Tuesday, October 6, 2015

River Encounters

Another September has come and gone and I am back home after nearly two weeks in Pennsylvania elk country .  Many years ago a photographer remarked that each year is different from the others.This is often because the best food sources will vary depending on what is planted in certain areas or if there is a good mast crop in a particular year, which will cause the elk to spend more time in the woods.  Whatever the cause, this was a very different year than most in the recent past, as this was the first time in many years that there were very few elk in The Saddle area during the time that I was there.

Resting In The Woods
Although elk were seen consistently along Dewey Road it was not as good as in most recent years and consequently I spent more time in other areas.  In twenty years of photographing elk I have spent little time along the streams in elk country, but that changed this year when I spent a few afternoons along Bennett's Branch.  One day I arrived a short time after an impressive dominance fight had occurred and found several  photographers discussing the events.. The largest bull involved in the fight was the one in the photo directly below.

7x8 The Day Before The River Fight
Even though the fight was over, the air rang with bugles as satellite bulls drifted back and forth across the stream, pausing to drink and to bugle.

River Crossing
6x6 Pauses To Drink
Bugling In The River
I have had many exciting times in elk country, but  this afternoon stood out from many of them because this was the first time I had photographed bulls during the rut in this type of setting.

All photos were taken with the Canon 5D MKIII and the Canon 600mm f4.0 IS L lens.

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.

Friday, September 25, 2015

A Non-Typical Bull And A Fight

I have been photographing and filming in Pennsylvania Elk Country this week, but have spent little time on Winslow Hill because of the changes to the Dewey Road and Saddle Area.  I did photograph this large non-typical bull, which many call The U Bull  shortly after dawn on Monday morning on Winslow Hill.

The U Bull
I spent most of the week traveling about and sometimes opportunities were few and far between.  Many mornings are foggy this time of year, which makes photography difficult if it is too thick. One morning there was little fog, but the light was dim and drab. I was watching cows and calves feeding when a fine 8x8 bull arrived and bugled. The light was still dim enough that I had to use an ISO setting of 2000 with the 5D MK III and 100-400mm IS II lens to get sufficient shutter speed to stop motion..

8x8 Bugles
In a few moments a larger bull appeared and challenged him and soon they were locked in combat. I boosted the ISO to 4000 so I could get an even higher shutter-speed of 1/400 sec. to try to stop the action better.

Bulls Fighting
The fight lasted for awhile and the bulls broke contact several times before returning to the struggle.

Bulls Pause From Fighting
After awhile I reached for the Panasonic FZ1000 camera and filmed them in 4K video, but they broke contact soon after I began.  I will try and get this on Vimeo at some point, but it may be awhile.

It seemed that activity was much better in the mornings, although the elk were usually went in the woods soon after sunrise and it seemed that most evenings were very dead as they often did not come into the meadows again until it was too dark for the best photography.

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Late Summer Whitetails-Pre-rut Begins

With all the coverage of the changes coming to Winslow Hill, I have not posted anything but elk related material since mid-August.  I like photographing whitetail deer as much or more than I do elk and spend far more time around deer than any other species.  With that being said, most of the bucks in my area are not exceptionally large so I have to travel to find the truly large racks. For many years Shenandoah National Park was my favorite destination for that purpose, but that abruptly ended in 2012 when most of the bucks at Big Meadows were collared and several of the mature bucks vanished.

I only took one trip to SNP this summer, which was in late August, just before the velvet was shed.  We saw a few spikes and does, but deer were very scarce.  The trip was made worthwhile; however, by an encounter with a beautiful buck that had thirteen points if you go by the Boone and Crockett 1" rule, or fourteen if you count any protrusion.

Superb 13-Point: Canon 5D MK III-Canon 100-400mm L IS II@349mm-ISO 400-1/400 sec. f 6.3
Even this buck had not escaped the heavy hand of man as he was fitted with a small ear tag, which was easily removed in Photoshop. Yes, I plead quilty-- I have no compunction at all about cloning out an object on wildlife which should never have been there in the first place.

In the old days I would have returned and attempted to photograph him shedding the velvet, but I stayed home this year and the local bucks were difficult to see. I only filmed a small spike that was in the process of shedding his velvet, but one should not pass up an opportunity just because an animal is young and small. Spikes can make large bucks in later years if they survive.  "Once a spike-always a spike" is simply a statement that is not true in many if not most cases.

Yearling Buck Sheds Velvet: Canon 5D MK III-Canon 100-400mm L IS II@ 300mm-ISO 640-1/320 sec. f  5.0
On a beautiful, cool morning earlier this week I photographed an eight-point that had shed his velvet completely.

8-Point Buck: Canon 5D MK III-Canon 100-400mm L IS II@300mm-ISO 1000-1/125 sec. f 5.0
Pre-rut activity is underway and movement patterns are changing.  I filmed this buck with the GH4 making a scrape and horning tress soon after I took the photo above and have filmed one other buck doing this as well.

The pre-rut will intensify through October until the full-blown rut erupts in late October or early November.

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

PGC Discusses Plans For Woodring Farm

Woodring House: Photo by W.Hill
After the dedication of the new viewing area last Friday, the Pennsylvania Game Commission invited attendees to a press briefing at the Woodring Farm, which was purchased last year by The PGC. Commission with substantial financial assistance from The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.

At the briefing,  PGC Northcentral Regional Director, Barry Zaffuto set forth the plans for the property, which include a headquarters building, roadside elk viewing, and a The Woodring Farm Hiking Trail, a 1/4 mile trail, which officially opened that day.  The Trail is just past the Woodring House to the left and leads to a scenic overlook 1/4 mile away.

Woodring Farm Hiking Trail: Photo by W. Hill
Below is the video of Regional Director Zaffuto's speech.

NCR Director Zaffuto Speaks At Woodring Farm from Willard C. Hill on Vimeo.

After Mr. Zaffuto spoke I&E Supervisor, Doty McDowell  announced the PGC fall schedule of events for the viewing areas and mentioned that on Saturdays there will be organized trail hikes on The Woodring Farm Hiking Trail.. He went on to mention that a web cam was installed to view the elk.  He would not reveal the exact location--except that it was nearby.  You may view the Elk Cam by going to the PGC Website and click on Elk Country Live Stream

At this point Mr. McDowell asked if there were any questions and LMO Colleen Shannon spoke up saying, "Representative Gabler just asked a question and it is very important to understand--this is still State Game Lands, so this is all land that can be hunted, there's nothing special about this as far as being restricted to hunting". McDowell then took over answering Representative Gabler's concerns and pointed out that the trail hikes stop on October 3rd this year, which is the first day of archery season.  He went on to state, "this land was purchased for the sole purpose of hunting and trapping so we want to keep that at foremost".  Below s the video.

NCR I&E Supervisor McDowell Explains Woodring Property Is Open To Hunting from Willard C. Hill on Vimeo.

In the clip below Mr. McDowell goes on to explain that it is only organized trail hikes that will end.  You will still be permitted to walk the trail during hunting season.

Clarification Of Trail Use During Hunting Season from Willard C. Hill on Vimeo.

After the presentation, were  were invited to follow Game Commission Officers to the scenic overlook.

Overlook At Woodring Farm: Photo by W. Hill
It seems that this area is being developed to divert attention somewhat away from the Dewey Road area, but it is unclear just how well some of this is going to work. Some are predicting this will result in this area becoming tightly restricted also. It will be interesting to see how things shake out as the peak of elk viewing season arrives.

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.