10.13.2016

Photos And Thoughts From The 2016 Elk Rut


In an unprecedented move since this blog was founded in 2007, I have gone a month without posting. This is partly because I had difficulty getting internet access for with my laptop while I was in Pennsylvania Elk Country for the last two weeks of September and I did not want to try posting with a smart phone.  Also I find it harder and harder to write a post as time passes.  It is relatively simple to post a few photos, but I always like to do a bit more. To make a long story short, I found I had a lot of other things that needed done when I returned from elk country and it was easier to devote my time to that and put posting on the back burner until now. For today's post, I will share a few images from September's trip and refer you to a post by Bill Taylor on his "Down The Fall Road" Blog that resonates with me in many ways. It is titled, "The Elk Rut, Photography, & Thoughts".

A major point he makes is how each year seems to have a set of circumstances that make it stand out from years past, For me this was how elk activity was not centered nearly so much around the Dewey Rd area as it usually was in the past several years, but perhaps this was because I avoided this area as much as possible.  With that being said, I did have a few good experiences there and the first was  late in the afternoon on the first day of my trip. I arrived so late that there was not time for more than a drive around the Benezette/ Winslow Hill area and I found two bulls chasing a herd of cows over an area ranging from the food plot by the cabin on the hill to the Gilbert meadows and beyond. The first was one that many refer to as the U bull and he gave a dramatic pose when he paused and looked over his shoulder at a rapidly approaching 6x7 that was contending with him for control of the harem. It was good to be joined by fellow photographers, Jim (Muck) McClelland and then later by Tom  Dorsey and his wife Jeanne.

The U Bull Looks Back At Rapidly Approaching 6x7

6x7 Arrives

6x7 Pauses
Another bull that was photographed by many is a fine 7x7 that  frequented the river bottoms.  This brings us to another point that Bill Taylor made, which is that with so many photographing the same animals in the same set of circumstances that it is very hard to get a photo that is truly unique.  I usually try to capture them either in a dramatic pose in a good natural setting or capture them doing something unusual, but of course most every one else is trying to do the same thing.  In the first photo below I tried to capture him at the moment that he erupted from the woods in pursuit of a cow and then I got him as he came almost sliding to a stop.

7x7 Emerges From Woods In Pursuit Of Cow

Sliding To A Stop
Another dramatic opportunity was when he paused from tearing up the ground with his antlers and bugled.

Bugling With Grass In Antlers
I would have liked to get photos and video of the elk in the river, but I did not spend enough time in that spot this year to be there when this happened. Whether one succeeds in capturing a unique photo or not, it is good to see the increase in serious elk photographers as it will hopefully help insure the future for wildlife photography on public lands in Pennsylvania if this user group becomes large enough to achieve recognition as stake-holders in or public lands and the wildlife which inhabits it.

Like Bill, I would usually rather be somewhere else than the areas where a lot of other photographers are congregated in hopes of getting something different (although I really enjoy the bull sessions),  but many if not most times trips to remote areas result in very little or no elk sightings or filming opportunities.

Remote Food Plot In Clearfield County-No Elk Were Seen
I had a lot of different spots that I wanted to check out this year and I did get to a few of them, but in those cases I was not successful in getting video or stills of bull elk although these excursions were successful from the standpoint of seeing different country.

Quehanna Wild Area
When one is successful in places like this, it does seem like you have accomplished more and it is truly an experience to treasure.  The photo below  illustrates this and it is also a warning to always be prepared.  I took my brother Coy to see a remote meadow late one morning.  It was so late that I saw little reason to bother with a big lens.  As the 70-200 was mounted on my 5D MK III, I just carried it and the 24-105mm.  Needless to say this was the time that I would see a large coyote close enough for an exceptional shot with a larger lens, but there it was and I had to make the best of the situation. This is cropped severely and I do mean severely. An image from the MK III is 22.1 megapixels when opened in ACR (Adobe Camera Raw), but in this case I cropped it to 3.6 megapixels at 300 d.p.i.  which is suitable for the internet and actually good enough to print a modestly large print. Actually I could probably have gotten away with 2 megapixels or less, but this was a good compromise.

Quehanna Coyote
 The bottom line though is  that with a limited amount of time to spend and more problems from getting older, it gets easier and easier to hang around the tourist areas and alternate between watching what is going on and then pitching in and doing some serious photography when the opportunity presents itself. This is what I was doing on the last Thursday evening of my trip when I saw a large bull bedded in the field beside the Woodring House. In time he stood up and I took this photo and also the one featured at the beginning of the post.

