Sunday, June 26, 2016

The Brown Thrasher Takeover

Every year for the past five or so years there have been Brown Thrashers that have shown up, usually in mid-April, in the woods behind the house. They are very visible for about a month after they arrive and then they disappear for the most part when it comes time to start nesting and raising their chicks.

This year, in late May, I was greeted by a fuzzy Brown Thrasher fledgling sitting on the garden fence one day. I had seen them on occasion before, but little did I know the show was just about to begin.

Shot through the garden fence, hence the strange lines through the image.

For the next month, and still to this day, the four fledglings that I counted have decided to make the garden their hangout. It has been an interesting glimpse into the lives of these birds. I have been able to watch the progression of the parents working non-stop to feed them, to the female leaving it up to the male while she goes off to begin the next brood, to the young ones starting to forage for themselves, and eventually fending for themselves and taking to the trees.

Other than the long tail and fantastic song of the Brown Thrasher, they are known for their piercing yellow eyes.

I never realized until this year that the young ones start out life with blue eyes.

Of the four, it seems that three of them always stuck together while the fourth was off on it's own. It must have been the most well fed while on the nest as it became independent much sooner than the other three.

As of this writing there are only two still hanging around and they are chased by the parents whenever they have an encounter. Their eyes are still blue but it seems to be fading with each passing day. I've witnessed the adults gathering insects and flying off so I assume the second brood has hatched. I'm not sure if I'll get to witness the same show again but it has been an enjoyable experience and the young ones have been comical to watch, each seems to have it's own personality. The garden will seem empty when they are finally gone.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Early June In Elk Country

Last Wednesday I made a trip up to the elk range, it was my first trip back since early May. Since then antlers have been growing, fawns and calves were being born, and the landscape has begun to take on the more mature look of summer. In about a week the days will begin getting shorter once again, believe it or not.

While out and about in the Quehanna Wild Area I came upon my first fawn of the season. It was standing there looking at me, probably hoping I would pass by without noticing. I took a few snapshots and moved on as to not disturb it or it's mother who may not be far off.

I didn't see any elk calves on my trip, more than likely they are well hidden and not traveling with their mothers quite yet. I prefer to leave them in peace until they are ready to show themselves on their own anyway. I did see plenty of bulls with various sizes of antler growth, mostly determined by the age class the bull was in. All were on the young side and were either hanging out with other bulls or with several cows. Such was the case with this young bull I photographed along Dents Run. He was with several other small bulls and a few cows.

Most of the bulls I saw today will be relegated to being satellite bulls when the rut starts, some of them won't even reach that status. Occasionally one of these younger bulls will get a harem of cows in September and start to think they are the 'real deal' but that pipe dream usually doesn't last very long. Some will relive that dream come mid-October and beyond but most of the cows will have been bred by then so it's mostly going through the motions of being a herd bull.

I did see some grassland birds that I've always wanted to photograph, though the photo opportunities were not great. I saw quite a few Bobolinks and another bird that I actually had to look up the identification on, the Dickissel.

Occasionally, if you know when and where to look, there are spots in elk country that reveal their past even though man has tried  his best to remove all traces of what once was. They endure, harkening back to a simpler time. Most of todays visitors to the elk range will be oblivious to them, passing them off as just part of nature.

It was a good trip, it usually is. One can't help but look forward to the elk rut, but it's best to enjoy each season for what it is.

Friday, May 6, 2016

A Black Eye for Pennsylvania Elk?

A Pennsylvania Bull Elk

In 2013 the hunter who won the RMEF bull tag for Pennsylvania harvested a near state record bull, it may in fact be the new record but I don't keep up with such things. The significance of this event is that when fellow PA hunters became aware of who this person actually was it created a bit of controversy in the hunting community. The hunter, Tod Reichert, had been involved in an incident with the 2007 Washington state Governor's Tag bull. The case was not settled until 2012...

"According to Micheal C. Ormsby, U.S. Attorney for Eastern District of Washington, Reichert bought the 2007 Eastside any-elk Governor’s Auction Tag for around $47,000. He hired Wick to provide guide services for his hunt, and apparently just to make sure, also hired a helicopter to spot animals — illegal in Washington.
In December, Reichert killed a bull in the Umatilla National Forest with Wick’s help but outside of the area that the guide was licensed to provide outfitting services.
Later, Reichert falsely claimed that Wick had not provided professional help nor had he paid any money for his services, according to the U.S. Attorney.
Then, in 2008, Wick again provided help in the forest to that year’s Governor’s Tag buyer (which set the man back $65,000), but at the time, Wick was not authorized to provide guide services, according to the feds.
Both defendants were indicted by a federal grand jury last December.
Reichert was sentenced to a two-year probation that also stipulates he can’t enter or remain in any national forest for any recreational purpose."

After the controversy of Mr. Reichert's PA bull, wording was added to the new bill that created the KECA bull tag and continued the RMEF auction tag. The wording added to the bill reads as follows...

"  Background check.--A recipient selected to receive a license under subsection (b) or (c) must be subjected to a background check prior to being awarded the license. If one or more serious game law violations resulting in license revocation within the preceding ten years, or three or more game law violations within the preceding ten years are found, the license may not be awarded to the recipient and another recipient shall be chosen."

For all intents and purposes this wording was added due to the stink that followed the 2013 RMEF tag hunt and ironically, this person has won the same PA tag again for 2016. Apparently he still falls outside of the parameters of exclusion, however there is a twist that has come to light. There have been charges filed for a bull that was killed by Mr. Reichert last year on a Washington state raffle tag hunt. Allegedly the bull he killed was shot in a management unit that was not even open to the harvest of branch antlered bulls. 

My take on all of this? I do believe people make mistakes and deserve second chances, however, there is also the old saying of 'fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me.' It would appear that this person, in their pursuit of trophy bulls, cannot steer clear of trouble. The guides who he used the last time around called him a stand up guy who admitted to past mistakes and had learned his lesson. Who steps up to guide him this time around and what do you say about him now? The potential is there to be made the fool and harm your reputation as well. I guess that comes with the territory of giving 'controversial' people the benefit of the doubt.

More than likely this new case will also be dragged out and no doubt Mr. Reichert will keep his PA bull tag for this year. If convicted in this new case it will be a black eye for Pennsylvania, the elk, the RMEF, the sportsman of PA, Elk County Outfitters, and whatever outfit guides him this year. At some point you have to say enough is enough and get these types out of the running for these tags, it is not worth the bad publicity they bring no matter how much money they put into elk conservation. To look the other way and say nothing or not act because of money is selling out and bringing shame and questionable values/motives into the whole process. The elk and hunting deserve better than that.