Yellow – Roe deer in Spring and Early Summer

 

_K7R0328After, the work I put in to get images of Roe deer in snow, I decided to give myself a bit of a break over the early  part of the Spring. It proved a wise decision and I returned to lead a workshop at one of my local permissions feeling refreshed and looking forward to catching up with the deer I had come to know so well.

I was struck by how much had changed in such  a short space of time. The stark white beauty of natures palatte had changed to vibrant yellow, with the meadows filled with a sea of buttercups.

The bucks were now out of velvet and sporting freshly cleaned, smart new antlers.

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Roe deer change coat in summer too, with the thick insulating slate grey pelage of winter turning to the beautiful, russet red of summer.

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Spring had also brought with it new life and it lifted my soul to see the does with their new born kids.

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Late spring is a fascinating time in the natural history of roe also with bucks marking their territories ready for the rut.

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The traditional English meadow habitat the Roe call home was also alive with wild flowers starting to emerge, including Orchids and Foxgloves.

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Last year’s kids had been pushed out by their mothers and were starting to make their own way in life.

This image and the series that follow were all taken on a workshop with a client.

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I came across this young buck in a buttercup filled meadow where he had set up his territory. He was very relaxed in our presence. All of these images are full frame or not far off, which I hope help to illustrate it is possible to get nice, relaxed images of deer without disrupting their behaviour. Roe spend a lot of time browsing and they made the most of the bountiful, delicate butter cup flowers and new shoots.

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Getting images of does with kids proved a lot more of a challenge, with the protective mothers waiting until the light was low to lead their babies out. To achieve the images required a lot of careful observation, planning and a fair amount of fieldcraft away from a workshop environment. It wasn’t easy but the hard work paid off with a series of nice images.

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This next intimate behavioural shot of a kid suckling from its mother is one that I had envisioned for a long time but I never thought I’d get. It’s full frame.

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I really like this next shot of the doe leading the kids away. Increasingly with my photography I am drawn to images that connect.

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My change in method of working also really helped in enabling me to document the territorial behaviour of the bucks as they scent mark their territory. Portraits are nice but I feel that these images tell a far more interesting story.

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The vibrant yellows of the buttercup field also really leant themselves to shooting images small in the frame, showing the deer in their natural environment.

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Time spent photographing the Roe also resulted in an unexpected bonus. I observed this beautiful, mature vixen walking the same route in the morning and evening at the site. She is a proper country fox and therefore not easy to get close to. I didn’t want to start trying to bait her as the roe have such sensitive noses. Instead I learnt her route and with a favourable wind set up in a nice area where I could get some confiding shots without risking disturbing her or the deer.

She is a beautiful animal in immaculate condition with a wide lower jaw and thick brush indicating she is an older animal with a good hunting instinct. Foxes will take roe kids when they are still new born, so the deer do need to be wary, as do the foxes as a mature doe is perfectly capable of taking out a fox with its powerful legs and sharp hooves

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Her mate, the dog fox was very wily and gave me the run around, but I eventually caught up with him, bringing food back to the den.

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It was nice to get some images of the doe from my previous shots browsing in the buttercup field, her kids safely tucked away.

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The deer share the field with horses. As a rule, roe deer and domestic livestock don’t mix, so it was nice to get a few images of them together.

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I find a lot of peace and solice spending time with the Roe. The next series of images were taken against the fading light of a beautiful early summer’s evening.

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The younger buck continued to scent mark and thrash around in the vegetation, warning off rivals.

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I particularly like this shot with all the vegetation flying.

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The next two images represent a fleeting moment when the buck stepped into a patch of last light, picking out the buck’s summer pelage in the after glow of red.

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Next to the buttercup field is a traditional English hay meadow where the master (dominant) buck, an older animal, resided.

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Not content with its home territory though, it also had designs on the buttercup field. I was lucky enough to witness a full on fight between the pair. The light was very low, but I still managed a few shot.

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This next shot helps illustrate the difference between the two animals. The older animal is on the left of the shot. If you look carefully, you will see that he isn’t able to get down as low.

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The younger buck is able to get lower and force the older animal back. With roe though it’s not which buck wins the battle, but the war. The older animal will wait until the younger has gone through a series of skirmishes with other bucks (there are at least four mature bucks in the area – so lots of challenges to meet) and is physically exhausted before joining battle again and muscling the younger buck out. Who wins the war depends on guile, cunning, dexterity, strength, size and weight.

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Undeterred by losing out the previous evening, I found the wily, older buck in the buttercup field feeding seemingly unperturbed the following morning.

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At the first sight of his rival though he was off again. Deciding perhaps that discretion was the better part of valour.

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By the time the younger buck had got to the scene of the crime he was gone.

