6.22.2014

Bulls, Birds, And Calves

The primary focus of my annual mid-June trip to Pennsylvania Elk Country is to photograph the elk calves, but they were extremely skittish as I noted in the last post.  I got the only decent calf photo of the trip on Friday morning.  As is so often the case it was extremely foggy and I was cruising the hill waiting for it to lift a bit when I saw a small group of cows with one calf  about 25 yards from the road.  I parked well off of the roadway.  Since the grass was tall I made no effort to set the tripod up, but instead stood on the door sill of the SUV, rested the 5D MKIII with 300mm f2.8 lens over the top of the vehicle and fired several frames.  It is good that I did not try to get the tripod as the elk stood there less than a minute before running away.

Foggy Morning Calf
When one is looking for calves it is also common to see different species of grassland birds.  I have seen Bobolinks for years, but always took video before and never got an acceptable still photograph of one until Wednesday morning when I photographed one with the Canon 70D and the 600mm F 4.0 lens.

Bobolink
It was a bit more difficult to see bulls, but a young bull was seen most mornings and evenings feeding or resting along the edge of the food plot near the log cabin on the hill at the Porcupine Run/Winslow Hill Viewing Area.  In this case I took video for some time with the Panasonic GH4 and 100-300mm Lumix lens before switching it to still mode and firing a few still frames.

Young Bull With Cows

I actually found quite a few bulls and some were of respectable size for young animals, but none were had the potential to grow truly exceptional racks this year.  The 5x5 shown below was one of the largest seen on this trip. He was traveling with a bachelor group of three bulls and was the largest of that particular group.

5x5 Bull Peers At Camera
Some would call this a large 5x5 while other veteran elk photographers would chuckle and comment that large and 5x5 are not compatible words.  Whatever the case there seems to be quite a few bulls of this size class out there this year and I plan to post some more photos of them in the near future.

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.

6.18.2014

Late Spring In PA Elk Country

Late spring in Pennsylvania's elk range and outdoor photographers are concentrating on photographing the elk calves. There has been a lot of rainfall this spring and one has to keep close to the vehicle or be prepared to weather a severe thunderstorm.

Distant Thunderhead
Elk usually go in early in the morning to avoid the hot rays of the sun and come out very late in the evening, but an afternoon thunder storm may bring them to the fields earlier.

Herd Feeding In The Rain
An added bonus of this type of weather is the potential for dramatic landscape shots as the skies clear and fog lifts after the storm.

Fog Forms After Shower
While I was taking the photograph above, the sun was behind a bank of heavy clouds, but there was a clear spot that it had to cross before setting.  I anticipated dramatic interaction of the rays of the sun with the fog when it came from behind the clouds and I was not disappointed.

Late Evening Sun Adds Dramatic Cast To Rising Fog
Winslow Hill Sunset
I have seen several calves, but they have been too far away for the best quality still photographs or it has been too foggy.  The photo below was taken at extreme range with the 600mm f4 and 1.4x extender and cropped severely on top of that.

Distant Calves
Each year the PGC captures several calves and fits them with radio collars and/or ear tags for research purposes and a large number of the animals seen on Winslow Hill are wearing the tags.  It is normal for elk to be more skittish at this time of year to help protect the young  from predators, but it does seem likely that capturing the calves contributes to this shyness as does the influx of nature enthusiasts.

Originally published by Willard Hill at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer.

6.09.2014

PA Governor Corbett and Keystone Elk Country Alliance Sign Long Term Agreement.

Elk Country Visitor Center: 2013 Elk Expo
The Keystone Elk Country Alliance(KECA) and PA Governor Tom Corbett recently signed a long term agreement that continues the operation of Elk Country Visitors Center for 35 years.

Some had speculated that DCNR would assume direct control of the facility at some point in the future with  DCNR employees staffing it under the supervision of a career DCNR officer equivalent to a State Park Superintendent, but this action seems to lay this type of speculation to rest.

