Autumn in the Forest

I have always loved woodlands. They are places of great emotional sanctuary. I can spend hours wandering through the trees and glades, in a dream-like state, forgoing every worry and responsibility back home. October 2014 began like summer. T-shirts in daytime, al-fresco dining and windows open late into the night. And then early on a Sunday morning, it all changed. I couldn't believe it. Beads of dew on the long grass had frozen solid following a calm, clear starry night. Thereafter, each day saw high winds and frequent torrential downpours, accompanied by thunder and lightning. Leaves blocked drains and early morning commuters found themselves stranded, as flash floods overwhelmed transport infrastructure.

A succession of heavy, thundery showers passed over the Arun Valley on an early October afternoon. The tree canopy swayed violently, as squalls cut through the tall slender beeches, opening up the woodland floor to debris and cold raindrops. It became so dark, at one point, that the Tawny owls began calling to each other, as they normally would at dusk. Towards evening, the updraught needed to generate cumulonimbus clouds faded and the sun came out. It was a shame my camera wasn't set up for wildlife photography, as Roe deer, still wearing their summer coats, were present along a nearby glade.

October ended as it began, with temperatures of 19°C, far too warm for jackets. A privately owned forest on the High Weald features a classically beautiful woodland glade, lined with pine and beech trees. The scene only works on October and November afternoons, when low back-lighting generates a spectacular autumnal vista. I arrived just as a cigar-shaped bank of mist slid through the golden autumnal treescape. 

After enjoying an al fresco pub lunch, I had the pleasure of showing two friends around this forest on a gloriously sunny early November afternoon. It didn't take long, before my sharp-eyed Latvian friend spotted a Fallow deer along a glade. Moments later, several more followed suit. Having grown up in a village near Riga, she is the only person I've met, who has seen the Eurasian Lynx. At one time, the Lynx would have roamed Sussex, preying on Roe deer and other mammals. This wild cat survives in Latvia, because it is one of the few European countries still relatively untouched by human development. I had to wait another three days, before capturing Fallow deer on camera. A herd of Fallow deer galloped through the trees, just as it started to pour with rain. I was pleased to obtain something creative and unexpected.

The Sun and the Rainfall

Autumn Jaunt

Friston Forest

Golden Hour, Friston Forest    Forest Glowing in Sunset Light

Autumn Overture, Friston Forest


Woodland Ride in Autumn

Misty Forest Glade in Autumn

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Brighton Clock Tower in Snow   Snow Covered Bench on Hove Promenade.   Night picture of the Chattri in December 

Hove beach huts in snow   Snow on Hove Promenade   Brighton Clock Tower in snowstorm

Starlings   Starling Murmuration   Starling Murmuration and West Pier, in a Hail Storm

Starlings   Star-ti-ling Sunset   Murmuration

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Bluebell Wood   Glade in Autumn   The Golden Trail

Poppies in the Red Zone   White Horse   Wanna Make Something Of It?

Rabbit and Daisies   Marbled White, female and male   The Famous Five

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Starling Murmuration


Starling Murmuration and West Pier, in a Hail Storm

One's Fallow Men

My visit to a forest on the High Weald in Sussex marked the end of a three month break from stalking deer. I saw 25 deer in total, including this pair of Fallow bucks, sporting a tan coat, cream underside and white spots. Their freshly created footprints and droppings were visible along a woodland path adjacent to where I spotted them moments later in a field. Unusually for this species, they spent about 20 seconds observing me, before running away; they would normally bolt on sight. When I think about it, not many people go out for a walk and enjoy the privilege of seeing this! 

Roe deer seem more abundant in the forest this year. Hopefully in the coming years, it will become a first choice location for Roe. Sometimes, one can wander through the forest and not see a single deer. This evening was one of those a rare occasions when my visit coincided with high levels of deer activity. With my enthusiasm for deer refreshed, I hope to spend more time during what remains of the summer, out in the woods and fields, looking for more beautiful animals to show you.

