Paul Slyer's Photography blog

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Deer rutting season begins..

It’s 6 a.m. when my alarm clock sounds and despite it being dark outside I have no problem rising this morning as I have been looking forward to this day trip all week. After a quick shower, cup of tea and double checking I have charged batteries, CF cards, monopod, camera and lens we are on our way to do some photographing in Richmond Park.

Richmond Park is a 944 hectare urban park located in south west London and is the largest of the royal parks in London.  The park is home to numerous wildlife species including red and fallow deer, foxes, rabbits, ring necked parrots, kestrels, woodpeckers and numerous waterfowl species.

Red deer stag

Red deer stag

Our main aim for the day was to photograph red deer.  In autumn the deer start their breeding ritual called the rut, where mature stags compete for the attention of the females (known as hinds) by sparring with each other.  Sometimes fights can last several minutes and males can sustain serious injuries if nether stag backs down.  Stags can be heard roaring and bellowing to advertise to females or to keep a check on the females already in his harem or group.  It seems that the females are attracted to males that call the loudest and most frequent.

Stag's call to attract females

females are attracted to stag's that call the loudest and most frequent

Arriving at the park we met up with a friend and discussed where we would start our deer search.  All of a sudden out of the morning mist came a low rumbling roar, similar to that of a male lion that I am so accustomed to back in Africa.  We all froze and listened with excitement as the realisation that there where deer in the vicinity became apparent. Discussion over, we headed for the distant roars of a stag advertising to females in a nearby woodland patch.

We found a fairly large group of around 15 deer grazing on chestnuts that had fallen overnight. They where all a bit skittish and due to the low light in the wood we could not get any decent photos, but never the less we had found our first herd and our spirits where up.  We slowly wandered from group to group following their calls waiting patiently for the right moment to capture a deer standing in a beam of light or compose a silhouette of one with a clean back ground.

In one thicket we managed to get some lovely shots of a large stag walking towards us in very thick ferns with only his head sticking out.  He was not fazed by us at all and we had to move out of his way to avoid being on the receiving end of a very large set of antlers.  He walked passed us and took out his frustration on a low lying branch before running down the hill towards a group of hinds in a small valley below.

Those antlers meant business

Those antlers meant business

As the sun and temperature rose, the deer moved out into the open fields where they lay sunning themselves and the males continued to call to any female looking for a harem to join.  In the distance we witnessed a fight between 2 rival stags with a group of 7 females watching intensively to see which male would be the more dominant. We raced off in their direction to record the action, but unfortunately by the time we reached them, there was already a winner who had kept custody of his females and the challenger was seen running off into the distance.

It was a good day out and we got some good images.  The light was a bit dark early in the morning, but the sun eventually showed itself and we could lower those ISOs enough to get some clean images.  If you are interested in photographing in Richmond Park, I would recommend getting an early start as you have a good chance of getting some lovely silhouette images of deer in thick mist.  The deer tended to stick to the woods in the morning and move into the open areas as the day warmed up.  At this time of year it is very easy to locate the deer by their calls.

I would definitely recommend a large focal length lens around 200 to 400mm as you don’t want to disturb them or get too close as they can be aggressive and have been known to attack people.  A monopod or tripod is a must, I found myself shooting at around ISO800 and only getting shutter speeds of 125th of a second at f5.6 and f8. 

Deer3

Calling out of a fern thicket

I always take great delight in taking time out from looking through the eye piece of the camera and just appreciate being amongst nature, spending time with these magnificent animals and enjoying the moment you have together.

Last but not least…respect the wildlife in our parks, take only photos and leave only foot prints.

Enjoy!

Posted 8 years, 2 months ago.

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In the lion of fire

Recently while on a field guiding course in Karongwe Game reserve I had an encounter that will stay with me for the rest of my life…

We were out on our usual afternoon game drive looking for the resident pride of lions.  I was the designated tracker on this afternoon, perched on the end of our open safari vehicle.  For those of you who don’t know what being the tracker entails, it usually means sitting on a tiny chair which is bolted onto the front left hand side of the bonnet with your feet dangling over the edge resting on the bumper with two handles to hold onto to avoid falling off whilst driving along bumpy roads or speeding to an animal sighting. It is the tracker’s job to look for tracks on the dusty sand roads and to help the guide look for interesting sights on a game drive. 

One of Zeros Cubs

One of Zeros Cubs

Well back to the story…as we were crossing a dry river bed I spotted the resident pride of lions making their way down the river bed towards us.  I signalled to my guide, who switched off the engine not to scare the lions.  The were was made up of a magnificent male lion called Zero who was the leader, his 2 females and 2 younger males which were last years offspring.  The river bed was dry apart from 2 small puddles that had formed in tyre ruts.  Zero was about 20 metres in front of the rest of the pride and was walking directly towards me.  He stopped approximately 6 metres away from our vehicle stared into my eyes thought for a moment whether I would make a tasty meal then walked towards me…this is when I became really nervous!

 My guide and trainer at the time warned me not to move, not even to breath as this could spark an attack.  Zero got to within 1.5 metres of me, lay down at my feet and started drinking water out of the puddle looking up at me the whole time.  Now let me tell you I have done a fair few adrenalin sports in my life like bungee jumping, white water rafting and motocross, but nothing gets the heart pumping more than a fully grown wild lion at your feet!

Zero coming towards me taken by Robin Gilbert

Zero coming towards me taken by Robin Gilbert

After a few moments of composing myself I started appreciating the situation I was in.  To-date most of the adrenalin pumping activities I have participated in seemed dangerous at the time, but in reality have been pretty safe.  The chances of a rope breaking doing a bungee jump over a 100m gorge are pretty slim, but if Zero had decided that I looked like a tasty meal he would’ve had me between his jaws in seconds.  Luckily for me lions don’t associate trackers as food, but rather as part of the vehicle, which of course is alot bigger than they are.  

After about 15 minutes Zero got up and walked back to the rest of his family who where lying about 30 metres away, which gave me a chance to grab my camera and start getting shots of them.  Zero’s sons lay perfectly in parallel of each other and I got some good shots with one being in focus and the other out of focus.  Zero lay down facing one of his lionesses and gave her a nudge as males do when they what something more before getting up and mounting her.  She must not have been in the mood as a split second later she swung around and took a swipe at him. Obviously he was not impressed and let out a huge roar and wondered off sulking. These turned out to be great shots of lion interactions.

Zero drinking taken by Kim Carpenter

Zero drinking taken by Kim Carpenter

Well I think my close encounter with Zero has been engraved in my memory forever and I don’t think I will ever forget him and his pride for as long as I live.  I’m sure I will have plenty more encounters with lions in the future, but as they say “the first cut is the deepest”.

Cubs in a line

Cubs in a line

Having a tiff just after mating

Having a tiff just after mating

Posted 8 years, 3 months ago.

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