Elk Crossing Bennetts Branch

There is something about the successful incorporation of water in the composition that makes a wildlife photo or video clip have special appeal, whether it be of animals drinking from a stream or pond, or crossing a stream that passes through a picturesque setting. As I noted in the last post, I spend little time near the river when in Pennsylvania elk country, but I frequently think about the outstanding photographs and video I have seen taken there, such as video segments taken by Billie Cromwell in the late 1990's and stills by Ron Saffer from that time and earlier. Another outstanding example that I think of frequently is "Water Fight", which features two bulls in fierce combat in the river near Driftwood.  It was taken by the late Terry Younkin and is featured on a sign at the Hicks Run Viewing Area.

At any rate, as promised here is the video of the herd of elk crossing Bennetts Branch of Sinnemahoning Creek, which most persons I know simply refer to as "the river".

This video was taken with the Canon T3i DSLR, a Manfrotto 516 fluid head, and a Canon 100-400mm L lens at varying focal lengths. All clips were taken at ISO 100.  It is always a tough choice  between using this and the Canon XL-H1.  The H1 is sharper and as long as one uses the normal lens the auto focus works well, but once one shifts to the longer lenses it is easier to obtain accurate focus with the DSLR as both must be focus manually when taking video with these lenses.

Originally posted at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard HIll.


Late February In Elk Country

For the past several years I have spent a substantial portion of either the last week in February  or the first week in March in Pennsylvania elk country.  I decided to do so again this year, so late Monday morning found me traveling up I-99 under sunny skies with the goal in mind of arriving in Benezette in time to photograph the evening's elk activity.  The ground is usually covered with snow at this time of year, but today conditions were more like mid to late March, with  most of the fields being bare.

View From Gilbert Viewing Area-Usually Snow Covered In February
There was some snow cover in wooded areas--especially in areas protected from the direct rays of the sun, and some portions of  back roads were treacherous as well.  There was light snowfall on a few occasions  during the week, but there was only minimal accumulation and that melted quickly. All in all it was more like early spring than winter.

I did see quite a few elk, but not as many as usual, and bull sightings were few and far between.  I checked out Gray Hill several times, which is where many have seen bulls lately, but I did not see one elk let alone a bull.  Two young bulls were sighted at Devil's Elbow on Monday evening, but I filmed them with the Canon XL-H1 and  have no still photos to post of this encounter.

After checking Gray Hill and Winslow Hill at dawn on Tuesday, I traveled to Hick's Run where I found a herd between RT 555 and Bennetts Branch.  Eventually most of the elk crossed the river and again I concentrated on filming them, rather than taking stills, but I did pause at times to fire a few still frames.  It is always a special treat to film and photograph elk in the water.

Cows Crossing Bennetts Branch
A beautiful 6x6 was with the herd. He is not really a large bull, but is impressive enough to make an excellent photographic subject.  This was evidently one of the most commonly seen bulls this week as I have seen his photo posted several times on Facebook and on blogs.  Again I concentrated on video rather than stills as I have not filmed a bull crossing the river in my many years of going to elk country (I spend most of my time in the meadows and mountains, instead of the low-lands).  Of course I would love to have still photos of a river crossing also, but since video is my primary focus, I wanted video clips much worse. Eventually he walked to the edge of the river and paused to drink, and I took a still at this point.

Bull Drinking From River
One only needs to push a separate button the remote to take a full 18 meg-pixel still while in video mode, but the main problem is that one needs to use a shutter speed of between 1/30 and 1/100 when filming, with 1/60 being recommended in most cases.  It is of course possible to shift to higher speeds to take stills, but one cannot resume filming until they drop back to a more acceptable speed, or they end up with unnatural looking motion.  I took the still  without boosting the shutter speed as it seemed likely he could take off across the river at any moment and catch me changing settings in which case a wonderful opportunity would be wasted while I fumbled with camera settings. This resulted in a bit of softness in the image, due to either camera vibration, subject movement or both. As it turned out, I successfully film him crossing the river, which made an otherwise lackluster trip into one that I will not forget.

