To Autumn – season of mists and mellow fruitfulness

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Over the last three months I have continued to follow the lives of my local Roe population close to where I live in East Sussex.

The images in this blog were taken over a three month period at various local sites where I have obtained permissions.

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I hadn’t really spent much time with the Roe in autumn before. At this time of year wildlife photographers, myself included, tend to turn their attention to the annual Red  and fallow deer rut. I’m so glad I chose to follow my own path this year and continue with my work with the Roe. I feel the images in this blog are amongst my strongest work to date.

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It’s always great when you find a new site and in the early part of the autumn I found a couple of locations not that far from home that afforded me some lovely opportunities to get to know three new families of roe deer.

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 It’s always good as a photographer to try to challenge yourself. The image below, taken in early autumn, was shot at dusk, at another new site, long after the light had gone. It gave me the opportunity to get creative, dialling down the white balance in camera for a cool blue to create a sense of drama and mood. I like the end result. I’m in a great position with my photography that I only have to please myself these days. It would be a technique I would return to later in the autumn.

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I also started to experiment more with photographing the deer small in the frame.

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A lot of the pleasure of spending time with one species is getting to know their habits intimately. One thing I noticed in particular is how the lives of Roe deer and foxes are inextricably interlinked.

The Red fox is the mortal enemy of the Roe deer. A fox will take a young fawn. Even at a few months old the mother is wise enough to remain wary and protective of her kid.

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The fox is always on the look out nonetheless, skulking in the shadows.

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During the early part of the autumn a false rut takes place. It is thought to be brought on because young bucks start to reach sexual maturity at this time of year.

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I was lucky enough to witness the clash of antlers between competing males during this time, set against a backdrop of autumn colour.

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It was also nice to get some behavioural shots also, such as this next image of a mature Roe buck grazing in a traditional English hay meadow.

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As the season progressed, I was hoping to get some shots of deer in the mist. It wasn’t easy but I did get the right conditions I was looking for on a couple of occasions.

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The next couple of shots are amongst my favourite from my autumn photography. The fire in the mist in the next shot lasted only a few seconds. It was very magical.

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It was a very cold morning and as the mist started to burn off, I could see the breath of the buck as it exhaled highlighted against the rising sun.

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As the season continued to advance, it was magical to watch as the leaves started to turn, revealing their colours in all their autumn splendour.

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By this time the colours on the trees had turned to a deep gold. I wanted to make the most of this vibrant palette, shooting the deer small in a frame against it. The frost and hint of mist were the icing on the cake in the next couple of images.

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At this time of year the bucks drop their antlers. The youngsters drop their antlers first. Mature bucks may not drop their antlers until as late as mid December.

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Another technique I had some fun with this autumn was using a slow shutter speed to convey movement as the deer leap and run. The deer are actually pretty used to me now so they tend not to be bothered by me. I was therefore only really able to try the technique if there were dog walkers around to be honest. It was great fun though when I did get the opportunity.

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I also found another site with a tunnel of trees. I could see the potential of the shot, making for a graphic composition so set up a hide there. Over a period of a month and many hours sitting patiently waiting, I was able to get some images I was pleased with.

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The deer were also not the only animals to enter the frame, the fox was never far behind as always.

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Towards the end of November it was starting to get a lot colder and there was a decided nip in the air. It made for some beautiful, frosty mornings.

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The next set of images form part of a memorable encounter with the deer.  I had seven Roe run towards me across the filed chasing one another until they were stood just a matter of yards from me, surrounding me. Their curiosity seemed to get the better of them and I spent a magical 10 minutes photographing them as they promenaded round me.

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The deer weren’t the only ones getting used to the change in temperature. I came across this bold fox mousing in one of the neighbouring fields.

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One of the family of deer I photograph live in the fields surrounding an old farm. It makes for a great backdrop for images. Here an adult female doe is walking past an old disused milking shed.

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By mid December, the leaves had all but fallen, and the frosts were becoming harder, a sure sign heralding in the start of winter.

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Roe deer are for the most part of the year solitary animals, it’s one of the things that mark them out from other species of deer. It’s one of the aspects that I am particularly drawn to I think.

At this time of year though they start to group up. I counted nine deer in this particular field.

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The temperature that morning was – 4 degrees and you could even see the frost on the back of the deer. I was starting to feel a lot like winter.

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This last shot is of a young Roe buck pronging in the frost. He reminds me of my own little one, excited about Christmas. This blog is for him.

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I hope you have enjoyed looking at these images as much as I enjoyed making them. I would like to take the opportunity to thank everyone who follows my work for your encouragement an support and to wish you all a very Happy Christmas and joyful New Year.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Heatherlands

_K7R6174As I set out on my long term project to photograph the natural history of roe deer nearly five years ago I knew I wanted to include some images of roe in flowering purple heather.

