Monday, October 31, 2011

Pennsylvania Elk Harvest: The First Morning

By the time of our predawn arrival at the parking lot at the end of Dewey Road a number of vehicles were already there.  Soon more guide and clients arrived and headed out into the game lands adjoining the elk viewing areas.  Willard and I headed up towards the saddle stopping where the road makes the sharp left-hand turn just after passing the gate.  As the scene before us began to brighten we could see orange vested people and elk spread out across the hillside facing the viewing areas.

This bull was bugling from his bed

At 7:38 I was looking at the camera when a shot rang out.  Seeing that the bull was now up I could see him shaking his head, undoubtly hit.

As subsequent shots roared the bulls body convulsed with each impact

Stagering, he attempted to stay on his feet

But to no avail

He crashed to the ground eighteen seconds from when the first round hit him

Within two minutes the party had assembled around the fallen animal

Once a majestic animal, now a trophy

The parking lot at the end of Dewey Road is visible in the upper right-hand corner of this photograph

Not overly alarmed, most of the herd moved only a short distance before retuning to grazing. 

The elk on and around Winslow Hill, being exposed to thousands upon thousand of viewers each year have little to no fear of humans.  In this area there is no elk hunt; to say it nicely it is a harvest. 

Stopping by the Elk Check Station this evening I learned that five bulls and a number of cows had been checked by 4:45pm.  It was also reported that the bull named "Hook" or "Hook Ear" photographed by many on Winslow Hill during the rut was among the animals taken. 

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Pennsylvania Elk Harvest Begins

When the morning's light begins to seep across the Pennsylvania elk range the eleventh annual elk harvest will begin.

Guides and clients will be in the field as well as the elk

 Bulls that thrilled thousands during the rut will be targeted with this year's increased license allocations

As these trusting animals go through their day tommorrow it will seem much like any other day.  When a group of people approach they will hear what they may think is another click of the shutter; instead it will be the metalic snick of a rifle's safety being released.

While photographing the rut with a visiting west coast photographer he mentioned that he had photographed elk all over the western United States and Canada and that this was the best that he had ever seen.  When the subject of the elk season was brought up he could scarecly believe that the same animals we had been moving freely among would be targeted to be killed for trophies.  With an incredulous look he asked "Why?"

Why indeed!  But no matter; in the morning the killing will begin.

For more information and observation concerning Pennsylvaina Elk visit Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

On The Move

 Last seen heading north in mid-May the Loons are now passing through on their way south

While on the water Thursday I noticed twin wakes cutting across the placid surface some distance away.  A quick peak through binos confirmed that a pair of feeding loons were causing the disturbance.  Unable to approach closely for portrait shots I was content with a more distant shot that included the reflection of the colorful autumn foliage.

Pied-billed Grebes are also among the waterbirds moving south for the winter

A Great Blue Heron watches stoically from a lake side log

The great blue herons however are in no hurry to move.  Instead they will remain as long as open water can be found.  A few birds will remain throughout the winter feeding along the spring-fed streams that remain ice-free.

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Friday, October 28, 2011

The Chase is On!

ISO 1000, 1/10sec, f5.6
 Yesterday was cool and rainy.  Clearing overnight the temperatures plummeted jump-starting the whitetail rut.  As day began to break bucks could be seen pursuing does; sometimes at break-neck speed!
The low light levels were perfect for panning with the racing bucks.

As the light increased I decreased ISO and increased F stop to maintain a slow shutter speed.

Bright light and fast shutter speeds allows the sharp capture of a racing buck as he attempts to catch up with the waiting doe.

It will be a few days yet until the does are ready to breed.  In the meantime the eager bucks will continue searching in hopes of finding a willing mate for now is the season............The Chase is ON!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Awaiting the Whitetail Rut Continued........

The bucks pictured in this series are the same pair featured in the previous post.  Note the unusual left antler.  When not rutting bucks form bachelor groups of two or more animals that spend a great deal of time together. 

