mammals

October Red Deer Rut

Red deer stag approaching young buck

This year’s red deer rut photography was limited to a jeep safari at RSPB Minsmere and we kept our distance, but a few contextual black and white shots came out quite nicely. The first two tell the story of the less dominant stags and young bucks, who tend to avoid risking conflict during the rutting season. The third image is of the dominant stag interacting with a romantically minded hind in his harem.

Red deer stag approaching young buck
Red deer stag approaching young buck
Bellowing red deer stag and hind in the rut
Bellowing red deer stag and hind
Nervous young red deer bucks
Nervous young red deer bucks
Amorous red deer stag courting hind
Romantic red deer stag courting a hind

Photography in the Dog Days of Summer

Common blue butterfly perched on pink heather blossom

One of the things I chatted about on my recent BBC Norfolk radio appearance was the difficult light and the challenges it presents to photographers in high summer. But there is always something to shoot for….

By the time we reach August., though its still very hot and to us the height of summer, in the natural world the days are already drawing in and autumn is just around the corner. Its already getting a little easier to capture soft light in mornings and evenings and if you rise early after a clear night you might even find dew on the ground.

August is a great time to to visit our lowland heaths where the beautiful pink carpet of flowers is just coming into its own and can make a wonderful backdrop for close up photography.

Common blue butterfly perched on pink heather blossom
Common blue butterfly perched on pink heather blossom

 

Cross orbweaver spider against heather
Cross orbweaver spider against heather

 

August is a good month to spot late dragonflies as well as second brood and migrant butterflies. Most first generation butterflies are getting very tatty by now and make poor photographic subjects but some species have second broods that metamorphose into a second brood in late summer.

The late summer harvest means that hares, who have enjoyed the cover of the growing crops since spring become easier to spot hunkered down in the stubble of harvested fields.

Brown hares nestling amongst stubble
Pair of European Brown hares nestled in their form among crop stubble

Many birds are already preparing for their Autumn migrations and this month I’ve immensely enjoyed watching the fledgeling swallows and house martins practice their flight techniques and feeding up for their forthcoming long journey by swooping around my wildlife pond.

Swallow hunting insects over pond
Swallow hunting insects over pond

A Rude Awakening

common seal engulfed by white break on rising tide

As winter descends, many of our native wildlife species are busy mating and having young, not least our grey seals that are resident all around the British Isles’ coastline and have some large colonies on the East cost of England. When I walked out to one such colony a little before the busy grey seal mating and pupping season I came across a lone juvenile common seal. Common seals unlike the greys give birth in summer. The seal was asleep on the beach both aware of and totally unconcerned about my quiet presence. The high autumnal winds were blowing sand across the beach and the breakers were high – it was a bright breezy day. What he didn’t notice in his state of utter relaxation was the tide had turned and was now rising and was close to encroaching onto the sand shelf he’d been resting on. I was fortunate enough to capture the moment when the first wave washed over his head, which must have been quite a shock even with his insulating layers. He opened his eyes, then flopped his way up the beach closer to me then resumed his peaceful napping. common seal engulfed by white break on rising tide

Farewell to Oxfordshire

Silhouetted brown hare at dusk

Well I had to move quite suddenly away from Oxfordshire to the county of Norfolk. This is a quick, belated post to say farewell to the county that brought me back to nature and introduced me to wildlife photography. I will miss the rolling open countryside and the shadow of the Ridgeway on my dog walks greatly. Although I only lived near South Oxfordshire’s chalkhill downland for four years, it became a true home for me and it will always have a place in my heart.

Silhouetted brown hare at dusk
Silhouetted brown hare at dusk

During some of my farewell walks in my favourite places I was lucky enough to catch a glimpse of short-eared owls and a beautiful brown hare silhouetted against the skyline, so I leave Oxfordshire with those images as a beautiful memory.

