Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Major Changes Coming To Winslow Hill Viewing Area

The attention of elk photographers is mostly focused now on the shedding of the velvet which takes place in a time slot ranging from slightly before the middle of August to the end of the month.  In fact most bulls have shed by now,  but it was still possible to find one still shedding on Tuesday morning.

5x5 Shedding Velvet
During a break in the filming I checked the signs on the bulletin board at the Porcupine Run/ Winslow Hill Viewing Area and was amazed to find that major changes are in store for this favorite destination of elk watchers According to the sign several changes will be implemented beginning in 2014 including the relocation of Dewey Road, the construction of a large parking lot, a tour bus drop-off area and hiking trails and observation areas.

Below is a photo of the Master Plan for the viewing area which was prepared by Larson Design Group.

I you are coming up Winslow Hill from the Elk Country Visitor Center, it appears that the new, relocated section of Dewey Road will turn off of Winslow Hill before where the parking lot is  now and curve around the hill to rejoin the existing portion of Dewey Road before one gets to the access road to the property that used to belong to Claude "Dr. Perk" Nye or before you reach where the Gilbert farm buildings used to be located.

The current parking lot is to be replaced with a large lot that is accessible  only by a connecting road from Winslow Hill Road. This will likely mean no more pulling off of Winslow Hill Road along the road frontage so as to minimize the chance for congestion and accidents.  In addition, provisions will be made to gate the parking lot when officials desire.

I looks as though the area where Dewey Road now intersects Winslow Hill Road  will be the approximate location of the bus drop-off.  That section of the old road will either be re-landscaped into wildlife habitat or may be made into a portion of the access trails.

Old Dewey Road in Foreground should be joined by new section before old barn and garage
(this photo was taken before the buildings were razed)

It appears that what is labeled the upper viewing area may be about where roadside parking currently begins along Dewey Road. The second  viewing  area seems to be along a tree line and only about half-way from Winslow Hill Road to the Nye lane. The plan document that is posted seems to be a combination of drawing, satellite photo, and topographic map and even standing on the spot, it is a bit hard to understand exactly how things will be.  It is possible that this area could overlook the hollow to the north of the Gilbert Field.  I do not know at this point.

I wish to emphasize that this is only how I interpret this information based on the knowledge I now have. I will inform blog readers as more information becomes available.

Originally posted at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Benezett Store To Be At 2014 Elk Expo At Elk Country Visitor Center- August 16th & 17th

2013 Elk Expo

The Elk Expo will be held this coming weekend at The Elk Country Visitor Center on  August 16th and 17th.  Numerous vendors are featured selling a wide variety of outdoor related  products.There is a full schedule of events including  wildlife oriented educational programs, elk and turkey calling contests, the elk license drawing. musical groups and other events.

Be sure to visit The Elk Expo website for full details.  An important point to remember is that parking at the Visitor Center is  limited and will be given first to vehicles with handicap parking require-ments. All other vehicles will be directed to parking at the Benezette Community Center from which  two shuttles will run  to and from the Visitor Center all day.  There is a $3/car fee for parking and bus service to defray the cost of transportation. This service received little use last year as attendance did not meet expectations and most if not all parking was handled by the Visitor Center parking facilities. Attendance may be up this year so visitors should consider the possibility they will need to utilize the service.

 Benezett Store To Have Booth At Expo

Benezett Store will once again maintain a booth at The Expo featuring many items including caps, sweat shirts, books, and videos.

Benezett Store Booth At 2013 Elk Expo
 Among the items to be on sale is a photo book, "Elk Scenic Drive" by Marci Geise and a book released last year, "Pennsylvania Elk" which was edited by Marci Geise and features photos by Ms. Geise along with several by well known Pennsylvania elk photographers including, David Anderson, Jim Borden, Richard Coy, Tom Dorsey, Coy Hill, Willard Hill, Ronald Saffer and Paul Staniszewski).
Click the following links for more information of these books:
Elk Scenic Drive
Pennsylvania Elk

Elk Films to be available at Benezett Store Booth at Expo and at Benezett Store  
I have released two documentary films about Pennsylvania's elk herd. "Running Wild In Pennsylvania Elk Country is a 2012 film that gives  a detailed look at the life cycle of the elk as well as providing  a close look at what other species of wildlife commonly seen in the elk range such as whitetail deer and eastern wild turkey are doing as well.

I was ably assisted in producing this film by Ronald Saffer who provided several still photos and valuable editorial advice in preparing the script.  Also David Anderson and John Koshinski provided dramatic bull fight footage.  Marci Geise provided several still photographs and video footage of bears, while Paul Staniszewski provided several still photos and constructive criticism.   Coy Hill provided  the cover photo,  and last but not least,  Billie Cromwell provided valuable input in writing the script.

Also of special note is a violent fight between mature whitetail bucks that I filmed in 2002.  There is a segment on Bull 36. a.k.a "Fred Jr."and  Dogrope" which features segments of a dramatic fight between this bull and a large 6x6 in 200.  This was before the bull was captured and collared.  This is the same bull fight which is featured at present in the Elk Country Visitor Center presentation, but it is edited differently so it is not a duplicate of the show at the center.

Also available at the Expo or at the store is the 2008 release "The Truth About Pennsylvania's Elk Herd"

This film is dedicated to elk restoration pioneer, Ralph Harrison. It shows a year in the life cycle of the elk with a focus on the rut, and  also discusses many of the controversies surrounding elk management today. It features a cover photo of Bull 36 in 2002, taken by Ronald Saffer, which was two years before he was fitted with a collar.

Click the following links for more information on these films.

For those who would like to see a sample before buying, they will not likely have a player at the booth at the Expo, but they should be playing the films at the store and restaurant.  If not ask them if they will play you a sample.

