Friday, 22 October 2010

Unlucky Buck...

With the Fallow rut intensifying, I was becoming increasingly frustrated with my attempts to get some good shots of the larger bucks. By the time they moved from the less accessible woodland onto the heath, the sun was beginning to set and the light fail.

In the night under pale moonlight, it was relatively easy to get close, but there really wasn't enough light for a clear photo. I'd have to come back the next day.

By the time I arrived at Cannock Chase it was already early afternoon. The weather wasn't playing ball, any brief moments of sun were quickly followed by bouts of grey cloud laden gloom and spitty rain. This didn't seem to bother the rutting deer who were being very vocal, bellowing loudly in the trees.You'll have to turn the volume up on these videos as the soundtrack is a little quiet but, crucial.

The larger buck were in the dense coniferous forests at the usual rutting grounds, which they use year after year. Most were difficult to get a good view of. I neither wanted to unnecessarily disturb them, or be mauled by being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

After a few uninspiring shots through the undergrowth, I decided to take a break, put my hammock up in the trees and have lunch. Fully rested, I stood to pack the hammock into my rucksack. As I turned there was a herd of deer right behind me. I froze, they froze... slowly I reached for my camera, they scattered, melting into the forest!

High up on a hill, the sound of clashing antlers echoed across from the next valley. Torn between hurrying and moving stealthily I made my way down the steep slippery track. Two large bucks were fighting in the bracken. A smaller buck decided to take advantage of the vacant plot strutting his stuff and bellowing, but was off in a flash as soon as another much larger buck arrived to investigate the fuss.

Trying to capture the action with my camera was difficult. The power of these two creatures as they pushed and shoved was amazing. Just trying to keep your footing or walk through the tough dry bracken is hard enough, but they were ripping their way through it as if it wasn't there. The noise of antler upon antler was surprisingly loud. After a good 5 minutes or more of battling the bucks broke apart. The bracken parted as a huge buck came crashing and thundering down the slope, straight towards me... Aaargh!
Fiddling with the zoom on my camera while checking my potential escape route resulted in a clumsy shot. Luckily the deer spotted me at the last moment and turned off to one side. He looked exhausted, dejected, panting, with the remnants of foliage ripped from the ground hanging from his antlers. I felt sorry for him, he wasn't having a good day.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Chasing Fire at Chasewater...

It was meant to be a peaceful trip to Chasewater, a local nature reserve. On the way I heard sirens. Behind me a fire engine was speeding along, blue lights flashing. It turned off down a side road and I thought nothing more of it until I noticed the plume of smoke.

There was a good view up on the high bridge above the toll motorway, from there I found a footpath so that I could get a closer look.

The flames were fierce, crackling loudly. I glanced into the nearby stables, but thankfully they were empty.

The fire crew still hadn't arrived and the flames were starting to spread. There wasn't much I could do to help.

The first of three fire tenders pulled into the paddock.

I was impressed out how quickly they were out with the hose and tackling the blaze, just seconds.

The initial flames were extinguished rapidly but kept on reigniting.

It took quite a bit to douse it completely. Clouds of steam and smoke engulfed the fire fighters.

They were very thorough, taking time to cool everything down as they didn't know whether there were gas canisters involved.

With the fire quelled, the crew took a brief breather. It looked from the debris to be a caravan that had been destroyed, setting fire to other equipment around it.

I never found out whether it was a deliberate fire, but locals told me there had been other fires in the area recently, so who knows...

Friday, 15 October 2010

Stag Does...

Following my previous experiences of the Fallow deer rut, I decided that I'd like to try and find some Red deer. They're not nearly as common as the Fallow deer, but I'd heard that there were some small herds to be found just a few miles from where I live.

I discovered plenty of tracks new and old, so I knew they were about. The rain lashed down and after walking miles a cold wind picked up causing a soul destroying chill. I'd just about given up on finding them when, on the far side of some railway lines they trotted out in front of me.

At first they were nervous, ushering the younger ones back into the cover of the scrub. Faining disinterest, while enthusing over some grass, I convinced them that I too was a harmless grazing animal.

For a moment I thought that there was a Stag in the group, until I realised that one of the Does was standing in front of a couple of conveniently positioned branches!

The mothers and their offspring were very affectionate to one another, constantly nuzzling and showing attention.

The clouds lifted, the rain stopped. More deer emerged from the trees.

They seemed remarkably relaxed as I took their pictures.

Some were even curious.

Eventually they began to move off.

A couple of last glances...

