9.25.2015

A Non-Typical Bull And A Fight

I have been photographing and filming in Pennsylvania Elk Country this week, but have spent little time on Winslow Hill because of the changes to the Dewey Road and Saddle Area.  I did photograph this large non-typical bull, which many call The U Bull shortly after dawn on Monday morning on Winslow Hill.

The U Bull
I spent most of the week traveling about and sometimes opportunities were few and far between.  Many mornings are foggy this time of year, which makes photography difficult if it is too thick. One morning there was little fog, but the light was dim and drab. I was watching cows and calves feeding when a fine 8x8 bull arrived and bugled. The light was still dim enough that I had to use an ISO setting of 2000 with the 5D MK III and 100-400mm IS II lens to get sufficient shutter speed to stop motion..

8x8 Bugles
In a few moments a larger bull appeared and challenged him and soon they were locked in combat. I boosted the ISO to 4000 so I could get an even higher shutter-speed of 1/400 sec. to try to stop the action better.

Bulls Fighting
The fight lasted for awhile and the bulls broke contact several times before returning to the struggle.

Bulls Pause From Fighting
After awhile I reached for the Panasonic FZ1000 camera and filmed them in 4K video, but they broke contact soon after I began.  I will try and get this on Vimeo at some point, but it may be awhile.

It seemed that activity was much better in the mornings, although the elk were usually went in the woods soon after sunrise and it seemed that most evenings were very dead as they often did not come into the meadows again until it was too dark for the best photography.

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.

9.12.2015

PGC Discusses Plans For Woodring Farm

Woodring House: Photo by W.Hill
After the dedication of the new viewing area last Friday, the Pennsylvania Game Commission invited attendees to a press briefing at the Woodring Farm, which was purchased last year by The PGC. Commission with substantial financial assistance from The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.

At the briefing,  PGC Northcentral Regional Director, Barry Zaffuto set forth the plans for the property, which include a headquarters building, roadside elk viewing, and a The Woodring Farm Hiking Trail, a 1/4 mile trail, which officially opened that day.  The Trail is just past the Woodring House to the left and leads to a scenic overlook 1/4 mile away.

Woodring Farm Hiking Trail: Photo by W. Hill
Below is the video of Regional Director Zaffuto's speech.


NCR Director Zaffuto Speaks At Woodring Farm from Willard C. Hill on Vimeo.

After Mr. Zaffuto spoke I&E Supervisor, Doty McDowell  announced the PGC fall schedule of events for the viewing areas and mentioned that on Saturdays there will be organized trail hikes on The Woodring Farm Hiking Trail.. He went on to mention that a web cam was installed to view the elk.  He would not reveal the exact location--except that it was nearby.  You may view the Elk Cam by going to the PGC Website and click on Elk Country Live Stream

At this point Mr. McDowell asked if there were any questions and LMO Colleen Shannon spoke up saying, "Representative Gabler just asked a question and it is very important to understand--this is still State Game Lands, so this is all land that can be hunted, there's nothing special about this as far as being restricted to hunting". McDowell then took over answering Representative Gabler's concerns and pointed out that the trail hikes stop on October 3rd this year, which is the first day of archery season.  He went on to state, "this land was purchased for the sole purpose of hunting and trapping so we want to keep that at foremost".  Below s the video.


NCR I&E Supervisor McDowell Explains Woodring Property Is Open To Hunting from Willard C. Hill on Vimeo.

In the clip below Mr. McDowell goes on to explain that it is only organized trail hikes that will end.  You will still be permitted to walk the trail during hunting season.


Clarification Of Trail Use During Hunting Season from Willard C. Hill on Vimeo.

After the presentation, were  were invited to follow Game Commission Officers to the scenic overlook.

Overlook At Woodring Farm: Photo by W. Hill
It seems that this area is being developed to divert attention somewhat away from the Dewey Road area, but it is unclear just how well some of this is going to work. Some are predicting this will result in this area becoming tightly restricted also. It will be interesting to see how things shake out as the peak of elk viewing season arrives.

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.

9.07.2015

Northcentral Regional Director, Barry Zaffuto Explains PGC Vision For Winslow Viewing Area

Today we will continue with coverage of the dedication ceremony at the Winslow Hill/Gilbert Farm Viewing Area by presenting the speech given by the Director of  The Northcentral Region of The Pennsylvania Game Commission, Barry Zaffuto.

PGC Northcentral Region Director: Barry Zaffuto
First I will present an overview of his speech and then follow with some exact quotes from Mr. Zaffuto, which will be followed by a video of the entire speech which is just over four minutes in length.

He began by discussing how elk viewing in this area began and I personally recall this period of time well as I began going there in 1995. At that time The Gilbert Farm was private property and people pulled to the side of the road and watched elk in the meadows. The photo below is a frame-grab from video shot in September of 1995.

Gilbert Farm In 1995 Taken From Saddle-Video Still Capture
 This was the same general area in September of 2013, with the area where the buildings once stood being just off the right lower corner of the photo.

Gilbert Farm 2013 Taken From Saddle
Zaffuto tells how that after the PGC acquired the property, the viewing area was developed in response to people arriving and included widening the shoulder of the road and dumping stone, etc. to make it more stable.  He points out that DCNR established several viewing areas, the most important of which was Elk Country Visitor Center, . This resulted in drastically increased visitation to the area and the Dewey Road area became unacceptably congested.

Mr. Zaffuto became regional director three years ago and was extremely interested in the elk herd.  He visited the hill not wearing a uniform and circulated among the public, observing the situation, and chatting with the public.He mentions that some of the major concerns were the congestion, with it sometimes taking over and hour to get off of the hill during peak use times, elk viewers by the roadside having to listen to idling diesel engines, and people stopping in front of houses and yards and parking in yards.

