Monday, October 9, 2017

A Mid-September Morning At The Winslow Hill Viewing Area

I have been back home for a little over a week since my annual trip to photograph and film the Pennsylvania elk rut and have finally got caught up enough to post some video and stills. A bit of morning fog is fine for elk photography, but this year it seemed most mornings were foggy and sometimes it was bad enough that filming was impossible. To make matters even more difficult, some of the evenings were so hot that the elk did not come out until almost dark.

In spite of this I was able to film several bulls, but I didn't record any exceptional action such as fights. I only saw one short fight late one evening and I was unable to exploit the opportunity as  I was carrying the 500mm F4 with the 1DXMKII and it was very dark and too far for good still photos. To top it off they went out of sight into a hollow before I could get a few frames off so even had I been carrying the video rig, there would have been no chance to record it. In light of the lack of a lot of dramatic footage,  I plan on only posting a few short video clips and still images rather than making a more lengthy video of highlights of the entire trip and we begin today with a  1 min.-30 sec clip from the first week of the trip. The events of the morning will be described in detail in the story below.

Tuesday September 19th looked promising as I drove up Winslow Hill from Benezette as it was breaking day and the fog was patchy and not nearly as thick as usual. Several elk were around the parking area at the intersection of Winslow Hill Road and Dewey Road while even more were in the food plot in front of the viewing area.  I drove on down Dewey Road and checked the area by the ponds and no bulls were there. I seldom film from the new viewing area, but considering there were not a lot of people there yet this morning and that is where the elk were, I drove back to the parking lot and prepared to go into action.

 While I was getting the camera set up I noticed a large non-typical bull crossing Dewey Road from the parking lot and heading south, while a small bull was standing just outside the rocks in front of the viewing area so as soon as the camera was ready to go I began filming from the parking lot. When he moved out of sight I moved on to the overlook and most of the elk had already left the food plot in front of it, but soon appeared on the hillside across the hollow shown in the photo below.

Distant Herd
 This photo was taken with a full frame DSLR and a 17-40mm lens at 40mm so bear in mind when looking at the video how far the elk actually are away when I filmed them.

The filming was done with a Panasonic FZ-2500 camera, which has a fixed zoom lens.  When shooting 4K video it has a zoom range of 36mm-720mm 35mm equivalent. In addition the camera has an intelligent zoom mode which will get you to an equivalent focal length of 1440mm on the long end and that setting is used a lot in this video.  This performs much better than the better known digital zoom function, which I do not use because of quality loss. For the technical minded, the camera is fitted with a cage to support the external mike and the monitor.  I don't think a cage is available that is specifically made for this camera so I modified one that was originally made for the Panasonic GH4 interchangeable lens camera.  The monitor is a SmallHD 501 5" monitor.

Panasonic FZ2500
While I was filming the action on the hillside the non-typical bull came back and crossed the meadow in front of the viewing area and paused before going down the hill toward the elk on the hillside..  This was a good opportunity for still photos so I changed from the 17-40mm to the 100-400mm on the 1DXMII and got several shots of him before he went out of sight.

Non-typical Bull Pauses To Bugle
I didn't see him again until after the other elk went in the woods and then he appeared on the far  distant hillside. The video clip closes with him  walking along the lower edge of the second row of trees that runs from left to right in the photo.

After The Action At The Winslow Hill Viewing Area
After this the action died down for the morning and did not see bulls again until almost 7:00 that evening.

I hope you enjoyed the post.  If all goes as planned I will have a few more photos and short video clips to post in the near future.

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Pennsylvania Bulls Shed Velvet

Early Stages Of Shedding: Canon 1DXMKII- Canon 500mm F4.0 IS
Pennsylvania bull elk usually shed their velvet in a time frame centered around mid-August.  This is likely why the annual Elk Expo is scheduled for mid-month as it is an especially good time to visit the elk range..  As I did not plan on attending the Expo this year I decided to avoid the large crowds that are there that weekend so it was a question of whether to go the week before or the week after.  I finally decided on the week before and as we shall see it was good that I did.

I got there late  in the afternoon on August 14th. There was only a slight chance of thunderstorms that evening, so I took a long walk and checked out several remote food plots. As I did on the last two trips, I carried the Panasonic FZ2500 on the tripod for video and the Canon 1DXMKII with 100-400mm IS II lens in a shoulder bag to take stills.  It was hot as usual and the sweat ran freely, but I was rewarded handsomely when I came to the edge of a back country food plot and saw a fine 6x6 grazing. I filmed him for some time and when he lifted his head I switched to the 1DXMKII for  a few still photos. . You cannot see it in the photo below, but when I looked at the video of the encounter it was easy to see blood spots and several cracks in the velvet.

