Bull Chasing Cow

This is what the fall elk rut is all about. Bulls get themselves into a frenzy hoping to mate a cow. They scratch their antlers on the ground, bugle and make all kinds of sounds, attack trees with their large antlers, and much more! They have one thing on their mind: breeding a cow.

This bull is chasing behind a cow hoping she will be ready to breed. She obviously is not ready as she is running away, which is only more frustrating for the bull. Typically, when a bull follows behind a cow unsuccessfully, he will stop and bugle. This is absolutely the right time to have the camera ready to fire!

In this photograph the bull is behind the cow and appears to be disappointed that she is leaving. This same scenario repeats itself over and over and over. The fall rut is full of repeated actions, some predictable and some unpredictable. But it is always a show worth watching and observing!



Capturing the Fight

Capturing a classic battle like this with a camera often is frustrating to me. I never seem to be at the right place at the right time. Or the light is fading too quickly, or the fog is too thick for a good photograph. These fight scenes seem to be elusive to me, which can be very frustrating at times.

This photo captures some of the energy in this fight. It all started, as usual, with much posturing from each bull. This is typical and I could just tell that these two bulls were going to go at it. Then, in an instant, they ran toward each other and crashed their antlers together with an ear-piercing jolt! This is what the fall elk rut is all about!

I like the way these two bulls are working hard to dominate the other. I also really like the dirt flying in the air, both between their antlers and behind the right bull’s hind feet. This helps to portray the massive power and energy present in a real honest-to-goodness fight between two mature bulls. Many elk viewers think they are witnessing a fight when in reality they are simply witnessing what is called sparring, which is much tamer and mild compared to a full-blown fight. A lot of us think these fights last longer than they actually do, too. I went back and looked at the metadata from my photographs to determine the starting and ending time of this fight. It only lasted 2 minutes and 20 seconds. This might not seem long to us, but I’m guessing it seems like an eternity for these two bulls!

The one problem with photographing this bull-fight was that we were losing light in a hurry. I had to bump up the ISO to 800 on my D300. I am finding that I do get some decent photographs with this setting and the noise is at a reasonable level, which is good. Then use the noise reduction feature in Lightroom to clean it up. The newer cameras and software have come a long way in recent years in dealing with noise. I found out this week that I can get usable photographs even at an ISO setting of 1600.

This was the only real fight I witnessed this and it was a powerful one. I hope my photographs do a reasonably decent job of portraying the fierce energy present in these fights between two bulls. It sure is something to see!






A Vision of Things to Come

The Elk Rut is my most favorite time of the year!

Fall is a great season to begin with since the leaves are changing and rich colors can be captured by our cameras. The cool air is a welcome break from all the summer heat, too. Yeah, fall is my favorite season of the year. Add to this the Elk Rut and things get really exciting! Bulls keep tabs on the cows and often circle them up in small groups. Competing bulls try to horn in on the action and sometimes even fight other bulls for dominance. The clashing of elk antlers and the sound of bulls bugling on a September day are enough to get my blood flowing rather quickly!

Most photographers enjoy shooting the big bulls. In fact, some photographers won’t shoot anything else–no spikes, no cows, no calves, no nothing. Nothing but big bulls. This is okay and it is even understandable. However, I believe that some other photographs are missed that might be compelling in their own way.

Take these three photographs for example. This bull is young. He will only be a spike this year. But as you look at his two tiny antlers in velvet, aren’t they interesting? This bull kind of reminds me of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer when he was young. Two little nubbins for antlers. Aren’t they cute?

Do these three photographs have any value at all or should I just devote my full attention to the big bulls? What do you think?

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Some Things are Changing and Some Things Remain the Same

I enjoyed watching the old television series, “Wild America.” It was a weekly half-hour show that featured some animal or place related to the wild outdoors here in America. Not long ago, I caught some re-runs on television that brought back the fond memories of watching this show when I was much younger. I also enjoyed the old series, “Grizzly Adams.” I remember my uncle telling me that wild animals are not as tame as Ben, the grizzly bear of that show. But to me it was one of the few shows that pertained to the outdoors, where I loved to spend my time!

This past week I read in our local newspaper that John Serrao, a local naturalist here in the Poconos is moving away from the Poconos to Florida. His newspaper column always talked about some wild topic of the Poconos. He also led nature walks and helped to educate us on the wild-side of the Poconos. His newspaper articles and outdoor presence will be dearly missed!

This time of the year, with the fast-approaching New Year’s Eve celebration, often turns my thoughts to how things change. Some of this change is sad to me, like the passing of fond experiences turned into mere memories. I can be nostalgic at times, but I also believe that the passing of time reveals some consistency in our lives and even in the outdoors. While some people and television series come and go, the outdoors has a regular consistency to it. The sun comes up on schedule and the moon phases are just as predictable. The wild creatures still demand our respect and admiration, while continuing to need advocates at the same time. The people who fight for outdoor causes may have different names tomorrow than they do today, but their presence and voice will still be very much needed!

The land changes, too. Properties are bought and sold. Some land is developed and the landscape changes for the wild creatures inhabiting it. Some land is scarred for a season or two, and then is sometimes reclaimed to bring it back in line with the needs of animals. Food plots are constructed and some land is reverted back into wild habitat. Some species bounce back to amazing numbers while others are at risk of being lost forever.

Yes, some things are changing and some things remain the same.

