Early April In Elk Country With The 7D MK II And The New 100-400mm IS II Lens

Herd Grazing In Saddle In Early April
 Most of the new information I have written about in the last two posts was acquired during an early April trip to Pennsylvania Elk Country that ran from Friday afternoon April 3rd until the following Tuesday.  This was one of the least enjoyable trips to Benezette that I can recall.  Thoughts of the coming changes kept running through my mind and I truly felt like an old man as I thought of the changes that have occurred since I first filmed the elk in 1995 and found that I could no longer look to the future of wildlife filming and photography with optimism in either Pennsylvania Elk Country or the National Parks.  It didn't help that elk, especially the bulls, were less visible than usual, but yet by the time the trip was over I found I had captured a few decent images so perhaps things were better than I thought.

The highlight of the trip was an early Easter Sunday morning drive to Hicks Run Viewing Area where  I found two bulls feeding along Dent's Run that were growing new antlers.

Bull Pauses From Feeding: Canon 7D MK II-Canon 100-400mm L IS II@176mm- ISO 400-1/80 sec. f 5.6
I filmed them for a time with the Panasonic GH4, but had shifted to taking stills with the 7D MK II and the new Canon 100-400mmL IS  II when the bulls suddenly crossed the run. The bull shown above and in the photo immediately below was the first to cross and his antlers were already forking into points, while the second bull had not yet started to develop points.

Bull Crossing Dents Run: Canon 7D MK II-Canon 100-400mm L IS II@135mm- ISO 400-1/125 sec. f 5.6

No Points Yet: Canon 7D MK II-Canon 100-400mm L IS II@400mm- ISO 640-1/250 sec. f 5.6
With this encounter, the morning was already one to remember, but there was even more to come as I had only started to drive back to Winslow Hill when I spied a bald eagle sitting in a tree by the side of Bennetts Branch, so I pulled to the side of the road and photographed it from the vehicle  as I am sure getting out would have caused it to fly.

Bald Eagle: Canon 7D MK II-Canon 100-400mm L IS II@400mm- ISO 400-1/250 sec. f 5.6

A cow elk  feeding by the roadside made another excellent photo opportunity  to try the 7D MK II and 100-400mm combo.

Cow Elk: Canon 7D MK II-Canon 100-400mm L IS II@104mm- ISO 400-1/250 sec. f 5.6
While the primary mission of the trip was to learn more about the coming changes it also turned into a test of the new Canon 100-400mm IS II lens and I used this lens almost exclusively except for scenic shots requiring a wider angle and usually I used it on the 7D MK II.  While I like the 7D MK II, I am even more impressed with the new 100-400mm as it seems to be very sharp even a the 400mm setting, which many complained about with the old model.  In addition the image stabilization works extremely well and  I got a high percentage of sharp shots even shooting hand-held and this is checking the sharpness at 100% in Photoshop.  It is not as sharp as primes such as the 300mm f2.8, 500mmF4, or 600mm F4.0, but it is excellent and the primes of course limit you to the extent that you have to back off  if you need to get more in the picture.

I am a firm believer in tripod, tripod, tripod as Ron "Buckwheat" Saffer always says in reference to what is needed to get sharp photos, but this lens does make it more possible than ever for Canon users to get acceptable images with a big telephoto in situations where it is difficult or impossible to use a tripod or when one wants to walk long distances without the hassle of carrying a tripod.

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.


Major Changes To Winslow Hill Viewing Areas Part 2

In the last post I discussed the changes coming to the Dewy Road area.  Today we will deal a bit more with that before dealing with some information about the new PGC viewing area located on the Maynard Woodring Farm and now often referred to  as "The Woodring"

First off- it seems I created some confusion with  the photo below, which has the placard for designated routes for horse and bicycle riders super-imposed over a scene of elk grazing in the Saddle in what will now be a restricted zone from approximately the beginning of June until the end of September.  Since a silhouette of a person on foot is not included in this sign, some have taken this to indicate that hiking, photography,etc. will still be allowed as usual, but that is not the case. 

The key point is that the Saddle will be a restricted area and as such will likely  be plainly marked with the same type of  signs that are found at the Gilbert Farm Viewing Area and are seen attached to the fence in the photo below. I would expect these signs to be placed along both sides of each designated trail in the Saddle.  The downside to this is that it further detracts from the natural look of the area. It is possible they will add a silhouette of a person walking  to the placard shown above, but it may simply go with separate signage stating that all must remain in the designated routes where they pass through a restricted area.  If an area is not designated and posted as a restricted area, then it may be accessed on foot, while horse and bicycle riders must remain on designated routes anywhere on State Game Lands, which is what the sign above is primarily intended to address.

