On the backroads deep in the woods of the Southern Tier of New York State, I have been discovering a number of Barred Owls. It seems that every back road I drive down I can get a Barred Owl or two to come out to the roadway and allow the opportunity to observe and photograph them.
The Barred Owl (Strix varia) is a large typical owl native to North America. Best known as the hoot owl for its distinctive call, which says” Who cooks for you, who cooks for you all” which is a typical sound of the forests and treed swamps. However, if you are not looking carefully for the owl as it comes in, it will pass completely unnoticed as it flies noiselessly through the dense canopy landing on a limb and watching your every move. I was looking for movement from an owl that was calling to me and paid no attention but to the sound he was making when I turned around a Barred Owl was right above me watching everything I was doing. He flew in silently making no noise when he landed.
The Barred Owl is one of the most beautiful of the owls, with soulful brown, almost black, piercing eyes and brown-and-white-striped plumage, and that round head give the Barred Owl its unique look.
Barred Owls live and sleep quietly in large, mature forests made up of both deciduous trees and evergreens, often near water. They nest in tree cavities. At night they hunt small animals, especially rodents. At times they can occasionally be heard calling in daylight hours. When you are out and you hear that classic call, “Who cook for you”, you want to go investigate because you have the ability, as long as they are talking, to locate them.
The Barred Owl also has distinct interaction call where the two owls have gotten together. The Interaction call is very loud and called Caterwauling. When the pair of owls joins up in the same tree or nearby, the two owls call to each other, it seems as if the owls are trying to outdo each other, it is so distinct that you cannot miss it. It goes on for quite some time, if you hear that you know that they are together.
I have lived in the town Candor for over fifty years, I have hunted, fished and walked through the woods on many occasions and have never heard or even saw an owl. Back in those days, there were more farms and the use of DDT was prevalent. The widespread use of DDT almost wiped out many birds of prey.
However, the summer of 2016 changed for me as I saw several Barred Owl and One Great Horned Owl. I typically drive slowly down the back roads throughout the area, where there is a dense forest. I call periodically for the Barred Owls with my cell phone and a blue tooth speaker. I bought an App for my cell phone called iBird 7.2 pro, an interactive field guide to birds of North America. The app has birding ID as well as sounds. This made locating the owls much easier.
I drive down the roads I frequently stop, listen and make a sort two–phrase hoot call “Who cooks for you, who cook for you all” and listen attentively. Sometimes you can hear them calling way off deep in the forest. I make a few more calls and carefully observe the area, as they will come in silent. When an owl comes in he usually passes over and lands nearby and starts calling back to you. At times, a second owl will come in to the first one and the woods come alive with caterwauling calling as the owls go into their interaction call.
My first encounter with a Barred Owl came as drove slowly down the road. I noticed a steep side hill with a stand of thick hemlocks on one side of the road and deciduous on the other. It looked like an owl so I made a call; to my surprise I heard hooting off in the distance and I was very amazed that I heard an owl in NY State.
As I moved down the road the woods changed into a mixed deciduous and confers. I stopped, made a short call and there was an owl flying across the road directly in front of me. I quickly stepped out and took photos of him. In all my years living in NY, this was the first owl I ever saw.
Now that I had located and photographed a barred owl, I would take the opportunity to find more owls. I go out and travel the back roads, listening for that distinct call of the Barred Owl. I have at least 15 different Barred Owls come in from the distant woods to the road investigating the owl call.
Just recently, I learned they are territorial. I stopped on one of the back roads and made a short call and immediately one flew down out of a tree, came right at the car as a confrontation to the other owl calling from my speaker, then up into the tree, and started calling. I slowly got out of the car and found him perched just above me on a branch. On another occasion, another Barred Owl did the same thing, flew straight up above me, and stared down looking for the intruder. Once they come in they have tendency to stay around and call. I call back and they will move but always nearby.
It has been hot and dry this summer and on hot days the owls are not active they remain silent and sleep all day until the coolness of the evening, you can call for a long time and you not going to hear a peep. However, since then we have had some rain and cooler nights, the owls are more active.