I will not be at the Expo this year, but still encourage you to visit and support Benezett Store and the other vendors.

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Shenandoah National Park Whitetails: The Dream--The Reality

Whitetail photography and deer watching in the Big Meadows Area of Shenandoah National park was destroyed in 2012 by the implementation of a whitetail deer study which resulted in the mature bucks at Big Meadows being fitted with radio collars or ear tags and seems to have resulted in a significant reduction in the whitetail population. I had not been to SNP since November of that year after I left in disgust on the first morning of what was scheduled to be a multi-day trip.

After  almost two years of avoiding the park, I decided to check in on the whitetail situation at SNP once again.  As a result, on a late July morning I left home in the wee hours of the morning so I would arrive in the central district of the park at dawn. As I traveled down I-81 my thoughts wandered back through the years and I recalled the countless times I made this trip with visions of herds of deer and large rack bucks grazing in the beautiful summer morning running through my head and how that  more often than not the trip met or exceeded my expectations.  I knew things would be different this year, but it was nice to pretend that the events of the last few years had not taken place.  If one had any doubts as to whether the situation was not as bad as expected, it did not take long to dispel them.  I saw not one deer by the roadside as I traveled  Skyline Drive from Thornton Gap to Big Meadows as dawn was breaking.   I arrived at Big Meadows to be greeted by a beautiful but unusual sunrise.

Big Meadows Sunrise
Only a handful of deer were scattered about in the meadow, none of which were bucks, so I made the loop to below Milam Gap.  An eight-point was grazing along the road before the Milam Gap parking lot, and it was fitted with a collar that had worn most of the hair from the neck.

Collared Buck At Milam Gap
After taking a few photographs, I returned to the meadow where a small herd of deer was now visible in the distance. Three were respectable bucks, but all were wearing collars.  I decided to work these animals and walked into the meadow and took position in a spot it seemed likely they would pass through.  In a few minutes the herd arrived minus one of the bucks, which evidently split off to go elsewhere.  Two bucks were in the lead and for a few moments it seemed like the old days as one could see the tips of the velvet covered antlers bobbing above the bushes and grasses. One almost expected a buck such as this to appear and he did, but there was one big problem.

The Dream
The photograph below shows what he really looks like. 

Harsh Reality
Photographers will argue the ethics of such matters, but it is easy to remove collars and ear tags in Photoshop or similar programs if the collars are relatively small and the neck hair is undamaged, but this is not the case with the Shenandoah deer where the collars are huge in proportion to the animal and the hair is usually damaged.  In this situation there was not enough hair available to clone over the collar so a neck was used from another buck in  photographed in 2011, which was standing in a somewhat similar position.  It would be unethical to enhance the damage to a deer's neck, but  I see nothing wrong with  removing something that should not be there in the first place. However, at this point in life, I have little interest in doing so as it is difficult and one still is left with the unpleasant memory of how the situation actually was.

The second buck was worse yet, as most of the hair was missing from the neck.

Collared Buck With Significant Hair Loss
A mature doe was feeding with the bucks and she too was wearing a collar.

Mature Doe
Each of the deer that was collared also had a small tag in the right ear, which is visible in the last two pictures.

It seems at this point that the battle is lost with little hope for the future.  The National Park Service has been granted a finding of FONSI (Finding Of No Significant Impact), which as I understand it, gives them the go ahead to implement their plans. .  I found a good definition of "FONSI" on a Department of Energy Page: "Findings of No Significant Impact are public documents issued by a Federal agency briefly presenting the reasons why an action for which the agency has prepared an environmental assessment will not have a significant effect on the human environment and, therefore, will not require preparation of an environmental impact statement.  They are perhaps right that the collars, ear tags, neck injury, and herd reductions means nothing to the average visitor to SNP,  but to the whitetail deer and those that are interested in them, the impact is significant and severe.

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Summer Mornings May Bring Diverse Photo Opportunities

Wildlife is most active in early morning and late evening during the summer months.  While both morning and evening are good for seeing wildlife, I prefer to be afield at the crack of dawn and usually have the best opportunities of the day from dawn until shortly after sunrise.  I am usually primarily looking for big game animals such as elk and the whitetail deer, and it is always  a special thrill to come upon an exceptional buck or bull elk.

Mature 10 Point Buck
As much as I enjoy big game photography and filming, I find that one misses a substantial part of the outdoor experience if they concentrate solely on a few species.  Good deer and elk habitat also supports  diverse wildflower, bird, and insect communities, and dramatic scenery. One's outdoor experience is much richer if they take time to savor the entire outdoor experience.

Early morning is especially good for flower photography as morning dew may make the flowers look fresh and vibrant.  The flower photos below were taken a bit later in the morning after the dew was gone, but still show the beauty that may be found in a summer meadow.

Purple Cone Flower
Gaillardia or Blanket Flower
Most meadows are also home to a wide variety of birds, and I enjoy filming them as well as enjoying the chorus of birds song that provides a vibrant sound track against which the drama of the natural world unfolds. I believe the bird above is a immature Eastern Meadow Lark, but I could be wrong.  I welcome correction if I am in error.

Immature Eastern Meadow Lark
If deer and elk have not left the meadows before sunrise, they usually do so before the rays of the sun become uncomfortably hot. They often return to feed sometime in the evening.  This may happen before sundown on cooler days or it may be nearly dark on the hottest one, but their is no hard and fast rule.

Whitetails Leave Meadows At Sunrise
From the tenor of this post it would be easy to infer that all is well in the great outdoors, but sadly this is often not the case.  In particular I am referring to the superb 10 Point featured in the first photo today.  Within the next few days, I plan to write about the problems this buck and others in the area he was photographed  deals with each day and the uncertain future they face.

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.