8.07.2017

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.

7.09.2017

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
5x5
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.

7.02.2017

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.

10.13.2016

Photos And Thoughts From The 2016 Elk Rut


In an unprecedented move since this blog was founded in 2007, I have gone a month without posting. This is partly because I had difficulty getting internet access for with my laptop while I was in Pennsylvania Elk Country for the last two weeks of September and I did not want to try posting with a smart phone.  Also I find it harder and harder to write a post as time passes.  It is relatively simple to post a few photos, but I always like to do a bit more. To make a long story short, I found I had a lot of other things that needed done when I returned from elk country and it was easier to devote my time to that and put posting on the back burner until now. For today's post, I will share a few images from September's trip and refer you to a post by Bill Taylor on his "Down The Fall Road" Blog that resonates with me in many ways. It is titled, "The Elk Rut, Photography, & Thoughts".

A major point he makes is how each year seems to have a set of circumstances that make it stand out from years past, For me this was how elk activity was not centered nearly so much around the Dewey Rd area as it usually was in the past several years, but perhaps this was because I avoided this area as much as possible.  With that being said, I did have a few good experiences there and the first was  late in the afternoon on the first day of my trip. I arrived so late that there was not time for more than a drive around the Benezette/ Winslow Hill area and I found two bulls chasing a herd of cows over an area ranging from the food plot by the cabin on the hill to the Gilbert meadows and beyond. The first was one that many refer to as the U bull and he gave a dramatic pose when he paused and looked over his shoulder at a rapidly approaching 6x7 that was contending with him for control of the harem. It was good to be joined by fellow photographers, Jim (Muck) McClelland and then later by Tom  Dorsey and his wife Jeanne.

The U Bull Looks Back At Rapidly Approaching 6x7

6x7 Arrives

6x7 Pauses
Another bull that was photographed by many is a fine 7x7 that  frequented the river bottoms.  This brings us to another point that Bill Taylor made, which is that with so many photographing the same animals in the same set of circumstances that it is very hard to get a photo that is truly unique.  I usually try to capture them either in a dramatic pose in a good natural setting or capture them doing something unusual, but of course most every one else is trying to do the same thing.  In the first photo below I tried to capture him at the moment that he erupted from the woods in pursuit of a cow and then I got him as he came almost sliding to a stop.

7x7 Emerges From Woods In Pursuit Of Cow

Sliding To A Stop
Another dramatic opportunity was when he paused from tearing up the ground with his antlers and bugled.

Bugling With Grass In Antlers
I would have liked to get photos and video of the elk in the river, but I did not spend enough time in that spot this year to be there when this happened. Whether one succeeds in capturing a unique photo or not, it is good to see the increase in serious elk photographers as it will hopefully help insure the future for wildlife photography on public lands in Pennsylvania if this user group becomes large enough to achieve recognition as stake-holders in or public lands and the wildlife which inhabits it.

Like Bill, I would usually rather be somewhere else than the areas where a lot of other photographers are congregated in hopes of getting something different (although I really enjoy the bull sessions),  but many if not most times trips to remote areas result in very little or no elk sightings or filming opportunities.

Remote Food Plot In Clearfield County-No Elk Were Seen
I had a lot of different spots that I wanted to check out this year and I did get to a few of them, but in those cases I was not successful in getting video or stills of bull elk although these excursions were successful from the standpoint of seeing different country.

Quehanna Wild Area
When one is successful in places like this, it does seem like you have accomplished more and it is truly an experience to treasure.  The photo below  illustrates this and it is also a warning to always be prepared.  I took my brother Coy to see a remote meadow late one morning.  It was so late that I saw little reason to bother with a big lens.  As the 70-200 was mounted on my 5D MK III, I just carried it and the 24-105mm.  Needless to say this was the time that I would see a large coyote close enough for an exceptional shot with a larger lens, but there it was and I had to make the best of the situation. This is cropped severely and I do mean severely. An image from the MK III is 22.1 megapixels when opened in ACR (Adobe Camera Raw), but in this case I cropped it to 3.6 megapixels at 300 d.p.i.  which is suitable for the internet and actually good enough to print a modestly large print. Actually I could probably have gotten away with 2 megapixels or less, but this was a good compromise.

Quehanna Coyote
 The bottom line though is  that with a limited amount of time to spend and more problems from getting older, it gets easier and easier to hang around the tourist areas and alternate between watching what is going on and then pitching in and doing some serious photography when the opportunity presents itself. This is what I was doing on the last Thursday evening of my trip when I saw a large bull bedded in the field beside the Woodring House. In time he stood up and I took this photo and also the one featured at the beginning of the post.

Bugling
Before someone gets their "shorts in a wad" about how close this photo is, I will point out that this was taken at an entirely safe and respectful distance with a 600mm lens and the photo was cropped substantially also.

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.


9.12.2016

Video Highlights From Mid-August Trip To PA Elk Country



I realize that most elk enthusiasts are mainly interested in the elk rut that is now underway, but for today I wish to post a short film featuring highlights of  the mid-August trip to Pennsylvania Elk Country.

It opens with a Beaver and Cedar Waxwings feeding one evening in a remote wilderness area,  then shifts to a large bachelor group of whitetail bucks and a bull elk that has not  yet shed the velvet. Next, you get to see clips of a calf elk that show how the spots are fading, and bulls in various stages of shedding the velvet.

It then returns to the wilderness area. As noted before, the evening began with filming the Cedar Waxwing's and the Beaver. As it grew late a few whitetail deer appeared but at this point  it didn't seem likely that elk would be seen, but then I noticed a deer  feeding in an area of bushes and tall grass  beyond the meadow. While looking at it through the lens, I was startled when a set of shining, bare elk antlers came into the finder as a bull came walking through the brush toward the meadow.  I pressed the record button and began filming.  Soon a larger bull and a cow came into view and then in a few moments a herd of elk came pouring into the meadow.

To show how rapidly it was growing dark,  I began filming at ISO 1600 at 8:21 p.m.and I was using ISO 5000 when they came into the meadow at 8:27 p.m.and a short time later I was at ISO 6400, which is the maximum for the Panasonic GH4. I like to keep the ISO as low as possible and when I get on 1600 I will drop to 1/30 sec. shutter speed if necessary before changing to a higher setting.  1/60 is the recommended shutter speed for shooting video  at 30 frames per second, but I have found that if action is not too rapid that it is possible to get reasonably good footage at 1/30.

For those who are interested in such things all of the footage shown today except for the still of the shed velvet and the non-typical bull horning bushes were taken with the GH4 with the old model Canon 100-400mm L lens and either the Metabones Speedbooster or Smart Adapter.

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.