It has been a great summer for the Barred Owls; they seem to be thriving, finding plenty of food and water and seem to be multiplying. It is encouraging for me as a photographer to see the number of barred Owls I have found in the area. I learned a lot this summer observing and photographing the Barred Owls, how they react to each other, how they react to people, where they live, making it a remarkable and pleasurable place to go capture some beauties of nature, “Barred Owls of the New York Woods”.
Located in the Great Smokey Mountain National Park (GSMNP) is a lush valley named Cades Cove. The Valley is surrounded by scenic wooded mountains and is home to a variety of animals, Birds, and plants. One of the animals is the Black Bear. There are many black bears throughout the park, but one caught my eye this year. Hazel, as the locals call her, had four cubs this spring. The first time I saw her and her four cubs was in a field. She was by herself at the edge of the field near the woods. I was not sure if this was the black bear with the four cubs that we were hearing about. Then one small two-week-old cub, then the second one came out of the woods and joined mom in the field. I grabbed the binoculars and watched the two cubs with their mom for a while then I noticed movement in the woods and saw two more cubs, now we knew the bear was Hazel. It was not long and the other two cub joined mom in the field and starting moving across the field along the edge of the woods. Every few minutes they would stop and eat things in the field. After crossing the field and climbing up a knoll, Hazel noticed a log, went right to it, and rolled it over for the cubs to get at the food that was underneath. After sometime, Hazel decided to move back away from the knoll and down across the field going by a tree. As she neared the tree two cubs, where up in it almost instantly. After passing by the tree, she took the four cubs, went into the woods, and disappeared from view. I imagined that she was going to nurse the cubs after feeding in the field.
Back the next day at roughly the same time as the day before. Glassing the field and into the woods I see her, and the cubs, roughly 60 yards into the woods. They are going back and forth not really waiting to come out of the woods. I believe she was showing them how to roll over logs and rocks to find food. She and the cubs continued to assault everything worth checking out for a meal for quite some time then she decided to head diagonally up the hill. I saw my chance and moved up on the hill, gathered my camera gear and headed out to meet the bear coming to me. As I eased out the trail moving slowly so as not to alarm her and cubs I was dumbfounded as I found no bear moving through the woods. I stopped and scanned the woods nope no bear. I said to myself “where did she go, I could not have missed her”. I stayed put, waiting for her to come up, but no sign. While I was stopped and scanning I saw movement and noticed some people where i n the woods as well. I decided to go up to where the other people where and see if they saw the bear. As I started moving up the trail, I noticed Hazel between some large trees lying down. I moved on up the trail to where the others were.
They she was, bedded down with her cub’s right under her. I assumed she was nursing. I setup my gear and started taking photographs of her and wishing I could get a few good cub shots. Every occasionally she would move around, raise her head to sniff the air, turn her head around but she did not rise up. Hazel was really quite tolerant of us humans being there as we were 50 yards from as the rules require.
After a few minute she rose and a cub climbed right up and over her paw to get some more nursing down. Then another cub popped up between mom legs. Then suddenly, she leaned back against the tree threw her head back and I could see the cubs feeding. She then turned her head toward me and then further to the right, staying in the sitting up position nursing the cubs. After a few minutes, she lay back down and I could not see the cubs then one would pop up and try to work under her for more milk.
See went back down on all fours and stated to leave the spot, after she was moving off three of the four cubs jumped up on the tree looking to see where she had gone. They dropped back down and off the tree, the fourth cub jumped up on the tree and got a little higher to where the other had gone. Once he located down he came and away they went.
It was one of those days that you will always remember and be thankful for. I got the opportunity to photograph Hazel and her cubs in their natural environment undertaking something natural as nursing.
I am a self-Taught Professional Photographer and writer. I have been doing photography for more than 40 years. My specialty is nature and wildlife. In the winter months, I photograph nature and wildlife throughout Florida. In the summer months, I photograph nature and wildlife throughout upstate New York. In between, we have yearly stops at the Great Smokey Mountains National Park.
As you age, you want to take life a little easier so I have altered myself to using my vehicle as Photography Blind.
I use my vehicle as a moveable or mobile wildlife photo blind. It allows the luxury of sitting in a seat, relaxing and being comfortable. The key word is comfortable, I have been out in the woods with no seat cuddled up under a tree freezing and trying to stay warm while waiting for a subject to come by, it just isn’t comfortable.
