Spring Diary 2011

I could have been forgiven for believing it was summer on Friday 8th April 2011, as I strolled through Friston Forest towards a secluded pumping station, operated by South East Water, which owns the forest. The Eastbourne Water Company planted Friston Forest during the 1920s, to improve the rainfall catchment area. The Forestry Commission holds the lease and they work in partnership with the Sussex Wildlife Trust to manage the estate.

I saw a Common European Adder (Vipera berus), dozens of squirrels and spoke to a gentleman, who informed me that Fallow deer are now present in Friston Forest. The best and perhaps only time to see them is just after dawn. I am determined to become the first person to take a photograph of deer in Friston Forest. Over the coming weeks, I shall be out in the field, taking pictures on a spring theme. I invite you to add this page to your bookmarks and keep coming back to look at my ongoing spring diary.

Adder

Daffodil Avenue

Daffodils

Daffodils

Daffodils

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Tuesday 12th April 2011: There are few sights more invigorating than a beech forest in spring. Fresh, pristine leaves adorned a small fraction of beech trees in Friston Forest today. In just one weeks time, most beech trees will follow suit. I was surprised by the early bud break this spring. Last year, it happened in late April. Perhaps the recent warm temperatures were a factor.

Burst beech bud

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Friday 15th April 2010: After finishing work, I travelled on the number 12 bus to Friston Forest and walked to the quiet, secluded northern end of the plantation. Curiously, some beech trees are almost fully in leaf, while neighbouring trees are yet to break bud. On one side of the fire path, the beech trees are bare and on the other, they are in full leaf. Ferns are beginning to uncoil and I caught sight of my first Red Campion of the year.

Uncoiling Fern

Coiled Fern

Maple sapling

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Sunday 17th April 2011: This is the happiest I've been for a long time. It was a beautifully warm and tranquil day. Bluebells carpeted the woodland floor adjacent to the Sussex Wildlife Trust enclosure. Early Purple Orchids joined them. It was a joy to behold. As I strolled in the dizzy evening air towards Butchershole Bottom, a reddish-coloured mammal, perhaps a Roe deer or maybe a Fox caught my attention (and vice versa), before it vanished into the undergrowth. When I reached the bus stop at Friston Pond, I was surprised to read that the bus company had extended the Sunday service until past 11pm. To the Tiger Inn I went, for a bowl of chips and a pint of Harveys Sussex Best Bitter. Fortuitously, the establishment forced me to spend a minimum of ten pounds on my card, necessitating the purchase of an extra Harveys.

Maple

Bluebells

Bluebells

Early Purple Orchid - Friston Forest

Bluebells in Friston Forest

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Tuesday 19th April 2011: I treated this visit to Abbots Wood, near Polegate, on a warm spring day, as an opportunity to explore this unfamiliar location and assess its suitability as a source of photographic opportunities. After several hours of walking around and speaking to regular visitors, I concluded that daytime visits to Abbots Wood are good for bluebells, butterflies and possibly autumn scenery. I will have to stay in the woods overnight at some point, if I am to stand any chance of seeing the Fallow deer that early morning walkers have observed.

Bluebells in Abbots Wood

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Friday 22nd April 2011: A summer's day in all but name, with temperatures reaching 23°C. I spent 90 minutes observing pheasants and rabbits from behind a hedge, overlooking a valley at an undisclosed location on the South Downs. As the light improved towards early evening, I set on foot along the valley bottom, in search of Roe deer. None appeared, until I accidentally disturbed a doe near the hilltop. She bolted down the hill and then took a semi-circular escape route, over a fence and across a field. I never saw any more of the deer this evening. Having had the opportunity to look at the pictures of her, I can see that she is pregnant. I have booked an entire week off work at the end of May and beginning of June, in anticipation of her delivery of two beautiful Kids. Just before sunset, I met a lovely, friendly cat just outside a farmhouse and I took joy in photographing him, as he explored the undergrowth.

Roe deer running

Roe deer running

The farm cat

The farm cat

Goldfinches

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Saturday 23rd April 2011: The quasi-summer weather continued to uplift and invigorate, with temperatures reaching 24°C, as I visited the countryside surrounding Mile Oak Farm on the South Downs. A colleague of mine has observed Roe deer in this area, so I will consider the location as an option in future. Getting here in the early morning should not be a challenge, as it is served by the number 1 bus. The journey takes just 20 minutes from where I live.

Sun and dandelion clock

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The light on Tuesday 26th April 2010 was dull and as such, opportunities for wildlife photography were few. I was delighted, however, to see my first ever Roe deer in Friston Forest. At 20:23, I spotted a year-old buck in the Sussex Wildlife Trust Friston Forest Grazing Project enclosure, walking down a path. I had thought for a long time that the enclosure, situated in the northern end of Friston Forest would be home to deer, owing to the lack of human visitors. I hid behind a bush and waited for him to saunter past, which he did. The poor light meant that photography was out of the question. I can report that he featured small antlers, with two spikes on each. The buck's antlers had recently shed their velvet and his winter coat was moulting. He was very small and slender - clearly some time away from physical maturity, although he will be sexually mature.  I intend to remain in Friston Forest overnight at some point during the summer. I will take a sleeping bag, a few beers and the bare minimum equipment needed for deer photography - camera body, telephoto lens and monopod.

Rabbit

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Soon after alighting from the bus at an undisclosed location on Thursday 28th April 2011, I photographed the most laid back rabbit I have ever met. The young rabbit was quite happy to sit, while I took close-up pictures of him. I noticed that the Roe deer have ceased their winter grouping. Now that the does are just one month away from giving birth and just two months from the mating season, they can be observed with an attendant buck. The Roe deer are beginning to shed their winter coats and the bucks are no longer in velvet. The network of veins supplying the growing antlers over winter has died off, leaving fully-formed antlers.