The other half of this group of two checks out an approaching photographer while posing against a colorful autumn backdrop.

Grooming can be frequently observed between bucks making up a bachelor group; however it isn't often that it takes place in front of the camera with multiple mountain ridges fading into blue for a background.

In this early morning photo taken in August the same pair of bucks are seen interacting in a playful way.  Soon the fights of the rut will begin but when the season passes these fellows will most likely once again be the best of friends.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Awaiting the Whitetail Rut

Anxiously awaiting the beginning of the whitetail rut, Willard and I traveled south this morning arriving in Shenandoah National Park before daybreak.  As light began to seep across the mountain landscape we soon located a nice pair of adult bucks feeding in a meadow and decided to stay with them to await the arrival of photographic light. 

The pair continued to feed as the light became stronger.  Meanwhile we and other like minded photographers moved into position.  The bucks were showing no signs of the impending rut and with the sun cresting the mountain top I began to loose hope of capturing a dynamic shot of whitetail interaction before the rising sun spilled sharp-edged light across the landscape but then suddenly they came together.  As they lifted their heads and began grooming the sunlight kissed their antlers; half a dozen shutters clicked rapid fire.  Everyone knew that the moment for "the image" had arrived!

For just a brief moment they assumed an aggressive posture as if rutting combat was about to begin.

And then the moment passed; touching noses they returned once again to feeding.

The bucks soon ventured off and so did we as we went in search of other deer.  Walking away chatting with a new found photographer friend, he mentioned that that one moment made facing the cold wind whipping across the mountain top worthwhile.  I nodded in silent agreement.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Wildlife Variety Show

An Autumn morning spent outdoors can be likened to a variety show.  For the wildlife enthusiast the show is not equaled by anything TV has to offer.

This years fawns are now half-sized copies of their mother yet they continue to enjoy short nursing sessions.  Weaning the fawns is a gradual process with some fawns continuing to nurse into December. 

The Ruby-crowned Kinglets are busy feeding as they pass through on their autumn migration.

An Eastern Towhee makes a rare appearance for a photo-op.  The Towhee, a year around resident, seldom  ventures out from the heavy underbrush.

Friday, October 21, 2011

2012 Connect With Wildlife Calendar

The new 2012 Connect With Wildlife Calendar is now available on-line at the Pennsylvania Game Commission's Outdoor Shop.  The cover features an incredible image taken by Jake Dingel of a Short-eared Owl.  Each month features images of wildlife found in Pennsylvania.  Photographers featured are Jake Dingel, Tim Flanigan, Willard Hill, and myself.   Photographs for the calendar are accepted only from current and retired PGC employees.

The following images are the ones chosen from my submissions for publication in the 2012 Calendar

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Lifer: Ruby-crowned Kinglet

This morning found me watching a meadow at daybreak, hoping for a whitetail buck encounter.  Our local deer are beginning to enter into the early stages of the prerut with bucks becoming more active with each passing day.  However on this morning no bucks showed and my attention was drawn to a tiny bird flitting about a nearby multiflora rose.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Friday, October 14, 2011

Don't Come in out of the Rain

Photo taken during a downpour

When we think outdoors we usually consider a day without precipitation as being a better time to be afield.  However if we confine our time out to the clear dry days we will be missing some of the very best the outdoors has to offer.

Recently while reading a post by fellow blogger Ian Nance concerning how cold influences deer movement I began thinking about how wet influences wildlife and wildlife photography.  Although my opinion is based purely on anecdotal evidence it is based upon over five decades of personally observing wildlife.  Most species of wildlife are very active during wet days particularly those days that remain cloudy with light rain and mist. 

Great Blue Heron landing

From a photography perspective wet weather is a great time to capture scenes with heavily saturated colors.  Not only does the rain saturate us it also saturates the colors.  Combine the color saturation, autumn foliage, and a little mist and you get a photograph like you could never capture on a bluebird day.

