I won’t beat around the bush or sit on the fence. I’ll just say it – I don’t get a kick out of visiting the ‘top wildlife sites in the guide books’. Loads of people do of course, and I have to say the management of such sites is top notch. No, the bit I don’t really enjoy is that the wildlife is often too tame. I’ve had to walk off the track at one well known site because a Sika stag simply refused to move – even when I was about 2 feet away!
I like a bit of a challenge to getting close to wildlife, or even simply finding wildlife. For the same reason, I don’t think I’ll be going to see the Blandford otters for quite some time. I went last week, saw one briefly before it was chased away by a well meaning ( I hope) but rather ignorant individual, and now there are loads of people queuing on the bridges to watch them, all day every day. So, I’ll be staying away.
Fortunately, I know a site that backs onto Poole Harbour that is very rarely visited. I spent 4 hours there on Sunday and saw – one person, and he was sat in his car.
It’s been a year since I had a go at stalking for Sika deer images, and the great thing about the herd here is that they are flighty. They are easy enough to see – from a distance. You want to get close? You’ve got to do a bit of fieldwork here – you can’t just walk up to them and ask them to pose nicely.
So, early-ish on Sunday saw me walking across a Dorset heathland, heading towards the rather eerie whistles from a bunch of Sika deer hidden behind a gorse thicket. I spotted the two outliers (lookouts) – which always helps. Seeing them before they see me is essential. I can then work out the best approach and slowly make my way towards the main herd.
Initially, it was case of walk/crouch from cover to cover. As I got closer it was more a case of crouching as I moved. Before long I’d reached the stage where I was belly crawling along, almost dragging myself through the heather. At one point, I had no choice but to haul myself across a 5m section of young gorse. That did cause some major discomfort and gritted teeth!
I pushed my luck as much as I could, and soon it was just 40m or so of open ground between me and the two lookouts. I couldn’t go much further without spooking them, so I took a gamble. I sat up.
Immediately, a shrill cry went up from a nearby doe. The lookouts turned, and clocked me. Importantly – none of the herd ran. They all simply stood there, all looking intently at me.
Finally, the younger of the lookouts made his move. Not away. He walked directly towards me.
I guess that they perhaps weren’t too sure what I was. I was pretty well camouflaged up so maybe they couldn’t really work out if I was a human or even if I was a threat. He stopped at about 30m. Meanwhile the other ‘lookout’ had made his way back to the main herd. He was soon joined by the ‘Big Guy’ – head of the herd, who challenged him to a duel and then promptly sent him back towards me.
So, there I was with now 2 stags slowly working their way towards me while the rest of the herd (about 30 in total) stood back and watched. Next, a doe ventured forth, almost shoving the younger stag ahead of her.
They all stopped again and stared at me, while I stared back.
I was busy clicking away of course! There then came a bit of a stalemate. I had a go at video:
Eventually Big Guy decided it was time to retire into the woods for the day, so calmly led them all past me and off through the gorse.
Only one thing was missing. Last year, I’d seen a white stag here. So where was he? Moving further towards the shoreline I soon had my answer. He has now matured and was out in the reedbeds with his own harem.
Before you ask – no, I didn’t try stalking them. Can you imagine belly crawling through the thick mud of a reedbed? Not only would it be very noisy, but I’m not sure my wife would appreciate the mess I would make of the washing machine either!
I saw a fair few other things out there. Hen harrier and Merlin were no doubt the highlights, though I didn’t get any decent images of either – so we will have to settle for a late Red Admiral that flew by, then turned back and landed on a nearby gorse while I took it’s picture.
So, next time you want to get closer to a Sika deer, don’t try and crawl right up to it. Just get near and then sit up. It may well come across to check you out!