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.

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