Sunday, 23 October 2011

Red Deer Rut!

I dragged myself out of bed nice and early this morning to go in search of a beast, which has eluded me for quite some time. The Red Deer.
I got to the location at sunrise and what a sunrise it was...


I desperately wanted a stag silhouetted against this sky, but if they ain't there then there isn't a lot you can do about it.
After around 30min of walking up and down hills with a very heavy kit bag on my back I was starting to wonder if there were any in the area at all! As I approached the top of the last hill I could hear the familiar sound of red stags as they bellowed and finally I spotted them in the distance.

To be honest I didn't think I had a chance of getting near enough to grab a decent photo as they were so far away and in the open. However, like all wildlife, if you can't get to it then you have to wait for it to come to you.
I scanned the area and saw what looked like the ideal spot. However, it meant I would have to walk into the open to get to it, in clear view of the rutting deer! It was a nice spot behind a fallen dead tree and it looked to good an opportunity to miss, so I went for it.
They spotted me as I got to the tree and they stared right at me, but I was far enough away to not disturb them and they soon went on with their business, paying me no attention.

Now, in a better location and hidden behind the tree I was confident they would eventually come closer, and they did.
This fella was bellowing the loudest and judging by the size of his antlers, there wasn't another stag in the area to match him!

Watching this group, I saw two hinds start to square up to one another so I trained my camera on them just in case something happened. I was gobsmacked to see them rear up on their hind legs and box each other; just like hares!

Then I heard it; the clashing of antlers! I was on them like a shot, but they had separated!
They were two younger stags and were still squaring up so I stayed with them. Suddenly one turned to face the other and as soon as he did the other instinctively turned also. This photograph was taken at the precise moment of impact and you can see the one stag has both his hind legs off the ground as they smashed together!

I photographed this herd for a while and then decided to have a look around to see what else was about.
It wasn't long before I bumped into some fallow bucks resting, so I took the opportunity to grab a few shots of them.

I saw a nice group of scotch pines and decided that it would make a great photograph if I could find a deer in there, so I ventured in!
I had only walked around 5 metres when I heard a fallow roar nearby, so I took my heavy bag off my back and sat down by a tree to rest and hope that he was heading my way. I was scanning the area to my right, in the direction of the fallow when I heard a noise behind me.
I turned my head to find the biggest deer I have ever seen, on the edge of the woodland I had just entered! He was the size of a cow and had some pretty impressive antlers. I must admit, being this close to a massive red stag during the rut was something else, but I also knew I was on his patch so I had to be careful.

I tried to get into a better position and this is when he bellowed as loud as he could. Believe me, it was loud.
I took a couple of snaps (out of position) and then just lay there admiring him until he vanished down the hill back into the valley.

I was now fueled with adrenaline and with the red deer lying down resting, I knew this encounter was at an end.



Saturday, 22 October 2011

Two Kinds of Beasts!

Firstly, Blogger is playing up so sorry for the formatting at the bottom of this page and I have also been unable to comment for quite some time. I'm not ignoring you!

I spent a few hours selecting my location; this is always crucial as it can make all the difference with wildlife photography. I had no intention of photographing the deer on this day, it was all about preperation.
After selecting my spot (deep in the forest) I quickly built myself a hide from dead branches etc and then left the area.

This was the view from my hide, where hopefully I would capture some rutting and even a fight between two bucks; if I was lucky.

The following day I was sat in the hide at 7.30am with a cammo net draped over the front. It was cold, damp and again I was sat in a very uncomfortable position with a tree root sticking in my butt!
It's all about patience now, just staying very still and quiet while listening for any noises, which would tell me that a deer or another mammal was close by.
The buck was roaring nearby and the noise was getting closer, so I knew he was making his way towards me.
I saw him peering through some bracken, checking the area was safe. He was just to my left making his way to the clearing.

I was ready, the pain and the cold was gone, just my will remained, for him to stand in the clearing.
To put the work in and vision a shot; then to walk away with that shot is an achievement.
He got closer and was now on the edge of the clearing, just a few more steps and I could get the shot I was after.