Bugling
Before someone gets their "shorts in a wad" about how close this photo is, I will point out that this was taken at an entirely safe and respectful distance with a 600mm lens and the photo was cropped substantially also.

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.


9.12.2016

Video Highlights From Mid-August Trip To PA Elk Country



I realize that most elk enthusiasts are mainly interested in the elk rut that is now underway, but for today I wish to post a short film featuring highlights of  the mid-August trip to Pennsylvania Elk Country.

It opens with a Beaver and Cedar Waxwings feeding one evening in a remote wilderness area,  then shifts to a large bachelor group of whitetail bucks and a bull elk that has not  yet shed the velvet. Next, you get to see clips of a calf elk that show how the spots are fading, and bulls in various stages of shedding the velvet.

It then returns to the wilderness area. As noted before, the evening began with filming the Cedar Waxwing's and the Beaver. As it grew late a few whitetail deer appeared but at this point  it didn't seem likely that elk would be seen, but then I noticed a deer  feeding in an area of bushes and tall grass  beyond the meadow. While looking at it through the lens, I was startled when a set of shining, bare elk antlers came into the finder as a bull came walking through the brush toward the meadow.  I pressed the record button and began filming.  Soon a larger bull and a cow came into view and then in a few moments a herd of elk came pouring into the meadow.

To show how rapidly it was growing dark,  I began filming at ISO 1600 at 8:21 p.m.and I was using ISO 5000 when they came into the meadow at 8:27 p.m.and a short time later I was at ISO 6400, which is the maximum for the Panasonic GH4. I like to keep the ISO as low as possible and when I get on 1600 I will drop to 1/30 sec. shutter speed if necessary before changing to a higher setting.  1/60 is the recommended shutter speed for shooting video  at 30 frames per second, but I have found that if action is not too rapid that it is possible to get reasonably good footage at 1/30.

For those who are interested in such things all of the footage shown today except for the still of the shed velvet and the non-typical bull horning bushes were taken with the GH4 with the old model Canon 100-400mm L lens and either the Metabones Speedbooster or Smart Adapter.

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.


8.24.2016

Pennsylvania Bulls Shed Velvet

I spent most of last week in Pennsylvania Elk Country with my primary objective being to film and photograph the shedding of the velvet from the bulls' antlers.  Many of the bulls had already shed by the time I arrived late Monday afternoon, but I found a bachelor group on Tuesday morning in which some of the bulls still had velvet.

6x6 With Velvet
This was a dark, overcast morning with a light shower of rain or two so the Canon 5D MK III and the 300mm f2.8 lens were the perfect choice for this situation.  This bull was in the edge of the woods along a meadow and most of the other bulls were feeding and horning bushes that were scattered throughout the meadow. While I took a few still images, I spent most of the time filming them on video with the Panasonic GH4 and Canon 100-400mm lens.

This is a 4K camera and I film in UHD mode.  With this one is able to capture 8 megapixel stills from the video.  Panasonic has a method for doing this, but I have not tried it.  I simply load the video into  my video editing program, Vegas Pro 13,  and scroll through the timeline until I find a suitable frame and then capture it.  Below are two stills captured in this manner that shows how the velvet cracks and bloody spots appear before the actual shedding occurs.




On Thursday morning I photographed two bulls that were feeding on apples.  The first photo shows how the velvet shedding process progresses from the stage depicted in the the photos above.

Almost Shed

The second photo shows a bull that is completely shed and also documents how bulls dislodge apples from the trees by striking the branches with their antlers.

Trying To Dislodge Apples
With the shedding of the velvet, the bulls begin sparring with other bulls and engaging in other pre-rut activity.  On this trip I did not get to photograph this activity , but I did get to see a mature bulls herding cows  late one evening as darkness fell in a remote wilderness meadow.

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.

8.07.2016

Mid-Summer Elk Calves

Cow Grooming Calf

At the conclusion of the post about the bulls I saw during my mid-July trip to Pennsylvania Elk Country,  I promised to post some calf photos from the trip and today I have finally got around to doing that.  I was not as successful at photographing and filming the calves as I was with the bulls.  In most cases, areas that are good for seeing bachelor groups of mature bulls are not usually the best spots for seeing elk calves and I spent the most of the best elk sighting times in prime bull range.

Prime Summer Bull Range Is Often Not Best For Calf Sightings

But on at least one evening and one morning, I concentrated on working with the calves.  At times it was easy to see a lot of calves on Winslow Hill, but they were usually a bit far away,  or it was too early or too late for the best quality photos.

