The Whites of Their Eyes

Animal behavior shows a lot about their comfort level. If they are feeding, for example, this shows they are relaxed and not too worried about any impending danger. But most animals reveal specific behavioral signs that indicate when they are not happy. This bull is showing the whites of his eyes–a sign that he is not overly satisfied with me at the moment. I might be in his way to greener pastures, I might be too close to him, or I might be viewed as just in his way for whatever reason. The whites in his eyes show that is not relaxed.

Similarly, this cow is busy eating some grass, but her eyes show that is worried about something. At the very least, she is keeping a keen eye out for any sign of trouble.

We can photograph our subjects better when we learn more about them. It doesn’t matter what subject we are photographing either. When we learn more about our subject we will be able to get better photographs. So the next time you are out with your camera pay close attention to your subject. What do you see? Are there any signs that is putting your subject at ease? Or are there signs that indicate something is wrong.

Be patient, work slow, and pay attention to the animal’s behavior. It can tell us a lot!

Assateague Ponies

Wild Ponies. These two simple words conjure up all kinds of thoughts that can run wild in our imaginations. Ponies running wild and free!

Assateague Island is the home of several hundred wild ponies. I had the opportunity to photograph them this past January. I was first in Chincoteague where I enjoy bird photograph. Oh a few mammals do appear from time to time, but the ponies are usually seen from a distance at Chincoteague. At Assateague, on the other hand, these ponies can come right up to you and literally be an arm-length away!

This particular pony warmed up to me right away and approached me. The rules forbid petting or feeding the ponies, but I will confess it was tempting! I refrained from physically befriending this cute little pony but then he followed me as I was walking down the path to photograph another pony. I guess you could say he tugged at my heartstrings!

These wild ponies display a variety of colors. This one is a paint–a reference to how it looks like God just used different colors of paint when creating these wonderful creatures! This pony was not as quite as bold as the first one, but it did warm up to me after a little time. Trust is not always easy for wild animals, which is why we photographers and wildlife viewers need to respect these animals and never give them a reason to distrust us. We have a big responsibility here and when we heed these high standards we not only get the opportunity to view or photograph these animals again, but we also allow future generations to do the same!

Interestingly, there are some small fresh water ponds on the island. They fill up with rainwater and provide drink for the ponies. They eat on the local grasses, which you can see hanging out of this pony’s mouth.

If you get a chance to visit Assateague, I highly recommend it. I know I will be going back again sometime soon myself. I just cannot get enough of these beautiful wild ponies!

 

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!

Eat Up!

Female cows are getting ready for the upcoming rut, too. This results in a tremendous amount of eating!

Last week we saw a cow feeding right alongside the road. She was content to keep eating even as we slowed down and brought our truck to a stop. Remembering how Lennie Rue talks about using your vehicle as a blind, we stayed in our truck. The cow was on my driver’s side, so all I had to do was roll my window down and start shooting. My¬† son, James, rolled his window down and slowly sat up on top of the window opening and shot over the roof of the truck. And all the while, the cow just kept on eating. These two photographs show in detail the eating process and the content of what she was eating, too!

Cows and bulls both are getting ready for the rut. They will expend a lot of energy during the breeding season so they need to eat up now! They are eating and will be ready for the rut. Will you be ready to photograph them?

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!”

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

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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Elk in Distress Rescued by Pennsylvania Game Commission

Thursday morning on August 20, 2009 found this Pennsylvania bull elk in severe distress as it was caught up in a swing in the old school grounds of Benezette, PA. Brad & Shane Myers found this bull in distress and reported what they found immediately to the Pennsylvania Game Commission. They will be posting amazing photographs on their blog. Willard Hill and Tom Murphy were also there to record the elk rescue with their video cameras. I am sure that more detailed photos and video footage will be forthcoming, but I wanted to share a few of the photographs I captured during this transition from elk distress to rescue.

