Woburn Deer Park Rut Week Five 13th October 2017

Week five started with an aborted planned sunrise visit on Saturday 7th October, I decided to change to a sunset visit that day at the last minute as something else cropped up. The forecast was cloudy all evening but when I had visited the night before the rut looked like it had started and I wanted to get back. I arrived at Woburn at 4pm, a little later than planned. On arrival the park was quite quiet, there were a few deer about but not in the same numbers as the previous evening. My luck with inaccurate weather forecasts continued, at 4:30 it started to rain. Whilst rain isn't something I'm normally worried about, I actually quite like the rain as it provides an other interesting element to the image. The problem this evening was that I had no rain protection on me except the coat I was wearing. I had left my cameras rain cover at home as I had forgotten to repack it after drying at home from the previous Sunday. So I had to improvise, looking through my camera back I found the bags own rain cover. Laying this over the top of the lens/camera provided some protection and let me carry on shooting.

Sometimes you just have to improvise.

Initially the rain was on and off, and not really enough for photos. I find light rain doesn't show up well in photos. I wandered up and down the park trying to find a good encounter without too much luck. From a far I noticed a stag further up the path, as I approached the off road deer tour came into sight and passed just in front of the stag. This stag wandered off but there was another up the path that I approached followed by the tour tractor. This stag was quite happy eating away with myself on the footpath and tour to the right (this stag can be seen in the background of the image of the rain cover above). The tour then left and I tried to make an image but couldn't get one that really worked as the light wasn't that good. The light had been quite poor all evening and hadn't helped trying to get an image worth taking. Thankfully the rain started to get heavier around 5:40 and the other stag from earlier reappeared on the opposite side. Due to the rain the light had dropped and I was at 1/200 to keep ISO at 3200. In the rain this wasn't too much of a problem as you need to drop shutter speed to around 1/100 to get the rain to appear as streaks. A dark background is also needed to help the rain streaks show in the image. I decided the other stag would give a better chance of getting the "stag in the rain" image I was thinking of, I repositioned with dark trees behind the stag. Over the next 5 minutes the stag started to make it's way towards me before disappearing out of reach from where it came from. Those 5 minutes was even time to get the images below, all of which are quite high ISO around ISO2500-ISO4000 that thankfully my camera handles quite well.

After this encounter I stayed around but the rain was getting heavier. I was quite soaked by this point so I decided to call it a day and made my way out of the park. Although from the evening visit I only managed to produce a few images in the rain it was worth the visit and getting wet for. I managed to capture some different images to what I had managed to capture so far this rut. It's always nice to get something different rather than repeating the same deer rut images again and again.

My visit on Sunday 8th October was planned for sunrise even though the forecast was cloud all day. I like sunrise visits as getting out early lets you have the rest of the day to spend doing something else or spending time with family. Once again the forecast was wrong, thats pretty much the reoccurring story of my deer rut this year. On the drive over I had noticed the sky was starting to clear. By the time I was in the deer park the sky was nearly clear apart from some cloud catching the sunrise light.

Sunrise came and went at 7:14 without any deer within range of the footpaths. It was 7:45 by the time I found the stag below. Once again the light wasn't that good and it didn't stay around to look as two walkers past myself and the deer.

After this stag disappeared out of sight I continued along the path spotting two photographers photographing a stag near to them further up the footpath. I stayed back not approaching them. If other photographers have a stag in a good position and are busy photographing it I stay back to give them time to get photos and myself not being the reason the deer is scared off. As I was standing there I watched another stag walk towards and past them. The two photographers decided to leave their position and walk towards me. I decided to follow the deer they had left behind hoping to capture an image of it in the nearby trees. As I got closer I noticed there was another stag in the wallow, the two were walking away from me but they were walking parallel to one another. Knowing this behaviour was them sizing each other up and potentially a fight could ensue I quickly decided to tried ro cover enough ground to get in a position to setup hoping to fight image. Last year I had captured my first fight image only for the fight to happen directly behind a tree! Thankfully I set up the tripod just in time for the fight. The fight was over in about 8 seconds but I managed to capture a few images as I continuously fired the shutter (something I don't don that often). I'm glad to say the tree was in a better position this year!