One's Fallow Men

Precisely two weeks later, I returned to the forest and discovered that the abundance of deer was no fluke. Likely reasons are the displacement of animals from overpopulated neighbouring forests and cool August weather deterring people from visiting the forest. Early in the evening, a Fallow deer buck (see below) appeared along a glade deep into the forest. Minutes later, I saw him chase a slightly younger buck through the ferns. The fleeing buck, unaware of my presence, ran straight towards me, turned sharply and leapt through the air in a 10 metre trajectory. Not many people go for a walk in the forest and see the aerial jump of a Fallow deer at such close quarters (5 metres). The pair of Fallow deer above are 2 years old, while the buck with more well-developed antlers is aged 4 years. Fallow deer can live for up to 15 years in the wild.

Fallow Buck, Woodland Glade

High Summer at Kingston Ridge

Harvest time has come early to Sussex, following above average winter, spring and summer temperatures. A recent heatwave, with daily figures of 28°C, accounts for the parched appearance of fields. I've been following seasonal changes to the landscape at Kingston Ridge since March. Just 90 days ago, the area was vivid green. Now, it is a palette of golden brown and muted red. Compare March and June 2014 to see how different it looks. If September is warm and settled, farmers will sow the fields, as they did last year, resulting in a marked absence of poppy fields earlier this summer. I will be returning here in autumn and winter, for more dramatic seasonal comparisons.

Bread Basket

Harvest Time, Kingston Ridge

High Summer, Kingston Ridge

The Colours of Summer

June is surely the greenest month in the calendar. Perhaps it's just a bit too green for some. The coming of July resolves this, by adding just a hint of red and yellow into fields and pastures. Corn fields start to ripen and by August, the parched fields will have dispersed their seeds and begun to die back. Happily, there's still plenty of time to enjoy the countryside, as the sun continues to shine until 9.15pm and twilight lasts until 10.30.

2014 has been a terrible year for wild poppies in Sussex, but a potentially lucrative one for farmers. Favourable sowing weather in autumn 2013 lead to farmers using their arable land for wheat production. Summer 2014 will produce a bumper yield of grain. If you love the sight of poppies, then a wet autumn is your ally.  

After a mild winter and warm spring, the first Marbled White butterflies were on the wing by June 20th, a full 10 days earlier than normal. They can be found in meadows all over England and live for about 21 days. I spent two hours with a roosting female and male (see last photo) in a vast meadow on the eastern edge of Friston Forest. The red object on the male is a parasite called Trombidium breei, which feeds on its blood. I counted 6 mites in total. A major infestation can potentially kill the butterfly.

Half-a-mile along a path beginning in the village of West Dean is a meadow nestled between Friston Forest and Exceat Wood. This unplanted part of the forest is sheltered from the wind and therefore ideal for macro work. Time always flies past when I'm completely absorbed in butterflies. Friston Forest may be a 20 mile bus journey from home, but nowhere else locally has such a vast range of subjects and locations. We wait months for butterflies to appear and they're around for such a short period of time. It's like spending the day with a friend you won't see again for another year.

A methodical approach is essential when photographing butterflies. Since they are cold-blooded, I always photograph butterflies when they are inactivated by cooler evening temperatures. Winds have to be very light or non-existent, but nevertheless I still utilise an array of sticks and clothes pegs to secure plant stems and prevent any movement. The camera sensor and wings have to be in perfect alignment, otherwise only part of the butterfly will be in focus. It can take two hours and 300 shots to produce the final result. 

Waterpit Hill, South Downs

Balmer Huff

The Gate

Fireweed    Wild Woodland Foxgloves

Poppies in the Red Zone

Marbled White on Pyramid Orchid

Red Admiral, Friston Forest

Marbled White on Pyramid Orchid, Friston Forest    Mating Six-spot Burnet Moths

Marbled White, female and male