This morning, at long last, came the most eagerly anticipated event of 2013....snow!
Having been falsely promised a white christmas, I leaped at the opportunity to get out and finally take some snaps in what may prove to be one of the few days of snow we get this year. Having decided on my subject the previous day I set out at dawn in hope of catching up with the local populations of deer in the Peak District.
I arrived at the site still in low light and a small group of female Fallow Deer (Fama fama) were feeding not too far away. I approached these for a while but they were proving to be rather skittish and the light really wasn't on my side as they were mainly hanging around under the trees. Having seen a distant Red Deer (Cervus elaphus) stag on the drive through I went off in search of a grander acquaintance.
I started walking up in the general direction of where I thought I'd seen the lone male and after about half an hour of trudging through snow I saw my first sign. When it comes to tracking, I'm no Ray Mears, but I thought these antlers poking over the hillside were a good place to start...
Having not had much luck with the Fallow Deer, I wasn't holding out much hope but as I crawled over the brow of the hill that one stag become eight. Red Deer males are the largest of land mammals in the UK, they can weigh up to 190kg and have up to 16 points on their antlers. When you multiply that by 8, it becomes quite an intimidating prospect, especially when you're lying on the ground.
After a while, when they realised I was little threat they relaxed and the pictures I had in my head the previous evening were coming to light as the snow got heavier and I was able to incorporate one of the most impressive species found in the UK.
Red Deer no longer have any natural predators in the UK with Lynx, Bears and Wolves all locally extinct. This means that Red Deer have little pressure on their growing populations, and when they get too large in numbers they can have detrimental effects on vegetation.
This is particularly a problem in Scotland where the majority of the UK populations exist and their overgrazing of woodland areas changes the natural plant structure and denies new growth - an important factor for woodland birds such as Black Grouse and Capercaillie that feed their chicks on invertebrates associated with new plant growth. To keep the effects of overgrazing down, Red Deer populations are controlled and their numbers maintained at an appropriate size.
Although this species can have negative impacts on our environment when populations get out of control, they are still an important part of our natural heritage and fantastic to see, especially in the snow. I think the photo beneath is my favourite of the day when this male paused briefly to stare back at me through the falling snow.
I also took a few wider images in order to place them in their environment and I really like how it then becomes more about shape than detail.
To finish, I spotted another small group in amongst some woodland and this offered another perspective. A more abstract approach as the deer almost blends in to its habitat, and again it's more the shape that takes over as this stag is only just identifiable against the falling snow and the trees. The photo then starts looking more like a drawing than a photograph and finished the day off nicely!