Today I am posting an image of a Pennsylvania elk I captured years ago on our property in Elk County. It depicts the majestic elk in the foreground with a cross standing at attention in the background. It seems, to me at least, to show the connection between different times or eras. And in both times there needed to be a voice to share the important news with the people. The brutal crucifixion of Jesus and his miraculous resurrection as good news to be sure! Ever since, the cross has represented those events and still speaks volumes today in a voice of grace. In a different way, the animals in nature need to have a voice, too. They cannot speak with human words but their amazing existence and their continuing needs also yearn for a voice to be heard.

I am just a photographer trying to give voice to the creatures I love and enjoy seeing in the wild around me. Perhaps these photographs will help to at least give a voice of awareness to these beautiful creatures. After all, while some things are changing, at least one thing remains the same–the beautiful wild creatures need to be seen and heard!

Small Bull in the Snow

On my last day of my recent two-week vacation, I found three small bulls hanging out together. As is typical, I saw them as I was beginning my drive home, but I had my camera and tripod at the ready so I could take a few minutes to snap a few photos.

I like photos of the elk in the snow because it really brings out the contrast in the hide of these majestic animals. This bachelor group was just beyond Medix Run on the Quehanna Highway. They were a little nervous about my presence at first, but as usual eventually warmed up to my presence and accepted me taking their photographs.

This bull was the biggest of the three, as the other two were just spikes. But they will all be bigger next year!

Bull 2D

We saw this bull several times during the rut this year. He is magnificent in many ways. Just look at his antlers!

As a photographer I would prefer him not having that collar around his neck. It just seems far too distracting to me and I don’t even have to wear it! I understand,  however, that it helps the Pennsylvania Game Commission track the elk and assist in the herd size estimations. I further realize that I could spend the time in Photoshop to carefully remove the collar from the photograph, but I am far too influenced by my college training in journalism to feel right about doing that. So, I resort to documenting these elk just as they are–collars and all. After all, part of our joy of photography also serves as a type  of documentation of the elk herd here in Pennsylvania.

I like this image for several reasons. The bright blue sky provides an awesome background, as I mentioned yesterday. I also like how the bull appears to stand out and almost pop off the screen. Those antler aren’t bad either. And, to a degree, I even like that I can readily read the number and letter “2D” on this bull’s collar. It clearly shows exactly which bull this is among the herd.

What do you think about all this?

What a Blue Sky!

I was driving up onto the top of Winslow Hill looking for elk as is my typical routine. This time the elk were not close by, but I spotted a sizable herd on the side of the Saddle. There was only one option in my mind–drive to the bottom of Dewey Road past the Gilbert Farm, park my truck in the lot, and hike up to photograph these magnificent creatures!

So that’s exactly what I did. I even remember thinking to myself, “should I come in above them or from below?” Then it hit me. The sky was a brilliant blue and the words of Lennie Lee Rue III came crashing into my head: “Whenever possible, try to “skyline” an animal. Photographs of an animal standing on the top of a hill against a bright blue sky have tremendous impact.” (How to Photograph Animals in the Wild, Dr. Leonard Lee Rue III and Len Rue, Jr., p. 128-129)

I made this decision quickly and found myself making my way steadily in the direction of where I knew the elk herd was located. Before long I saw the body of a bull elk with his antlers protruding into the bright blue sky! I was in the right location and just needed to be sure not to frighten the elk. I knew there were plenty of other elk just over the ridge, but this one had my full attention!

I believe this photograph is one example of Lennie Lee Rue III’s rule #5 from his “Tips on Wildlife Photography.” Thank you, Dr. Rue, for your inspiration and for teaching me this wonderful photographic rule.

What do you think of this photograph?

Sometimes the Tail Makes the Photo

As I mentioned in my previous posts, this bull was munching on the berries of this bush. I stuck around to watch him eat his supper and got several different poses and angles of this same bull. The background was nice and the red berries make for some nice contrast.

However, in this photo I tend to think the tail makes the photograph. I like all different portraits of these beautiful animals and their hindquarters are certainly unique. Their contrasting posterior makes for some interesting photos to say the least! Here the small tail of the big bull provides a touch of humility and even a little humor to this pose.

The bull was busy eating berries but he never lost sight or forgot what was behind him–his tail and this silly photographer.

Bull Elk Portrait

I just love photographing the elk here in Pennsylvania. No matter how many times I get out in a given year, I still cannot wait to head to the mountains of Elk County to do it all over again. One would think that after so many years of photographing the elk there wouldn’t be any more shots to get. Nothing could be further from the truth! First of all, there are always new elk making their impressions on the scene. Secondly, elk are as unpredictable as any other wildlife species, so I sometimes see things I’ve never photographed before and these are now on my list. The possibilities are just endless!

My favorite photographs are typically the action shots. Photographs of two bulls locking antlers, elk crossing the creek, or two cows boxing  are just a few of these types of action shots. My second favorite photograph of the elk are what I call portraits. They depict the elk in their natural habitat and show a pose of the elk. I try to get a highlight or catch-light in the eye closest to the camera and try my best to portray the elk as best as possible.

Here is one such elk portrait in today’s post. Do you think I captured a decent portrait of this bull elk?

Why did the elk cross the road?

To get to the other side where the acorns were!

I watched this small bull cross the road, debark a tree, and then eat one acorn after the other. If you’ve been out in the woods lately, you know there is a banner crop of acorns this year. They are all over the forest floor! Well, this bull wasted no time and devoured as many acorns as he could find. Then, once he had his fill, he laid down and chewed his cud. Ahhh, the life of a bull elk in the rut!

This bull put on a show for me after he crossed the road. Yep, he crossed the road to get to the other side where the acorns were located!