If you are shooting a DSLR don't overly concern yourself about getting the camera wet; most of them can take it.  Keeping a plastic grocery bag handy to cover the camera with during heavy rain will suffice as will a garbage bag to protect the camera bag.  I have photographed during heavy rain with water running off the camera and lens and had no problems develop.  I have read that one should not wipe a wet camera but rather blot it to keep from pushing water in around the controls; a practice I follow.

Cool wet days also seems to bring out the best in fishing

Even on rainy days it may not rain all of the time.  At the end of the day with a light mist falling this wet young bull paused from feeding long enough to pose against the clearing sky. 

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Clicking on a Cloudy Day

400mm, ISO500, 1/30,F5.6

Photography is all about the light.  Digital images are simply a recording of the light reflected from the subject, through the lens, an onto the camera's sensor. The flat bright light present when the sun is high in the sky is the type of light most tourist snapshots are made with and for the most part it is the worst light of the day.  On clear days good wildlife light can be over within a very short time after the sun rises above the horizon.  Capturing good wildlife images on clear days requires being afield by first light and again in the late afternoon, staying until the last light of the day has faded.  Unless you can find your subject in an evenly shaded area there is only a slim chance of making an image worth keeping.

Cloudy skies are a different matter entirely.  The soft diffused light falls evenly across the subject muting highlights and filling in shadows allowing the capture of great subject detail.  As an added bonus wildlife will typically remain active for longer periods of time.


Shooting under heavy skies does have one major drawback, the quantity on light.  This can be overcome by shooting at high ISO but high ISO increases digital noise; those tiny red, green, and blue dots that destroy image quality.  Lower shutter speed also counteract the lack of light but requires stationary subjects, and wildlife is notorious for not holding.  The very best way to compensate is with fast lenses, lenses with an aperture of F2.8 or larger will do a fantastic job of letting in the light.  Their major drawbacks are weight and size as well as taking a large bite out of your children's inheritance. 

Even if fast lenses are not an option for you don't pass up the cloudy days.  Experiment with your camera to find just how high an ISO your camera can handle while still capturing an acceptable image. Steady that camera on a good tripod and shoot lots of images; hoping to snap one while your wild subject remains still.  Trash the blurred images, keep the sharp ones, and enjoy your cloudy days afield.  Besides any day spent outdoors shooting wildlife is far better than being inside and you just may capture the most beautiful image of your life.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Raining on the Rut

Who in their right mind would want a bluebird day with dazzling sunshine for wildlife photography when great images can be made during a driving downpour.  And that was the situation when these photos were taken.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Wood Ducks on the Water

Spotting a flock of Wood Ducks hiding out in the back of a small cove I nosed the boat slowly towards them.

The wary wood ducks soon errupted in flight their brilliant colors flashing like jewels in the morning sun.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Catch of the Day

Today, with fishing slow, I was more than pleased when I spotted a pied-billed grebe feeding along the shoreline.  This particular bird showed no fear of the boat and allowed me to approach to within twenty feet as it continued diving into the submerged vegetation.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Nailing Down the Background

Wildlife photography presents a multitude of challenges.  Locating the subject is only the first step towards making a good photograph.  Light is always of prime consideration, both quality and angle.  So often in our rush to capture the photograph we fail to look beyond the subject to take background into consideration.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Photographing the Photographers

Shooting together with photographer friends is an enjoyable part of shooting the Pennsylvania elk rut.  Shrouded in fog Willard and Dick stand by their camera awaiting the next elk action.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Bugle: In Black & White

Canon 60D, 100-400, F5.6, ISO 800, 1/20th

Seldom do I find B&W wildlife images as appealing as color.  However with this image of a mature bull roaring out a challenge it seemed a perfect fit. 

As did this image of a bull and cow silhouetted on a ridge top.  The action here was quite fluid and fast moving.  I am still kicking myself in the butt for cutting the cow's head off just below the eyes.  But it is what it is and I love the raw power captured in the image.

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