The vehicle takes you to another level when using it for photography. The birds and wildlife have become accustomed to the many vehicles there are on the roads today. So they tend to be more passive around vehicles then seeing a person on foot, which allows you to get much closer to your target. I use a specialized Beanbag to support my camera lens. My beanbag, packed with sunflower seeds and it holds the camera lens rock solid. The beanbag, is made so it lies through the window opening, providing a very stable platform. When I get to an area that looks like a potential hotspot, I get out the beanbag and lay it through the window, lay my camera lens on it and slowly drive ahead until I spot a subject. I then adjust the camera lens and take the photo. Sometimes shooting from a window limits the angle of the shot; you can solve that issue by rolling up the window slightly or get creative with the angle of the vehicle. It also helps if your outside mirrors can fold out of your way. Take the Loop Road everyone pokes their camera out the window to get shots of the wildlife and that is great, but I am looking for an extremely sharp photo. Therefore, as I drive down the loop road I will use a pull off and shut the vehicle down to get the photo I am looking for. Sometime it costs me when I want to get going again.
My vehicle is reasonably silent and I can almost sneak up on some of the subjects. I would not recommend a loud diesel vehicle they are just too noisy. You want a vehicle to be as quiet as possible to be effective. Noise scares everything away. I was driving slowly along a backroad and drove right up on some grouse that were feeding. Many times, I have driven very slowly just creeping along just to get closer to birds and other wildlife near the roads.
I always bring my tripod and blind in case there is a need to disappear and really checkout an area. You can cover the window opening with some see through camo material. You open the door, insert the excess material around the doorframe, and shut the door. This gives a little extra hiding capability if you’re working a very spooky subject such as coyote or a deer. You cut a slit into the material for the camera lens
When you come up on a subject, you want to turn off the vehicle. The engine causes vibration, which can have an effect on your photos making look soft or even out of focus, something you do not want. If effects the long lens most of all.
Depending on the weather, you will want to dress appropriately, as the windows will be open. It can get chilly in the vehicle. I sometimes turn on the heater or AC and let it run to keep me comfortable. In the cooler months, I dress in long sleeve camo shirt, shorts and wear a camo hat, to help with detection.
With the windows down, it invites a variety of insects to enter the vehicle causing you discomfort, so always have a handy can of insect repellent.
Speaking of the weather if it is hot and muggy and your equipment has been inside the house with the AC on; you want to place it in the garage or some other area to ensure you have no fogging when you find a subject. You can also be shooting in the cold freezing air and take the camera lens inside, you should place it in a large plastic bag and let it come up to temperature slowly. I have been in my vehicle parked on some subjects only to find my lens and camera fogged up causing a lot of grief and no shots of a subject I wanted.
Any type of vehicle can be effective as a blind, from a small car to trucks are effective. I had a truck, which I used the back as a stationary platform to set up my blind when I found an active Great Horned Owls Nest. Once you have entered a hotspot and are getting some photos, you never want to open or crack the door or the subject will flush and disappear. If you see others taking photos do not leave your car as it will create animosity and enemies as you will probably flush what they were shooting.
Using this technique, could reward you with a photograph of a subject such as this Great Horned Owl.
This article is about my adventure to the Smoky Mountains, to photograph Black Bear in a springtime setting. The Smokey Mountains in the spring is a wonder of green color and excitement as new animals begin their lives and year olds or yearlings have become solitary. While in Cades Cove we found several black bears feeding on grasses and leaves. They are such a beautiful animal, but they can be dangerous. In the Cades Cove area the bears have become used to the thousands of visitors that come through looking at them so they tolerate humans. But caution is advised when you see a female with cubs, they can get nasty.
Note: All the photographs you see are shot with a Canon EOS 6 or an EOS 7D and a Canon EF500L IS lens with a 1.4 Extender attached and a 28-135 zoom lens. The photos were processed with Lightroom 5.4. I shot most of the photos in autofocus at ISO 400 in Program Mode in order to get the shutter speed need to capture well focused photos. Some photos were shot out of the car window and others were shot from a steady tripod. The long lens allows you to remain in the parks safety rules of 150 feet of the wildlife.