After the fight the stags stood their ground at either end with no clear winner. One stag walked off back towards me followed by the other. It looked like there could be round two. The two stags had passed me within a safe distance and I followed them, but they quickly turned around and headed back towards me. At this point I felt quite vulnerable being out in the open and them heading back towards me. I started backing away from them and positioned myself at the base of a tree. By this point they had turned around and I captured this images as the stag on the right decided to move away.

As this stag moved out into the sunlight I notice steam was pouring from the stag. The stag stood nicely back/side lit by the sun, bellowing at the other stag before moving further away.

Once I turned around the other stag had settled back down, laying down now looking quite sedate. Getting a low perspective let me capture the image below.

The stag seemed to be happy with my presence so I started to move position hoping to capture an image head on rather from the side. Whilst I captured a head on image the background was quite harshly lit so it didn't work. I carried on moving along the path to the opposite side of the stag, capturing the image below as it bellowed.

Knowing at some point the stag would likely stand up and move away I stayed in position framing that potential image. Whilst I was right it would eventuality stand up I wasn't expecting it to be 45 minutes after it had sat down! Anticipating an image then sitting and waiting for that to potentially happen is something you have to get used to with wildlife photography (that's if photographing deer in a deer park can actually be called wildlife photography). The stag was quite content to lay there, occasionally bellowing when he heard another stag bellow in the distance. If it wasn't for another stag appearing over a ridge on the other side of the pond I don't think it would have got up. As soon as the stag got up the other stag quickly turned around and disappeared! The image I had been waiting for then happened. The stag bellowed twice before walking off into the now harsh light, but I had got the image i had anticipated.

The stag was now in harsh light and there wasn't much dappled shade around. I watched the stag a little longer then decide it was time for breakfast and left for home. It was worth the visit to finally capture an image of fighting stags without a tree in the way!

I made my third visit of the week to Woburn on Friday 13th October. With the sunset getting earlier it doesn't leave much time for evening visits. The weather forecast was actually quite accurate for once being a mixture of cloud and sunny intervals. As I walked through the park I noticed there were more stags standing or sitting about, the number of active stags seemed to have decreased since my last visit. The good news was the rut was definitely still going on. One of the first stags I came across was the stag below.

As he walked away I noticed how thin he was. The rut can really take it out of the stags, they lose quite a bit of weight during the rut due to the intensity of the rut and they reframe from eating. Towards the end of the rut it starts to be very noticeable.

After this encounter I walked up and down the footpath, there were plenty of deer about but just a little bit too far for photos. With not many deer in range and the light to soon disappear I made the decision to leave earlier than planned to take the long walk across the park to try again for a silhouette hoping a deer would be there. Like all best plans I never got there, as I was walking across I notice there was a harem outside the front of the house. As I left earlier I thought I would have a quick look, at best there may be an image but at least I would enjoy the extra exercise. It was interesting to watch this huge harem that was actually made up of 4 individual harems. Whilst the stags seemed to tolerate each other they weren't as happy with other stags challenging them, quickly chasing them away.

One of the stags and its harem broke away from the main group and headed up a ridge. This stag was quite active running back and forth trying to round up its harem. The harem was perfectly placed onto of the ridge, getting low allowed me to isolate the top of the ridge from the trees in the distance. I have a thing with ridge image that background trees just clutter the composition, all I want is ridge and sky, thats it, the problem being there are very few places in Woburn were this is possible. Thankfully tonight it looked like it was all coming together nicely. The sun starts to disappear below the tree line about 30 minutes before sunset. Being high up on the ridge meant the ridge was still nicely side lit even though the main valley was by now in shade. Whilst the stag was running back and forth amongst the harem the biggest issue was trying to isolate just the stag. I soon realised the only option would be using portrait orientation as there wasn't enough clear space for an isolated landscape orientation image. Following the stag back and forth it stopped in a clear area on top of the ridge, it bellowed once then looked towards me. This lasted all of 45 seconds before it disappeared behind the ridge. It was just enough time to get the two images below.

The stag appeared again 10 minutes later but further along the ridge in a position where I couldn't isolate the trees behind. The light by this point had all but disappeared so there probably wasn't an image there. As the sun had now set the only hope was to set up for the ridge hopefully one of the stags would appear when the sky and clouds behind had turned a nice shade of pink. I waited and watch the sky turn, stags could be heard bellowing out of sight nearby but sadly no deer appeared on the ridge. Once the colour was lost from the sky I packed up and made the long walk out of the park.

After Week Five: Visits: 15 Time: 31.5 hours

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