Restricted Area Signs-Porcupine Run/Winslow Hill Viewing Area-Gilbert Farm
I also have a bit of information on the new PGC Viewing Area at the Woodring Farm along Winslow Hill Road.   At present it seems that the meadow directly across Winslow Hill Road from the Woodring house is to be a restricted area.

New Restricted Area
Woodring House

It is not clear if the meadow directly to the right of the house and shown in the photo below, will be a restricted area or not, but I would expect it to be one.

This Meadow Will Likely Be A Restricted Area
A viewing platform is to be built at a scenic overlook on the property, with access by a hiking trail. I have been told that at this point the entire property will not be restricted to the extent the Saddle will be, but that can change at any time.

Woodring Overlook

It is hoped that this viewing area will draw some of the pressure from the Winslow Hill-Porcupine Run Viewing Areas and it should help to a certain extent, but with steadily increasing elk related tourism it seems likely that there will also be more restrictions as time passes.

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.


Major Changes Coming To Winslow Hill Viewing Areas

Major changes are coming to the Porcupine Run-Winslow Hill Viewing Areas, with construction of a new parking lot and the relocation of a portion of Dewey Road scheduled to begin on April 27, 2015. The project has been scaled back somewhat from what was originally planned and restrooms will not be built at this time.  The primary purpose of this is to improve traffic safety  as the current entrance to Dewey Road is located on a sharp curve with limited visibility to the south. Also the parking lot along Winslow Hill Road has unregulated access to the road over a significant distance, which increases the chance of collisions..

Winslow Hill Road- Dewey Road Entrance To Left
Parking Lot Along Winslow Hill Road
The new parking lot is to be just in front of the old one.  The upper portion of Dewey Rd will intersect with Winslow Hill Rd somewhere near or past the end of the old parking lot shown in the photo above. To access the new parking lot one will travel a short distance on Dewey Rd to the entrance.  Provisions will be made to gate the parking lot and close it to the public when desired. There are currently no plans to close Dewey Rd at any time as it is a public Township Road, which provides access to multiple landowners as well as the large area of State Game Lands 311 at the end of Dewey Rd.

As important, or perhaps more important to many is the decision to add the area known as "The Saddle" to The Restricted Area beginning June 1, 2015.  This effectively means that from that date The Saddle is to be posted with restricted area signs the same as the areas along Dewey Road and users will be required to follow the designated routes, which will be the same or much the same as the trails that were established for horse and bicycle riders.  This is effective until the last Saturday in September or the first day of archery  deer season.  I am not completely clear on this point, but it  should be posted plainly on the restricted area signs.

All Users Will Be Required To Stay On Designated Routes During Restricted Period
 Officials point to increased visitation to the area and pressure on the resource as reason for the changes.
In 1998 there was an estimated  72,000 visitors to  Pennsylvania Elk Country, while in 2014 it was reported that over 400, 000 people passed through Elk Country Visitor Center. In light of increased traffic and congestion on Winslow Hill and the drastic increase of use of the Dewey Road--Saddle Area in particular, The Pennsylvania Game Commission began placing more emphasis on controlling secondary users such as horse and bicycle riders last year, when designated routes for horse and bicycle riders  were plainly marked  and an extensive public relations campaign was implemented to make the public aware of the regulations.

Actually State Game Lands regulations have required for many years that horses and bicycles be used only on designated routes unless one is actively engaged in legal hunting or trapping.  It is also illegal to ride  a non-motorized vehicle, conveyance or animal from the last Saturday in September until the third Saturday in January, and prior to one hour after close of lawful hunting hours for spring turkey season from the second Saturday in April through the last Saturday in May, inclusive, except on Sundays or while lawfully engaged in hunting, trapping or fishing.

Most are aware of the recent attempt on the part of certain members of the PGC board of commissioners to ban all secondary users from the SGLs during the period of time that horses and bicycles are banned, but I have been told that at this point it doesn't seem likely  this will happen and that  nature enthusiasts will be permitted to walk anywhere in The Saddle from the end of the restricted period until the next June, but one would do well to remember that anything can change at any time.

Test Hill-Former State Forest Land  runs along edge of meadow to right
At this point it is not completely clear just where the designated routes will be, but generally speaking they will be much the same if not the exact same as they were  last year.  An important point to remember is there is no longer any State Forest Land in The Saddle (many will recall the white boundary markers that are plainly visible along the edge of the woods on Test Hill once the foliage is gone and not as noticeable along the entire lower edge of The Saddle). This land was acquired from DCNR by the PGC as part of a lands trade and is now part of SGL 311 and as such may be restricted to what extent the PGC may decide.

I hope to discuss this a bit more as well as deal with more changes that are coming in another post  in the near future.
Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.