I am a self-taught photographer living in Beverly Hills, Florida, I am a nature and wildlife photographer and an ex hunter. Having been raised in the country of upstate New York I have had many opportunities to observe and learn wildlife signs and their habits. Therefore I possess an understanding of the animals and the dangers they can be. I always have an eye out for the unexpected. I have spent many patient hours spent in the field, exploring, absorbing, seeing and figuring out the world around me to be able to get an outstanding image. On most outings everything comes together, the shutter speed, the exposure, The Focus and composition to bring home impressive images, on other hand there are times when nothing seems to work, you missed the focus or a bad exposure. However, I enjoy every minute of the outdoors whether it’s in the wilderness or a city park, regardless of my photographic success.
Cades Cove is a spectacular valley in the Tennessee section of the Great Smoky Mountains. It is a flat valley surrounded by mountains and ridges. It features well preserved homesteads, scenic mountain views, and abundant display of wildlife. The cove draws attention for numerous black bear sightings, the reason we decided to make the nine hour trip to Cades cove.
The access to the Cades Cove is the 11 mile, one way Cades Cove loop road. The road features pullouts, and parking areas to alleviate traffic buildups. It is used by pedestrians and bicyclist as well as cars so caution should be advised. However when a bear, deer or other wildlife presents itself, Traffic jams are present, in case of a Bear it would be a Bear jam. A Bear Jam is similar to a traffic jam except there is a bear involved. When the travelers along the loop road see a bear close by they slow down, some pull over, some stop in the road causing a tremendous backup of cars. Normally when that happens the Park volunteers rush out to the site and direct traffic.
After seeing numerous photos of the Cades Cove black bears some with cubs on my friends Facebook pages, I had to go to capture some of my own photos.
Our journey began on Monday May 12, 2014 with a nine-hour uneventful trip to Gatlinburg Tennessee arriving late in the afternoon. After checking in we took a quick trip to the Roaring Fork Motor trail a 6-mile-long, one-way, loop road as a side trip do to the lateness of the day as it is a 26 mile tip from Gatlinburg to Cades cove.
Rising early on Tuesday May 13, 2014 we entered the valley early in the morning when most of the wildlife is active. We started down the one-way loop road, we starting seeing wildlife right away. There were some Wild turkey’s strutting hens in the horse pasture. A simple pull over and shoot out of the window.
Driving on down the loop road, we were seeing some wildlife in the fields and meadows, when suddenly we ran into a Bear Jam. The cars were stopped and people and photographers were gathering at the site of a mother bear feeding with some new born cubs. I immediately jumped out of the car grabbed my tripod and camera gear and headed to a spot where I could photograph her and hopefully the cubs. Photographing the bear was tough as the grasses and weeds were very tall hiding her face. However I was able to get a couple of good shots of her. However the cubs were not with her in the field. They were back in the woods. As the bear moved I was able to move with her as she blended back into the woods. Looking through the lens I was able to capture her climb a tree staring into the woods looking for her cubs. I captured her joining with the cubs and immediately moved deeper into the woods. Unfortunate I was not able to get the cubs in a good photo, only in a brief shot of them in the woods partially hidden by bushes. My camera was set on “P” at ISO 400, Autofocus and I let it do the work only changing the settings when the bear went into the woods. The Bear Jam dispersed and we continued driving the loop road uneventful eventually arriving at the start of the loop road.
