Thursday, December 31, 2009

A New Year & A New Decade

Tonight we enter into not only a new year but a new decade as well.

It doesn’t seem that long ago when people were stockpiling rations and cash in dreaded anticipation of Y2K while others were busy raking in the dough while stoking fears of calamity among the masses.

As we now know when the new year began the hens still laid, the cows still gave milk, and the worlds business & banking systems continued on as though nothing had changed.

The decade also was one of change for the Pennsylvania elk herd. After 70 years of closed season the Pennsylvania Game Commission held the first modern day hunt during the fall of 2001 when 30 elk permits were issued to successful applicants. At the time the herd was estimated to contain about 700 animals.

Today after nine annual hunts have been held the herd is estimated to be 700-800 animals. Much habitat improvement has been accomplished during this time but for the elk viewer the negative effects of the hunt are very evident. No longer do we have the numbers of mature bulls to thrill those traveling to the traditional elk viewing areas.

Sure, there are elk there, and nice bulls at that; but the mature bulls, the ones that took ones breath away, are in most cases gone. Today we who are the non-consumptive users of this unique resource must satisfy ourselves with viewing and photographing second tier bulls.

The unique treasure that Pennsylvania once had of free ranging bull elk living through maturity and breeding by natural selection had been replaced with a hunt that targets the massive bulls leaving younger animals or sub-standard animals to do the breeding. That this trophy hunt has had an immediate and clearly seen negative impact on the quality of animals available for viewing there is no doubt; but what is in question is will this unnatural selection, that removes the best bulls before their time, result in long term negative effects on the overall quality of our Pennsylvania elk.

With the coming decade I hope to see the elk’s situation change once again, this time for the better.

If you are interested in the Pennsylvania elk I invite you to visit Support Pa Elk by clicking the link in my side bar.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Winter Rutting

When I think of the elk rut I think of mid September to early October but in reality the rut continues sporadically as cows that missed conception cycle back into estrus repeatedly.

The small calf in my previous post was conceived well after the normal rutting season and from the activity we observed on this winter trip it was apparent that at least one cow in the herd was near estrus.

In this image the bull has approached the cow that was garnering his attention but being unwilling to mate she moved away with a flip of her head and a snarl like expression. The bull bugled a few of times during the day, sparred with the smaller bulls, and on occasion would approach the cow and each time she moved off to thwart his unwelcome advances.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Late Season Elk Calf

While photographing the Winslow Hill elk herd during our recent visit to Pennsylvania’s elk range I was surprised to encounter this small spotted calf.

Elk calves, normally born in June, look small adults at this time of year. Apparently this calf was born quite late. Judging from the calf’s development its birth was probably as late as September or early October. The calf will need considerable luck if it is to survive the winter as it lacks the heavy coat and fat reserves needed to withstand the frigid temperatures.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Snow Scene

The snow we received last weekend was exceptional for this time of year in our area. With the cold temps that followed the snow stayed long enough to give us the first white Christmas in years.

I captured this image of my cherry tree just after the storm. In the spring it is always covered in white blossoms with bees buzzing merrily about but on this day its white cover was silent, locked in winters freezing embrace.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

You Got to Know When to Run!

Just as the lyrics of “The Gambler” explains, You got to know when to hold’em, know when to fold’em, Know when to walk away and know when to run; this young Pennsylvania bull elk seems to have learned the last lesson well!

These two bulls were hanging out with the Winslow Hill herd when Willard & I visited with them on Wednesday. Although much of their day was spent pasturing and lying about absorbing the warming rays of sunshine they occasionally broke up their boredom with some friendly sparring.

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Thursday, December 24, 2009


From the cold snowy mountains and ridges of Pennsylvania to your warm snug homes everywhere;


May your holiday be full of love & joy as you celebrate this winter holiday with friends and family and may your hearts be full of the joy & anticipation for a great new year that’s just around the corner.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Frosty Morning with the Pennsylvania Elk

With temps in the single digits the heavy frost that blanketed the Pennsylvania elk range this morning covered the elk as well.

Having just returned from photographing the elk from dawn to dusk I’m ready to drop into bed but not before posting this early morning photograph. The day proved to be both productive and informative. For now I’ll sign off and catch up on some much needed sleep.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Female Northern Cardinal

Today I spent a few hours sitting quietly within a few feet of our bird feeding area. At times the activity was frantic.

