Sunday, October 2, 2016

The Elk Rut, Photography, & Thoughts

For me, every August the anticipation begins building for the elk rut and for autumn, two of my favorite things. The days are spent looking for those very first signs of either, almost wishing time along at a faster pace. Before you know it, both are upon you and both will be over in the blink of an eye. I suppose as a photographer that briefness of the experience drives one to try and capture everything they possibly can, to preserve the memories of the season. When it comes to photography my thoughts on this are changing a bit, but more on that later.

Every elk rut in Pennsylvania seems to have it's own identity if you will, something that sets it apart from years past. Some years things are moving along as soon as the calendar turns to September, other years the activity seems to trickle out in spurts. So far, I would have to say that this year is shaping up as a typical year and seemingly better in terms of overall elk activity from last year. Granted, that may be the case in the places I happen to be out and about, and not representative of the elk range as a whole.

Early Afternoon In Elk Country

As it stands today, I have already been fortunate enough to watch and photograph several outstanding bulls. In fact, there seems to be a good number of bulls out there that currently are or are on the cusp of being something special. One thing that is standing out for me this year is the lack of bulls with large harems of cows. Just a few years ago it was nothing to see a bull with twenty, thirty, or more cows in his harem. Now, it seems they have a handful at best for the most part.

A young bull in the pre-dawn light.

It used to be that while photographing the elk I would be happy just to get a shot and to be honest as those images start building up they seem more and more generic. Basically, in the popular photography spots you will have numerous photographers all photographing the same thing. It can be interesting to see what others take from the experience in comparison to your own photographs but in these circumstances it can be hard to get anything truly unique. I go to these places, especially if there is not much going on elsewhere, and it is still possible to extract something different than everyone else, but I would rather be somewhere getting shots others are not. For me photography seems to have moved beyond just getting a picture of something, there needs to be another element to it or it just feels empty anymore. At times lately I have begun to question why I lug all of this equipment around, then I will capture something that seems to make it worthwhile. Sometimes it seems, seems mind you, that I was more creative when I was carrying a point and shoot camera everywhere. I don't know, somewhere along the line something seems to have been lost. I guess it's that way in anything you do, it is hard to keep that sense of excitement and 'wonderment' as things become old hat.

Getting A Drink

Open Wide

In Pursuit

Normally in the down time between morning and evening elk excursions I will do a bit of trout fishing to pass the time. The streams are still low and they really aren't much fun to fish when they are this way. I did catch a nice brown trout when I floated a mini-hopper pattern along an undercut bank. After that I decided to quit as the fish seem stressed enough as it is with the conditions they are enduring.

Fall wildflowers are in bloom and line the trails through the woods and along the streams.

By the time the calendar turns to October the elk rut is beginning to wind down. Really, the elk rut and the goldenrod bloom seem to be intertwined. Both begin to some degree in August, peak in September, and begin to fade in early October. It is amazing to me how quickly the month of September went by this year, though it seems the older you get the more that seems to be the case.

A near full moon and being surrounded by bugling, it doesn't get any better.

Herding Display

In the Rain

There is still some rut behavior and activity to be found in the coming month, along with the fall colors and less and less people to deal with as the month wears on. It can almost be more enjoyable in a way but the call of elk country in September will always be hard to top...

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.