The second trip down the loop we were seeing Wild Turkeys and deer in the fields a little far off to photograph, until we ran into another Bear Jam. This time there is a yearling black bear up in tree feeding on leaves. I grabbed my equipment and my tripod and took off leaving the car parked in a pull off. Once I got up to the bear I could see it was going to be another hard photo to capture as the bear was feeding on leaves out on a branch entirely covered with leaves making it very difficult to capture his face. At this point, you must remain patient and eventually he will eat the leaves and present his face in the opening he made after eating the leaves. I was able to get a few photos of his face partially exposed. After watching him eat leaves and getting a few photos on him, he decides to lie down on the branch and let his feet just hang down. The Bear Jam finally dispersed with him lying in the tree not moving. We went on around the loop and exited off on sparks lane. We were just creeping along looking for wildlife, when my wife shouted out there is a bear in the field, I took a quick look and saw a turkey but no bear, but she insisted that there was a bear. I pulled into a pullout and took my camera and lens and went into the small woods next to the field where she saw the bear. I still could not see the bear. I came back toward the car at a little higher elevation and I saw the bear. I studied the situation and figured I could sneak out of the little draw and approach the bear with my big lens and still be within the rules of engagement. I walked out of the small wood lot as stealthy as I could, approaching where I thought the bear would be. I kept moving very slowly in order not to spook the bear. I still could not see the bear. The grasses and weeds were deep and partially covered the bear making it impossible to see. I figured my only chance to photograph the bear was to see him before he saw me. As I slowly moved along in the direction I thought the bear was, I saw a sudden movement in the tall grass as the bear must have heard or smelled me and ran behind a thick clump of Blackberry bushes. I turned and moved along the opposite side of the bushes angling away. As I approached the end of the blackberry bramble, I saw a yearling black bear. He was just sitting there trying to figure out what that was that spooked him. I was able to get several shots of the bear looking at me, however the composition is still unfortunate as the grasses and weeds are just too high to eliminate. I moved a little to try to eliminate the grasses from the photo but it is impossible. The bear that was looking at me just suddenly turned and ignored me. I took the shots handholding the camera as I braced it with my arms against my chest and fortunate for me my lens has an image stablator built in allowing you to get better focused pictures. I would at this time state always use a steady tripod but I thought I would not have time so I went without it.
After returning to the car with my photos of the field bear, we headed across Sparks Lane to get back on the loop road. As we traveled on down the loop road we came back to where bear was in the tree and found a jam starting. I got out grabbing my tripod and equipment and went to see what was going on. The bear had awakened was working his way down the tree eating leaves as he moved along. The bear would reach out and grab leaves and eat them while hanging on the tree trunk. Eventually he finally came down out of the tree and proceeded to cross the road and head off into the woods. I captured a photo of him by the tree he had just come out of.
The next day we went to the Cataloochie Valley in the North Carolina side of the Smoky Mountains to see the Elk that have been re-introduced. Under estimating the time to get to Cataloochie we were way to late as the Elk had already moved back into the woods. Unfortunate we struck out and headed back to Cades Cove.
We arrived back in Cades Cove midafternoon and started our cruise down the loop road. Nearing the cross road off Hyatt lane I saw something a car parked and something black moving along the hillside fairly near Hyatt Lane. We immediately went over to investigate and found a yearling black bear feeding along in the grasses of the meadow. This time the jam had not formed and we were able to drive right alongside of the field where the bear was feeding. Once again it was going to be an extremely tough photo shoot as the weeds and grasses were way taller than the bear. I got out of the car and used a fence post as a steady mount to photograph this bear. In this case patients were a virtue as you had to wait for him to raise his head in order to capture a good photo. The bear kept feeding in the grass with his head barely raising it at all. He was very tolerant of the masses that were starting to gather to photograph him rarely he would raise his head for a split second to see his surrounding, that is where you need to be ready. By ready I mean staring through the lens waiting for him to move or raise his head in order to capture a good photo. He was moving all over just feeding away. My patients won out this time as I was finally able to get a couple of good photo of him with his head raised although the grasses are present in the photo. I was able to capture a number of photos and moved on leaving the bear jam to others.
Continuing on the loop road, I became aware that darkness was fast approaching and I figured that was it, time to put the equipment away and end the day, that is, until we ran into another Bear Jam. On the far side of the valley a large bear jam was happening right in front of us. I was able to pull the car over and grab my equipment. I rushed to the site as a large female black bear and her yearling cub was feeding right alongside of the road and the people were going crazy taking photos. The bear did not hardly raise her head as she was so used to cars and people she let people get very close and photograph her with phone cameras. As I has stated it was getting dark and most cameras don’t shoot very good in the dark. I found my big lens was way too much lens to photograph her as she was so close to the road, so I went and got out the EOS 7D with a 28-105 lens. I re-adjusted my settings and turned on the auto ISO and shot her handholding the camera. The camera auto ISO mode brings up the shutter to a reasonable speed in order to capture a subject in low light. But this was no ordinary subject; it was a black bear in failing light. I just used the setting and fired away leaning against a vehicle to steady the camera as much as possible. By the time we finished shooting the big bear it was dark and time to put the cameras away and head back to the hotel for the night.
