I set a goal last October that I never fulfilled. I wanted to spend a weekend, in the dead of winter, in a bed & breakfast or hotel in the mountains around Benezette, Pennsylvania elk country. I've photographed elk in every season except winter, when they dawn their winter coats. Between snowstorms and just plain being busy, the weekend never happened.
Last Saturday, my wife and I happened to be within 45 miles of Benezette so we visited for a few hours. We only saw two bulls this trip. The first was laying down on the hillside up in the woods. The setting didn't lend to a photograph worth posting. The second bull had a fairly large, typical rack. It was digging through the snow to whatever grasses it could find underneath. The snow was still quite heavy up there taking away most of the roadside berm so, without a place to pull my vehicle off the road, I missed that shot. Unfortunately, that was the last bull we would see that day. No worries, it was still an enjoyable trip and memories were made.
Below is a cow elk found on the site of the old Gilbert farm homestead off Dewey Road. The grasses she was eating didn't look very nutritious but during this long, snowy winter, it helps her to survive.
PA Elk (cow)
I believe this elk is experiencing its first winter, one of the hardest we've had in a long time. If it survives, it may be the hardest winter it endures in its entire lifetime. It was searching the shrubbery for something good to eat but walked away without taking a nibble.
PA Elk First Year Calf
I imagine this Barred Owl has had more success eating this winter. All the small tracks in the snow tells me it is sitting in the right spot to catch its dinner. The Barred Owl has relatively weak talons limiting its prey to small mammals such as mice, voles, and squirrels. It also takes amphibians, small birds and even smaller owls.
The Barred Owl was fairly interested in me but not enough to leave its post. I would have liked to get some photos of its wingspan as it left its perch but we decided to continue on and leave it alone.
Once dusk hits in the mountains, it gets dark fairly quickly. It was a very serene feeling as the quiet of darkness fell and this herd of elk walked single file over the hilltop. It may feel untroubled to us but with winter continuing to engulf our landscape, these animals continue to fight for their survival.
Elk herd make walking easier by stepping in another elks path
Back at home, Sunday welcomed us with a snowstorm. Lucky for us, the main part of the storm tracked south so we only got about two or three inches of additional snow. I saw a male Red-bellied Woodpecker at one of the suet cakes I have hanging in a tree but wasn't prepared for the photo. I set up my Canon 5D Mk III and 300mm 2.8 lens at my dining room window and watched for him to return.
In the meantime, this White-breasted Nuthatch came in for some fat.
White-breasted Nuthatch (male)
I must have taken 200 photos of Northern Cardinals in the last year and each shot looks better than the last. So here we go again. This male Northern Cardinal looks quite content even with the snow falling all around him.
Northern Cardinal (male)
A female Northern Cardinal's colors aren't as striking as the male but is equally as beautiful.
Northern Cardinal (female)
Well, my Red-bellied Woodpecker never came back that day. Better luck next time, right?
Thanks for looking,