Archive for Pennsylvania Game Commission

Bull Getting into a Frenzy!

Posted in Bugle, Bugling Bull, Bull, Patience, Pennsylvania Elk, Pennsylvania Elk Photography Experience, Pennsylvania Game Commission, Rut, State Game Lands, Wildlife Photography, Winslow Hill with tags , , , , , , , , on October 9, 2012 by bobshank

The fall rut in Pennsylvania is filled with amazing action and mysterious sounds. Bull elk work extremely hard to make their presence known and remind other competing bulls that it will not be easy to dislodge the king of the hill! Just spend one evening out on the mountain during the fall rut and you will receive far more entertainment than Hollywood could ever offer. There is no place like the mountains, especially during the fall months.

This particular bull was the current king of a section many refer to The Saddle on Winslow Hill. This recently reclaimed tract of State Game Lands 311 is a favorite of elk viewers who are accustomed to seeing bulls like this one. I came across him while he was lying down and resting. Bulls expend a tremendous amount of energy during the rut, so even brief rests are essential. I need to practice a great deal of patience as this bull was taking a rather long rest. Patience is always key in wildlife photography.

Eventually, after what seemed like forever, he stood up. Now this might seem like a rather uneventful maneuver to the uninformed, but to a knowledgeable elk viewer, the act of a bull standing up is anything but uneventful. Warning: this might get a little PG-rated since we are talking about the rut, aka the breeding season, aka elk sex! Geez, I didn’t just say that; did I?

This first standing up image shows clearly what all careful elk viewers see when a bull elk begins getting into a frenzy to show dominance and attract cows. The bull will begin to scratch the ground with his antlers and he will also urinate on himself to display his dominance and attractiveness to any cow who is interested. I find this an interesting dating procedure to say the least!

Because this bull was getting into a frenzy in a recently reclaimed field, the grass was green and tall, as you can clearly see in this image.

A frenzied bull almost always bugles, too. This is a mysterious and interesting sound that elk viewers long to hear. The bugle sounds a warning to any bulls who might be considering a challenge. It also alerts cows to the bull’s presence and location, which is important as a bull constant tries to keep his herd of cows in check. Again, this is a very tiring and demanding process that goes on day and night for many days!

The bull will also stretch his hind legs to get the kinks out from lying down so long. It’s sort of like when we get up out of our recliner and need to stretch to get moving again. I always find it entertaining to watch and observe the many different facets of elk behavior. It never gets old for me and I keep learning more and more about these incredible mammals!

As the frenzy is dying down and coming to a close, at least temporarily, the bull will deliver another mighty bugle before moving on to the next task in the rutting behavior.

It will happen again, so be ready! Watching the bulls at this time of year is something I enjoy tremendously. I cannot imagine not spending some time in the mountains to observe and photograph this fascinating behavior. It truly is worth more than a thousand words! If you never observed the rutting behavior in the fall, you owe it to yourself to travel to Elk County, Pennsylvania from mid-September to mid-October. It can yield the sights and sounds of a lifetime!

Amazing Encounter in Elk Country Pennsylvania

Posted in Black Bear, Dick McCreight, Elk Country, Lennie Rue III, Light, Moose Peterson, Pennsylvania Elk, Pennsylvania Game Commission, Pennsylvania Game News, Wildlife Photography with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 25, 2012 by bobshank

This week I had the privilege of being in the Elk Country of Pennsylvania with my good friend and fellow photographer, Dick McCreight, of Bluestem Photography. Dick is an amazing photographer and I always enjoy our photo times together as we learn and stretch one another. This week was a prime example of this collaborative learning experience.

We saw and photographed a lot of elk over the past four days. Circumstances beyond my control prevented me from joining Dick on the first day, so he had a nice head start on me. It is always difficult to hear about and see photographs that are captured in your absence! I was encouraged that Dick was seeing and photographing elk and I hoped it might continue. It did!

Dick had to leave a little earlier than me, so we said our goodbyes. There was still about an hour of useable daylight, so I headed back out to try my luck.