The next Day was Thursday May 15, 2014 we leaving the area heading home. It was raining but we wanted to give Cades Cove one more chance to capture the Mother bear with cubs. So we headed over and down the loop road. We saw Wild Turkey Gobblers Strutting; we saw deer in the fields, but no bears. We scouted the fields and meadows to no avail as the rainy weather put a hold on the bear activity. As we drove on around the Cades Cove loop road for the final time we started reminiscing about the couple of days we had photographing the bear and other wildlife that grace the valley between the Mountains.
To summarize my adventure to Cades Cove, It was an incredible experience, I believe Cades Cove or the Smoky Mountains for that matter is a winner for nature and wildlife photographers as well as amateurs with phone cameras. There is so much to photograph, no matter the season you will find subjects that are willing to give you that prefect photo. After being in the Smoky Mountains twice, I would not hesitate to load up my camera equipment and head back for a third time. However the third time would be more specific to the activity of the season such as bugling and rutting Elk in the Cataloochie Valley, the big whitetail bucks that frequent the fields and meadows of Cades Cove and the Black bear of Cades Cove.
I bet you readers did not know that there is a thriving Elk herd in Western Pennsylvania. However, there is. There are roughly 800-1000 elk roaming some western Pennsylvania counties of Elk, Cameron, and Clearfield. This story however will center on the heart of Pennsylvania elk country, the town of Benezette is located along State Route 555 in Elk County and the Winslow Hill Road Area.
Elk wandered all over Pennsylvania but settlement and abuse by early immigrants threatened the herds. By 1867, the elk perished in Pennsylvania. In 1913, the Pennsylvania Game Commission began reintroduced 177 elk in Western Pennsylvania. The releases in western Pennsylvania were successful and the herd now numbers more than 800.
Winslow hill road was one of the areas selected to reintroduce the elk because of the sprawling old mine that were reclaimed and turn into meadows there was adjacent State Games as well. The elk on Winslow Hill Road wander freely over the entire area. On any given day, you can find them just about anywhere along Winslow Hill Road. You look for them in the woods along the road, in the fields, even in the residences backyards. During the rutting season in Mid-September to late October, many people come to see the elk as this is the most active time of the year. The roads fill up with vehicles as everyone is out to the majestic Elk that are in abundance along the roads.
Early in the morning and late afternoon are the best times to view these magnificent animals. During the rut, the bulls create a harem of cows and protect that harem from the other bulls. However, at times the bull lose track of their cows as they tend to go out to the meadows to feed so there is always some competition among the bulls for the cows.
The bulls call or bugle loudly to the cows in their respective harems enticing them to come to him. Many times the cows are enticed by other bulls so the competition heats up and many bulls may be after the same cows. The big bulls are always on the prowl protecting their harems or looking for more cows to add, this causes many large bulls to congregate together in one another territory. Many times the big bulls will lock horns and get into a heavy sparring match, most lasting just a short time. The lesser bull comes running trying to steal the cows. The sound of a bull elk bugling is something that draws many visitors to the Benezette area. An Elk bugle or sound is an experience that is at once eerie, thrilling, and haunting. The elks bugle starts low and throaty, rising to a high whistle, then dropping to a grunt or a series of grunts. In many cases, the bugle is a challenge from one bull elk to another usually because of a dominant bull that may have a harem of cows. On Winslow Hill are one can hear bugle from many bulls, some are close by and very loud others can be heard in the distance.
Morning fog is a norm for the Winslow Hill Road, so it is hard to see the bulls so you go to a favorite are and listen for the bugle, remaining in the area of the sounds will produce an excellent bull one the fog lifts. The afternoon is somewhat different as the bulls and or the cows may drift out the woods at any time feeding or resting. Late afternoon starts the bugling as the bulls get up from a day of resting to pursue their roundup and protection of his harem. Many times, you can see a very large bull feeding and bugling in a backyard and his cows come running from their resting places in the cool deep woods. It also brings other bulls to the scene as well.
If you are into viewing or photographing Elk, you do not have to go clear out west to Yellowstone or the Rocky Mountains, you can simply go to western Pennsylvania. You can go to Benezette and Winslow Hill Road to view and photograph the elk.