Advocates of the Public/Private Partnership between KECA and The Commonwealth point out that The Center's operation is not funded by taxpayers dollars, while a operation totally administered by DCNR or another state agency would be.

Operation of Visitor Center is partially funded by proceeds from gift shop and theater ticket sales.
Those opposed to the arrangement are concerned that this gives a private group too much control over a public resource and point to certain policies that they view as unduly restrictive or likely to cause problems, or at best not alleviate them.  A prime example is the" no stopping on the road or parking along the roadway" signs along the drive to the Visitor Center from Winslow Hill Road.

Would a pull-off area prevent problems in this area?

Certainly it does not work for people to stop in the road, but how many are able to resist doing so when they see elk in the meadow or standing by the roadside?  Should a pull-off area or extra lane been provided in this area so people could legally stop, or would this  lead to further problems? Would the cost of installing the lane outweigh any benefit it may have given?

This is only one example. It is always easier to criticize than to find workable solutions, but hopefully interest groups can work together to provide a better experience for all.

Whatever the case the KECA will continue to administer the Visitor Center for many years, barring some unforeseen circumstance.

Published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.

The following is the news release from The Pennsylvania Office of The Governor in its' entirety.

News for Immediate Release
June 2, 2014
Governor Corbett Signs Long-Term Agreement for Public/Private Partnership at Elk Country Visitor Center in Pennsylvania Wilds.

Harrisburg – Governor Tom Corbett signed a 35-year agreement with the non-profit Keystone Elk Country Alliance (KECA) for operation of Elk Country Visitor Center in Elk County, cementing a public/private partnership that was begun before the center first opened in 2010.

The Elk Country Visitor Center is nestled on 245-acres owned by the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) in Benezette. KECA, a Pennsylvania-based wildlife conservation organization, operates the center without state funding. KECA raises operational revenue through services such as gift shop sales, theater tickets, wagon and sleigh rides and other special events.

“This is a great partnership between government and a non-profit organization to continue to improve and expand the resources and services that DCNR provides to our citizens, and ensure a quality visitor experience at the Elk Country Visitor Center,” Corbett said. “Our relationship with KECA is a true success story, as together we have been able to improve wildlife habitat, educate the public about conservation, support tourism and create local jobs.”

The center is open year round and includes a 4-D story theater with special effects that explore the sight, smells and sounds of the area; interactive and interpretive exhibits; wildlife trails and viewing areas; wagon and sleigh rides; educational programming; and parking for cars, RVs and buses.

“The Keystone Elk Country Alliance is pleased and proud to partner with the Commonwealth to operate this world-class destination,” said Rawley Cogan, CEO Keystone Elk Country Alliance. “KECA’s educational and stewardship programs provide a clear and consistent conservation message and continue to attract more and more guests to Pennsylvania’s Elk Country. Local businesses continue to expand and create new jobs that fuel economic development in the region.”

The new agreement requires a significant capital investment by KECA, which has begun construction of an outdoor classroom to accommodate more educational programs and special events at the center.
Governor Corbett visited the center in the fall, noting…”attendance at the center has grown to 350,000 tourists annually, each spending money and supporting local small businesses.”

Twelve jobs were created by KECA to operate the elk center. Its gift shop provides more than 60 small local vendors and artisans with a new market opportunity. The number of lodging establishments near the center has almost doubled; three wineries have opened – all with an elk theme; and local stores and restaurants are expanding.

Pennsylvania’s elk herd currently numbers more than 800 animals – the largest elk herd in the northeastern United States.

For more information about the Elk Country Visitor Center, visit www.ElkCountryVisitorCenter.com or call 814-787-5167. To learn more about the Keystone Elk Country Alliance, go to www.ExperienceElkCountry.com. For more information about DCNR visit the website at www.dcnr.state.pa.us.

Media contact:
Valerie Caras, Governor’s Office; 717-783-1116
Christina Novak, DCNR; 717-772-9101
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