For today’s post I chose to share with you a series of Female Northern Cardinals. Although not as brightly colored as the males I find the female’s subdued colors to be very beautiful.

It has been my experience that the muted colors of the female are much easier to properly expose than that of the male. I find when photographing males my ratio of rejects are much higher because of the difficulty in obtaining good feather detail.

I hope you all enjoy this series. I’ll be sharing more of today’s shoot later but for now I ask you to pick your favorite and drop a quick comment. Let's see which girl wins the beauty contest :)

Monday, December 21, 2009

Winter Feeder Bird: White-throated Sparrow

The snow we received over the weekend has brought birds flocking to the feeders. White-throated sparrows, common throughout the year are particularly numerous now that much of their natural food is covered over by snow.

I’m certain that you will see more photographs of this particular location as the winter progresses. The cavity that the sparrow is perched on is section of a hollow branch where we place birdseed thereby creating an attractive natural background for photography while feeding our wild friends at the same time.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

New Snow

Yesterday’s storm left a foot of fresh powder in its wake. Today dawned cold and clear becoming quite nice as the temperature rose to the freezing point with warm sunshine and no wind. The deer became active as the sun neared the horizon pouring out into the fields to forage under the new fallen snow.

Feeding on the buried grasses and forbs left snow clinging to their faces.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Camera Critters: It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas

And this young whitetail doesn’t seem to mind the snow at all

The first major snow storm of the season has been depositing snow at the rate of about one inch per hour since early morning. With the snow forming a peak on top of the bird box I don’t believe any bluebirds will be thinking about nesting for some time.

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Friday, December 18, 2009


With a storm moving in, the spotlight effect of the setting sun painted the country side in a beautiful warm glow.
The first major snow storm of the season is moving in from the south as I make this post. I hope it's a good one, I can use some new pics :)

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Nature's Simple Joys

How often do we take the commonplace everyday events in nature for granted, not even noticing as a little Tufted Titmouse busily goes about it daily routine foraging for food. Taking even a little time out of our day to notice the simple joys of nature enriches our lives in countless way.

Take a moment today, pause and enjoy the simple joys that nature freely offers.

Sunday, December 13, 2009


Early this morning a cold rain began falling, blanketing our area in covering of ice.

After the rain had stopped and with temperatures on the rise I took the opportunity to photograph some of the beauty left in the storms wake. The falling water drop creates a blur in this photograph. Shutter speed 1/160th sec.

A lonely leaf that has yet to fall finds itself partially incrusted in ice

The bright colors of these berries, which I believe to be American Bittersweet, are made even vibrant by the icy sheath.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Response to Anonymous

Deer Poached by Jacklighters
Recently I received two Anonymous comments on a post made back in 2007. The post, Jacklighting, Tools of the Trade, dealt with the illegal act of shinning a spotlight on wildlife during an attempt to unlawfully kill it.

Anonymous has left a new comment on your post "Jacklighting, Tools of the Trade":

who really cares if someone lights a deer deer they just create problems for insurance companys and motorists. the tags someone gets accounts for a deer who cares where or how they choose to fill it. its a waste of tax money and a waste of police time their are more serious crimes being commited in the usa someone shooting deer after dark is a pety thing to waste time and money on.

Posted by Anonymous to Country Captures at Sat Nov 28, 12:04:00 PM EST

Anonymous has left a new comment on your post "Jacklighting, Tools of the Trade":

i forgot to add something it is illegal as well to deseve someone. and always enjoy the story of the man who sued minnesota game authority and won 10,000 dollars for their use of fake deer to deseve him into shooting. deception is the lowest life crime in the world especially in a marriage. why would law enforcment want to use low life and illegal tactics

Posted by Anonymous to Country Captures at Sat Nov 28, 12:13:00 PM EST

Anonymous asked who cares.
Well I suppose that folks in their homes have no expectation of safety and should accept bullets whizzing through the air during all hours of darkness when the criminals cannot see what is behind their living targets. Ethical hunters should not care that a thief is killing the animals that they are hoping to bag legally during the hunting season. Landowners are not to care that bullets are being shot into the dark fields where their livestock is grazing nor are they to care that poachers are trespassing upon and damaging their properties. As for insurance companies, I really don’t believe that they care one bit about deer populations. Insurance companies assess premiums based upon risk. High insurance rates are a problem for motorist, not for insurance companies.