Lowland heathland is a rare and threatened habitat occurring on acidic, impoverished, dry sandy or wet peaty soils, and is characterised by the presence of a range of dwarf-shrubs. These include various types of heather and gorse, as well as bilberry/bleberry, cowberry and crowberry. This habitat is also home to a variety of fauna, including roe deer. It’s sharp decline over the last 200 years makes it a priority for nature conservation

Terry, my deer mentor, who I wrote about in my last blog, and I had spent a lot of time trying to find a suitable location in previous years. Heather wasn’t a problem. But a site holding a good population of roe was. In 2013 I had spent most of the summer working at a private site in the heart Wareham Forest with permission kindly provided by the forestry commission with very little to show for it.

In one of the last conversations I had with Terry when he was in hospital I told him I was going to have another go at getting images of roe in heather and share them with him. Terry sadly passed before I was able to make make good on that promise.

In the weeks that followed, as I struggled to come to terms with Terry’s passing I found comfort and solace amongst the wild beauty of the heather lands at a new site I had identified in Dorset which had potential close to where I grew up.

Driven by grief I have probably never worked harder on anything in my life in terms of creative endeavour. I know I walked an average of 10 to 15 miles a day in search of roe deer with heavy camera gear slung across my shoulders. It was tough going with 3am starts to get to the site and late finishes getting home at close to midnight. The Roe rut is like that. I was so determined though to achieve the images I wanted in Terry’s memory it hardly registered.

Putting into practice the wealth of skills and fieldcraft Terry had passed on to me over the years, I was fortunate enough to have a number of wonderful encounters over the next few weeks, involving a variety of different deer from big mature bucks (beasts as Terry used to call them) to little yearlings. The selection of images below represent some of my own personal highlights from the project.

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_K7R6203After weeks of blood sweat and tears though the does eluded me. I was fast running out of time as the heather was starting to go over leaving just a few purple patches in those areas of the heath that received less direct sunlight. I decided to call it a day until next year. On the last night though I thought I would try one last time for a shot of a mature buck I had encountered at the start of the project.

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I set myself up just as Terry had taught me and waited…and waited. Nothing. The light had much gone and I was pretty much ready to call it a day when I saw movement out of my peripheral vision. A beautiful adult female doe, no doubt the dominant female in the territory walking past me through the heather. In that moment I felt Terry’s presence and voice very clearly and knew what to do (and perhaps more importantly what not to do to mess up!).

The next shot is the resulting image and the final one of my summer project. Taken at 1/25 second by some small miracle it is sharp.

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As I walked out of the heath in the pitch dark for the final time, listening to the sounds of the night, I smiled to myself at the thought of my magical encounter and my spirits started to lift a little for the first time in weeks. I knew Terry would have been proud and would always be there with me when I am out with the roe.

This blog is dedicated to Terry, a celebration of a  life well lived, filled with strength, beauty and vibrant colour. Just like his beloved roe standing among the flowering heather.

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Terry Copperthwaite – my mentor and friend remembered

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It is with great sadness that I write this tribute to my roe deer mentor and great friend Terry Copperthwaite who passed away a few weeks ago. All the images appearing in this post were taken with Terry over a number of years.

I first came across Terry five years ago when I was looking for a deer expert to help me with a long term project to document the natural history of Roe deer. Roe are perhaps our most beautiful species of deer in the British Isles. As a prey species though they are naturally shy and therefore difficult to get close to. In approaching the project I knew I would need to learn the specialist fieldcraft required if I was to have any hope of getting close enough to get the images I was hoping for. Terry appeared on a DVD I bought from Sweden about stalking Roe. Terry was introduced as a professional deer stalker, whose territory he managed lying in the beautiful rolling hills of southern England, holding a well kept and balanced population of Roe deer. The film features a variety of encounters with Roebucks during the rut. On each occasion Terry was able to get the Swedish stalkers to within just a few metres of the buck. At the end of the film the programme makers included a credit to Terry which simply read ‘Terry Copperthwaite – thank you for teaching us.’

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I contacted Terry to introduce myself and asked if he could help me with my project, teaching me the fieldcraft skills involved in stalking Roe. I wasn’t expecting a reply to be honest. Hunting is an emotive subject and the stalking community are naturally careful when it comes to unsolicited approaches. I was very surprised therefore when Terry came back to me almost straight away. That was Terry though, he would do anything for anyone.

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Terry said he really liked my work and proposed a deal, he would help me and in return he wanted my help with photographing the deer. Terry had a deep love and passion for Roe deer and whilst he had stalked Roe all his life he confessed that these days he preferred watching and photographing them to shooting. I agreed and so developed the start of a very long and rewarding mentoring relationship and friendship.

