Monday, November 30, 2009

I Know its not Easter but.......

I simply could not resist sharing this Cottontail

While looking for bucks one rainy morning last week this little critter hopped out onto the dirt road I was traveling and raced my truck for about fifty yards before popping off the side and stopping along a pasture fence line.

The pose looked good but the passenger side window was in the way. I took the shot anyway shooting through the glass.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

On Guard

Come the morning all of the deer in Pennsylvania’s hunting country will need to be on guard as about one million hunters.take to the woods. All deer will be legal game depending upon the tags that the hunter carries.

Hunting is the tool that wildlife managers use to control the whitetail population. Long ago when wolves, cougars, and other top level predators roamed the woods deer numbers were controlled naturally but that isn’t the case today. Without these predators deer numbers must be controlled otherwise damage to agriculture, vehicle accidents, and damage to the habitat will ensues when deer numbers are allowed to become too high.

Tomorrow will see many happy hunters taking home the venison. It will also see some who would not play by the rules who will take home citations from my friends working for the PGC. Others will have run-ins with landowners over trespass issues.

I have enjoyed the most fantastic whitetail rut with encounters like that I have never had in past years. Much of this I have shared with you here on the pages of Country Captures. With the hunting season opening tomorrow my fall deer photography will effectively draw to a close. It’s been a great year; I hate to see it end but as the old saying goes, all good things must come to an end.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Whitetail Combat

Sparring between bucks can occur anytime after the velvet has shed from their antlers up until the time that they drop their antlers. Sparring matches begin with the participants approaching in a friendly manner. The bucks typically will gently bump heads and proceeds to where some pressure is applied while they jockey for advantageous angles.

During the sparring match the bucks will stop momentarily to check their surroundings sometimes licking or grooming each other before resuming their friendly match.

A fight between bucks is entirely different. As the two bucks approach one another it is apparent to the observer that a serious encounter is about to ensue. One or both of the bucks will lay his ears back with a threatening expression on his face while circling his opponent . Most times these encounters end with one buck being intimidated and skulking off.

At other times no one is about to give up that easily! After circling about for a short time the bucks will suddenly come together with a crashing of antlers.

With muscles and sinews straining the combatants jab, parry and thrust using every ounce of their strength to overcome their rival.

Whereas a sparring match can go on for an extended period of time a real fight most times will be extremely violent and of short duration. The end of the fight will come even more suddenly than the beginning. Sometimes it is when one buck looses his balance, other times one simply feels overpowered or is injured. What ever the reason when one gives up he does it quickly, breaking free and fleeing as fast as he can possibly run with the victor in hot pursuit for a short distance.

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Thursday, November 26, 2009

Finally, Great Light

Photographing the Whitetail Rut can be a frustrating task with so many things out of control of the photographer.

To be successful one must do their best to be setup in good places at the peak times of day with good equipment and a through understanding of how to use it. Select an area with good deer densities and low hunting pressure if possible. Understanding the wariness of the deer population you are working with will help with deciding how much concealment you will need to keep from spooking your subject.

To compound the problem even further one needs to consider backgrounds and lighting angles as well when selecting their shooting position. Even when taking all of the above issues into consideration the weather still is in control of the light.

If you took the time to read all of the above then you understand how excited I was when this fine young whitetail buck posed rim-lit in the warm evening sun. Unexpectedly the storm clouds that had blanketed our area for the last seven day rolled away momentarily as the sun touched the western horizon.

I normally keep the camera set on aperture preferred while shooting wildlife but with the background deeply shadowed I flipped to manual and metered on the grass at the bucks feet to maintain proper exposure on the subject.

Realizing that something was amiss he repeatedly raised his hoof and stomped loudly. After some time passed and as the daylight faded into dark he settled down and continued on pursuing the doe that appeared nearly ready to mate.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Turkey for Thanksgiving

Mature Eastern Wild Turkey Gobbler

Holiday, what holiday? You have my undivided attention NOW!

