Velvet Be Gone!

This is an interesting time of the year for bull elk. Antler growth has occurred for some time now. The antlers, coated in velvet to provide nutrition for growth, are nearly done growing. The velvet that was so vital to their growth is now just in the way. It is starting to peel and fall off the antler. From what I witnessed last week, it seemed to me that the bull’s experience some form of itchiness and some low-level but annoying experiences now with this velvet. They rub their antlers on trees and bushes, shake their head from side to side, and even try to use their back hoofs to scratch the velvet off their antlers!

The breeding season is only about a month away, so eating and gaining strength and energy are critical if a bull expects to be in the running for a harem. Yes, this certainly is an interesting time of the year for the bulls.

Last week I captured two shots of bulls in this velvet shed. The first is a better photo in my opinion, but the bull is wearing a collar. This is not uncommon and the Pennsylvania Game Commission often uses collar transmitters to track elk and learn more about their behavior. It is a great tool for the biologists, but not so attractive in a photograph. My son has a great perspective on this that I definitely agree with. He says, get over it dad, it’s part of the story of the elk, so let the collar be seen. Okay, but it could have been such a great, breath-taking photograph…. okay, calm down, listen to my son’s logic. This is part of the elk story. Get over it.

I am so glad that we have elk in Pennsylvania. I am witness to the habitat improvement that not only supports the elk in our state, but many other wildlife species as well! On our property up on Winslow Hill we routinely and regularly see deer, rabbits, turkey, and grouse. We also see an occasional black bear or coyote, and much more! This careful and calculated protection of the land is vital for the survival of the elk herd and also supports all kinds of wildlife.

The elk are amazing animals. I can literally sit and watch an elk, even a cow, for hours. Some people only get excited about the big bulls, but I don’t care if it’s a bull, a calf, or a cow; they’re all fascinating and beautiful to me!

Here are two photos of the elk as they are beginning to shed their velvet. Look at the antler growth of these tremendous bulls and notice the velvet hanging down from their antlers. The first one is wearing a collar, but remember, this is part of the elk story. The second one looks a little more wild, and he was the one who I watched as he tried to scratch his antler with his hind hoof. I imagined it was an itchy experience and the big ole’ bull was thinking, “Velvet be gone!”

The Small Ones Attract Attention

I was fortunate last week to spend some time in the mountains photographing the Pennsylvania elk with my son, James. We had a limited time and it rained much of the time. I took 1,122 photos and was pleased with 72 of them. Not too bad considering the lousy weather conditions. We got lucky getting onto elk early and often. By all standards it was a great trip!

I returned home and created a slide show of my 10 best photos to share on the website. I put that link in my previous blog entry 3 days ago. I received many encouraging and positive comments about these photos, but the amazing thing to me was just how much attention the photos of the elk calves received. It was truly amazing to me! Now, don’t get me wrong, I like the little ones, too, but I just didn’t expect these photos to draw so much attention over the others. There seems to be something special about these small ones.

Similar to our human experience, these little elk grow up fast! They still have their spots in August, but that will change rather quickly and they are already much bigger than when they were first-born two months ago. Time definitely has a way of marching on quickly!

Here are three photos of elk calves that I was able to capture last week. I can already hear some folk saying, “Ahhh, aren’t they so cute?” Yep, the small ones do attract attention!