_K7R1852It was a fascinating game of cat and mouse and gave me a privileged insight into the lives of these beguiling and complex animals. I would have liked to have spent more time seeing how things played out. However, nature’s schedule had other ideas and meant I had to turn my attentions elsewhere for the following few weeks….

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Footprints in the snow

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The first three months of the year are amongst the coldest, and the time when, traditionally, we are most likely to see snow.

As a result of climate change though we have seen less and less of the white stuff in recent years. The last time I photographed in snow in the uK was in 2011, and that was in the North of England. Here in the south, snow is an even rarer occurence.

Chill winds coming in from both Siberia the east as well as the Mediterranean to the south in the last few weeks created an extreme weather vortex and a rare opportunity to photograph in my favourite conditions. I knew the conditions wouldn’t last long so it was a question of synchronising forecasts at my various Roe sites in the southern counties and making some tough decisions.

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I didn’t have to go far for my first site, which is located just ten minutes from my doorstep on the South downs.

One of the advantages of snow is the tracks and signs it leaves.  I followed footprints in the snow created overnight to an area of the woods I knew the deer might come out.

_K7R8431 My hunch paid off. Just as I came over the brow of the hill, I spotted a doe coming running out of the woods. I managed to take a few shots as she ran, leaving footprints in the snow.

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The resulting image is one I had thought about a lot, even considering investing in a drone to achieve it. To achieve it on a much higher spec camera without risking spooking the deer though was a dream,

For the next ten minutes I sat and watched as she fed on the game feed left for the pheasants. With food in short supply in these extreme conditions, the feed was a valuable source of energy.

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I continued to stalk in to her, which is something I don’t do with Roe usually for various reasons and which is not particularly easy in snow, Whether it was my movement or she heard the sound of the camera, her curiosity got the better of her and she came to take a closer look, coming closer, so that she was framed between the trees in the snow (tick two for an image I hoped to achieve for the project)

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And closer…and as it did I could feel my heart beat louder and louder.

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As regular followers of my blog (thank you!) know, I always try to shoot my images full frame with minimum cropping. The images above are just that.

One of the other images on my list for my winter photography was a portrait of a Roe showing off their gorget, the white patch on their chest, some display in winter. This doe was in very good condition and had the most beautiful gorget and she allowed me to photograph it from different angles before walking off nonchalantly.

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It was a very special encounter, very much on her own terms and probably one of my best experiences since starting the project. I sat there in the snow afterwards until it got dark just taking in the magic of it all. Its in magical moments like this I feel most alive.

A few days later I found myself driving down to another of my sites in blizzard conditions, A journey that usually takes me a couple of hours took me ten and a half hours. Indeed I doubt I would have completed it had it not been for the 4 x 4 with cars in front of me being abandoned.

The epic journey though was worth certainly worth it I feel, with three foot of snow in places. It’s interesting to think that lot of the deer in the next series of images would not have seen these conditions before.

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Criss crossing the southern counties I visited another of my local sites. Roe tend to head for cover in extreme conditions, so I had to work very hard for my images.

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The snow leaves other tell tell signs of roe behaviour other than tracks. The imprint below is of a ‘couch’ where the deer lie up and rest.

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I also took the opportunity to visit one of the farms that I used to photograph deer with my friend Terry, still sadly missed. Terry’s good friend Sean kindly gave up his time to take me out and get the necessary permission from the landowner. We had great fun off roading in the snow and it was good to talk about Terry. He is never far from the thoughts of the people that knew him.

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_K7R9625 One of my favourite places to watch Roe deer is the cemetery I have photographed in for the last four years and which featured in my article in Practical Photography in 2015.

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I was last at this location last September and could only find a single, solitary doe. I managed to find her again in fresh snow fall, the snow clinging to the trees creating a very beautiful and melancholy scene.

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I was delighted to find that the doe was now accompanied by an attendant buck. And what a buck he is._K7R8207

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Having had a chance to think about it since, I am sure he is the same deer I photographed as a handsome fawn four years previously. Since then his father who was a magnificent buck has disappeared, presumably having passed and it seems the son has inherited his territory.

I spent three days photographing in the cemetery in total. An abandoned car blocking the entrance to the cemetery meant I had to photograph everything on foot rather than using a car as a mobile hide as I had done when I last photographed at this location.  I’ve learnt a lot about fieldcraft when it comes to Roe deer though in the intervening three and a half years which stood me in good stead. The deer got used to my presence quickly making for some very confiding images. I’ve selected a few of my favourites below.

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With very few people able to get around in the snow, I pretty much had the cemetery to myself. No visitors paying their respect to their loved ones meant no flowers and the deer having to scrape through the snow to get to the vegetation below in order to browse. Finding signs like this of roe deer behaviour is really fascinating for me.

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The final series of images below were all taken on my final morning . Whilst elsewhere the snow was fast melting by this time I was pleased to find a good covering in the cemetery. The deer were a lot more active making for some nice images.

