In my July 9th blog post named "A Summer Day In Benezette, PA", I chronicled my second visit this summer to Benezette, PA without photographing an elk. I decided one more trip was in order before I returned for the rut in September. This time, I did get to photograph one of the elusive, summer, bull, bachelor groups. Rather than starting this blog with elk photos, I decided to document my day in Benezette, Elk County from the beginning, because, even without elk, there is not a bad day in Elk County, PA.
I've had conversations with other photographers about early morning visits to Benezette and they've all reported fog making photography difficult. In light of that, I decided to arrive in Benezette in the late morning and stay until evening. I arrived on Winslow Hill about 9:30 a.m. because my plans were to photograph birds in the afternoon and, after dinner, search for bull elk.
My first stop was "the saddle". If you're unfamiliar with the area known as "the saddle", refer back to "A Summer Day In Benezette, PA" mentioned above. It was a bright, sunny, breezy day and, other than hundreds of Tree Swallows, a few sparrows and goldfinch, I didn't see many other birds up there. A few Eastern Meadowlarks were singing but they didn't come very close to me. Below is a photo taken from about 75 yards away. The wind was blowing pretty hard on the hilltop making most of my photos a bit blurry. This is the only photo that was decent enough to share.
After getting a quick lunch, I headed to the Hicks Run elk viewing area. It is classified as an important bird area in the Benezette area. I wanted to point out the habitat in the photo below. The combination of the tall pine trees and their thin canopy allowing the sun to shine to the ground allowing low vegetation to grow, provides excellent places to find insects. Of course, I wasn't looking for insects. I was looking for the birds that were looking for insects.
In these surroundings, if you wait long enough you will see several little birds.
A male Common Yellowthroat poses with a worm in his mouth.
This female Common Yellowthroat made her own catch. Interestingly, the male and female Common Yellowthroats continuously communicated by chirping while they flew from tree to tree and limb to limb. They held the same insect in their mouth for several minutes before eating them.
Of course, you can't overlook the Brown Creeper. Or can you? Unless you catch them circling the tree, they are camouflaged very well against the bark.
I have seen several Indigo Buntings this year. It's been a good year! I missed some shots of the male feeding the female Indigo Bunting. As if they knew I was watching, each feeding took place behind dense branches.
This photo is the area along the path entering and exiting the Hicks Run viewing area. You can see how the dense branches and leaves can make it tough to photograph the little birds flying in and out of it. Isn't the scenery peaceful?
Here is a parting shot I took of an Eastern Phoebe sitting on some dead pine branches at the edge of the woods.
Below is the first bull elk I saw on this day. He's just a young guy that will probably end up a spike this year. The photo was made at an awkward angle as I photographed him from the window of my vehicle as he fed several feet below the road.
This bull drew a lot of attention but not because of it's size. Sometimes the tines of an elk's antlers can be damaged when they are growing but these antlers are growing at an awkward angle. I asked wildlife photographer, Willard Hill, what causes this. Willard is very knowledgeable about Elk and White-tailed Deer. He said he believes it's hereditary. He also said this is an extreme case.
In just a month these bull elk will be fighting each other while guarding their harem of cow elk. However, during the summer, prior to the rut, they run together in what are called "bachelor groups".
It was beginning to get dark when I saw a bachelor group consisting of seven bull elk. Some were deep in the shadows so I didn't get sharp images of all of them. Photographing deer or elk in the summer is difficult because when the weather is quite warm, they don't come out of the woods until near nightfall. Those of you who haven't been to Benezette, I will tell you that many opportunities to see and photograph elk are, unfortunately, in people's yards. As a wildlife photographer, I'd like to photograph everything in a wild habitat. It makes the photograph better. But that doesn't always happen.
It looks like I could reach out and touch these animals but I assure you, my camera lens make it look that way. If you are fortunate enough to visit elk country, please don't assume they are tame because they don't run from you. They are dangerous animals reaching up to 1000 pounds and can run up to 30 miles per hour for short periods. Don't go near them!!!
The sun was setting fast as I found myself back up on Winslow Hill. I was looking for some sunset shots before going home but the atmosphere didn't cooperate. Maybe next time. The empty fields off Dewey Road began to fill with cow elk and their calves. Below is one of this years' calves as it fed in the clover.
This cow elk and her calf just came out of the woods. While mom was interested in the elk that was following them, her calf seemed to be interested in the elk, already on the hill, that came up from the other side.
I don't know if I conveyed the "great time" I had that day but getting out with nature, camera or not, is one of the most enjoyable experiences you can have.
That was my last visit to Elk County until I go back to photograph the rut in September.
Until next time,