Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Simon says ..........

When I read that last weeks Autumnwatch programme was going to feature Simon King in the Forest of Dean, I thought OK he'll be looking at the fallow deer and my dismal attempts at catching them on camera will be fully exposed. But ..... he too discussed the difficulties posed by the density of the natural forest. I felt better.
I decided last weekend would be my last chance of trying for some action shots of the bucks, as this coming weekend the Forest is out of bounds for me. So I went back to my recent patch and all was silent apart from the many squirrels delicately picking up the spiky sweet chestnut cases. Then I heard grunting from a few hundred yards up the track. The buck sounded near, so I edged over a hillock to see a buck and half a dozen does. He was fired up, pacing around his little harem, although there was no sight or sound of a challenger. I was peering through a mass of twiggy branches, so over the next 5-10 minutes I worked my way down the side of the hillock, sliding unstoppably but ever so slowly at one stage, just keeping it slow enough to avoid spooking anything and get to a fallen branch for a bit of cover. Although some of the action was hidden by the hill to my left, after a few minutes he appeared giving nearly clear views. Great for watching, but still a bit dark and cluttered for pictures.

I spent about 20-25 minutes watching, and sometimes I felt, being watched, but the deer were never spooked, so I was obviously well enough hidden in my action man outfit. Again these shots are selected because the does were looking my way, not because they were constantly looking at me. Most of the time they were grazing, making little whinnying sounds to the buck. The range of colour forms can be clearly seen.
The light was gradually coming when a bizarre combination of events brought the session to an end. There was a sudden flapping of wings as several woodpigeon hit the air and a female goshawk shot through, and down to the ground. Although it wasn't that near, the deer were spooked, all pricked ears and tails. It seemed every tree had a squirrel in it making those weird, high pitched alarm calls. Then almost immediately a group of cyclists went past on a nearby track, chatting loudly. And suddenly the deer were gone.
I waited a while, but there was no sign of them coming back and I decided that even if they did I didn't want to disturb them again. Still, undoubtedly my best morning's deer watching. As for a decent photo? There's always next year.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

"Steam breaking on his brow ...."

Okay, it would be an exaggeration to say that the earth shook, but the crashing left me in no doubt that I had either finally succeeded in getting near to the rutting fallow bucks or stumbled into a kendo tournament. But let's not get ahead of ourselves ...................

Two years ago I spent a really uncomfortable morning trying to get near the grunting, rutting fallow deer bucks in the Forest of Dean, with little to show for it other than aching limbs and a lot of scratches. This year a few more free weekends meant I had the chance to try again to learn ways to get near the deer and maybe get some shots.

I started at Woorgreens where I went last time. The forest had grown even more impenetrable this time, but I could hear the odd grunt, and for a second I thought I had struck it lucky when I glimpsed two deer heads down and head-on. Sadly when they stood up it turned out to be two teenagers having a practice.

I could hear some bucks in the distance, so I headed off to try and track them down, getting lost in the process. Well not really lost, I just wasn't quite sure where I was. I knew the north south bit, but my east west turned out to be somewhat (quite a big somewhat) off the mark! However I did find some more fallow deer, and resolved to return to my new location the following weekend.
Unlike the parkland so often used to snap fallow deer, the Forest is a bit of a jungle with most of the action taking place amongst a tangle of trees. The high quality shots that follow show my point.
That said day 2 left me with some further ideas about where to try and catch the deer as they came along the well used paths (and my closest ever sighting of some boar)
Day 3 started well. I watched my first buck grunting in some relatively open forest, but as I was crawling nearer a doe I had missed over to my left (every time it's a doe!) barked and they all drifted away. Shortly afterwards I could hear some more bucks, and then the locking of antlers, just around the corner. Then .................... as I came round the corner a small group of does were standing on the path. I froze, and for once they didn't take me in.

I slowly got down into a crouch. Seconds later a buck shot across the path, head back, antlers parallel with his spine in the classic vanquished stag pose I've seen so often on Autumnwatch. He was so quick I didn't fire a single shot, but I waited and after about 30 seconds the victor stepped out, still looking a bit excited undercarriage-wise. All that testosterone, or whatever deer have, I guess.

He was evidently exhausted, and stopped on the path for about 6 minutes. Tongue hanging out, his heaving breath created a cloud in the cool morning air. Although he showed no sign of alarm I think he knew full well I was there. The pictures are a bit misleading as he looked in the other direction as often as he looked at me, but when he had recovered, and just before he stepped back into the woods, he did take a few steps down the track for a slightly closer look.
The rest of the morning was a bit of a bust photography-wise although I got some good views of grunting bucks and their entourage through the trees. A one stage a doe came running straight for me swerving only at the last minute, feet away, ears pricked, head up, wild eyes, cocked tail. Another followed, but then morphed into a muzzled lurcher which turned when it saw me and headed back into the trees. Not much chance of pictures up that way then.
Hopefully I'll get at least one more morning this year, but at least I got something in focus and in the open.
Handholding and crouching isn't ideal, but the good old Canon image stabilisation worked wonders, and if not pin sharp the shots are good record shots. Better sized and quality versions can be seen HERE - look in the latest pictures album and use the slideshow for best viewing.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Shoreline twitters

Photographing shorebirds is, it seems to me, mostly dependent on getting in the right place before the birds. If you know a spot they go and can get positioned in advance they often come into range. However when the birds are few in number and the feeding area potentially large this doesn't work. A trip to Severn Beach on a day with sun between the clouds held some promise, but the large number of anglers meant that the spots I would usually look at were not options.
I did find a few birds, but then had the fun of trying to get near enough to take some pictures. In the end, after a bit of crawling and narrowly missing some dog guano I got a spot and the birds, now hemmed in by the high tide, decided to put up with my presence. Ringed plover, turnstone and a solitary dunlin.
High tide is a time when the birds have a break, at least it is here where the tide was high enough to cover any feeding areas. My mind wandered a bit, and I got to thinking about Twitter. You see I just don't get it. My blog is, let's face it, a piece of vanity. I infrequently put into it things that might be deemed 'educational'. Most of it is a diary with pictures, that I'm sufficiently arrogant to think people will look at. And some do (thank you).
But Twitter allows you to type only 140 characters. Really, how interesting can most people's lives be to expect others to read 140 characters? Twitter says the question is 'What are you doing'? The answer might be 'Who cares'. But then I don't get all this 'texting' either and that's much the same I suppose. It's probably middle aged male communication that lies at the root of the issue (Mars and Venus and all that). I'll say something if there is a purpose, but otherwise the words blood and stone come to mind. Or so I'm gently reminded on a not infrequent basis!!

Anyway it struck me that the pictures above are a record of the sort of Groundhog Day life these birds lead, with a high tide Twitter that might be:

Tide came in. Feet getting wet so moved. Preening and stretching. Waiting. Snoozed. Waiting. Having a walk. Waiting. Waiting.

Did you notice the clever way I didn't type snoozing, but snoozed? You see the bird couldn't type while it was actually snoozing could it?

Drivel over. As always better views in the Latest Pictures web album HERE