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As I write this winter feels like it has finally come to an end and the first signs of spring and new life everywhere, birds are returning from their wintering grounds, blackthorne is in flower, the first butterflies of the year are emerging. I’ve taken the opportunity to take a short break from the photography and re charge after following the deer for nine months. It’s a great chance to review what I’ve done so far and come up with new ideas for images. I am looking forward to resuming again later in the spring suitably refreshed.

I would like to thank Sean and Andrew who helped me with this part of my journey photographing roe through the seasons. This blog is dedicated to the good people of Wiltshire, the heart of roe country.

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Winter wonderland

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By mid December a hoar frost had taken hold of my local site where I photograph the roe deer. The landscape was transformed into a winter wonderland, with the meadow and fields a blanket of white.

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I love photographing in extreme weather conditions. Winter is my favourite season of the year.

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My most magical encounters with the deer are those very much on their own terms, Just before the turn of the year I had a very special encounter with this doe as she walked an ancient path through the frosty field just after sunrise to where she was in the habit of lying up for the day. I positioned myself so that I was contre jour so that the light from the sun rising above the tree line behind highlighted her breath. It was magical.

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The 31st of January saw the Super blue blood moon when the second full moon of the month passed through the Earth’s shadow. I took myself up to Devil’s Dyke to try to capture this rare astrological event. The moon is clearest and highest at this time of year and it was a beautiful to witness.

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I tend to avoid photographing the deer around a full moon, as, if the conditions are clear, the deer tend to feed more at night. No one seemed to have told that to my local deer though.

A lot of my photography through the season was focused around the meadows where they congregate in groups.

The bucks look particularly pretty in velvet as they grow a new set of antlers.

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By mid winter the landscape is all bones,  with just little tufts of  the last leaves produced for the year clinging to the end of branches, determined to have their time.

For a lot of the year Roes bucks lead a solitary lifestyle. The does lead a separate life looking after their fawns. With food resources increasingly scarce, the deer group together in to much bigger lose groups in order to share resources. It’s another fascinating aspect of the natural history of this beautiful and beguiling species.

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The mature Roe buck in the image below had a particularly beautiful set of antlers. Older bucks tend to be more cautious and come out later though. The image below was taken at 1/6 sec and manually focused. I used mirror lock up. It’s full frame and by some miracle is extremely sharp.  Good camera technique and fantastic camera technology combining to achieve the image. I always try to achieve the desired composition in camera preferably and to shoot full frame. I’m a bit of a purest in that sense.

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Snow drops start to appear at this time of year. Natural symbols of hope and purity they point to the lengthening of the days and the coming spring.

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Back at my local site, it was proving harder to photograph the deer as they tended to lie up for longer periods to conserve their energy. I was still able to achieve some nice images though.

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At this time of year, Hazel tree catkins start to appear. They are the tree’s male sex organs and disperse pollen while the tree is bare and there are no leaves to hinder it.

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_K7R5825 Winter for me was a time also to scout new sites. I was very fortunate to be offered help by a couple of amazing, incredibly knowledgable deer men. The shots below were taken on a private estate in Oxfordshire.

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Winter is a great time of year to photograph subjects backlit, mammals in particular, with the sun low in the sky and the light softer, creating a beautiful effect.

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Back on my local patch the buzzards were calling, performing their courtship ritual. Spending time out in the wild as the seasons turn really does make you feel closer to nature. It’s a real tonic for the soul and great for mind, body and spirit.

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This is my favourite local buck again just getting up for a quick stretch at a favoured couch site where he likes to lay up.

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And stretch….!

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As the seasons progress, the bucks start coming out of velvet with the younger bucks losing their velvet first.

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The next series of shots were taken at another new site, on private land with the permission and help of the land owner, this time in the East of England. It’s an amazing site with 11 deer grouped up in one field. All perfectly relaxed.

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_K7R6819 _K7R6825 _K7R6834 _K7R6846 _K7R6859 _K7R6914I would like to take the opportunity to thank Pete and Kim who gave me permissions for the two new sites featured in this blog. I really appreciate your kindness, time and generosity.

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When I started this project in 2013, the one thing I was hoping for was to photograph Roe deer in snow. With winters being increasingly mild in recent years  though this has become more and more of a distant dream. I am a greater believer in holding onto your dreams and never, never giving up. To photograph wildlife you need a lot of patience and just that little bit of luck. February and March are good months for snow meteorologically and my luck was about to change. More about that though in my next blog….

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Cuckoo! Practical Photography Magazine feature – Spring Issue

IMG_3770Cuckoo! The Spring issue of Practical Photography Magazine, the world’s most popular camera skills magazine, has sprung.

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Check it out for my 8 page feature on this iconic seasonal herald. Thanks very much to the editorial team at the world’s best camera skills mag for supporting my work.

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