6x6 Before Shedding: Canon 1DXMKII- Canon 100-400mm IS II

Eventually a small bachelor group of young bulls came out and none of them had shed the velvet yet either.

Bachelor Group: Canon 1DXMKII- Canon 100-400mm IS II
Next evening I repeated the walk. The 6x6 was with a group of smaller bulls and now his velvet was hanging in strips. 

Bachelor Group: Canon 1DXMKII- Canon 100-400mm IS II
Velvet Hanging In Strips: Canon 1DXMKII- Canon 100-400mm IS II
I didn't make that walk again during the August trip, so I didn't get to record this bull once his antlers were completely bare.

A few large bulls showed no signs of shedding yet which was the case with a fine 6x7 that I photographed  shortly after dawn on Wednesday morning. As is usually the case in Pennsylvania Country, it was a foggy morning and I saw several other bulls but got no more good still photos.

6x7 On Foggy Morning: Canon 1DXMKII- Canon 70-200mm IS II
Thursday morning was also foggy and I saw several bulls in a meadow shortly after dawn.  A large 7x7 had not yet shed.

7x7 In Fog: Canon 1DXMKII- Canon 100-400mm IS II
7x7-Another View: Canon 1DMKII- Canon 300mm F2.8 IS
The 7x7 was with a large group of  bulls which were in various stages of shedding.  At one point two squared off in a sparring match, which gave a good photo opportunity.

Bulls Sparring As Dawn: Canon 1DXMKII- Canon 300mm F2.8 IS
Bulls Sparring As Pre-rut Begins: Canon 1DXMKII- Canon 100-400mm IS II
After sunrise I found more bulls sparring in a meadow quite a distance from where I photographed the other bachelor group.

Sparring After Sunrise:Canon 1DXMKII- Canon 500mm IS-1.4x extender
Sparring After Sunrise:Canon 1DXMKII- Canon 500mm IS-1.4x extender
On Friday morning there was time for a short trip around the Benezette area before leaving for home. I found the bull that is shown at the beginning of the post and he was just beginning to lose the velvet. A bit later I  photographed one that was completely shed and had  a branch caught in his antlers from polishing his antlers in trees and branches.

Completely Shed:Canon 1DXMKII- Canon 500mm F4.0 IS
As it turned out choosing this week was the right decision as few of the bulls had shed when I arrived on Monday, but by Thursday and Friday mornings most were well along in the process. Had I waited until the week after the expo, opportunities for getting velvet shedding photos and film clips would have been mostly over.

With the velvet  shed, the bulls are sparring as the pre-rut gets underway. In a short time the full-blown rut will begin and it will peak sometime after mid-month and then wind down in October.

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Mid-July Trip To Pennsylvania Elk Country

The River
Temperatures were hot and humid when I arrived in Benezette in mid-afternoon on Monday July 17th for several days of elk filming and photography.  Reports indicated that few elk were being seen in town or on Winslow Hill, but in spite of this I felt optimistic of success.

Even though it was stifling hot, there was little haze in the air with only a slight threat of a thunderstorm and it was a good evening to take a walk with the cameras if you didn't mind being soaked with sweat. Since I usually concentrate on taking video, I carried a Panasonic FZ2500 fitted with a 5" Small HD monitor on the tripod for that purpose and a Canon 1DKMKII with the Canon 100mm-400mm IS II lens in my camera bag for still photography. I saw several small bulls that evening and one was close enough for good still photos.

Alert 5x5
5x5 Looks At Distant Bulls
The best bull of the evening was a decent 6x6, but unfortunately he was in short grass, which provided a less than deal setting and he was always looking directly at me when I was taking stills.

6x6 Pauses From Grazing
Three of the most important parts of elk photography in the summer is being out early in the morning and staying late in the evening.  When I walked I never got back to the vehicle until after dark.  The down side to this of course is that lighting conditions are often less than ideal when you encounter the elk. I prefer the mornings if it is not too foggy, but that is a big problem in elk country as it seems most mornings are foggy--some of them so bad that photography is almost impossible. Fortunately the morning I encountered a fine 6x7 with a bachelor group of smaller bulls, the fog was spotty and there were relatively clear periods at times.

6x7 On A Foggy Morning
4K Video Frame Grab of Bachelor Group
On Wednesday morning another fine 6x7 was grazing in a meadow of tall grasses and I photographed him with the 1DXMKII and 500mm F 4 lens.

6x7  Looks To Distant Hill Side
Another View
Eventually he returned to feeding and worked past my position and I used the 5DMKIII with the Canon 100-400mm IS II to photograph him with a bit more of the surroundings included in the photo.

