Sitting with Sika and crawling over gorse

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.

What a great place to be!

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.

Spotted - and about time too!

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. 

Spotted by number two

 Finally, the younger of the lookouts made his move.  Not away.  He walked directly towards me. 

He's really quite a brave chap, and got quite close.

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. 

Big Guy makes his challenge

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. 

The Doe (on left) about to come and investigate

They all stopped again and stared at me, while I stared back.

Spotter stag back on sentry duty again

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. 

Big Guy and some of his does, leading them back to the woods

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. 

The White stag seeing off a challenger in the reedbeds.

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.

A splash of colour on a November day. A Red Admiral

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!

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5 Responses to Sitting with Sika and crawling over gorse

  1. I totally agree and great photos! I’m sure you’ve probably seen this video but I did the same thing with a roe deer in the local fields around CM about 3 yrs ago. However, instead of crawling up to it I just sat in the knapweed knowing that eventually it would come to me (having watched it on several evenings). I’ve got a theory that if they can’t see my legs they don’t quite understand I’m human. It was a magic moment (see video) It did charge off in the end – but I’m convinced it still didn’t know what I was! Cheers. Jane

  2. Perhaps ‘wildlife’ needs to be re-defined.

    It’s an exciting post, this. And the pictures more interesting than deer on a path.

    As for the Blandford Otters. That’s a bit casting down. Members of my family returned from a trip from Blandford very excited because, while there, they saw otters. We hadn’t realised this is an every-day even t there. Ah well.

  3. Nigel says:

    Great article and photos. I must admit these days I prefer not to take my video or stills kit out when tracking wildlife. I spent so much time getting set up I lost track (no pun intended) of why I was actually there… just to be on my own observing our local wildlife at its best.

    Although I must secretly admit I do miss the challenge of using my XL2 and 40x lens to get those early morning shots at Arne. Maybe this weekend I’ll dust down the flight cases and venture out with a few tapes in my pocket.

  4. julelivesey says:

    Lovely images Steve. Well worth the encounter with the gorse.

    I had a close encounter with the Sika deer in Wareham Forest a couple of months back. I was walking the dogs, and heading back to the car. A guy and his dog had walked up the hill just in front of me and I stopped to wait for Jez while Max poked around beside me. I turned my head to the left and saw a large stag looking at me through the branches of a tree about 20 yards away. I was so surprised. Didn’t manage to get a decent photo though, as by the time I’d got my small camera out Jez had joined me, spotted him and given chase. Turns out there were half a dozen of them in the long grass there. You’ll be pleased to know that Jez didn’t get anywhere near them – she have up after about 30 seconds!

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