Wednesday, October 24, 2007

A Fallow Day

If you take the trouble to read about wildlife watching and photography one of the messages that comes through is that preparation is key to most good days. Know your target, know your venue, know the time to be there, know how and where to position yourself for the best shots, etc.
If you're a snapper like me, relying on a few hours at weekends that means selecting just a few targets and putting the hours you do have into getting the shots. Or ..................... you just give it a go!
A bit of advice from Chris pointed me in the direction of Crabtree Hill in the Forest of Dean as a possible starting point in my quest for rutting fallow deer. So I turned up just around dawn and started to walk in to what was new territory for me. After a few minutes I heard what I can only describe as prolonged grunting noises. Realising these were unlikely to be boar I concluded I had found my quarry. About 15 minutes later I found myself deep in a commercial conifer plantation, gradually getting near the noise. (It really is quite extraordinary. If you want a listen click the link to the British Library sound archive and scroll down the page:
When you can stick to the firebreaks it's not too bad, but there were a lot of fallen trees, and the knees and ankles got a bit of a bashing. Trouble is the deer weren't in the firebreaks (I call them firebreaks, but maybe that isn't really the purpose - anyhow the deer weren't in the open). At times it got quite unnerving peering or trampling (quietly) through thickets of gorse and scrub, knee deep in soaking grass and ankle deep in mud, with grunting all around and nothing in sight.
In my naivety I had expected the deer to be in the open broadleaved parts of the forest, so I was lugging my cameras, a backpack and a tripod. Not a pretty site! Despite all this I got a few glimpses of females, and at one point must have been within 15-20 yards of a grunting male that I couldn't see for trees and bushes. Just as I was beginning to despair - I had actually walked back out to a track - I heard another grunt nearby and finally angled my way into the trees to get a view of a full antlered male. Sadly he had a view of me too, and for a while we just stared at each other. Maybe my cammo face net, jacket and gloves was good enough to confuse him a bit (certainly not something I'd wear in public, so maybe he was just having a laugh!). He tolerated me raising the camera, but the vegetation was so awkward I couldn't focus before he gently and silently slid away. Still, I saw my rutting male and left relatively happy.
I did get some shots of fungi which I'll post later, and a single shot of a female deer through the grass. With the eye of faith you can see a few pale spots on her rump, but none of the deer I saw wore the highly dappled coats of the stately home variety.

So was it a fallow day? Actually I had fun - and at least if I get the chance to go back (in a fortnight, sadly) I'll be better prepared for the territory and a morning's stalking in the Christmas trees.

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