8.30.2015

New Winslow Hill Viewing Area To Be Dedicated

New Winslow Hill Viewing Area-Gilbert Farm
Regular readers of this blog are well aware of the changes to the elk viewing areas on Dewey Road and it seems likely that by this time many will have traveled there to view them personally. At any rate, on Thursday August 27th I received the following Pennsylvania Game Commission News Advisory pertaining to the dedication of the new facilities.

PA Game Commission News Advisory
For Immediate Release
August 27, 2015


New Elk and Wildlife Viewing Area to be Dedicated

The Pennsylvania Game Commission will dedicate the new Winslow Hill Viewing Area at a ceremony to be held on site Friday, Sept. 4 starting at 1 p.m.

Following the dedication, Game Commission representatives will kick off the fall viewing season by announcing plans for additional public facilities, as well as their fall program schedule centering on elk and wildlife viewing. Game Commission Executive Director R. Matthew Hough said the facilities and activities underscore the tremendous and growing interest in viewing wildlife, particularly elk.

In 2014, over 400,000 wildlife enthusiasts came to the Winslow Hill portion of State Game Lands 311 and the nearby Elk Country Visitor Center to view elk. This was a higher number of visitors than anyone predicted, and well more than existing facilities were designed to accommodate. Due to a need for improved viewing platforms, additional parking and safer traffic patterns, the Game Commission contracted the Larson Design Group, of Williamsport, to design a safer and more efficient wildlife viewing area.

Directions
From state Route 555 in Benezette, turn onto Front Street, then turn right onto Winslow Hill Road. Follow Winslow Hill Road approximately 2.5 miles. The dedication will take at the Winslow Hill Viewing Area off Dewey Road.
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For the remainder of today's post I will share some photos and a bit of analysis of the situation. Of course this is written from the perspective of a serious wildlife photographer and most of the input I have heard is from others of a similar bent.

In the past, large numbers of elk enthusiasts parked in the pull-off along the edge of Dewey Road that stretched from the end of the tree line that ran along the right of the road to the site where the Gilbert house and barn used to stand. Many set up lawn chairs, cameras, spotting scopes, etc and spent an entire morning of evening there as the photos below show.

Elk Viewing Dewey Road-2009

The Gilbert Meadow-Taken From Road-bank
Most I have talked to are concerned that visitors will be required to stand in the gravel covered area behind the stones shown in the first photo, which would not be sufficient to contain a large number of people-- especially those with tripods, etc. set up. The photo below is taken from standing in the viewing area and looking down Dewey Road on August 18th and shows what happened to the area where the vehicles are parked in the photos above. 

Former Parking Area-From New Viewing Area
At the time there were not any No Parking Signs along Dewey Road in that area, but the roadway is only just possibly wide enough for a single line of vehicles to park along the field and if that is allowed there would be little room to maneuver around them on foot. There is a berm or bank that runs the entire length of the road in this area that ranges from about knee to waist-high, if I recall correctly. One could stand there with a camera and tripod and successfully photograph elk in the meadow, but the big question remains if this will be allowed. It only takes a short time for No Parking or No Standing signs to be erected and they could well be there even as I am writing this, or at any time in the future. Even if one can stand here, the days when one could pull-in and set up a lawn chair with a good view of the meadow seems to be a thing of the past which is especially devastating to those with physical infirmities that could not handily walk to the viewing “platform”.

There is either a parking area or a turn-around spot where the Gilbert house used to stand (no actual parking area signs were there on the 18th, but there was an informational kiosk such as usually erected in parking lots). Restricted signs are posted around this in such a manner that one cannot, however, see into the field without walking up the hill along Dewey Road to do so.

Parking Lot-Turn-around At Gilbert House Site
It will be interesting to see how the area is posted and the rules are enforced for the peak period of the September rut. I will wait until I see how this shakes out before forming a definite opinion, but at this point I can't help but think this appears to have been designed for casual tourism where the visitor stops by Elk Country Visitor Center, then drives up the hill or travels by tour bus, walks to the viewing area, snaps a few photos with their cell phone camera, then turns and walks away. There seems to have been little to no consideration for the needs of the serious wildlife enthusiast.

Originally Published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.


8.22.2015

The Shedding Of The Velvet-2015

Ready To Shed Velvet
The last two weeks have been a period of change in Pennsylvania Elk Country, as the bull elk shed the velvet. The new velvet covered antlers begin growing soon after the previous years rack is shed in late winter and early spring. with new antler growth beginning almost immediately. The new antlers are covered with "velvet" which is composed of a soft velvety feeling tissue, which contains a network of blood vessels that carry nourishment to the developing antlers. The antlers reach their full size during July and by early August the velvet begins to dry and crack and eventually peel away, exposing the hard bone like antlers that the animal will carry throughout the autumn and winter.

The bull in the photo below is starting the process with small bits of loose velvet hanging from the antlers and bloody areas with patches of the underlying antler structure showing through.

 Starting To Shed
When the velvet is completely ready to be shed, the animals hasten the process along by aggressively horning trees, saplings, and the ground. At this point it is common to see the velvet hanging from the antlers in long, loose strips.

Shedding Almost Completed
The process  is usually completed in a day or so and the bull is left with the hard, bone like antlers that he  will carry throughout the autumn and winter.

Shedding Completed
Now that the velvet is gone sparring intensifies as the first stirrings of the pre-rut sweep through the herd. While I prefer to photograph elk in a natural setting, it seems that many of the bulls were hanging close to cabins and houses this week and on Wednesday morning I photographed two fine bulls sparring close to a cabin.

 Sparring Beside A Camp
By late August or early September the full-blown rut will get underway and thousands will travel to Benezette to experience the exciting sights and sounds of the rut.  The rut should be very intense by mid-September and should peak late in the month, or in early October.

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.