Originally posted at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.


Supplemental & Recreational Wildlife Feeding-A Deeper Look

Bull 36 Spring 2005: He lived over 17 years.

In the last post we briefly mentioned the controversial subjects of supplemental and recreational feeding, and linked to a previous post on the matter.  What has always bothered me most is the lack of honesty in discussing this subject.  Critics of feeding often seize on the worst possible case scenario, in which a large amount of corn is suddenly made available to an animal that has been subsisting on a diet of grasses and woody browse, which may result in the death of the animal from rumen acidosis.

While researching this subject some time ago I came upon an interesting exchange between two ex members of the Pennsylvania Game Commission Board of Directors.  In the case at hand,  Roxane Palone, past president, and former board member addressed the subject in a March 31, 2011 post on the Skunk In The Woodpile Blog, " PA Game Commission response to CWD threat".  While this post is mostly focused on CWD (chronic wasting disease) it does address several other factors as well, including rumen acidosis. It is recommended that you read this post in its' entirety.

Ms. Palone states, "There are several risk factors that will cause a state to become CWD positive. These include an area’s proximity to deer farms or wild populations that have been infected, areas with a history of receiving imports from CWD infected regions, and areas allowing imports of hunter-killed carcasses from CWD infected regions. Risks of CWD becoming established in an area are magnified where there are high deer densities, a history of CWD animals or contaminated soil, and where artificial feeding occurs.'

She then goes on to advance the case for a ban on feeding whitetail deer.

"Pennsylvania has banned the feeding of bears and elk, but the law is hard to enforce because feeding of deer is allowed. Residents who are caught feeding can use the fall back excuse that they are feeding deer. In some cases where the feeding of elk has been proven, district justices have been unwilling to pass a guilty verdict."

Another former commissioner, Russ Schleiden weighed in on the matter in a comment also dated March 31, 2011, in which he states  "Everytime I hear people from the PGC, AG field and Vets included, talk about CWD they invariably hint at vicinity of captive deer or feeding of wild deer. Think about it, PA has been the most agressive of all states about getting a CWD monitouring program started. We’ve been testing both wild and captive deer for over 7 years now and haven’t found any yet. PA has more registared deer farmers than most of the other states combined, that have the disease. I would guess that 10s of thousands of PA whitetails ( wild & captive) have tested for CWD and none have been positive yet. In fact I’m certain there have been far more captive deer tested in PA than wild. I just sent 10 deer to the lab, ages 1yr thru 10 yrs. Captive deer are fed by humans in a concentrated area…yet no CWD thus far. I suspect that those who don’t want wild feeding are using the CWD as an additional excuse. That is the very thing that give our people in the science field a reason to be doubted." 

Schleiden goes on to say, "In the interest of disclosure. I have been raising captive deer and elk since about 1993. I was one of the first to volunteer for CWD testing before it was made mandatory and have been complying ever since. I also have a hunting camp with a feeder about 2 miles from my home. I love to go there and watch the wild deer come into the feeder during the Jan, Feb. and March months".

 At this point I posted a comment, which I will re-post today in its' entirety as it does a decent job of covering many of my thoughts about the feeding issue.

This is a subject that has troubled me greatly for the last few years. At the level at which much feeding is done, I do not think that it attracts vast numbers of deer, but in my experience it is anywhere from one to three extended family groups and these are deer that are ordinarily in the general area anyway, it simply makes them more visible for observation. In my experience the bucks that are usually seen at a feeding area are the yearlings and sometimes 2 yr olds that do not disperse as most do by that time, but in most cases these bucks are traveling with their extended family group and would likely be doing so regardless of feeding.

When the rut arrives a mature buck is likely going to cover a lot of ground searching for does in heat which gives the potential for him to carry disease into an area, but the does are going to be there whether they are browsing in the forest, eating supplemental feed, or eating in food plots and deer are going to be interacting socially by nuzzling, grooming, etc. wherever they might be.

