Gisburn Sika Deer
In search of the Gisburn Sika Deer
Chris Beever treated his trusty dog to a lie in until 4.00am when they went on the lookout for the Sika Deer in Gisburn...
Chris Beever and Alfie
"Instead of the usual 3.00am start I decided that my partner in crime would appreciate a more relaxed start to the morning. So after spending an extra hour in bed and getting up at 4.00am, I picked up my gadget bag and camera and headed off with Alfie my chocolate labrador to the Forest of Bowland on our mission - to try and find the illusive Sika Deer.
On arriving at Gisburn Forest, Alfie and I headed off into the snow covered coniferous forest. "Why take the dog?" you ask. Well, our Alfie is not only a funny little chap and great company, but like all dogs he has a sixth sense. He somehow already knows the odours of loads of different wildlife and with a straight tail he will stand there motionless giving me the odd confident look as though to say there’s something out there dad - go and have a look.
You may also be wondering if a dog would scare the wildlife...well, not this one! It is probably due to the amount of hours we spend together out in the wild places looking for wildlife. To tell you all the truth he’s getting better than me at this lark - all I have to do now is train him how to take pictures and we will have cracked it.
Anyway, after walking slowly along the forestry trails that constantly opened up into vast snow covered clearings full of high piles of freshly felled pine, the forest started to change into plantations of birch, willow and oak. It was here that I heard my first call, three loud whistles then two more and they sounded close. With Alfie's hair standing on end and his tail straight as an arrow we waited, still as statues, overlooking a large clearing that the loggers had been working on. Would the shy Sika venture out from their hiding places?
After a repertoire of very strange noises, including something that sounded like a high pitched wolf whistle which seemed to startle poor little Alfie, and an hour of sitting on an extremely uncomfortable snow covered mossy tree stump with no visuals of any deer, we decided it was time to move on.
With the sun rising over the orange horizon and the wind starting to blow snow drifts through the thousands of frosted Christmas trees we slowly headed off further into the depths of Gisburn Forest.
The Sika Deer of Gisburn Forest can be seen away from the main car park around dawn and late in the evening just as the light starts to fade. Follow the red cycle trail from the cocklet hill car park and I guarantee you will hear at least one call during your walk especially in the autumn at rutting time.
Be prepared for a fright - the sound of the Sika is like nothing you have ever heard before so be prepared for a quick scare if you hear it.
If you decide to take a companion like me remember to keep them as quiet as possible
If you see a deer (or any other wildlife) try to stay down wind. A good trick if you are serious enough is to carry a box of matches or a lighter and strike to see which way the flame blows - if it blows towards you, you’re in the right place away from you and the wildlife can smell you coming.
Try stopping at the many clearings through the forest and remember to look into the open fields - you may encounter all manner of wildlife found in this fantastic area.
The main thing to remember with any wildlife spotting is to be patient - get yourself as comfortable as possible and wait quietly.
I had been tipped off previously by a friendly local chap about a place that the deer can be seen just after dawn and it was here that I intended to wait in ambush. Camera in hand and Alfie sat at my side at full alert, we peered out from the cover of the thick coniferous forest into the edge of a large clearing on the edge of a field where the trees had been felled the year before.
After an hour of waiting in the winter cold and looking more like snow man and his snow dog than wildlife photographer and companion, we jumped as the strange noises started to pierce the early bird song. We looked into the distance as a proud Sika deer started to make his way into the edge of the clearing, bowing its head and digging his nose into the snow to get to the grass buried beneath.
By now my companion was at full alert with one paw off the ground sniffing the air as the wind pushed the deer’s aroma past us. To tell you the truth I couldn’t smell anything but peaty drenched soil and wet pooch but by 'eck our Alfie was enjoying himself!
With my lens set to the longest range of 800mm, I began to take my first set of shots and after checking that the images were to my other half’s high standards (my fiancé back at home), I settled down and started to fill up my memory card.
After what had seemed to be a lifetime the wind started to swirl around the clearing blowing drifts of snow towards us and with my eyes stinging from the snow, I saw the proud Sika stag lift its head sharply. He looked straight at us sniffing the air; was it me or Alfie he could smell? We will never know as, with a flick of the stags fluffy tail and a shake of his antlers, he was off bounding like a springbok over the mossy tree stumps into the dense coniferous tree line. Once again back into the Sika Deer’s invisible world letting out a loud bark as a warning to every other member of the wildlife community that there was a predator about.
After the usual half hour wait in the freezing snow wind hoping for a second chance of seeing the magnificent mammal we finally decided that we had been rumbled - it was time to go!
On our way back to the promise of a nice bacon butty and the essential warm brew we encountered countless rabbits, a friendly robin that seemed to follow us for an age and glimpses of kestrel and buzzard and a whole host of other brown jobbies that I happily added to my collection of images."
Article sent in by website user Chris Beever.
last updated: 19/02/2009 at 09:22
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