Saturday, September 29, 2012

Pennsylvania Elk Country: 2012 Rut

I returned yesterday from four incredible days of shooting the Pennsylvania elk rut.  The elk activity and number of decent bulls was the best I have ever experienced.  However, even with a good number of bulls around, I could not pass up this shot of a cow on my first morning when she posed where the light was simply perfect! 
The beautiful light was not to last with cloud cover moving in by afternoon.  Drab sullen skies and frequent showers were the norm for the remaining days.
Late in the evening a good bull roars a challenge to a lesser bull with a harem of only two cows.  Upon seeing this bull approaching the lesser bull slipped away without a fight.

Standing on a ridge top with the foggy mountains for a backdrop one of the larger bulls bugles.

And lying along a steep hillside overlooking his harem this old bull loudly proclaims his dominance.
Updating my son with an overview of the trip I entitled the e-mail the good, the bad, and the ugly.  The good was the incredible light of the first morning and the good elk activity during the entire trip.  The bad was rain for three of my four days, and the ugly was when I dumped the 600mm lens with camera attached Wednesday evening.  The camera survived the crash but the 600 did not leaving me without it for the remainder of the trip. It is now on a trip of its own; back to Canon for some much needed repairs.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

More Garden Birds

Goldfinches are not the only birds attracted to the garden as is evidenced by this phoebe perched on the fence.  This is a species that I have been trying to capture for some time but all opportunities to date had been ones with the bird sitting on a wire.  Finally when this bird perched nearby I broke down and took a "wire shot".  I always hesitate to shoot wire shots preferring instead natural perches but apparently the phoebe prefer sitting on the wire.

Downy Woodpeckers are usually seen working up and down tree trunks however when a pair of Downies visited the garden they didn't hesitate to check out the okra plants and the canna lilies; climbing the plants searching for insects the same as they do on tree trunks.
Caught in the act, a goldfinch poses on a sunflower head with nearly all of the seeds gone.  I was hoping to harvest some seed for winter feeding however the goldfinches have different ideas. 

Monday, September 24, 2012

Goldfinches in the Garden

The Goldfinches are swarming to the sunflowers as the seeds ripen

 Immature birds are changing to adult plumage and adults are molting making it difficult to separate the immature from the adults.

This male perched on an okra plant exhibits the early stage of the molt.  Soon he will be sporting his new winter plumage which is little different than the female.  Just one week ago all of the males I observed were brilliant but during this mornings shoot all were molting with some more progressed than others.

Friday, September 21, 2012

The Battle of the Titans: Pennsylvania Elk Fight

Rolling out of bed at 2:15 this morning I had high hopes for a morning trip to Pennsylvania's elk range.  Reports coming in from friends in the field told that the rut was well underway and with my good friend and favorite fishing buddy able to get a day away from work I was ready to introduce him for his very first time to the Bulls of Winslow Hill. 
Arriving at our destination at 6:15 we hooked up with Willard and another of our wildlife photog buddies and headed toward the bugling.  After spotting a good bull on a distant ridge, we continued on  towards the closer bugling coming from just out of sight.  Topping the ridge revealed that we were close in on an older bull that I have photographed each year since first identifying him during the fall of 2009.  The big fellow had a small harem and as we would soon learn this cow standing beside him was ready to be bred.
As other bulls began moving in on his position the cow suddenly lifted her head and headed off with the big fellow and a "harem" of photographers in tow.  When an elk walks a person practically must to run to keep up and they easily outdistanced us as they disappeared over the ridge.
When I came in sight of them again the big fellow was circling another bull and as I set up the tripod the bulls came together.  The violent fighting lasted for about a minute until the challenger had had enough.

After a short time of again circling each other the cow again headed over the ridge with both bulls in following along.

Topping the ridge and again catching sight of the elk I saw that the cow was approaching another bull; a much larger bull than the challenger that the had just been vanquished.  Before I could get the tripod set up the big fellows had locked horns in a vicious contest of strength and skill.

In moment the new challenger had obtained the high ground position and used it to his advantage, pushing the defender down the hill backwards.

The fighting was ferocious.  Here you can see the defender on your left with all feet off the ground as the challenger pushes him downhill.

Regaining his footing the defender tries to stop the charge

And buries his right beam in the ground in a futile attempt the staunch the attack.

But even with his antler in the ground he was no match for his ferocious attacker.

As the challenger pushed him out of sight behind the tree line.  This entire photo sequence occurred over a 6 second time span during which the victor pushed the defender about 100 yards down the hill.