Rabbit

Flock of sheep and lambs

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On Friday 29th April 2011, I visited the Sussex Wildlife Trust Friston Forest Grazing Project enclosure to obtain footage of the deer using my high definition video camera. Instead, a badger appeared. The badger didn't realise I was there until he got very close to me. Shortly afterwards, I unexpectedly became stranded during a thunderstorm. If you wear earphones, you can hear the thunderstorm approaching. I didn't have an umbrella or hood, so I took shelter under one of the many beech trees in the enclosure - I was not in any danger from lightning strikes, because of the valley location. Stranded deep in the forest at night and two miles away from the road, I spent 90 minutes waiting for the torrential rain to cease. I appreciated the experience of being on the same level as the animals living in Friston Forest. By the time I arrived at Exceat to await the number 12 bus, the rain began to fall again. This time, I took shelter in a red telephone box for 30 minutes in total darkness. The bus arrived late – I may not have brought a waterproof jacket, as I should have done, but at least I had a bottle of ale for the journey home!


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Sunday 1st May 2011: My favourite month. Improving weather and increasingly long hours of daylight accompany well established floral growth and markedly resurgent animal activity. For a Sunday evening, Friston Forest was notably free of human visitors, which explains why I observed a female Roe deer at 5pm, just half-a-mile north of West Dean. I encountered the doe, as she sat along the edge of a path leading to Charleston Bottom. I have spent three years searching for deer in Friston Forest. Now, I've seen two in just one week! Sadly, I wasn't expecting to see deer at 5pm. The doe ran through the woods and across the path to a safe observing point, where she stared at me. By the time I got my camera out of the bag, she had disappeared. There will be plenty more opportunities during summer mornings.

When I arrived at the Friston Forest Grazing Project enclosure, I looked for an elevated, yet secluded point along a path in which to stake myself out in the hope that deer might pass by. I sat there for two hours, with the northerly wind blowing in my face. By 8pm, I could hear badgers in the distance, so I carefully got up and walked silently to observe them. I counted five badgers in total. Three badgers passed underneath the fence and sauntered into the enclosure to feed. Since the wind carried my scent away, the badgers failed to realise my presence. I have never stood within 10 metres of three wild badgers before. Not many people have enjoyed this privilege. I have the experience to control my emotional response to being suddenly in the presence of timid, nocturnal animals. I went into 'auto pilot' and did my job. I hope you like the footage as much as I enjoyed being there myself.



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Tuesday 11th May 2011: This evening, I brought about a ten day hiatus, caused by a lack of energy and motivation, to a close. When I'd finished with the camera, I sat on Stanmer Down, sipping a bottle of Newcastle Brown Ale in the fading light. Along the private end of Ridge Road, I could see perhaps a dozen bats gliding in the dusky air. The bats got so close, that I could feel the air being disturbed. I met a very pleasant couple near the university campus and we discussed the numerous animal species living in the area, including deer, badgers, bats, stoats and Barn Owls. It was refreshing to meet people who shared my interest in nature.

Pheasant

Pheasant

Sick rabbit being chased by healthy rabbits

Cow and calf

Cattle on South Downs

Bee collecting pollen on a Red Campion

Dandelions

10 Comments - Post a comment:

Anonymous said...

great stuff Alan.Pictures are fantastic

Alan Mackenzie said...

Glad you like them. Keep coming back for more!

PNE-Karl said...

Excellent work Alan. I'm loving your new nature diary. I've not visited your site for a few weeks but I'll visit daily from now on. I've had your site bookmarked over a year now. It's lovely to have the species all around us. Keep them photos coming and good luck with the deer.

Karl Johnson.

Alan Mackenzie said...

Hi Karl, good to hear from you. Sorry about the death of Keith - I'm afraid to say that Keith is dead; he fell to Earth from Beachy Head. I decided I'd spent enough time on his profile and that I had other priorities. It was good while it lasted.

I've recently bought a tent. Would you believe I've never been camping before? I plan to camp in Friston Forest, Abbots Wood and Stanmer Down over the summer. Hopefully, I'll get some pictures of deer in the early morning.

ezotom said...

Did you ever get the shots of deer in Friston Forest? I took a wrong turn on a bike ride yesterday at about 8pm, saw two deer about 15 feet away as they turned and bolted. I was sorry to disturn them but it was a great sight!

Alan Mackenzie said...

Unfortunately, no. The Friston Forest deer are too elusive.

Were they Roe deer? I've seen Fallow deer prints at Snap Hill and a man I spoke to has seen them in Exceat Wood.

Alan MacKenzie said...

Well, look at this !

http://www.alanmackenziephotography.com/2012/07/roe-deer-in-friston-forest.html

ezotom said...

Excellent! Glad you finally spotted them! I wouldn't know the difference between the two types and I only got a fleeting glimpse anyway. Great shot though. You've inspired me to try shooting wildlife one of these days!

Anonymous said...

Your comment made me curious about Brighton Spring and I came to check this post. :) Beautiful collection. :)

Each of the capture is so calendaresque. (Ok I know now that there is no such word... but I hope you get the drift :D).

Looking forward to your captures this spring. :)

Alan MacKenzie said...

My energy levels and motivation always increase, come lengthening evenings and clement weather. I look forward to eschewing the navel-gazing of winter for the extroversion of spring!