Light is a funny thing and unpredictable at that. One moment the light stinks and then the next it is absolutely gorgeous! This evening out on Winslow’s Hill was no exception. The day was mostly overcast but as the sun began to make its way to the horizon, some of the clouds parted, creating streaks of sunlight onto the scene I was photographing. It didn’t take long for me to get into the right position, and as you can see in these first two photos, the elk cooperated as well! The first photo is my favorite so far, but I still have more photos to sift through and edit. By the way, all these photos here are completely unedited and straight out of the camera. The light was so good!

I also need to thank Moose Peterson who through his book, “Captured,” and his magazine, “BT Journal,” is teaching me to see the light! Sorry for the bad pun; but since my family is tired of me trying to be funny, I thought I’d try it here! Anyway, I am learning from Moose about the different qualities of light and how to use light in my photographs. Thank you Moose, I think these photographs show that I am learning from you!

This particular evening was the third time I photographed elk in this same field. I guess they were getting used to me and realized that I was presenting no danger to them. I walked onto the field after spotting the elk, walked down the dirt road toward them and they readily accepted me. You can always tell a lot by the little behavioral signs an elk portrays. Ears, eyes, tails, and general body movement are like reading a book. Every detail is important so the photographer has to pay attention to all this!

My general procedure when photographing the elk of Pennsylvania is to approach slowly and very casually. Lennie Rue III and Len Rue, Jr. taught me to act as unconcerned about the elk as possible, almost like you don’t even care about them. This nonchalant attitude helps the elk realize that we are not hunters who are going to shoot them. Rather, we are photographers who are going to shoot them in a much different way and over and over again! I approach the elk, reading all their signs. Then, as I get closer, I only approach when their heads are down while they are eating. When they look up, I stop, look around and act as causal as possible. This approach and a great deal of patience helps me get closer to the elk.

On this particular evening, the elk readily accepted me. I literally had elk all around me at one point! They were busy eating a new crop of hay and they were feeding in every direction possible. Once in a while, they would look up to study me, but for the most part I was just like another tree to them.

Then something happened.

I was photographing this cow when it started looking intently in a direction beyond me. As you can see in this photograph, the elk is looking in my general direction but somewhere behind me. It took me a while to really notice this, but then, as if on cue, all the elk began to exhibit an uneasiness that I could not explain. It is always amazing to me how wild animals communicate with each other. This time, the warning sign of alert was communicated and every elk stopped eating and was staring in the same direction. Something of interest was happening behind me; but what?

I thought that maybe another elk was coming into the field out of the woods behind me because I observed this earlier in the morning. There was a loud clashing as an elk bumbled onto the scene and the elk in the field looked in her direction when they heard the sound. But this was different. The intent stares of the elk and their body language indicated to me that something was wrong.

I even spoke out loud to the cow I photographed in the above photo, asking, “What’s wrong?” Yeah, I do talk to the animals. They never talk back, but Lennie Rue III teaches that he learned a lot while growing up on a farm. One time he came up behind a horse and surprised it so much that it kicked him square in the chest with both hind feet! He learned an important lesson. Talking to animals in an almost monotone and comforting manner is often helpful, and so I practice this every time I am in the field with the Pennsylvania Elk. “Hi, there. Don’t worry; I’m not going to hurt you.” Call me crazy, but sometimes I even think they understand me!

Something was wrong behind me this evening and every elk in the field knew it and saw it before I did. So after, asking, “What’s wrong?” I turned around to see this:

A black bear!

Now I knew what the elk were so intently looking at and it was obviously cause for great alarm to them. Some of the cows are now on the brink of giving birth to their calves. Black bears in Pennsylvania pose a definite threat to these baby calves. The Pennsylvania Game Commission conducted several elk calf studies over the years. You can read more detailed information about these studies and their findings here: Richardson, Lori D. Pennsylvania Game News November 2007: 31-37.

This recent study revealed that bears are not as big a threat to Pennsylvania Elk as they are to the Rocky Mountain Elk. Some of this is due to the mere numbers of the elk out west compared to the relatively lower numbers here in the east. Whitetail fawns are much more at risk here in our state. Nevertheless, a cow elk will definitely pay attention when it sees a black bear.

So here was the subject which attracted all the attention of these elk. I was the last one to realize it!