At this point I will post a direct quote from Zaffuto's speech  which explains very clearly the goals of the PGC for this area.

“This Location where we are continued to be the heart of elk viewing, where the herd is most viewed, and people are coming—something had to be done, The other big thought was there was too much interaction between elk and people, too many people were getting close they were following them around, too much habituation. So while we provide for the visitors we had to account for the interaction between people and elk so last year many of you know we started with the trail system and the horses and the bikes and the hikers and the restricted areas and we got that started to try and make that separation, the elk will get used to seeing people at the viewing areas and on the roads, but if you step off of the road we want them to raise their heads and say why are you where you are not supposed to be”

I am hesitant to post video as it can be off-putting for those with a relatively slow internet connection ( I am one of those) as the video will frequently hang on the first viewing--it helps to view it in SD, but then the quality suffers severely.  For that reason I have enabled viewers to download the video by following the link to the Vimeo page where it is posted.  For best viewing experience I recommend that you download it in 1080p or 720p.  The 1080p version is over 400MB in size and requires awhile to download, while the 720p is a good compromise, as it still gives good quality, and the download size is about 75MB and takes much less time to download.  Save it to your computer and then view it in either Windows Media Player or Apple Quicktime Player.  For whatever reason it is a bit dark in Windows Media Player and looks better in Quick Time, but enough of the technical talk--here is the video.


PGC Northcentral Director Barry Zaffuto Speaks At Dedication Of New Winslow Hill Viewing Area from Willard C. Hill on Vimeo.

Feel free to share the video. Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.

9.05.2015

Importan Questions Answered About Gilbert Farm Viewing Area

PGC Northcentrail Information & Education Supervisor Doty McDowell  Speaks At Dedication
Yesterday morning as I traveled to Benezette to attend the dedication ceremony for the new viewing area on Winslow Hill,  I pondered the issues facing the agencies that control the vast public lands that comprise much of the elk range and how the attempt to resolve these issues effect persons such as I who view the situation from the perspective of a serious wildlife photographer and student of nature. This was foremost in my mind today as I would soon be attending the dedication of facilities that will significantly change wildlife viewing at the most popular elk viewing destination in Pennsylvania, an area where I have spent the vast majority of my time in elk country. As I drove I mentally compiled a list of several questions and concerns I  have heard from other photographers in face to face discussions, and commentary on the internet..

Land Management Officer Colleen Shannon was on the scene when I arrived.  As she is the supervisor of the crew that maintains the game lands on Winslow Hill I approached her with my concerns.

Land Management Officer Colleen Shannon
Many have expressed concern that the designated viewing area just off of the new parking lot is not large enough to hold the number of people that usually watch the area during the peak of the rut.  We were initially assured at a meeting with the PGC in early April that one would still be allowed to park along the old portion of Dewey Road and to stand there and photograph wildlife in the meadow, but as the project progressed it became clear that this was not likely the case so I asked LMO Shannon to address this.  She firmly stated that no parking or standing by the roadside will be permitted in this area of Dewey Road and that the signs have been ordered to post this restriction. According to her, the new viewing area provides a much better view of the area (from now on when I refer to viewing area in reference to this particular spot it is the area behind the stones in the photo below).  A primary goal of the project is to  isolate the public from the elk for safety reasons and to prevent habituation. The elimination of parking and standing along Dewey Road is part of the drive to end close-up elk viewing and to further encourage visitors to view from a distance.

Viewing Area
I asked if it would be permissible to stand outside the stones if that area is the viewing station is full  and it seemed one will be permitted to stand on the grass as long as they  are on the correct side of the Restricted signs, but I would not count on doing so until we see how things shake out during the peak period of the rut.

I also hoped to identify exactly who was responsible for the actual location of the boundaries of the restricted area in the saddle and asked Officer Shannon if she would clarify whether the boundaries were set at the state level (Harrisburg) l, the regional level (Jersey Shore) or the land management group level.  The answer as I understood it was that she and the elk biologist, Jeremy Banfield,  set the boundary lines working in conjunction with the Northcentral regional office of the PGC.

The purpose of this question was to determine if there was a possibility that a group of photographers could work together with the PGC in adjusting the boundaries to make The Saddle more usable to them while still conforming to the PGCs overall goals for the area.  I pointed out as an example the designated trail that goes into The Saddle and back to the area where the last pile of earth was before reclamation was complete. Naturally the road makes a convenient boundary, but allowing users to step a few  yards out of the road to the north would enable them to see the ridge to the north, which they cannot do at present. Shannon responded that," The Saddle is for elk and not for people", and went on to explain that the main concerns in setting up the restricted zone were safety and the habituation of elk. She further explained that on two instances last fall they had seen bulls chasing cows through groups of people and this could not be tolerated.   She went on to say that they didn't want people on top of the hill in The Saddle at the scenic lookout as there is often a lot of elk there and they don't want people interacting with them and don't want the people at the viewing area at the Gilbert Farm having to see all of the people on top of The Saddle.

I asked if we could expect the restricted areas to increase in size in the next few years and the answer was that if the current restrictions do not solve the problem there will be more.  She also told me that the original proposal was for a larger area to be restricted, but this was not adopted.

The official program began at 1:00 and featured a variety of speakers including, PGC Executive Director Matt Hough, and Northcentral Region Director, Barry Zaffuto.

Regional Director Zaffuto dealt with the history of how the viewing area on Dewey Road evolved over the years and went on to discuss in detail PGC concerns and goals in reference to the habituation of elk, which will hopefully be the subject of another post in the near future.

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.