Calf At Woodring Farm In Early Morning

Cows And Calves Shortly After Sunrise On Winslow Hill

Cows And Calves Near Sunset On Winslow Hill
An encounter at the ponds on Dewey Road had the potential for exceptional photos when a cow nursed a calf on one the pond banks, but as luck would have it the grass was too tall in front of the cow and the calf was mostly obscured.  Otherwise the grass contributed to the wild look of the photo and made for a much more pleasing setting than short, lawn type grass.

Cow Nursing Calf On Pond Bank
When nursing was completed the cow stepped away and  the calf stepped into a more open spot, licked its' lips, and  looked out at the surrounding countryside.  The only problem here was that it was a bit far even for the 600mm for a close-up portrait. In this case I cropped the photo to 2MP in Adobe Camera Raw  which which works quite well for the web, but would start to fall apart on big enlargements.

Alert Calf
All in all it was one of the better, if not the best, July trips to elk country that I can recall. After filming on Friday morning it was time to return home and it was with mixed feelings that I headed for Fulton County.  For one thing it is always good to get home and see the family and resume photographing the local wildlife, but on the other hand it seemed that had I been able to stay for a few more days that I was getting a system worked out that seemed likely to yield a lot more good photos and video.

Soon the bulls will be losing the velvet and sparring will begin in earnest. In fact a few bulls may have lost it already, but most will do around the middle of August or a bit later.  Soon I hope to return to elk country to document this exciting event and when this is over it will be only a short time until the rut begins.

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.

7.28.2016

July Bulls


Mature Bull Feeding In Natural Meadow
I spent last week in Pennsylvania Elk Country filming and photographing the Pennsylvania elk herd.along with any other wildlife that I happened to find.  It was one of the better July trips to Pennsylvania Elk Country, that I have experienced with a lot of encounters with bulls in velvet and calves. Today we will focus on the bulls and look at the calf photos in a future post. Except for the young spikes, bulls were mostly  found either by themselves or in bachelor groups and they were usually seen either very early or very late.

Portion Of A Bachelor Group Before Sunrise
 The bulls usually left to spend the day in the woods soon after the first rays of the morning sun hit the meadows although sometimes they lingered much longer as in the case of the largest bull of the trip which is shown in the first photo featured today.  He was still feeding after 8:00 a.m. on a bright sunny morning and was still there when I left at 8:15.

Bulls Slowly Head In As Sun Hits Meadow
 We will close for the day with two more photos of 6x6 bulls both of which were taken in the early morning.


6x6 Bull

6x6 Pauses By Roadside
I hope you enjoyed the photos.  As usual, I took a lot more video than stills, but it is getting harder to find the time and motivation to edit so I will not promise when I will post some video clips, but I do hope to make a post soon about the calf encounters.

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.

7.03.2016

Early and Late Is The Key For Successfully Photographing Summer Bulls

7x7 Along Winslow Hill Road

 Today,s post features more photos of bull elk from the mid-June trip to Pennsylvania Elk Country.  While I saw several cows and calves it seemed that bulls were much easier to see and photograph.  Some had impressive antler growth, but most were young bulls such as the one in the photo below. This class of bull needs to get a few more years on him to grow truly impressive antlers, although they can look quite large to someone used to seeing only whitetail deer.

4x4 Pauses From Grazing
I found another 4x4 grazing in a small opening by the roadside  along Dents Run Road and photographed him with the 7D MKII and the 100-400mm IS II lens.

4x4 Along Dents Run Road
 It seems especially in the summer, that one can only see bulls consistently either very early in the morning or late in the evening.  They are usually back in the woods either before the first rays of the sun touches the meadows, or shortly thereafter in the mornings and they usually do not emerge again until shortly before sundown or later and the hotter it is, the more this rule applies.  The bull below was photographed on the first evening of the trip as I found him feeding along Winslow Hill Road.   This photo was taken at ISO 1000 with a Canon 5D MKIII and the 70-200 IS II L lens at f2.8 and 1/50 sec. shutter speed. This lens and the 300mm f2.8 are my two favorite low light elk lenses.

4X4 In Low Light-Winslow Hill Road
One cannot tell from the angle of the photo above but this bull will be at least a 5x5 as his main beams were beginning to fork into another set of points.  I cannot be certain as bulls with this general configuration are quite common,  but I think I filmed this bull several miles from this spot on Thursday morning with the GH4, but this was video only so I cannot post a comparison shot.

