7.18.2011

Mid-Summer Elk Calf Photography in Pennsylvania Elk Country


PGC Food Plots Cloaked In Heat And Haze of Mid-Summer Evening
I spent most of last week photographing and filming wildlife in Pennsylvania Elk Country with a primary focus on calf elk and bulls in velvet.  The PGC had completed most if not all of their summer mowing program on SGL 311 on Winslow Hill by the end of the week.  With sufficient moisture the grass soon grows enough that it provides excellent forage for wildlife and is more pleasing in appearance, but with the region  suffering from a severe drought, many of the food plots that had been mowed had a burned desolate appearance and little wildlife was to be seen in them. Even without rain this should improve to a certain extent in the weeks to come, but a soaking rain  would make the meadows explode with life.

There were a lot of cows and calves to be seen, but photographic conditions were extremely difficult as most of the encounters occurred when it was too early or too late for the cameras to work well, or the range was too long or the cover too tall.  Most of the elk were attracted to the grain that is planted in the reclaimed areas of The Saddle and in many areas it was too tall to see the calves.  I finally found several calves in a good situation early Friday morning. 

I had seen them near the ponds on Dewey Road on one other morning and again on Thursday evening, so this seemed like the best chance for success on Friday morning, but first I checked a nearby meadow where I had seen a bull throughout the week and he was there. Paul Staniszewski arrived shortly after I did and we photographed the bull for a short time, but I left for the ponds as soon as possible so as to get there before sunrise.  There was a large herd of cows and calves in the meadow around one of the ponds.   Initially I filmed the elk with a Canon Rebel T3i and the 500mmF4, but then decided to try for still photographs and mounted the 7D and 500mmF4 on the Gitzo tripod with Wimberley Head and the XL-H1 video camera on the video tripod.  It is hard enough to get either good stills or video segments, but just try alternating between the two sometime or even shooting both simultaneously.   It is difficult, but regardless of this,  I did get some acceptable photographs and video clips.

Calf Nursing On Pond Bank: Note light fog on reeds and grasses to left of elk.

Paul soon arrived and got some photographs, but soon the rays of the sun  touched the tree tops, and before long the elk went into the hollow between Dewey Road and the food plot to the south.  We were discussing the results of the morning shoot when Paul said, "look there", and two calves came running onto the  pond bank directly across from us. I quickly framed one of them and took several photographs.

Calf Standing On Pond Bank
Calf  Reverses Direction
At this point I realized the other calf was not in sight and looked to my left, searching for him.  Paul was frantically firing away at another spot and I suddenly realized I was missing the best action of all as the other calf was drinking from the pond!  I tried to compose the shot, but there was too much grass between me and the calf.  Taking a few steps to the side helped somewhat and then the calf lifted its' head and I was able to capture it with a water droplet dripping from its' chin.

Calf  After Drinking
The calf did not return to drinking but rather in a few moments rejoined its' companion on the pond bank and together they went into the woods to escape the searing rays of the sun as the rest of the herd had already done.

Originally Posted at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.

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