He stood there for a few minuets and I could tell he was nervous. Had he picked up me scent? Doubtful as I had the wind in my face; it must be something else.
Then I heard it; loud talking in a forein language!
He was gone, disappeared into the forest and my teeth were grating as I had been only moments away from my goal.
I just sat there looking in the direction of the voices. The talking became louder and then I saw them; bucket toting fungi collectors!
They had no idea I was there even though they were no more than 5 metres away from me, but even worse they had no idea that they had just disturbed a rutting area. Either that, or they didn't care.
They moved out of sight, but not far, so my time had been wasted in this area. Thoroughly "%**+= off I decided to move about 250 metres to another location.

45min I had been sat in the second location when I heard a noise coming from behind me. It sounded heavy and could only be a mammal I thought as I sat there ready for whatever it was to walk past me.
This is what walked past me!

There were three of them in total and I knew it was useless to carry on. All my preperation had been wasted, all my time and effort gone in a flash.
I understand that the forest is for all to enjoy, but the forest is a big place and I couldn't believe that they chose the part I was camped out in.

I decided to get some fungi shots (before the three amigos collected it all). So I snapped on my macro lens and went fungi humting.

Here are some of the fungi I found with some MINI BEASTS!


They weren't the only Beasts that had been in the forest! I came across this; a half full fuel container, left behind from Forestry Opperations

And then this!!!!

Time to go home!

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Hornets for BBC Autumnwatch!

On Saturday 1st October I took a film crew from BBC Autumnwatch out into the Forest of Dean in search of wild boar and any other wildlife, which would be good for filming.
I showed them a couple of wild boar wallows and two adders before heading off to an old tawny owl haunt, hoping that he still occupied it? He wasn't there and it soon became evident as to why!
As I approached the roost I could see hornets buzzing in and out, and it wasn't until I got close that I realised they were actually building a nest.
Hornets build their nests in the spring, not autumn and it can only be the insane hot weather we have been seeing lately that provoked them to start building at the beginning of October.
The hornets typical behaviour in early autumn is to leave the nest to mate and shortly after mating the male hornet will die. Towards late October the workers and unfertilised queens also die just leaving the fertilised queens, which survive the winter.

Anyway, I wanted to get some pics and footage of them myself as I knew it wouldn't be long before they realised that autumn is on the way and would soon leave the partly built nest to mate. So I went back out to film and photograph them.
As I approached the nest they were buzzing around my head as they were flying in and out, so I approached with caution as just one sting would have sent out a pheromone, which would have mobilised the whole colony to attack. The sting from a hornet is far worse than that of a wasp, due to their size and venom yield, and as they have no barb on the stinger like the wasp, they can sting multiple times.

I was within a few feet of the nest and noticed a guard hornet sat at the entrance, watching me. As he kept his eye on me, he was also watching every single hornet enter the nest and it was fascinating to watch him rear up like a preying mantis if I got too close, or if a worker hornet got too close to him.

Here he is, watching me as I got as close as possible. Photographed using a 100mm macro lens from approx 6 inches away.

And here he is in all his glory; all 5cm of him!

I had to stretch to grab a shot of the inside of the nest and this is when he reared up like a preying mantis, so it was a couple of quick shots before he told me off!

I then filmed them for around 45 minuets. You can watch the edited version below...
Hornet Film Here

Although I didn't get to film for Autumnwatch in person, I know that these hornets along with wild boar and possibly an adder will be featuring on the first show of the series on Friday 7th October. I hope they liked the varied wildlife I showed them and I also hope it will make for some interesting viewing, even though I have not heard from them since.
My time spent with them, helping to give some unique and unusual wildlife behaviour opportunities should have warranted a thank you at least? Maybe my name will appear in the credits as a special thank you, but I doubt it.
Sorry to finish on a duff note, but without people like me they would have to work a lot harder and probably wouldn't stand a chance of finding hornets building a nest in October!!!


"I recieved a text message from a member of the film crew thanking me for my time, helping them find the hornets, adder and wild boar wallow(s)."
It was a pleasure to help and would love the opportunity to help again in the future. It was a bit surreal watching it on TV!