Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Autumn Splendor in an Ugly Land

Autumn in Pennsylvania is a most beautiful time of cool foggy mornings and colorful foliage.  The beauty is unsurpassed by any other season however this year is different.  It is not the season, it is not the colors, but it is the people engaged in the messy business of selecting a president.  Never in my 61 years have I seen such a campaign with so much hate, propaganda, and lies on display.  This election season has brought out the worst in so many people who feel the need to share an endless stream of the above on social media.

My hope is that as the leaves fall from the trees and November's somber grays smothers the landscape; with this most divisive election in our review mirror, our nation can experience healing regardless of the candidate selected.  

Friday, September 30, 2016

Elk County 2016, a short visit

The elk rut in northern Pennsylvania is one of the greatest wildlife shows that the Keystone State has to offer.  Whereas most wildlife activity goes largely unnoticed, Pennsylvania's elk are easily seen and are not particularly wary of humans.  While this has been the case with practically all of the elk I have encountered in different parts of the elk range it is particularly true in the Winslow Hill/Benezette area.  This area has become a popular tourist attraction for those wanting to experience elk and the elk rut in particular.  Having only a short time to photograph the elk rut this year I focused my attention on this area.  The following are a few images from my two mornings and one evening of photographing these awe inspiring animals.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Late Summer Update

While I have been busy all summer restoring the exterior of our family farm house, I have also taken time our most every morning to photograph the local wildlife.  As August drew to a close I observed my first whitetail buck shedding his velvet on the 30th.

A couple of day later he was wanting to spar but his sparring partner, having not yet shed, was very hesitant to joust.

As September progressed more bucks appeared with hard antlers and frequent sparring has become the order of the day.

The bucks will not engage in serious dominance fights until the rut begins however even the sparring matches can have their violent moments.

And all the while does are still nursing the fawns.  Nursing sessions are becoming shorter as the does milk supply decreases and the fawns dependence upon milk lessens.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Mink: A Stream Sitting Surprise

Much of my wildlife photography outings over the past year has been focused on watching areas along the creek bordering our family farm.  With farm chores keeping me close to home much of the time, I decided to utilize the creek as it attracts a variety of wildlife.  In addition to attracting wildlife and providing an opening where the creatures may be seen water, with its many reflections, adds infinitely to many of the images.

I was thrilled one morning this past week when I spotted a mink hunting along the creek and headed my way.  At one point I lost sight of it and then noticed a bubble stream moving rapidly about turning this way and that.  A few moments later the mink surfaced allowing me to capture the bottom photo posted below with its prey, a large crayfish, grasp securely.  The mink carried the crayfish into the weeds where I could hear crunching and soon reappeared to continue hunting.  It is memorable moments like these that keep getting me up and out in the early mornings.  

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Tenth Anniversary of Country Captures

The Bridge
The first photo published on Country Captures 7-28-2006

As I was considering what to post it suddenly occurred to me that this week marks the tenth anniversary of Country Captures.  Back at the beginning as I stated in my profile I was rediscovering photography after having been away from it for a number of years. At that time I was exploring digital photography shooting point & shoot and bridge type cameras.  It wasn't long before I realized that wildlife photography was where my interest lay and that it wasn't just some passing fad.  Soon I began investing in more expensive DSLR equipment better suited to capturing wildlife and added the byline to Country Capture's header "photography on the wild side" to better define the material one could expect to encounter during a visit.

During the past decade I have shared my wildlife adventures both from here at home in rural Fulton County PA and from my travels. Country Captures has taken you from upstate Pennsylvania to central Florida and many points in between. 

 As the years rolled by my life has changed considerably.  At the onset I was working full time in manufacturing and part-time as a deputy wildlife conservation officer for the Pennsylvania Game Commission.  By the end of 2006 I had retired my officer's commission and in July of 2015 I retired from my full time employment and now spend much of my time at our small family farm where I continue the cow/calf operation that was my dad's before his passing in early 2014. 

Social media has also undergone considerable changes during the past decade as has my use of it.  I find it much easier to pop a photo on Facebook than to write a a blog post and Country Captures has suffered as a result.  Such is life, always changing, sometimes for the better; sometimes not.

