When daylight creeps across the Pennsylvania landscape Monday morning the 2012 firearms deer season will open. Hundreds of thousands of people will be out looking to hang their tag on a whitetail. Some areas will be open for buck only while others will allow either antlered or antlerless. In most areas for the average hunter a legal buck must have three points at least an inch long while in other areas a buck must have "three on top" disregarding the brow tine. If the hunter is a youth or active duty military member; then a single spike of three inches or more will suffice. If you are one of the thousands hitting deer country in the morning read the regulations carefully to make sure that no recent change catches you in an unanticipated violation.
Deer season is many things to many people; a time to get together with friends and family, a time to enjoy camp life, and a time to make memories. For some, deer season is more about going to camp and enjoying camp life than the actual hunt; while for others the pursuit of the deer is first and foremost.
For me the deer season marks the end; the end of my whitetail rut photography for the year. With hunters in the woods the deer's movement patterns change drastically. Instead of the bucks spending their time in search of does they will be using every tool in their bag of tricks to save their skin. And most of the bucks carrying legal antlers will be dead by the time the two week season ends.
With a new crop of fawns already beginning to grow in their mothers bellies the cycle of life contines even as the season of the harvest begins.
Dark-eyed Juncos are a common enough bird for our area however when I spotted this one I realized that this one was different. Since it was a cold frosty morning, a morning where even the deer had frost on their backs, at first I thought that this bird had a few bits of frost clinging to its head; something that I had never observed.
However a closer look revealed some of its head and neck feathers lacked their usual pigmentation. After doing some research I came to the conclusion that this is a leucistic dark-eyed junco; although the examples I was able to find showed much more coloration difference than this individual.
Through photography I have become accustomed to identifying individuals among some mammal species such as deer, elk, and squirrels. Now, with the unique markings on this junco, I will be keeping watch to see just how often I can pick it out at the feeders.
How often do we go shopping for one item only to return with another? Or take a trip to a particular destination only to make a side stop that becomes the highlight of the day. The same happens to the wildlife photographer.
For the past few weeks I have been concentrating on photographing the whitetail rut, spending every available morning and evening setup and waiting in spots where I can expect a good possibility of a whitetail buck encounter. While the encounters do happen there is also much more happening around me; so instead of ignoring the other wildlife activity I swing the camera into action and make some "unplanned" captures.
One evening as the sun was nearing the horizon a little Carolina Wren flew into a nearby tree and began singing. Still photography cannot record the little bird's song but it can capture its beautiful form.
Carolina Wren Scolding
Another evening, cloudy this time, a wren perched nearby and began scolding. The blur of motion in the wings and tail tells the story better than if the bird had posed for a sharp portrait.
A white-breasted nuthatch landed nearby and sat motionless as it eyed me closely. These little birds seldom stop for more than a moment. This close encounter allow me to discover something unique about this individual bird. Look closely and you will see that it has a crossed beak, something I did not notice until I was processing the image.
Here a downy woodpecker feeds on poison ivy seeds. For years I though of poison ivy as just an obnoxious plant to be avoided. Now after a few years of wildlife photograph I have learned that a number of wildlife species feed on its seed in late autumn and winter.
Just off the top of my head I can think of watching nuthatches, pileated woodpeckers, tufted titmice, juncos and flickers feeding on poison ivy. Just this morning I was able to add wild turkey to the list as I watched a gobbler fly up into the low branches of a pine tree to feed on a vine that had grown up into the tree.
And no post about the rut is complete without a deer. Since rutting bucks are the game a photo of a fluffy little fawn trotting through a frosty field is an unplanned capture as well.
In short, don't get hung up on a single subject when there is so much more happening around you. Take the "unplanned" or "unexpected" shots when they avail themselves. They may very well be the best captures of the day!
I took some time this evening to get back to processing some images from the September elk rut. This year I was fortunate to encounter a number of bull fights. Not that fights between bulls are uncommon but I have had trips where the action was always happening some place other than where I was. As daylight faded the first evening of my trip a herd of cows with two bulls challenging each other had assembled on an open ridge top.
While the one bull sported a beautiful even rack this aggressive fellow with his one large seven point antler and a broken stub was not about to back down and miss out on a season of mating.
And soon the battle was joined.
The bulls fought violently for a little over two minutes before they broke apart. While the one bull would seem to have been handicapped with only one antler there was no apparent winner.
Looking back at our recent visit to Assateague Island these two images stood out for how they relate to the wildlife photographer. To be successful as an outdoor photographer it is necessary to be out on location early in the morning and late in the evening to capture the best light of the day and when wildlife is most active.
Great Blue Heron
To successfully photograph wildlife one must often resort to the tactics of the Great Blue Heron; be in the right location and wait motionlessly until just the right moment to strike.
Minutes after setting up to await the afternoon and evening
whitetail rutting activity, the calling of crows drew my attention to my
left.Looking that way I spotted a large
bird soaring above; a Golden Eagle!
Golden Eagle sightings in my neck of the woods are quite rare
and up until just a few years ago I had never seen one. Since that first sighting Willard and I have
become accustomed to the occasional sighting of a golden from mid-autumn
through early winter as the big raptors pass through on their southward migration.
