISO 400-1/800 sec. f  4.5

Bleeding Pedicle: Canon 5D MK III-Canon24-105mm f4.0L@55mm  IS- ISO 400-1/160 sec. f  4.5
The other spike was gone on the following morning. This buck has good potential for another year.  If he is lucky he will grow a 12+" rack of eight or more points in his second year with antlers.  Deer may grow larger at a younger age in other parts of the state, but this is normal for this area.  As for those who think we need less deer to have larger bucks-that may be true to a CERTAIN extent, but herd reduction programs all too often result in deer being extremely difficult or next to impossible to see.  This is a never ending discussion and it is beyond the scope of today's post to discuss this in detail, but deer that live in a mixture of woodlands and mountain meadows are not as likely to grow large racks as those that feed regularly in grain fields.

We had only a modest deer herd in this area back the late 50s and one into the early 80s.  Most of the bucks killed were spikes, and small four and six-points with the occasional eight-point.  Sometimes a truly large buck was taken, but it was rare.  The point I am making is that back then the herd was not large enough to severely impact the habitat and most yearlings were still spikes or small rack bucks.  Based on what I know now, I suspect that many of the bucks of four or more points were not yearlings but were  two years or more old.

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.