Moving in closer I regained sight of the vanquished bull standing dejected in defeat

As the victor went back up the hill to claim his prize
The beaten bull rested a few minutes and then moved off into the surrounding woodland.  Shortly afterwards the victor bred the cow while we photographers stood in awe chatting about the incredible battle of "selection of the fittest" we had just witnessed.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Antietam Remembered, 150 Years Ago Today

Dunker Church

One hundred and fifty years ago today two great armies met near the sleepy little town of Sharpsburg, Maryland. The American Civil War had seen its share of horrific battles but none to compare to what was to follow on this fateful September day. By days end over 3,000 were dead with about 23,000 total causalities, the single bloodiest day in American history. Although it wasn't a victory for either army it did staunch Lee's invasion of the north and gave President Lincoln the political capital to issue the Emancipation Proclamation, clearly defining the war as a struggle over the issue of slavery.

The Battle of Antietam also was a significant landmark for photography. For the very first time an American battlefield was photographed while the human carnage remained on the field. Photographer Alexander Gardner and his assistant arrived at Antietam just two days after the battle, and set about documenting the aftermath of that incredibly horrible day. For the first time in history images of a battle scene were recorded as they actually were.  How fitting it was that it happened on the battlefield that remains the bloodiest day in American history.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Wildlife on the Move

Pied-billed Grebe
As autumn approaches migratory wildlife is on the move.  Each species moves on its own time schedule with some starting earlier than others.  The male ruby-throated hummingbirds that frequented my feeders during the summer left a few weeks ago with only females/immatures left behind and their numbers have dropped dramatically over the past few days.  The gray catbirds that nested in the evergreens around my home, and who terrorized my wife when they apparently had a fledgling on the ground have been gone for some time.  Although our area is listed as breeding territory for the Pied-billed Grebe I have never seen any here during the summer.  A week ago I spotted the first bird of autumn during a visit to the local lake.  Although I was able to spot and identify it; no situation suitable for a photograph materialized.  Visiting the lake again yesterday I spotted four Pied-bill Grebes, two individuals and one pair, the most I have ever spotted during a late summer/autumn outing.  The individuals were uncooperative, diving before I could get into camera range, but the pair showed little concern while I slowly moved the boat into position. 

The birds began to watch me closely once I had approached to within ten yards of them but instead of diving, their normal evasion tactic, they instead chose to watch for my next move.

As I drew even closer the little grebes swam along the shoreline, heading out to deeper water.  Since I preferred images with vegetation reflections for a background I chose not to follow. 
While I have come to expect to see Pied-billed Grebes both spring and fall they are a species in trouble in some parts of their range.  Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Illinois have declared the Pied-billed Grebe as endangered.  New Jersey and Massachusetts list them as threatened where as Rhode Island considers them locally extinct.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Goldfinches in the Garden

Don't overlook you garden when in search of wildlife photos, particularly birds.  Heading out to look for photo opportunities, I noticed a number of birds flitting about the vegetable garden.  Among the various species goldfinches were the most prevalent.

I planted a few sunflowers among the vegetables to make my garden more attractive to birds and the goldfinches obviously love them.

I can't expect much of a harvest. The birds are picking the seeds before they can ripen.

The highlight of the morning came when this male began feeding its baby perched on the rusty garden fence.  Note the shelled sunflower seeds in the male goldfinch's beak.

Saturday, September 08, 2012

Whitetail Update

With summer drawing to a close the whitetail bucks are beginning to loose their velvet.

It's been a week since I first observed a buck that had shed his velvet now the ratio of hard/velvet is about 50/50

The fawn's spots are beginning to fade, with some fawns sporting more and brighter spots than others

However even with their spots fading the little fellows still retain much of their "cute" appeal.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Bird on a Wire: Broad-winged Hawk

I was slowly motoring down a mountain top gravel road when movement at the top of the windshield grabbed my attention.  A hawk had taken flight from an overhanging branch, flying above and slightly in front of my slow moving car.  After a few moments the hawk made a sharp left turn and landed on a nearby power line.  Not expecting the hawk to sit for long I stopped the car and scooped up the Canon 30D with a 100-400 lens and triggered a few shots for the record.

Surprisingly the hawk remained perched and did not seem overly concerned with my intrusion.  Handing off the 30D to my wife I retrieved the 60D & 600mm F4 from the backseat, adjusted the window to provide lens support and began shooting in earnest.  It was only after doing some research that I learned that I had photographed an immature broad-winged hawk.  These birds, while common to our area, spend most of their time in the woods and seldom perch in a open spot where they can be photographed. 

Broad-winged hawks nest in our area as well as much farther north.  Their fall migration has begun with considerable numbers being counted daily as they pass by Hawk Mountain Sanctuary on their long trek to winter in South America.

Saturday, September 01, 2012

Molting: Northern Cardinals

Northern Cardinals molt from late summer through mid autumn.  While most of the year the male cardinals red plumage is strikingly beautiful, during the molt their appearance can be offputting.  The first two images posted were captured at our natural birdfeeders this morning. 

The females molt during the same timeframe.  While not as colorful as their mates when fully feathered, they are just as ragtag during the molt.

However just because birds are not fully feathered they are still worthy of one's time and effort to photograph them.  This image captured on October 31st of a molting male eating poke berries is featured in a double page spread in the 2012 September/October edition of Pennsylvania Magazine.