Crows harassing a Golden Eagle
While any golden sighting is a surprise this one did not
come as a complete surprise. After the sun had set Wednesday evening, as the light
was failing and Willard and I were packing up the photo gear, I heard a rush of
wings overhead.Looking up I spotted a very
large bird swooping low, quickly disappearing behind the nearby tree line.In the
poor light I was unable to make a positive identification. There was no doubt that it was an eagle and I was pretty
sure that it was a golden and not an immature bald eagle.Thursday afternoon’s sighting confirmed my
While shy and retiring most of the year, during the rut whitetail bucks are on the move. With only a few weeks to find and mate with the does as each comes into estrus the bucks are busy warding off contenders, checking and refreshing scrape lines, and pursuing does.
Because of the low light levels during most of the whitetails active periods I usually focus on photographing deer as they pause for a moment, However today, for a change of pace, I decided to crank up the ISO and shoot the action.
I hope you enjoy these shots of Whitetails in Motion
With our whitetail rut in full swing I have been spending nearly all of my free time in pursuit of this year's crop of bucks. Refreshing ones memory from the photo archives of the previous years helps identify some individual animals. While some whitetail bucks are rather generic and are difficult to identify from one year to the next; this buck is easily identified by his distinct coloration, facial characteristics, and body build. During the rut the bucks travel outside of the area where they spend the remainder of the year. That seems to be the case with this particular animal as it is only periodically during the rut that we encounter him; however Willard has photographed him on a couple of occasions during the summer feeding some miles away.
Having the opportunity to photograph a small number of bucks over the course of a few years and documenting their development as they grow from young bucks into beautiful mature breeding bucks is a delightful part of my wildlife photography. While following individual animals over the years is not to difficult in places like Shenandoah National Park; following them in hunting country is a different matter entirely as most are taken during the first year that they have legal antlers and of course their life is always in danger from poachers. That's what makes a buck like this handsome fellow particularly special to me.
While I have photographed many species of birds, warblers have consistently eluded me. However while watching rutting whitetails recently I noticed this unusual bird flitting about the underbrush. Focusing the camera on it I noted the similarity to birds I had photographed earlier during my Assateague Island visit. Checking references I have come to the conclusion that this bird is a male Yellow-rumped Warbler.
This image and the one following are the birds photographed at Assateague.
My guess is that either these are females or immature birds. Perhaps a more accomplished birder than I can offer some suggestions as to which is the case.
With much anticipation Willard and I headed to Shenandoah National Park planning on photographing the whitetail rut. We were concerned about the effects of an ongoing deer study but information on the NPS web site indicated that no more than 70 deer in the park would be either tagged or collared. This was the first buck we encountered. He was in the Big Meadows area at the Tanners Ridge overlook wearing his easily visible ear tags.
Number 91 was with a group of four antlerless deer of which three of them were tagged as well.
The next mature buck encountered was V7. While the ear tags can be dealt with in Photoshop the GPS collar and large numbered tag is too much.
After photographing a few of the bucks to document the tags we didn't even bother to stop when we spotted bucks wearing their latest bling.
A number of the does were wearing the GPS collars and large numerals as well.
This was the smallest collared/tagged buck we encountered.
During the course of the morning and early afternoon we sighted one mature buck that was not tagged or collared and one buck (91) with ear tags. ALL other mature bucks sported the GPS collars and large green numeral tags!
I could hardly believe the visual effect of this study on the whitetails of Shenandoah. After stopping for lunch and discussing the situation we decided that our best move was to cancel our motel reservations and head for home; cutting our trip short by two days.
If any of you reading this are photographers considering visiting SNP to shoot the rut I would advise you to reconsider. This study has destroyed this years rut photography and appears that this will be the case for years into the future. For more information on the study click here.
Today as I pursued rutting whitetails my mind would frequently wonder back to my recent trip in Pennsylvania's elk country. With the exception of accidentally breaking a camera lens the trip was an excellent time afield with good friends, new friends, and a number of good bulls to photograph against the colorful autumn backgrounds. While during the rut these animals allowed us to approach with little concern of our presence, today with the 2012 elk season opener they became legal game for the hunters.
The bull pictured here is known by the Pennsylvania elk photographic community as Limpy. He has thrilled viewers and photographers for a number of years and I have had the pleasure of photographing him over the past four. Photographing him the last morning of my visit, as he looked out across the foggy mountains he calls home, I could not help but wonder if this would be the last time I would see this majestic trusting animal. The next few days will tell the tale as reports from the elk range begin to filter in.
For the whitetail deer enthusiast there is no time in the life cycle of these magnificent animals to match that of the rut. While quiet and retiring most of the year the rut brings on frantic activity as the bucks aggressively search out does willing to mate. The first signs of the rut appeared early this year and now, a few days ahead of most years, the rutting activity is in overdrive.
Here is a handful of the bucks I have met over the past few days
Great Egrets were the most frequently sighted bird species during our visit to Chincoteage and Assateague. Being white they were easily see stalking about the salt marshes whereas most other species could easily disappear in the dense vegetation.
The slow deliberate movements of a hunting egret makes them an easy target for the photographer although proper exposure can be problematic. When shooting white subjects it is very easy to over expose loosing feather detail.
The best egret shot of the trip occurred when we spotted a bird perched on a pine blow-down. The warm early morning sun illuminating the bird while the background remained in deep shadow made a perfect "natural studio".