Isn’t that the day when people gather together in huge flocks and eat like pigs?

They eat what? TURKEY!!!!

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone and thanks for all of your visits here at
Country Captures!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Bear Check Station 2009

Pennsylvania’s annual three day bear season opened yesterday. The weather in my area was cool and foggy with light rain developing during the morning and continuing through the day. Overnight some local heavy downpours occurred with cloudy conditions and light mist throughout today. Not being interested in pursuing bears I have been focusing on the closing days of the whitetail rut but took time out around midday today to visit the bear check station located on top of Sidling Hill Mountain between McConnellsburg and Breezewood.

This is the scene from outside the check station today. The foggy conditions present on the mountain were a major topic of discussion among unsuccessful hunters stopping by.

Successful bear hunters are required to tag their animals and report to one of the check stations where PGC personnel process their kill. A tooth is removed from each animal to be used to determine its age.

In this case the bear had a numbered ear tag in her ear. This tag would have been placed there by agency personnel during her first live capture. The PGC captures bears using baited live traps. The reason for live capture can range from relocating problem bears to trapping for biological information.

Bears are weighed as part of the processing. The bear’s carcass is secured to the scale by placing a chain with loops at each end around opposing front and rear paws. In this photo DCNR’s Ray Miller checks out the bear while John Dunn, PCG biologist, takes notes

This particular sow weighed in at 166lbs field dressed, an average size for a female black bear.

Using a large topographical map of the area hunters are asked to identify the place of kill by placing a pin in the map.

Forty one bears were checked here yesterday and by the time I left the station four had been checked today. The largest recorded here so far this year was a huge 644lb bruin killed in Fulton County on Monday.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Whitetail Scrape

Whitetail hunting literature is chock full of information about buck scrapes. I captured this series of photographs of a mature buck while he was engrossed in making a new scrape.

Once he chose the site of the scrape he began horning the overhanging branches, chewing on a branch and rubbing his face on it.

Once he was satisfied with his work on the overhanging branch he went about pawing in the fallen leaves, clearing a bare circle of earth.

After urinating in the scrape the big guy moved on, obviously well satisfied with his new signpost.

An encounter like this is a special moment, a small peek into the normal life of a beautiful wild creature.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Pennsylvania Elk, More Protection Required!

Recently a group of bloggers concerned about the issues surrounding the Pennsylvania Elk Herd has began a new blog dedicated solely to discussing these issues. All political movements begin small. That is where we are and with your help we can grow to where our voices of reason are heard.

Please take time to visit Support Pa Elk

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Wild Eyes, a study in DOF

Long telephotos are notorious for their shallow depth of field (DOF). When shooting close-up wildlife shots with long glass, seldom can the entire subject fit within the narrow range. It is imperative for the animals eye, if visible, to be tack sharp. With this in mind I regularly attempt to spot focus on the eye. If this isn’t the composition I desire I then recompose the shot while holding the shutter button down halfway.

In this instance a cooperative young whitetail buck inquisitively watched as I photographed him. Using the 400mm lens at F7.1 the DOF was too shallow to keep both the eyes and nose sharp when using his eyes as the focus point.

Remembering that one third of the DOF is ahead of the focus point and two thirds behind, I refocused the shot on the bridge of his nose, about half way between his eyes and nose. It’s only a small change but small alterations make the difference between a good shot and an outstanding image.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Poses of the Rut

This series of images were selected from a rutting encounter that lasted one hour. The location was the meadow at Big Meadows, SNP. As is normally the case here the animals were accustomed to sharing the terrain with hikers, photographers, and tourist etc. and was unconcerned by our presence.

When first sighted the buck was standing near his doe. Looking alert, he was keeping a sharp lookout for challenging bucks. During the rut, once the actual breeding has begun, whitetail bucks are often observed exhibiting this behavior. Notice the position of the doe’s tail; a sure sign that she is in estrus and ready for mating.