The next photo was taken at 5:44 a.m. on June 15th and  helps make the point that one needs to be out early. The equipment used was the 5D MKIII and 600mm F4 IS lens.  It was taken at ISO 1000 at 1/60 sec. f4.5.

Bachelor Group Interacting
The last photo for the day contradicts my advice somewhat as you did not need to be out extra-early to get it as these bulls were still in the meadow at 7:08 a.m. on June 16th.

Still Out After Sunrise On A Foggy Morning
I hope you enjoyed the photographs and remember that the key to success is getting up early and staying out late.

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill

6.19.2016

Mid-June In Pennsylvania Elk Country

5x7 On Winslow Hill
I spent most of last week in Pennsylvania Elk Country, meeting with some of the members of The Support PA Elk Facebook Page and photographing and filming the wildlife of Pennsylvania Elk Country. This was my first trip there since late March and I wish to thank members Charlie Cropp and Paul Staniszewski for doing most of the work on the Support Elk page since that time.

Most of the calves have been born by now.  Each year a number of calves are captured to gather biological data, and the animals may be fitted with ear tags and in some cases radio collars.  This program was still underway  while we were there and we got to observe the team at a distance as they finished processing a calf at the Woodring Farm on Wednesday morning.

Team Processes Calf While Cow Looks On At Woodring Farm
 The team was composed of both professional conservation agency employees and volunteers, with the PGC Elk Biologist, and the KECA Biologist included on the team along with  Widlife Conservation Officer, Jason Wagner and Land Management Officer, Colleen Shannon.. According to WCO Wagner this was the last day they were capturing calves this year.

I saw a lot of calves at times. As is my usual experience at this time of year, they were a bit on the shy side and it was hard to get good photos or video, but nonetheless I did get a few usable still photos.  Both of the photos below were taken while I was standing watch from a parking lot beside a marshy area with ponds on Dewey Road, but they were taken on different mornings.  In the first case elk were feeding near the site of the old Gilbert House and for whatever reason suddenly came running down the hill and across Rucki Road.

Running For The Woods
I was in the same area briefly on Friday morning when a cow and her calf quickly crossed the wetlands.  In both cases the elk were far away and the photos are cropped substantially even with using the 600mm F4 lens. The second encounter was an especially challenging situation as the animals were in the shade, but the sun was shining in the top portion which made the highlights difficult to deal with.

Crossing The Wetlands
 Friday morning was the best period of  trip for seeing calves  but this encounter was the only one in which I successfully photographed one with the still camera that day . Shortly after dawn I filmed a large group of cows with several calves, with the Panasonic GH4..   I hope to complete a short video of some of the better footage from this trip in the near future  and it will hopefully include footage from this encounter.

The last photo of the day is of the 5x7, taken while he browsed on a multi-flora rose bush along Winslow Hill Road.

Browsing On Multi-Flora Rose
I hope to post a few more photos from the trip in the near future as well as the video.  By this time next month the antlers will be almost completely grown and the velvet will be shed in August. The calves are usually easier to photograph as they are no longer as fearful of predators as they can escape them easier, and the capturing and tagging period is now a faint memory..

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.

1.11.2016

A Rainy Morning On Dewey Road

Mature Bull-Herding Cows In Falling Rain
Looking back 2015 was certainly a good year for elk and whitetail deer photography in many ways, while in other ways it brought disturbing changes--especially to Pennsylvania Elk Country, but for today we will strive to focus on the positive.

It was raining lightly on the morning of September 30th, and a large herd of elk was feeding across the road from the ponds on Dewey Road. A large number of elk watchers  and photographers were there when we arrived shortly after 8:00 and my brother and I soon joined in. The bull shown above was there along with  some satellite bulls.  This was possibly the largest bull seen at the Gilbert Farm Viewing Area this year and he was usually somewhere in the Dewey Road area during the two weeks I was there. This is also the bull that was in the video clip I posted recently.

Roaring A Challenge
The bulls are so impressive that we often focus much of our efforts on photographing and filming them, but it is also good to photograph the cows and calves as well. It was especially noteworthy today that one of the calves still had the spotted, summer coat and was small compared to the other calves so it was evidently born much later than normal.

Spotted Calf In Late September

Calf - Normal September Coat
All too soon the elk rut was over and now the year is over. I look forward to the photo and filming opportunities that 2016 will hopefully bring, bur as for the mature bull--he will not be back next year as he was killed during elk season.

All photos posted today were taken with the Canon 5D MK III and the Canon 600mm F4.

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.