Tuesday, 30 October 2012

In A Bit Of A Rut

The plan was to head down to Exmoor for a few days at the beginning of October, with a lot of indifferent weather and reports from elsewhere in the country of a lot of Red Deer action, I was quite hopeful for a few hours with the wild beasts in the Exmoor National Park.

How wrong could I have been, a 5.30am get up and a pretty speedy 118 miles down the A303, 2 hours later we (Girlfriend & I) were tucking into a full english and giving the ordnance survey a good once over. Down through Exford and up and out onto the Moor, Exmoor seems to be the only place I know of in England where the weather can change from Rain to clear skies in the matter of minutes. Rainbows appear and before you can trace them are gone as the cloud disperses. This particular day was no different, with a keen wind, wrapped up we headed off on the path up towards Dunkery Beacon, a place that has never failed in the past to deliver a herd or two.

A slight detour off of the path through the very wet heather brought me my first views of the Red Deer, about 45-50 to be precise, but any hope of some action vanished pretty quickly, as all they seemed to be worried about was feeding. 4 or 5 Young Stags seem to approach the big old boy, but it was all rather tame and friendly, as he didn't at all seem bothered by there presence. And so it remained throughout the next couple of days. We spent about 6-7 hours watching the Deer and in all that time, I only heard a Stag roar twice. I did manage to capture that on camera although a little far away.

Nice to see plentiful flocks of Golden Plover feeding up on top of the moors exploiting the wet peaty soil, however getting close enough for a picture without causing them to take flight proved too much.

The Roaring Big Boy
Think He Winded Me
Another Roar
A Small Number of the Dunkery Herd
I had a couple of stalks in the hope of singling out a nice Red Stag to photograph, one involved stalking for about a mile over and under, through heather and gorse to get within 20 yards of a group of 4 Stags, however when I got to the final gorse bush I was using as cover, I decided to go the wrong side and came out a lot closer than intended. FAIL, ruining all hopes of a shot. 

A lot of people seem to descend upon London's parks during the Rut to capture the bellowing Stags in all of their glory, and although I've nothing at all against that, for some reason I've always thought if I were to do so it would be cheating a little. The Deer always seem a little more tolerant of humans and far easier to get close to. So I have always told myself to keep it natural and keep it wild. Perhaps I should change my views I might get some decent shots. 

My Closest Encounter
Along with the Red Deer, another ever present on Exmoor are the Exmoor Ponies one of our last breeds of wild horse. They unlike the Deer are far more approachable and seem quite happy to pose.

Exmoor Pony

With the route out of Dulverton closed with roadworks, an alternative way up on to the moor was found, along and across the area known has Hawkridge, a road I had never taken before, leading down to a rather photogenic spot called Landacre Bridge giving views up and down the River Barle. On this occasion the weather struck again, in the 50 yards from leaving the car in bright sunshine to walking to the bridge it was pissing it down!

The area of the National Park here prooved a little more productive for bird life, although unconfirmed Im pretty sure I saw a Hen Harrier working low over top the heather, Stonechat could be seen a top the gorse along with the ever plentiful Meadow Pipit, Kestrel, Raven and a rather lost covey of Red-leg Partridge, trundling along the moor top road. And a flock of 12-15 Redpoll which took me a little by surprise, although later reading my bird book explained that it seemed perfectly adequate habitat for such species.

The River Barle From Landacre Bridge
Saturday our last full day out on the Moor, and a natural phenomenon occurred, one that I haven't ever witnessed before. The sky clear of cloud, the sun out and beating down causing heat hazes everywhere, and not a drop of rain in sight! Certainly makes the scenery look a lot better!

View to Bossington - from Porlock Hill

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