My son, James, and I happened onto the scene just as the Wildlife Conservation Officers were tranquilizing the bull. We could see that his antlers were hung up in two swings and he was in obvious distress. The following photographs tell the story of what we witnessed as this stressful situation was handled with professionalism and obvious expertise.

Bull with tranqualizer in hindquarter

Bull with tranqualizer in hindquarter

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Bull's antlers hung up in swings

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Freeing the bull from the tangle of swings

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Free at last

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Removing the broken antler

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Checking the bull's heart rate

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Willard Hill and Tom Murphy videographing the rescue

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Removing the tranquilizer

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Inspecting the tranquilizer

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Checking the time into the rescue attempt

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Administering the antidote

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Caring for the patient

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Beginning to wake up

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First steps to recovery

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Running from distress to relief

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Wondering what happened

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Some scars from distress, but relief at last!

Elk County Wildlife

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My son, James, and I just returned from our treasured spot in beautiful Elk County. James is in-between baseball seasons, so this was an opportune time for us to journey to the mountains in search of wildlife. We were not disappointed. Within the first hour we saw a mother bear with three cubs! We later saw a hawk and then a small heard of elk!

Over a short period of about 48 hours, we saw a lot of wildlife. And while the elk viewing was skimpy, the other wildlife species we did see more than made up for it. For example, just today we saw 44 turkey!

I still have quite a few photographs to sort through, but I wanted to post this one of the hawk we saw on Wednesday evening. I will share more of our Elk County wildlife experiences tomorrow.

Focus

Autofocus is a feature that many of us take for granted. Today’s cameras can capture the action and focus even on moving objects extremely well. I cut my photographic teeth back in the old film days when autofocus wasn’t even available. I was thrilled when it first came out and I am an even bigger fan of it now with the current digital cameras. My Nikon D300, for example, has fantastic autofocus accuracy.

Some photographers look at a photograph and wonder why their main subject or the subject they were trying to focus on is not in focus. Several contributing factors could be the culprit in this situation. One possibility is that the camera’s autofocus may have tracked on to a different subject in the frame. One of the problems I used to see happen frequently was in composing a photograph. The photographer focuses on a subject but then wants to re-position the frame for a more pleasing composition. If the shutter release is not kept pressed down halfway, the camera may re-focus on a different subject.

This is why I like to use separate buttons for focusing and exposure instead of having the shutter release do both. A simple change in the camera’s menu can set this up properly. On my D300 I use one of the buttons on the back of the camera as the focusing button. The shutter release still sets the exposure. I like this because I can focus in on a subject by pressing the back button. When I release this button the focus stays locked on that subject. I can then re-position the frame to get the composition I want. Of course I only release the back button if the subject remains still. If not, I can keep the button pressed, track the subject, and keep it in focus.

Separating the focus and exposure by using two different buttons can take some time to get used to. I recommend trying this on a free day when you do not have an important photography shoot planned. Just experiment with it but stick with it at least for one full day. Eventually you will get the hang of it and the technique will become second nature.

How I Photograph the Pennsylvania Elk

Tonight I was privileged to give a presentation at the Pocono Photo Club. My title was “How I Photograph the Pennsylvania Elk.” It was a wonderful time for me to share how I find and photograph the elk of PA. Some people aren’t even aware that is an elk herd here in our state.

I am fortunate to have a camp in the midst of the elk range and we often have elk in our yard! I thoroughly enjoy getting out to photograph the elk in their natural habitat. My good friend, Dick McCreight, and I lead photo trips called the “Pennsylvania Elk Photography Experience.” These photo trips include meals and lodging, 3 photo workshops, and plenty of opportunities to get out and photograph the elk in all their beauty. It is a great experience; hence the name!

Tonight I shared some of my photographs of the elk and how I go about photographing the elk. It is a passion for me and I always enjoy sharing this photo passion with others. You can find out more about our PA elk photo trips here.

I want to thank the Pocono Photo Club for giving me the opportunity to share my photo passion.