 

Red Deer Rut

Silhouetted red deer stag standing alert in mist

Red Deer rut in the month of October, and there are many very accessible places you can witness this natural spectacle. I went for the first time with my husband John Stuart-Clarke to Bushy Park in London. The best time is at first light, before the park becomes busy with humans going about their daily activities.

We arrived shortly before sunrise after a chilly clear night which had created a dense fog. As we walked into the park grounds visibility was only a few feet, and I started to hear the bellows of the rutting stags.

Silhouetted red deer stag standing alert in mist
Silhouetted red deer stag standing alert in mist

The sound echoed in the fog and seemed to come from all sides. It was an eerie, atmospheric experience. Then gradually the fog thinned and I started to make out shadowy figures of the stags. As the mist cleared I witnessed more of the Stags’ rutting behaviour –  staring and snarling, licking their lips, tossing their antlers in bracken and charging each other. Within couple of hoursthe sun had risen, the park was filling with people and all the action had subsided and the deer settled down to rest. As we left it was funny to think that these joggers, dog walkers and parents with prams were using the park totally oblivious to the drama that had unfolded at first light.

Note: Please take care if you decide to visit a deer park during the rutting season. Even in parks such as Richmond, Bushy or Bradgate, where they are semi-habituated to humans, deer become extremely aggressive at this time of year. Several people are killed each year trying to approach too close to rutting deer.

Please exercise caution and common sense at all times and bear in mind the following hints and tips for watching the deer rut safely without disturbing the animals:

Keep a respectful and healthy distance away at all times when observing deer and be watchful for any sign of response to your presence or disturbance.  Retreat calmly straight away if you find any deer starting to stare, pull back its lips or show teeth – they are warning you you’re too close and they could charge. Always move slowly and steadily and avoid sudden, unpredictable movements. Keep your arms and tripods low. Never wave or try to attract their attention. Always avoid a deer’s path and move out of its route if one approaches you. Be aware of you position in the herd and avoid getting between a stag and his hareem of females or a mother and young, which could trigger an attack. Never approach a deer directly, head on or or from behind -antlers are daunting but they can buck and kick too.

Photo of the Month October – Stag Silhouetted In Fog
Taken: Bushy Park, London

Red Squirrel

Red Squirrel On Mossy Tree


I was recently fortunate enough to visit Simon Phillpotts up in the Yorkshire Dales (find out more about Simon at www.wilddales.co.uk).

He’d been very busy building a new red squirrel hide and wanted to give it a test drive. It was getting to be the time of year when the squirrels were starting to get very busy  squirreling away (forgive the pun) their nuts for winter.

Red squirrel on a mossy tree trunk
Red squirrel on a mossy tree trunk

They didn’t stop around for long, and they’re harder to photograph than you might think, but I was lucky to catch this one doing a mission impossible impression.


Photo Of The Month September 2011 – Foraging Red Squirrel

Taken: The Yorkshire Dales

 


Fox and Leveret

Red Fox In Rapeseed

June is the season for leverets. March may be the famous month for seeing the “mad March hares” boxing in courtship, but hares live in the arable fields surrounding the Ridgeway all year round. They raise their young in late spring into early summer.

During the day hares hunker down into their “forms”. Dawn and dusk are perfect times to watch them. One evening shortly before dusk I was crouched in a rapeseed field margin watching a young leveret. All of a sudden it reared up on its hindlegs, sniffed the air and dived off into the rapeseed crop.

A few moments later out of the bushes trotted a large dog fox. He paused just a brief moment, his head turned towards me. We exchanged looks, acknowledging each other’s presence, then he moved calmly onwards, following the scent of the leveret. On the way home I spotted a fresh trail of pigeon feathers, I like to think the leveret lived to fight another day…

Dog fox crossing field margin
Dog fox crossing field margin
Leveret on hind legs in rapeseed
Leveret on hind legs in rapeseed
Photos Of The Month June 2011 – Fox and Leveret in Rapeseed Field Margin
Taken: The Ridgeway, Oxfordshire