Now, I’ve been in the wood and fields of Pennsylvania all my life, so I know full well that predicting the size of a bear is anything but an exact science. I’ve seen the bear check stations where hunters bring in their bears to be weighed and studied by the Pennsylvania Game Commission. Seeing is not always believing because what oftentimes looks like a huge bear simply is not. This is particularly true when a bear is by itself with nothing which to compare. I will suffice it to say that this bear was no cub.

I also know enough about bear behavior that black bears pose very little threat to adult humans. Grizzly bears and Polar bears are much different! So, even though I was in the middle of this field and a bear appeared out of the woods on the field’s edge, I was not concerned. I started photographing the bear, overjoyed to be experiencing this amazing encounter in elk country!

But then something happened that caught my attention again!

The black bear started walking right toward me!

(To Be Continued…)

Two Different Elk Collars

Posted in Pennsylvania Elk, Pennsylvania Game Commission, Radio Collar, Wildlife Photography with tags , , , on March 3, 2012 by bobshank

Here is one of the most common collars found on the Pennsylvania elk. As you can see, they feature a boxy transmitter and a yellow numbering system. This bull is referred to as “2D.” I photographed this bull in past years and was very happy to see him and get to photograph him again this year in January! He is not a giant bull, but he certainly is a nice one!

The Pennsylvania Game Commission uses collars like these to study the elk movement. They can determine how far an elk travels over a period of time. The collar is fitted onto the elk by tranquilizing the elk temporarily. In 1985, bulls had an average home range of 20.5 miles, while cows had a home range of 6.8 miles. (Source: “Management Plan for Elk in Pennsylvania 2006-2016, Pennsylvania Game Commission)

Attaching the collar is a very smooth process and the elk soon gets used to sporting the new collar. The batteries power the transmitter for approximately 20 months and sometimes the elk is able to shed itself from the collar. These radio collars help the biologists keep track of the elk herd.

Here is another style of radio collar that is seen less frequently on the elk. As you can see, this style features a long antenna to broadcast the signal of the transmitter.

3 of my Photographs Appeared in the Game Commission’s News Release Today

Posted in Pennsylvania Elk, Pennsylvania Game Commission, Wildlife with tags , on September 2, 2009 by bobshank

The bull elk rescue from the swing set at the old Benezette school has created a lot of interest. The blogs of Brad Myers, his son Shane, Willard Hill, my son James, and mine have all realized a lot of recent activity as people wanted to see the photos of this elk rescue. It was an amazing and incredible event to watch and photograph.

Today the Pennsylvania Game Commission circulated a news release that included three of the photos I took during this elk rescue. My blog activity has greatly increased and at last count I had over 1,100 visits to my blog just today. I am pleased that my photographs are getting broader exposure, but I am even happier that the elk rescue story is getting out to so many people.

The Pennsylvania elk herd is a resource that must not be taken lightly. We are privileged to have the elk in our state thanks to some people in our past who had the foresight to bring back the elk. After all, there was a day when elk roamed over nearly the entire state. Other animals have benefited from the increased interest and habitat protection provided for the elk herd. Turkeys, bear, rabbits, and many other wildlife species have increased over the past decade or so thanks to the improvements made to benefit the elk.

There are also a few lessons we can learn from this elk rescue. First, if you have a swing set in your yard please hang the swings up and out of the way of the elk. Bulls like to rub their antlers first to remove the velvet in mid-August, and then to mark and defend their territory in the rut. Keeping our swings out of their way just makes good common sense. Second, the Game Commission sometimes gets a bad rap. I think you know what I mean. But Doty and Mark not only handled this rescue very well, but they did so in a professional and mild-mannered way. They allowed us photographers to capture the rescue with our long lenses and even talked with us about what they found after the rescue was over. I was greatly impressed with these two guys and how they expertly rescued this bull elk. I might not always agree with everything the Game Commission says or does at times, but I have renewed respect for what these guys are willing to do and how well they handle some very difficult and potentially dangerous situations. They certainly have my complete respect after watching this amazing elk rescue and how beautifully they handled the situation. Thank you, Doty and Mark!

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