Footprints in the snow

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The first three months of the year are amongst the coldest, and the time when, traditionally, we are most likely to see snow.

As a result of climate change though we have seen less and less of the white stuff in recent years. The last time I photographed in snow in the uK was in 2011, and that was in the North of England. Here in the south, snow is an even rarer occurence.

Chill winds coming in from both Siberia the east as well as the Mediterranean to the south in the last few weeks created an extreme weather vortex and a rare opportunity to photograph in my favourite conditions. I knew the conditions wouldn’t last long so it was a question of synchronising forecasts at my various Roe sites in the southern counties and making some tough decisions.

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I didn’t have to go far for my first site, which is located just ten minutes from my doorstep on the South downs.

One of the advantages of snow is the tracks and signs it leaves.  I followed footprints in the snow created overnight to an area of the woods I knew the deer might come out.

_K7R8431 My hunch paid off. Just as I came over the brow of the hill, I spotted a doe coming running out of the woods. I managed to take a few shots as she ran, leaving footprints in the snow.

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The resulting image is one I had thought about a lot, even considering investing in a drone to achieve it. To achieve it on a much higher spec camera without risking spooking the deer though was a dream,

For the next ten minutes I sat and watched as she fed on the game feed left for the pheasants. With food in short supply in these extreme conditions, the feed was a valuable source of energy.

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I continued to stalk in to her, which is something I don’t do with Roe usually for various reasons and which is not particularly easy in snow, Whether it was my movement or she heard the sound of the camera, her curiosity got the better of her and she came to take a closer look, coming closer, so that she was framed between the trees in the snow (tick two for an image I hoped to achieve for the project)

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And closer…and as it did I could feel my heart beat louder and louder.

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As regular followers of my blog (thank you!) know, I always try to shoot my images full frame with minimum cropping. The images above are just that.

One of the other images on my list for my winter photography was a portrait of a Roe showing off their gorget, the white patch on their chest, some display in winter. This doe was in very good condition and had the most beautiful gorget and she allowed me to photograph it from different angles before walking off nonchalantly.

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It was a very special encounter, very much on her own terms and probably one of my best experiences since starting the project. I sat there in the snow afterwards until it got dark just taking in the magic of it all. Its in magical moments like this I feel most alive.

A few days later I found myself driving down to another of my sites in blizzard conditions, A journey that usually takes me a couple of hours took me ten and a half hours. Indeed I doubt I would have completed it had it not been for the 4 x 4 with cars in front of me being abandoned.

The epic journey though was worth certainly worth it I feel, with three foot of snow in places. It’s interesting to think that lot of the deer in the next series of images would not have seen these conditions before.

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Criss crossing the southern counties I visited another of my local sites. Roe tend to head for cover in extreme conditions, so I had to work very hard for my images.

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The snow leaves other tell tell signs of roe behaviour other than tracks. The imprint below is of a ‘couch’ where the deer lie up and rest.

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I also took the opportunity to visit one of the farms that I used to photograph deer with my friend Terry, still sadly missed. Terry’s good friend Sean kindly gave up his time to take me out and get the necessary permission from the landowner. We had great fun off roading in the snow and it was good to talk about Terry. He is never far from the thoughts of the people that knew him.

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_K7R9625 One of my favourite places to watch Roe deer is the cemetery I have photographed in for the last four years and which featured in my article in Practical Photography in 2015.

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I was last at this location last September and could only find a single, solitary doe. I managed to find her again in fresh snow fall, the snow clinging to the trees creating a very beautiful and melancholy scene.

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I was delighted to find that the doe was now accompanied by an attendant buck. And what a buck he is._K7R8207

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Having had a chance to think about it since, I am sure he is the same deer I photographed as a handsome fawn four years previously. Since then his father who was a magnificent buck has disappeared, presumably having passed and it seems the son has inherited his territory.

I spent three days photographing in the cemetery in total. An abandoned car blocking the entrance to the cemetery meant I had to photograph everything on foot rather than using a car as a mobile hide as I had done when I last photographed at this location.  I’ve learnt a lot about fieldcraft when it comes to Roe deer though in the intervening three and a half years which stood me in good stead. The deer got used to my presence quickly making for some very confiding images. I’ve selected a few of my favourites below.

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With very few people able to get around in the snow, I pretty much had the cemetery to myself. No visitors paying their respect to their loved ones meant no flowers and the deer having to scrape through the snow to get to the vegetation below in order to browse. Finding signs like this of roe deer behaviour is really fascinating for me.

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The final series of images below were all taken on my final morning . Whilst elsewhere the snow was fast melting by this time I was pleased to find a good covering in the cemetery. The deer were a lot more active making for some nice images.

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As I write this winter feels like it has finally come to an end and the first signs of spring and new life everywhere, birds are returning from their wintering grounds, blackthorne is in flower, the first butterflies of the year are emerging. I’ve taken the opportunity to take a short break from the photography and re charge after following the deer for nine months. It’s a great chance to review what I’ve done so far and come up with new ideas for images. I am looking forward to resuming again later in the spring suitably refreshed.

I would like to thank Sean and Andrew who helped me with this part of my journey photographing roe through the seasons. This blog is dedicated to the good people of Wiltshire, the heart of roe country.

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