6x7: Taken with 5DMKIII and 100-400mm IS II at 371 mm
I spent very little time driving around Winslow Hill. I did check for the bulls that I saw last month along the road at the upper end of the hill, but I only saw a small one and didn't film him. Late on Tuesday morning I played tourist and photographed a herd of elk in a camp lawn with the Panasonic FZ1000, which I usually use for close-up video filming when I am not able to set the tripod up. I also used it to take the river photo at the beginning of the post and it does a creditable job with stills as long as one keeps at the lower ISO settings.

A Typical Sighting On Winslow Hill
All in all I have had better July trips to elk country, but this one still gave a lot of photo and video opportunities.  The summer has moved so quickly and it seems impossible to think that very shortly most of the bulls will shed the velvet and soon another rut will begin.

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

June Bulls In Pennsylvania Elk Country

Winslow Hill Bull
 When I first began going to Pennsylvania Elk Country in 1995 it was a much different place than it is today with little in the way of food plots planted for wildlife. There was some planting at the Dents Run Viewing Area and a portion of The Saddle and the plot behind Busy Bee Campground were usually mowed sometime during the summer. Back then my summer elk filming usually consisted of taking a tour around Winslow Hill and out to Hick's Run or Driftwood and to Medix Run in the mornings and evenings. Since many fed elk and there were few food plots, the elk were attracted to the feeding and the green lawn grass. As a result  many of the bulls were to be found in the lawns eating the grass and nibbling on the  flowers.

Today there is a lot of high quality forage in elk country and there are a lot more elk than in 1995. Now it is relatively common so see large bachelor  groups of bulls feeding in the food plots while they are less likely to be seen in town.

During my June trip, I saw two bulls along the road on Winslow Hill every day. The first was the 6x6 at the beginning of the post and the second is the bull below.

Largest Bull Seen on Winslow Hill
At this juncture I am not going to speculate on the number of points on the rack.  A point must be at least an inch in length to be counted and this bull has a lot of points that are still too short to meet that criteria. Some are on the borderline and may become long enough or they may not.

I spent most evenings on foot in remote areas and sometimes did not get back to the vehicle until well after dark.  As usual I concentrated on taking video and carried a Panasonic FZ2500 on the tripod for that purpose, and a Canon 1DXMKII with the Canon 100-400mm IS II  in a camera bag to take still images.

One evening I walked back a field road and came upon a fine bull.  After taking video I put the still camera in action and captured several frames.

5x5 Bull Pauses From Feeding
5x5 Bull Scents For Danger
This bull  is currently a 5x5, but looks like he will be at least a 6x6 and possible a 7x7 when antler development is completed. A bit later I found a bachelor group  sharing a food plot with a solitary cow.

Bachelor Group and Cow Share Food Plot
I saw two more similar bachelor groups that evening, but the photo below was taken on the following evening when I didn't find nearly  as many bulls overall on the same walk, but found more of them together so I suspect these were some of  the same bulls concentrated  in one place.

Seven Rack Bulls-One Spike
On Friday morning the last day of the trip I drove the roads around Benezette before leaving for home and photographed the largest bull of the trip. In this case the images were taken from the tripod with the old Canon 500mm f4.0 IS and the 1DXMKII.

Mature 7x7
Mature 7x7-A Different Angle
It will be interesting to see how much larger the bulls have grown if I am able to go back this month.

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Pennsylvania Elk Calves In Late June

Elk Calf  In The Rays of The Early Morning Sun
Most elk calves are born in the period from mid-May through mid-June with a few being born later. I seldom go to Pennsylvania Elk Country during the peak of the birthing period because I concentrate on whitetail fawn photography at this time, and go to elk country only after most of the fawns are born.

This year was no exception, and I didn't get there until June 19th through the 23rd.. I saw plenty of calves, but they were mostly too far for good still photography or they were in situations where it was difficult or impossible to get the camera in action.
Cow and Calf Cross Road At Woodring Viewing Area
This is mostly because the elk are very protective of the newborn calves when they are most vulnerable within the first weeks of life. Also the annual calf capture and tagging program to gather biological data is  still underway or just finished recently so the elk  may be expecting to be pursued when they see humans, which contributes to their skittishness.

Alert Cow Looks For Danger
It didn't help the calf photography either that I mostly concentrated on taking video and  spent a lot of the time in areas where one was more likely to see bachelor groups of bulls. Nonetheless,I did spend most mornings looking for  calves and it paid off on Thursday morning  when I found a nursery group and they gradually drifted my way and came close enough for good still photography.

Cow Nurses Calf
Cow And Calf Nuzzle

Cow And Calf In Early Morning Sun
As regular readers are well aware, I have not posted since October 23, 2016. When I made that post I expected to continue full-bore, but then days turned into weeks and weeks into months and it was very difficult to begin posting again.

I am not sure if I will continue to post regularly, but I do hope to make another post in the near future about the bulls I filmed and photographed during the trip and perhaps make a short video. This post is dedicated to Ron and Gail Thoma for encouraging me to continue.

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.