Secondly (deer) tag is mentioned.
In my years of conservation law enforcement my experience was that is was problem enough to convince some otherwise lawful hunters to use their tags during lawful seasons & hours. Never once did I encounter a night poacher using their deer tag. The poachers kill is unregulated and unaccounted for; a situation that if allowed to get out of control would negatively impact the success of wildlife management programs.

Thirdly, a waste of police time and tax money

Conservation Officers in Pennsylvania are just that, Conservation Officers, not general police officers. Their duty is to enforce the conservation laws of the state. The Pennsylvania Game Commission is responsible for the management of the state’s wildlife resources both game and non-game. The PGC is funded primarily through the sale of hunting license along with monies derived through the sale of minerals and timber from the lands owned by the commission. Also the agency received funds collected by the federal government from taxes on outdoor sporting equipment. In short the PGC receives no general tax fund monies and is funded by hunter’s dollars. The appointed commission members oversee the agency and formulate regulation governing hunting within the framework of Pa Title 34. In short Anonymous, ethical hunters do not agree with your opinions.

Anonymous considers poaching to be a petty thing.
Well there is nothing petty with stealing wildlife from the citizens and endangering their safety by blasting away into the darkness.

Lastly you are so pleased that a poacher “beat the system” in Minnesota .
It took me a couple of reads to understand what you were attempting to say in this comment. Apparently our public school system failed you during the years you were incarcerated there. No one is deserved (deceived?) to illegally shoot at a deer from a vehicle unless they were previously inclined to poach. This court decision may have been handed down in Minnesota but here in Pennsylvania the use of decoys to thwart road hunting is alive and well and the charges stick, as well they should!

The attitude toward wildlife expressed by anonymous is a common attitude among wildlife criminals who abuse our precious wildlife resources. That those who harbor these attitudes are in the minority is a blessing.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

The Rut, It's all about the Girls!

I realize that I focus mainly on the handsome whitetail bucks during the rut but in reality the rut is all about the does. Hunt for a magnificent buck all you want and if you bump into one traveling alone consider yourself lucky. Find a doe who is showing signs of estrus and you will have all of the bucks in the county running over each other trying to be the dominate suitor.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009


The Whitetail buck knows something is amiss. He isn’t sure what is wrong, just that something is and his senses immediately go on high alert; ears cupped, eyes searching and nose testing the breeze. With muscles tensed he is ready to flee with the slightest confirmation of danger.

I never tire of photographing these beautiful animals and enjoy the challenges that totally wild ones such as this buck present to the photographer. Now as I sit here posting his image I wonder if he has managed to survive over a week of Pennsylvania’s rifle deer season.

Monday, December 07, 2009

A Cardinal for a Change

Tired of Whitetails yet? I imagine so for I well realize not everyone is as infatuated with them as I. With the rut over and the rifle hunting season underway I know its time for a change. For over two months I have been primarily focusing my lens on elk, deer, and wild turkeys.

With wintry weather setting in my attention is beginning to turn towards winter bird photography.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

The Season's First Snow

As dawn slowly spread across the landscape the first snow of the season began falling. With the temp hovering near the freezing point the snow was wet, clinging to everything it touched. Before the storm tapered off as daylight faded it had transformed our area into a beautiful winter wonderland.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Frosty Morning Sparring Match

The larger buck here exhibits some “attitude” while the smaller reaches out with a friendly nuzzle.

This is normal behavior when a friendly sparring match is about to begin. It is not unusual to see two bucks grooming each other extensively; before, during and after a sparring match.

Only seconds after the nuzzled greeting the larger buck drops his antlers and begins the match as the smaller squints to protect his eye.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Up Close: SNP Whitetail

As those of you who follow Country Captures already know Shenandoah National Park is my favorite destination for photographing mature rutting whitetails. The excellent population of mature whitetails acclimated to human presence and that it’s only a three hour drive makes it an excellent destination for a day trip.

Normally I will not approach closely enough to invade an animal’s personal space and instead use a suitable telephoto lens to capture the image. In this case I was doing just that until the doe that he was following ran very close to my position with him in pursuit. After closing the distance rapidly he paused momentarily before racing on giving me this beautiful portrait.

Surprisingly the buck looks very calm in the photo although he was anything but calm frantically following the doe and running after other bucks who were attempting to cut in on the breeding activity.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Classic Eight Point

Tonight I am having a bad case of bloggers block so I will leave you with this pretty eight-point buck that I photographed during the recent rut.