After standing for some time the doe bolted off across the meadow with the buck in hot pursuit. Panning and firing as the buck passed near my position I didn’t get this image as sharp as I had hoped but it does do a creditable job capturing the fast paced action.

Catching up with his doe, the buck slowed to a walk. The short burst of exertion had him breathing heavily and the backlighting illuminated his breath as he expelled it into the cold mountain air.

As the morning wore on drawing towards noon the doe lay down amongst some bushes with her protective suitor doing likewise nearby. With the likelihood of more rutting action from this couple quite low , Willard & I shot a few images of the bedded buck before moving on to look for more active subjects.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Skywatch: Rutting Sky

At the outset of a recent Shenandoah National Park visit a good whitetail buck situated himself perfectly against the early morning sky.

I have been focusing upon the whitetail rut for the past three weeks. Soon it will pass but the images and memories of another great season will live on.

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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Thoughts on Photographing Whitetails

Photographing whitetails well is never easy and most of the time it’s downright difficult. Whitetails like any wildlife are uncooperative at best and in hunting country they are downright elusive. It’s no secret that most great deer photographs are taken either in parks where the deer are not hunted or are of domestically reared animals in fenced enclosures.

For those who do not have access or the desire to photograph penned deer (myself included) the national parks offer a great option. With the protection the parks afford, animals can grow to reach their full potential. The deer become accustomed to non-threatening human encounters and become so acclimated that they will act naturally while in close proximity to the photographer. These deer will frequently allow the photographer to move about to obtain the best lighting and background angles.

With all of the advantages these deer offer, getting the great shot is seldom easy. Great poses often last for only a moment so it pays to keep alert with the camera solidly anchored on the tripod and the exposure & ISO set when in close proximity to your subject. What was just a so so scene a moment ago can change in a heartbeat, and only for a heartbeat. Miss that shot and you will have a memory, a memory of the shot that could have been.

I carry some of my very best shots around in my mind, the shots I missed!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Injured Loon

Taking a break from the Whitetail Rut I decided to spend some time on the lake Saturday afternoon. Late in the afternoon I noticed a solitary loon swimming in circles, diving, and rising up to shake off repeatedly. Attempting to bring the boat within camera range the loon dived before I could get close enough for a good portrait but not before I was able to capture a few images.

Reviewing the images on the computer I became acutely aware of why this loon was acting so strangely, note the damage to its lower jaw in this heavily cropped image.

The cause of the image remains a mystery to me and I do hope the loon can have a full recovery.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Outdoor Blogger Summit

Did the title catch your attention?

Politicians frequently use the term “Summit” for their meetings after which we see no results. Could it be the term is a cover for the “boys” getting together for a good time at the taxpayers expense?

This time it’s no cover, it truly was a “Summit” as I met up with my brother Willard of “Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer” and Brad Myers of “Brad Myers Photo Blog” for a morning photo shoot on the summit of the Blue Ridge Mountains at the Big Meadows visitor center in beautiful Shenandoah National Park.

There were plenty of Whitetails available but most were busy feeding in anticipation of the arrival of tropical storm Ida. Rutting activity was nearly nonexistent which greatly limited the visibility of the large whitetail bucks that SNP is famous for.

A highlight of the morning was photographing this uniquely marked piebald buck. Feeding in an herbaceous opening, the little buck allowed Brad, Andy, & I plenty of opportunity to photograph him extensively.

Friday, November 13, 2009

All Bucks are Interesting.......

Even the Little Ones
ISO-250, 1/160th sec., F5.6, 400mm

Heading out for the afternoon’s rut photography I stopped to look at a few deer pasturing near the road on a fall grain field. Thinking I may want to snap a shot I stepped out of the truck.

The small herd spooked and I snapped this image of the small buck and his doe friend as they rushed away. With no time to make camera adjustment I took what I could get, panning with the deer as they ran.

