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An Experience Deer to my Heart

I love visiting Watchtree Nature Reserve for many reasons. The facilities are top notch, the staff are all helpful and friendly and their selection of coffee and sweet goodies are the icing on the cake. The main reason why I always enjoy my visits however is the sheer number of species that call it their home, from great spotted woodpeckers to tawny owls, roe deer and brown hares, not forgetting the songbirds, rare great crested newts and a whole host of other slippery amphibians and miniscule invertebrates.

Although I have enjoyed every trip I’ve made there, including the days with gusting winds and driving rain that turned into hail and froze me to the bone, some of my trips stand out in my mind as being truly special. Yesterday’s trip was one of those that will stick with me for a long time yet.

It started with news that a pair of tawny owls had nested in Pow Wood on the far side of the reserve. I’d had a couple of trips down in the evening where I had heard the owls being mobbed by songbirds, alarm-calling around them and I had heard the young owlets calling out but I hadn’t seen hide nor hair (or feathers in this case) of the owls, bar when one swooped down out of the corner of my eye, so I’d gone down again to try my luck. Patience and persistence is key with wildlife.

So I entered Pow wood and walked very slowly and gently down the gravel path, so as to not give my position away to any of the surrounding wildlife. When I got further into the wood, dodging the midges as I went, I noticed a roe deer doe come bounding down the field to my left right towards me so I stopped stock-still.

The wind was in my face so the deer was upwind of me which is always the best way to approach mammals as most of them have fantastic senses of smell. The young looking deer approached me confidently for the first part, its long, spindly legs clomping forwards with each step until it got within about ten metres of me. At this point, it froze as if it had seen, no, smelt a ghost, or in this case a human.

There was only the low wire fence between us and the deer smelt the air vigorously, as if by doing so it could work out what I was and whether I was a threat or not. I stayed as still as a statue and breathed gently, quietly cursing myself under my breath for not having brought my camera with me. A couple of minutes passed with me watching the deer and it struck me just how small its head was and how big and unwieldy its ears looked, precariously perched on top.

After a couple of minutes eyeballing my general direction but still not really noticing me for what I was due to my olive green and grey clothing and my being stood in front of a dense clump of conifers, it decided I was no threat and went back to grazing. It stayed close though and it would periodically come back and smell the air again, gazing in my direction, then it would gallop off a bit, uttering a deep, guttural grunting noise before returning and going back to grazing again.

This cycle of behaviour continued for about twenty minutes until the midges biting my ears got a bit too much to handle without swatting them away and the sun was beginning to set without me having seen a tawny owl. For these reasons I began to slowly walk away down the path, at a rate of about a step every two seconds so as to not spook the deer. I needn’t have worried though as it wasn’t spooked, instead it inquisitively followed me every step of the way until the path veered off to the right and the fence was blocking its path. At this point it seemed a bit disgruntled and it clomped off into the field, barking as it went and that signalled the end of a wonderful, natural, completely free experience which will be ingrained in my memory for a lot longer than watching some exotic animal prancing about in a foreign country on television would be.

The beauty of nature I believe lies in its accessibility to all, as it is cost free. All you need to do is chuck on a jacket, some walking shoes/boots/wellies and a waterproof jacket for good measure and head out there and have wonderful experiences. If you have kids, as much as you’d probably love a bit of peace, take them along with you as they’ll love it too.

Go on then, what’s stopping you…

www.benwolstencroft.com