I went down to stay with Terry at his based on the outskirts of Salisbury and he would take me out to find deer early morning and late evening on the 24 or so farms he managed across Wiltshire, Hampshire and Dorset. The Roe rut takes place during high summer so it meant getting up early at 4am and we weren’t back to 11pm. These were halcyon days though. Terry was extremely generous with his knowledge and taught me so much about the natural history of Roe deer. He had also led a very interesting life, characterised typically by bravery and serving others, having previously had a long and highly distinguished career in the Metropolitan police before retiring in 2010 to set up his stalking business. We spent many hours talking and putting the world to rights. As well as being highly knowledgeable about his subject and possessing a huge generosity of spirit Terry also had a very dry sense of humour that suited my own and there was a lot of laughter. My times with Terry over the next few summers are now such treasured memories

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In 2014 Terry and I started leading Roe deer workshops together. To my knowledge we were the only people confident enough to offer specialist Roe deer photography workshops.

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The above image of a Roe doe in a crop of barley was taken with Terry. Called ‘Fields of Gold’ both Terry and I were proud that it won a highly commended in the Habitat category of the British Wildlife Photography Awards a couple of years ago. Those close to Terry will appreciate the way in which the title of the image now resonates.

Terry was more than just a mentor and business partner though, he was a dear friend. He was very caring and I will never forget the times he called me when I have been going through difficult times myself. His support during these periods made all the difference and helped get me through a stronger person. Terry was like that, just inspirational.

I count myself fortunate enough to be able to spend  time with Terry before his passing and got the opportunity to tell him how much he meant to me. I also made Terry a promise that I would finish the Roe deer project and that the resulting book would be for him. It will take me a few more years to ensure it is a fitting tribute but I intend to keep that promise

Terry was a true gentleman, a loyal friend, a superbly knowledgable naturalist and a passionate conservationist. I am going to miss him greatly. My thoughts are very much with Terry’s family at this difficult time. I would like to take the opportunity to thank them for welcoming me so warmly into it. I very much feel like a member of the Copperthwaite clan.

In the weeks since Terry’s passing I have spent a lot of time out in the wild with the Roe, determined to continue with the project. This has been a great comfort in dealing with my own personal grief. I have felt Terry with me, his voice and presence, as I have put into practice the fieldcraft and knowledge he generously passed on to me. I hope it shows in my work which will feature in my next blog, Heatherlands. In the meantime, I wanted to finish with the images below. Going back through my files these are the last two photographs I took with Terry on a workshop with a couple of clients during the Roe rut in 2016. I hope this blog is a fitting tribute to a very special person and role model.

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Terry Copperthwaite, master buck you’ll always be with me in my heart and thoughts – thank you for teaching me. My turn now to pass it on to the next generation.

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Meadowlands

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Over the summer I have been working on Roe deer again at one of my favourite sites close to home in the South East of England and thought I would share some highlights with you (please click on each image to see them at optimum resolution).

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I was away this year for much of the period coinciding with the rut. I was still able to run a few photographic workshops either side of my trip and the following images are all taken on workshops with clients.

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At this year the bucks are bulked up full of testosterone for the rut. You can really see it with their thick necks.

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The females look very attractive also with the deer in their summer coats. The word Roe comes from the old English for red and Roe deer are in fact a lot more red than their bigger cousins the Red deer.

The Roe deer population in the South East can be traced back from fossils millions of year and in my opinion are much prettier than the roe found in other parts of England that have largely been re introduced from poorer stock from the continent. You have to go up to Scotland to find animals of a similar quality.

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One of the meadows where I work has a lovely black background. It is one of my favourite places to work.

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By mid summer the meadows are vibrant and alive with the flowers in bloom,  including thistles, buttercups and orchids. It’s always lovely to see our prettiest species of native deer amongst the summer flowers. It’s a very special habitat – there has been a 97% decline in traditional hay meadows since the Second World War. It’s very sad as this is an important habitat for many of our native species.

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This particular buck is one of my favourites to work with. He is very tolerant if you know what you are doing. With his six point antlers, prominent pearling and sloping coronets he is a mature animal, coming into his prime.

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Putting together this blog I had an opportunity to go back through my files. It’s strange to think I have been visiting this site for the last five years. I haven’t really worked there very much over the last three years with family taking priority but it was nice to take a stroll down memory lane. I’ve never really put together the shots in a blog as a set so I thought I’d present them here.

Roe deer Capreolus capreolus, in hay meadow, England, May

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Bringing my photography up to date, I have been working on some shots this summer to convey Roe being more active at night. Shot with a very cool blue white balance and in the majority of cases manually focuses in the gloom at very high ISOs for a deliberately grainy feel and very low shutter speeds (1/25 sec) it’s very much hit and miss getting sharp images but good fun none the less.

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I’ll be working a lot more at this magical site in the next year as I really get to know the resident deer families.

I run one to one Roe deer workshops throughout the year. Please call me on 07525618363 for details and to secure your booking.

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