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Thursday, November 12, 2009

Living the Rut

The Whitetail Rut, the most magical time of the year for the whitetail enthusiast, is the very best time to observe and hunt for the adult whitetail bucks. For the past week I have lived and breathed the rut. Taking a week away from work I have been in the field every day since last Thursday and what a great week it has been.

When planning vacation it is impossible to pinpoint the exact dates when the rut will hit its peak as it varies some from year to year but this year I hit it spot on. During the week I have spent two mornings in Shenandoah National Park and the remainder of the time in Pennsylvania. To date this has been the most productive rut I have ever shot. Even with a good collection of images to show for my efforts; I will be out there again in the morning hoping for a bigger buck or better lighting or a better background or any combination of the above.

While shooting with Willard today this fine eight-point was the star attraction. Here he poses in a reverting meadow, pausing for a moment before resuming his frantic chasing of does.

Lip-curling is always one of my favorite buck poses but the best I could get of this fellow was a partial.

Fights between bucks are becoming more violent as the intensity of the rut increases. Note the blood on the right G2 point, evidence of a fight earlier in the day.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

SNP: Enjoying the View

Appearing much like a tourist, a small whitetail buck enjoys the view of the Shenandoah Valley from atop a high mountain scenic overlook.

While slowly driving along Skyline Drive on the lookout for large bucks Andy noticed a couple of young bucks at one of the many overlooks.

Normally I would have passed by these little guys without a second thought but with the picturesque valley below I wheeled into the parking lot hoping to capture a shot with the bucks as a foreground element. Racking the 100-400mm lens to its shortest length, setting the aperture to F9 to gain increased depth of field I began shooting. When this buck came to attention looking out over the vast expanse of the valley below I knew I had captured “The Shot” and was content to fold up the tripod and move on.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

SNP: Tuesday Morning

Once again the alarm jolted me from sleep at an ungodly early hour reminding me that it was time to get moving if I were to make it to Shenandoah National Park in time for the whitetail activity. Twenty minutes later Andy pulled in the driveway and by 2:30am we were headed south. With fifty odd miles of secondary roads to traverse before reaching I-81 it was necessary to keep our speed in check because of the increased deer activity this time of year. Motoring out of Pennsylvania, across Maryland, West Virginia and on into Virginia our headlights frequently illuminated whitetail deer feeding along the roadside.

Expecting to find the SNP Whitetails rutting we were somewhat disappointed with the mornings activity as the deer were mostly feeding and for the most part only small bucks were able to be seen.

Soon after photographic light arrived we spotted this young buck feeding beneath an evergreen in the lower end of Big Meadows. When I saw the buck positioned here I knew exactly how I wanted to make the shot. During one of my visits last year I had noticed the potential of this tree silhouetted against the morning sky. That time no deer were present under it boughs, today there was!

Now if only we can get Andy to post some of his shots from the morning :)

Note: This image was made while the sun was still beneath the horizon with the exposure set for the sky. 135mm focal length, f5.6, 1/3200 sec, ISO200.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Whitetail Fight

The Whitetail rut is in full swing now and bucks are easier than ever to see as they search for willing does. I photographed the following series this morning of a pair of young bucks engaged in a contest of strength and skill.

Upon reviewing my images I found that the fight had lasted ten minutes during which I had shot over 160 images. The incident ended with the larger buck slowly following the smaller as he relinquished the field.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

SNP Friday: Second Buck Encounter

A short time after leaving the nice 8pt. posted yesterday Willard & I were driving down Skyline Drive south of the meadow when a large doe leapt into a small opening along the road side. Running with the classic whitetail doe “a buck is chasing me” gait I pulled off the road and we readied the photography gear.

Soon a piebald spike hurried into the opening and then abruptly turned and stopped in the shade along the tree line.

A moment later the cause of all the commotion arrived on the scene in all of his antlered glory, one of the largest bucks I have ever encountered.

The big guy decided to cross the road quite near our position giving the opportunity for a close-up shot before plunging into the thickets on the other side.