... at the strange new herbivore on the other side of the tracks.

An inquisitive gallery of faces peer back at me before wandering off. Please ignore what the one on the left is doing!

Astounding how such a large animal simply disappears in the tall grass...

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Nut in a Rut...

It's that time of year again, when the Fallow Deer begin to rut. Not wishing to miss out on this fabulous spectacle, I headed off to the forest in search of these elusive, beautiful creatures.

I walked the woods for hours before a head poked up from some bracken. Believing she was invisible just so long as she remained still, she was a little surprised when I took her photograph.

It seemed I wasn't as dangerous as I first appeared.

Some inquisitive faces peered from around a tree, interested to see this stranger in their woods.

The juvenile bucks were more bold...

...not as afraid to satisfy their curiosity.

A young Stag turned up. This was his harem and they rallied to attention, taking his lead and following him deeper into the sanctuary of the denser woodland.

After much posturing, and careful studying, I was deemed 'mostly harmless'.

The Does and the young bucks were allowed to return to the outskirts of the trees where the stranger lurked, in order to feast on the acorns that scattered the forest floor.

Eventually they relaxed, realising that I meant no harm. I became the new entertainment to sit and watch.

These were the smaller harems ruled by the lower ranking Stags. To find the large mature Stags I would have to venture into the depths of the dark woods where sunbeams were the only source of light.

After some time a black Stag emerged from the shadows. It appeared to be alone, foraging for greens in the pools of sun between the trees. In a blink of an eye it was gone.

As the sun dipped, I crossed the cold shade of a steep sided valley, rising to summit some open ground alongside a quarry. The noise of the machinery in the distance afforded me some cover for my heavy footsteps as I crept to observe another Stag in the distance.

He looked content grazing with his hard won harem. Feeling slightly vulnerable out on the open ground, I backed away from this powerful animal, as they can be quite aggressive during the rutting season. Retreating to what I thought would be the refuge of a shady, and now increasingly dark deciduous wood, I soon found myself in a battleground. A stag crashed through the bracken bellowing loudly, while a short way off but just out of sight, the sound of antlers clashing together only sought to reinforce the thought that I was 'definitely in the wrong place'!!!

I backed away, but the stag made it clear that he was not happy. Hastily I crashed my way through the tangle of undergrowth along the ill defined narrow deer paths trying to exit the area where it now became apparent that the rutting platforms lay. The stag shadowed me at a distance always seeking the higher ground. I tried to keep calm. "Stags are no more dangerous than, say a bull" I thought to myself. "Well maybe a bull that can run 30mph, jump over 10 feet, and has a rack full of butchers knives on its head"... I didn't feel comforted. Eventually I reached the edge of the woods. The Stag gave me a 'don't come back' glare as it turned back. Phew!

Out on the heath it quickly became dark. With my camera on a tripod, I entertained myself taking some long exposure pictures in the dark.

I cold hear the rutting bellows of stags in the darkness, and soon came to realise that they were getting closer. In fact they were all around me. Thankful for my new torch, I scoured the darkness, nothing to be seen. I was safe enough, they wouldn't be interested in me, would they? It was then that it occurred to me that I was dressed in brown camo, making my way through the heather, holding an open tripod above my head... looking to all the world like a rival Stag....Aaargh!

There was only one course of action in a situation such as this. Run away like a little girl, my torch windmilling wildly... Run away, run away!!!!

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Watch where you sit...

There's been some really rainy days recently, it seems autumn has struck with a vengeance.

As you can see I've occupied myself as best I can on the wetter days, playing with matches in the house.

At last a sunny day, and immediately I was outside with my camera snapping anything that got in my way.

I decided to go to Sutton Park and look for deer tracks. A Red stag was found wandering the city streets last week. It was captured and released in the park. Little Muntjacs leave their prints all over the place, but there is rarely anything larger. The smooth, wet sand is ideal for preserving tracks.

I searched all the likely places for deer to hang out, choosing to concentrate on the less visited areas. Then, in the quiet of a deserted wood, a noise of something large making its way through the foliage. I froze, camera at the ready... It was one of the Exmoor ponies curious to see who was trespassing in their patch.

My legs were tired and my throat dry. It was time for my flask of coffee. I found a quiet, open glade and made myself comfortable on a stretch of dry stones. It was nice to sit in the sun. 'Poop', 'BeeePoop'!!! What was that?...

I found myself somewhere more peaceful to finish my coffee.

I'll have to find the Stag another day.

For now I'm happy watching the diamonds dance on the water.