Sunday, November 30, 2014

Rut Photography Ends in a Bang

 
As daylight creeps across the Pennsylvania landscape the sound of gunshots will be heard in the more rural areas.  Firearms deer season will open with antlered deer being legal statewide and antlerless being legal in a few management areas.  While Monday morning will be the beginning of "deer season" for the firearms hunters it will signal the end of photographing the whitetail rut.

The whitetails two most important defensive tactics are stealth and speed with this racing buck illustrating the latter.
 
Thousands of hunters across the state will fill their tags tomorrow while many will return to home or camp with the story of the deer they missed.  Along with the successful kills and the misses will be a significant number of deer wounded and unrecovered.    
 
 
A casualty from and earlier year, this old buck actively participated in the 2014 rut even though his left front leg was missing.   For any hunters reading this please remember, Safety First!  Be sure of your target, make sure you have a safe backstop, and choose your shot carefully.  Remember once fired a bullet is a lethal missile that cannot be recalled.  
 

Friday, November 28, 2014

Death in the Outdoors

The seemingly endless cycle of life goes on mostly unnoticed by today's modern humans.  We are so insulated from reality by our society and technology that most Americans no longer have any connection to the source of their food.  While backyard gardens are making a resurgence, the rearing and home butchering of meat animals is practiced by a comparative few.  I dare speculate that few people who sat down yesterday for a Thanksgiving dinner gave a second thought to the fact that a real live turkey with thoughts and feelings was killed to make their feast possible. 
 
However in the outdoors the animals must deal with the cycle of life on a first-hand individual basis as shown in the following photographs.   
 
While driving a back country road Thursday morning I first noticed a raven feeding on something in the fresh fallen snow.  As I began approaching, the story of the nights event was spelled out in tracks and blood stains.
 

A fawn, one which was either sickly or born late judging from its small size, had been pulled down by coyotes.  The snow told the story of where it was first pulled down, regained its feet and moved a few yards before being taken down the second and final time.  The remainder of the blood stains were where it was dragged as the coyotes fed on its small body.

I have heard a lot of people complain about coyotes killing deer and some will view the photos shown here and condemn the coyotes.  While coyotes do kill some deer I have rarely had the opportunity to view their kill sites.  Unlike human hunters which harvest the biggest and the best, coyotes kill the frail, the weak, the ill, and the very young.  I cannot help but think that the selection practiced by the coyotes and other predators is beneficial to the deer herd as a whole, unlike the selection practiced by humans.    



Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Season's First Snow

Today the first snow of the season blanketed our area.  While areas to our north have been inundated with unusually heavy lake effect snow in the past weeks, Fulton County is located too far south to be significantly affected.
 
When I looked out the door this morning a little before daylight the first big wet flakes were splattering on the deck.  Throughout the morning the huge flakes continued to fall, clinging to everything they touched.  By late morning the electricity was flickering frequently and the power lines stretched under the weight of the soggy, sticky, snow and only spending a few minutes outdoors unprotected was sufficient to soak your clothes completely through.
 
 Though I was unsuccessful locating any rutting bucks, at least this doe posed nicely for her portrait.

The cows gathered at the hay feeder do not seem to mind the snow building up on their backs.
 

And a pair of snow covered leaves still clinging to a dogwood tree makes an interesting composition.

While winter is still nearly a month away, with the snow here it feels as if winter has already arrived! 

Friday, November 21, 2014

Poke Weed: More Than a Perch

Dead poke weed is a favorite of mine for providing photogenic perches for winter bird photography however poke is also a good wildlife forage plant as well.
 
In casual conversation with my brother, he mentioned that a fellow photographer had noted that he had never seen anything eat poke.  I began to think of what I had observed and photographed in the past.  While I have observed a few different species of bird eating poke berries the below photos document both deer and a cardinal utilizing the plant.  While I have never seen a deer eating green poke leaves I have watched many times as they stripped a plant bare of its dead leaves during the winter months.
 
Here a doe eats poke berries that are beginning to shrivel after having been killed by an earlier frost.
 
A molting male cardinal sits on a poke branch, his bill stained by the plump ripe fruits.
 
 And a whitetail buck nibbles poke berries that have just ripened in the late summer.


 
 

So while poke does make great perches for bird photography, it is also a good natural food source as well.
 


Friday, November 14, 2014

Images from the Rut

With the whitetail rut in full swing I took off work this week.  Each morning and evening was spent watching for bucks and while I was not able to put any outstanding bucks in front of the camera there was enough activity to make the time enjoyable. 
 
I do miss those days of photographing the huge bucks of Shenandoah National Park but sadly those days are over and the deer herd is being "managed" by destroying what was possibly the very best place in the eastern US to photograph large bucks.  Whether one agrees or disagrees with what the National Park Service has done and plans on doing in the future make no difference, the incredible whitetail photograph at SNP is finished.  For a more in-depth look at the SNP situation click here.
 
Below are a few of the 2014 rut images I have gotten to date.  From chasing to threatening to posing with a freshly broken antler, the bucks of 2014 like there predecessors are busy ensuring the next generation of whitetail fawns.  
 