And speaking of changing, other than simply getting older and fatter, I too have changed considerably.  Ten years ago I was very much involved with consumptive hunting and considered myself a political conservative.  Today, while I find no fault with ethical lawful hunting and still harvest some wildlife for the table, I am very disturbed with the militant direction that some of the hunting fraternity has taken.  I have also philosophically parted ways with the 2nd Amendment crowd who with their in your face, "It's My God Given Constitutional Right" attitude portrays all firearms owners in a very bad light.  The less you rock your boat the less likely it is that you will capsize.  Some people just aren't happy unless they are making waves and then cry foul when their boat sinks.  And in case you haven't figured it out I am at odds with today's political conservatives and seldom agree with their stands on the issues of the day.

The bridge pictured above is located just downstream of the spillway of the Meadow Grounds Lake located near McConnellsburg Pa.  The lake was constructed in the mid 1960's by the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (PFBC) and became my "go to" spot for waterfowl photography.  A wide variety of waterfowl used it as a feeding and resting spot during their migrations.  I was aware of some dam issues over the years and then in 2011 the lake level was dropped a few feet while tests were ran on the dam and a small repair was attempted.  The lake was brought back to full pool in the spring of 2012 and I hoped that all was well.  In late February of 2013 the unthinkable happened when the PFBC announced the indefinite draw down of the lake.  By early June the draw down had been completed with some fish salvaged and moved while many more were disposed of in a nearby pit. The lake bed sat empty save for small pool to cover the control conduit awaiting the estimated 4 million needed for repairs.  To make a long story short, after much work by a grassroots organization "Friends of The Meadow Grounds Lake" and our local politicians, we were elated this week when Governor Wolf officially released the funding needed for the repairs!   

In wrapping up this long post; at the time I had no idea of how fitting the photo of the bridge was for the beginning post for Country Captures and the past decade has certainly been a bridge for me.  A bridge that has seen me crossing over to places that I never expected to go in my personal life, political leanings, and my views on wildlife conservation.   For those of you who have been faithful followers of Country Captures, thank you for crossing the bridge with me and coming along for the ride!

Friday, July 22, 2016

Jamming with Japanese Wineberries

In recent years Japanese wineberries have become very prevalent in our area.  These plants are considered an invasive species and is much maligned by many folks voicing their opinion on the web.  There is no doubt that the wineberries do crowd out some native plants however they do minimize erosion, and produce a tremendous crop of soft mast without the need for any pesticides or herbicides Many species of wildlife take advantage of the profusion of berries each summer.

All I can say about wineberries is if you have them available, go pick a bunch and Jam It!

Sunday, June 05, 2016

A Long Absence

When I checked Country Captures this afternoon I could hardly believe that so much time had elapsed since my last update.  The cold snowy days of winter melded into the warm days of March followed by a cool dry April.  As May arrived so did the incessant rain with below normal temperatures holding for most of the month.  Just before we entered June the weather became a little drier and temps shot up to where they were above normal on some days.

As the winter wound down the waterfowl migrations again began passing through my area.  This year I focused most of my waterfowl photography on the stretch of Licking Creek that forms two sides of our family farm.  I did venture to Middle Creek once to view the incredible snow goose migration.  There were good numbers of snows there that day but I was disappointed at the low numbers of various ducks that I had grown to expect.  The Meadow Grounds Lake, which in years past was my go to spot for incredible waterfowl photography, still lies empty.  The good news is that the design for the repairs has been finalized with the engineering work currently underway.  No doubt it will be some time before it is a shovel ready project but after being empty for three years it is very encouraging to see progress towards its restoration occurring.

A highlight of this spring was when I was invited to be a part of the Generations Art Show held in McConnellsburg Pa.  This is a neat art show which showcases artist and artisans from Fulton County. The show runs each weekend Friday evening through Sunday afternoon and will conclude on June 12th.  It has been a pleasure meeting and chatting with some of the many visitors.

Below I will share a few photos from the last few months that to date has only been shared with my Facebook friends.  I hope you enjoy and I promise to not be absent again for so long.

Wood Duck male

Hooded Merganser male, calling

A mink pauses to look back 

The sky was full of snow geese during a morning lift-off at Middle Creek

Snow Geese silhouetted against the rising sun, Middle Creek WMA 

The Meadow Grounds Lake sits empty

A Common Merganser hen leads her young through the fast flowing riffles

.A Whitetail Buck sporting his rapidly growing antlers

A pair of bucks pauses for a drink unaware of my presence

A new mother lies contentedly with her baby surrounded by lush pasture 

Thanks for stopping by,

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

The Winter Strut

It is not unusual for friends to ask me questions about wildlife.  I am often asked in March or early April if the wild turkeys are gobbling yet?  In actuality the question being asked is "has the mating season began" for male wild turkeys may gobble at any time of the year.  The intense mating activity  in my area usually takes place in early to mid April with toms beginning to display and vie for hens as early as late March if weather conditions are favorable.  

