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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Roe deer wildlife photography workshops 2018

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Introduction

I am very pleased to announce a full programme of roe deer wildlife photography workshops for 2018.

The Roe deer is perhaps our prettiest species of deer, making for beautiful images. They are also very shy. For the wildlife photographer this offers a real challenge and sense excitement that comes with photographing in the wild.

Each season presents an opportunity to create beautiful images.

Winter

Now is the perfect time to photograph Roe. The countryside has a bare beauty. The low winter sun and early morning frosts combining for some atmospheric compositions.

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Unlike Red and fallow, roe deer are more solitary in nature. In winter though they tend to group up as food resources start to dwindle. It is lovely to watch the social interaction in these family groups.

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The deep frost takes a hold, transforming the landscape into a perfect winter wonderland.

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With good fieldcraft it is possible to get close to the Roe. My methods are counter intuitive, built on establishing a relationship of trust between photographer and deer. I teach these methods on my workshops so that you clients can try to apply them themselves when the workshop ends.

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One of the things that I love about Roe deer is how their physical appearance changes with the seasons. Their coats taking on a slate grey colour in winter, broken up with beautiful white patches on their necks. The bucks drop their antlers and grow a new set, clad in velvet and looking very handsome.

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I have had an amazing time this winter photographing the roe. It’s a great time to start to get to know their habits and ways also before the activity in the Spring and summer.

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Spring

Spring is a time of renewal. The bluebells start to emerge in the forest and the kids are born.

I have a couple of beautiful locations for images of Roe in bluebells. I am also intending to spend the period from mid may to early June focusing on mothers and babies. I have a couple of private permissions that are ideal for these opportunities.

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Late spring sees the meadows on my local patch carpeted in buttercups which the roe seem to love.

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 Summer

Summer is the season where many photographers tend to focus their efforts. The opportunity to create the iconic shot of a deer raising its head in the middle of a crop of barley or wheat makes for some stunning images.

The next image won a Highly Commended for me in the British Wildlife Photography Awards.

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The next image was taken on a workshop I led a few years ago. The client’s version also won a Highly Commended in the British Wildlife Photography Awards and he was rightly very pleased.

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 There is a lot of great behaviour to capture in the Summer as the bucks tear around chasing the does and rival bucks fight. I’m hoping to focus my efforts this year on documenting this behaviour.

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I always think the bucks look their absolute best in the height of summer and I have identified some cracking bucks for this year that I am just dying to photograph in all their rutting glory.

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The does look stunning also in their beautiful russet summer pelage.

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I’m always working hard to push myself creatively. For me my photography is all about creating images that celebrate the beauty of nature.

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Those who follow my blog will know that after five years of looking I have finally identified a number of reliable locations for photographing what for me is the holy grail of roe deer photography, roe in blooming heather. After much thought I have decided to lead workshops to these locations this summer. The workshops will take place to coincide with the blooming heather and the price reflects the exclusivity of the opportunity.

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The meadows on my local patch are also in full bloom, carpeted in wildflowers, making for some beautiful images.

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Autumn 

Autumn this year was a revelation for me. With the Red and fallow rut in full swing, roe tend to get neglected. For me though it provided an opportunity to create among my favourite roe images. Early morning mist, golden sunlight. The countryside is ravishing, turned into a tapestry of colour.

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By late autumn the first frosts also start to arrive, a prelude to the onset of winter. The seasons always turning in perpetual cycle.

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Urban

Roe are hugely adaptable. As their habitat continues to diminish they are increasingly making their home in urban environments.

I first started photographing Roe deer in cemeteries in 2014. I now have a number of locations where I photograph them with the requisite permission from the local authority.

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Location

Southern counties. I have 11 reliable sites in the southern counties of England including Sussex, Surrey, Wiltshire, Hampshire and Dorset. Location will depend on time of year and images you are looking to create. Due to the sensitivity of the sites I do not provide locations prior to clients booking on and providing payment. I also require signature of a non disclosure agreement. All sites are permissions.

Prices

2018 prices are as follows:

Winter, Spring and Autumn workshops

1 day workshop £150

2 day workshop £290

Early summer workshops (June 15th up to and including 14th July)

1 day workshop £175

2 day workshop £320

Annual Roe rut workshops (15th July to 31st July)

1 day £220

2 days £420

3 days £590

Roe in heather workshops (1st August to 21st August)

2 days £460

3 days £675

Please note: Rut workshop places are strictly limited and very popular. Based on previous years please book early to avoid disappointment

Maximum of two guests per day. Price of workshop includes guiding and tuition (both camera and field craft)•

To reserve your place,  contact me at mail@julescoxphotography.co.uk

• full payment is required in advance, Non refundable.

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