Friday, October 31, 2014

Chincoteague NWR: A Great Place for Birds

Mention the name Chincoteague among a group of island goers and each may have different reasons for being attracted to this sea-side island.  For some it is the beach, others travel there for the fishing and boating while others enjoy the browsing the little shops scattered about the island, and all enjoy the restaurants and the friendly folks at the local businesses.  Among this group of Chincoteague enthusiast is a dedicated group of birders who value the Chincoteague NWR for the amazing birding opportunities it provides. 
 
I captured the following photos of Great Egrets and a Snowy Egret along the roadside during my recent visit.   Access here to some awesome wildlife photo opportunities frequently is only a few feet from your car's door if not out the window.
 
 





Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Assateague Beach in Black and White

My photography interest is centered around wildlife, however I welcomed the opportunity to shoot some beach shots in classic B&W while visiting Chincoteague and Assateague Islands. 
 






Sunday, October 26, 2014

An Island Get-a-Way: Chincoteague Virginia

After a spring and summer with very little time to pursue my outdoor photography, my wife and I finally found time for a short vacation.   I had hopes of finding some interesting photo ops and the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge did not disappoint.
 

While waiting for the sun to make its appearance a small sika stag crossed the shallow water of the wetlands.  The little deer didn't seem to bother the geese as it passed by.  This was my very first time photographing a sika deer.
 
A short time later a larger stag appeared in the wetlands opposite to where the first appeared.  This deer sported much larger antlers and a much larger body as well. 
 
 The stag paused a couple of times as it crossed the meadow.

 
I'm guessing that the sika rut is on as the stags seemed to be traveling with a purpose, much like rutting whitetail buck, a species which I am much more familiar with.

 
Sunrise over the Wetlands



And on the way out of the refuge another stag crossed the road and paused on the bike path.  While I had photographed the previous deer using the 600mm lens, this one I shot hand-held out of the car window using the Canon 100-400 lens.  After a number of trips to Assateague without so much as one photograph of a sika deer, to see four stags and photograph three, all in one morning made for a surprising outing!  



A few days staying on Chincoteague Island, photographing wildlife, and walking the Assateague beach were most relaxing.  I will be sharing more photos from this adventure in the coming days.

 

Friday, October 10, 2014

A Morning on the Elk Range


 
Our son Chad and his wife Sandy spent a week with my wife and I during mid-September.  Now living in the Orlando Florida area, this was the first Chad had been able to get back home in seven years and was Sandy's first visit ever.  Each day of their vacation was planned with Chad wanting to visit family and old friends.  While most of their time was spent together, Tuesday was a guys and gals day; a day where the guys went their own way to do their thing and the gals did likewise.  For Chad and I the plans called for a day trip to Benezette, the heart of the Pennsylvania elk range while the gals headed for a beauty shop. 
 
Chad and I were on the road by 3:30 am and arrived at our destination around 6:00.  As we climbed the hill, among the elk bugles ringing from the ridges I could hear the deep roar of Limpy, the icon of Winslow Hill.  Heading toward the roar, we soon encountered Limpy with a small harem of cows and a couple of satellite bulls nearby. 


 Limpy Roaring

 
 Limpy, named for a limp he developed after becoming injured in a fight during the 2010 rut, is a dominate mature bull.  I have been photographing him each year beginning in 2009.  His photographs have graced a number of Pa Game Commission publications including the current calendar and the Game News.

 
Chad photographing Limpy

 
Limpy is a completely trusting animal as shown here while passing between myself and a group of elk viewers.

The old boy paused to bugle with the onlookers in the background

This was Chad's first time on the Elk Range and it wasn't difficult to see that he was enjoying the shoot.


During the course of the morning we spotted a number of other bulls, however the overcast skies and the short mowed grass just didn't provide the conditions for outstanding elk photography that I was hoping for.
 
 
After the elk had retired to the woodland the leaden skies finally opened up with beautiful white clouds scuttling across the sky and their accompanying shadows dancing across the landscape painting in an ever-changing pattern of sun and shadow.

After stopping in at the visitor's center and another stop at the Benezette Store Restaurant for a Big Ben's Burger, it was time to head for home.

While in past years I have been spending the best part of a week on the elk range during the rut; this day-trip would be my only opportunity to photograph the rutting bulls this year.






Saturday, October 04, 2014

The Barn Wrap-up and Moving On

While the barn restoration will be an ongoing project for quite some time to come, we finally reached my goal for this year of returning the barn to a usable condition.
 
In early September I got some much needed help when Willard and his son-in-law Justin joined me for a barn work day.  Our work that day consisted of laying plywood over the barn floor.  Some of the barn floor was double layer boards while most of the mows were single layer.  Adding the plywood over the single layer areas gave it strong smooth floor.
 
Willard and Justin working up a sweat

A finished section

With the stable finished, the cattle was able to return.

A group of young animals penned, ready to be shipped to market.
 
I must admit that while caring for the small herd I became attached to these animal and it was with a heavy heart that I watched them go.
 
The year's barn restoration wrapped up just in time for me to enjoy the fall colors.  What is more beautiful on a foggy fall morning than some brightly colored leaves and a derelict country farm house.

Driving back to the site of still empty Meadow Grounds Lake I was pleased to see the above sign.  The Friends of the Meadow Grounds Lake continue to work towards the restoration and currently are in the midst of the fundraising campaign. 

The small pool remaining at the dam made the perfect background for a dew laden spider's web.
 
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