What many are not aware of is the strutting and gobbling during the winter months preceding the actual mating season.  The photos posted below are from a recent morning when a flock of mature gobblers were more than a little worked up.  A few of the gobblers strutted, gobbled, harassed, and intimidated the others making it an exciting morning to be behind the camera.

This strutting activity is different that what occurs during the actual mating season.  During winter the gobblers are traveling about in bachelor groups with their attention directed towards each other.  Once the actual mating season arrives the males will usually only strut while hens are present.  The intent of the gobbler's display is to present himself as the most desirable mate, for it is the hen who decided who will be the acceptable suitor.        

Friday, February 05, 2016

The Old Single Barrel

A couple of weeks ago I picked up dad's shotgun to rub it down with oil and my mind returned to the days of my youth.  I remember dad coming home with a shiny new Winchester Model 37 shotgun when I was just a kid.  I don't know the year I would guess that it was either the very late 1950's or early 60's.  

For some getting a new gun is a common thing but not so in our home.  Dad was a hard working man and quite frugal, rarely spending money on anything other than necessities.  He was a product of the depression and had watched his parent struggle to keep from losing the farm; when he purchased a gun it was to fill a need, not to satisfy a whim.  Dad needed a shotgun for dispatching the occasional varmint, hunting some small game, and to fill whatever other need that arose around the farm.  The no frills, solidly built, single barrel Winchester filled that bill.

As I looked the old gun I felt the urge to take it for a walk, if for nothing else just to revisit memories from those years gone by.  Gathering a handful of 12ga. Winchester High Brass 7 1/2's I set out walking the creek frontage of our family farm.  My mind drifted back to a chilly evening when dad had returned from squirrel hunting and tried to skin then under the pole light that stood my the machine shed.  That was exciting stuff for a little boy who could hardly wait to become old enough to go hunting!  I remember dad cutting the squirrels across the back with he and grandpap tugging and pulling the squirrel between them as they tried to pull the skin off the stiff carcasses.  I only remember dad hunting squirrels a few times, maybe the skinning was too difficult, or maybe he didn't feel he had the time to invest for such a small payback.  Whatever the reason, his hunting squirrels was a rarity.

Walking along with my mind drifting I was suddenly brought back to the present when two squirrels bolted across the ground.  Swinging the old 37 to my shoulder the nearest squirrel crumpled at the blast.  Breaking the gun open the sweet smell of gunpowder filled the air as I slipped another round in and closed the breach.  The second squirrel had only gone a short distance before climbing a tree.  As I circled the tree the squirrel made a mad dash through the tree tops but at the shot he to dropped into the leaf litter below.  Though dad has been gone nearly two years now, his shotgun still works as well as the day he brought it home.

The bluing has worn thin in places with some pitting but what bothered me most was that the stock's finish had been badly damaged.  The finish was for the most part missing and the wood rough from water damage.  After stripping the stock and sanding it smooth I applied one coat of stain followed by 8 coats of polyurethane.  The old gun,still showing signs of wear but not of neglect, is again a pleasure to carry as I relive the memories from those years long ago.

Thursday, February 04, 2016

Landscape Transition

Here in South Central Pennsylvania we have undergone rapid transitions to our landscape twice in the past two weeks.  After an autumn and winter without snow cover, we were inundated with over two feet of snow arriving the evening of January 22nd and continuing through the entire day of the 23rd.  The snow compacted, evaporated, and melted some over the next week until about six inches remained.  This week the days warmed into the 40's to lower 50's melting the snow rapidly.   This was the situation on Tuesday when I shot the first four of photos posted here.

The creek ice which was safe to walk on a few days before was beginning to show signs of cracking due to water levels rising.

Areas of water pooled on the softening ice in some areas.

And in the rapids areas of open water with floating ice made it clear that the ice break-up was underway.

Rain arrived during Tuesday night and by Wednesday morning it was heavy at time.  The rain exacerbated the melting sending a heavy flow of water into the streams.  By Thursday morning the creek bordering our farm was flowing freely.

Remnants of the winter's ice cover remain strewn on the creek banks.

And Daffodils have already emerged in anticipation of the arrival of Spring.