Wednesday, October 21, 2015

To Elk Country Again

Returned to Pennsylvania’s elk range several times during the rut, which usually begins in early to mid-September and ends about a month later in mid-October. On the drive out I was able to photograph a bull elk fording Sinnemahoning Creek –

The most reliable and favorite place for most people to see elk has been on Winslow Hill, a spot that had once been an area of small farms, was then extensively strip-mined for coal and where some of the old farms have more recently been subdivided and developed for hunting camps. Much of the of the surrounding land has been state forest land for many decades and many of the old farms and mined land have been acquired by the Pennsylvania Game Commission, reclaimed and managed for elk habitat. 

But, recent tourist-oriented developments by both the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and the Game Commission have also markedly changed Winslow Hill. DCNR was the lead on creating the Elk Country Visitors Center – a grandiose edifice –

And the Game Commission created a parking lot and viewing area –

The viewing area offers a distant view of “The Saddle”, one of the reclaimed strip mines –

The large grasslands on and around The Saddle have been an area frequented by both some very large bulls and those seeking to photograph them. This year, the only large bull elk that I saw at The Saddle was a bull with a broken tine that loomed out of the fog one morning, and was still nearby just before sunset that evening –

There were other fairly large bulls on Winslow Hill, but most kept far from the hordes of visitors.

Toward the end of the rut, one of those bulls had a small band of cows.

Several of the cows were lying down and were repeatedly approached by the amorous bull. Whenever he approached one, she would extend her neck and lay her head on the ground. The bull would then stroke her back with his chin and neck – all to no avail since by the end of the rut virtually all of the cows would have already been bred.
It was good to see the elk on Winslow Hill, but disappointing not to see any of the really large mature bulls that had frequented the area in years past. Where were the big bulls? Killed during the last hunting season? Someplace else where more nutritious or more abundant food was available? While some elk become so habituated to humans that they're less skittish than many beef cattle, others seem to have the opposite reaction. Perhaps the big bulls were elsewhere because of disturbance from all the tourist activity.


eileeninmd said...

Wonderful post on the elks. The video is cool, I love to hear the elk. The last shot two shots are great! Thank you for linking up and sharing your post. Have a happy weekend!

Joyful said...

Too bad there weren't a lot of elks to be seen but the ones you did see are beautiful. I've only had the pleasure once and it was inspiring to see how large and how majestic it was.

Willard said...

An excellent post, Woody.

I don't know the answer to the question you raised. Now most of the large bulls are being killed in the Quehanna/Karthaus area, and I think this is at least to a certain extent because they have gotten too efficient at killing the big bulls from the Gray Hill--Weedville Area that travel to Winslow Hill for the rut and it is hard for one to survive to get to the 400 class in that area. I think the food situation was at least part of the reason we did not see a lot of elk in The Saddle this year. It will be interesting to see how the next few years shake out.