As far as disease goes, I have not seen one deer die from rumen acidosis or any other disease, as a result of modest feeding. It may be different where large truck loads of corn are dumped, but I don't think that most feeding is done at this level. Artificial feeding does have the potential to concentrate animals, but so does food plots--although possibly not to as great of an extent. Are we going to outlaw food plots and stop land management practices on SGLs as well?

In my mind such legislation simply creates another area for contention, and another class of game law violator. Many would likely ignore the law as a substantial amount seems to do with the elk feeding. In the case of the elk, it seems that the disease issue is simply the "smoking gun" so as to speak that was used to reinforce the "need" for a feeding ban. There seems to be no doubt that some elk have died from rumen acidosis, but when I first went to Elk County a gentleman fed elk near what is now the Gilbert Viewing Area. He did not feed by the truck load, but he fed daily and I never heard about dead elk being found there. Also the famous town bull that was put down after he fell on the ice this winter, ate a lot of corn during his life and lived more than 17 years. The biggest problem really seemed to be that the feeding attracted the elk to town and made them less fearful of humans.

Like Mr. Schleiden I will state for the record that I do feed deer and I enjoy observing, and photographing them more than any thing I have ever done in the outdoors, yet by the stroke of a pen this enjoyment can be substantially curtailed. I could support this if it would make a major difference in protecting the herd from CWD, but I have serious reservations about such a law for the reasons I stated above.


For the record, I am not advocating that anyone rush out and start feeding wildlife, but the activity should be considered in the proper perspective and the circumstances under which it takes place. I recall reading comments on an article where the author touted the likelihood that deer would die or become seriously ill from eating corn placed for them.  This garnered several comments covering a wide spectrum of opinion.  Some were genuinely sickened that they had probably killed the animals they were trying to help and enjoyed watching, which of course is the point I am trying to make. The author had these people upset and worrying about something that was not likely going to happen--at least for the reason that he said. On the other hand many of the same persons who oppose feeding in any form or degree, are in favor of more and longer hunting seasons, liberalized bag limits, and more special seasons  for various types of weapons. While it is never spelled out that plainly, it is not too hard to come away with the idea that the only acceptable use of wildlife is to shoot as much as the law legally permits.

Originally posted at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.


News From The PA Wilds

Dr. Walter Cottrell To Discuss Hazards Of Illegal Elk Feeding

According to PGC News Release #001-12: Dr. Walter Cottrell, Pennsylvania Game Commission wildlife veterinarian, will discuss the harmful effects of winter feeding of elk at 1 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 11, at the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Elk Country Visitor’s Center at 134 Homestead Dr., in Benezette Township, Elk County.

Elk At Feeder
This is actually part of a prolonged and intense campaign against the artificial feeding of most wildlife, especially deer and elk.  As usual there are several sides to this story and the subject was explored in some depth on this blog in the post: "Elk and People Issues With Elk, on July 29, 2010. I plan to explore more aspects of this important issue in the near future.

Paul Staniszewski Featured Artist

According to a Press Release by the Elk County Council on the Arts sent to us by Paul Staniszewski, "a solo art exhibition is being planned at the gallery on Saturday, February 18th from 10:00AM until 5:00PM to coincide with the 13th Annual Ridgway Chainsaw Carvers Rendezvous. The featured artist for the month of February is Paul Staniszewski and he will be available to meet and greet visitors to the gallery on that day. Paul currently resides in Troutville, PA and spends a lot of time roaming the hills around Benezette looking for elk to photograph. His work will be on display and he will discuss the equipment, techniques employed, and share tips on how to successfully approach and photograph the elk."

Ron "Buckwheat"  Saffer and Paul Staniszewski Photographing Elk

The ECCOTA Gallery is located at 237 Main St. Ridgway, PA.

Originally posted at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.