February

Key behaviours / activities to look out for this month are:


  • Continued period of relative inactivity in the deer community, but pregnant does may show an increase in feeding behaviour

  • Adverse weather conditions significant impact on the deer whereabouts

  • Social behaviour in family groups

In general, February sees a continuation in the period of relative inactivity in the roe deer community. 


They do, of course, still move around fairly frequently since they still need to feed, and keep their waste elimination system working at functional efficiency. But expecting to see a wide range of behaviours that you can observe between March and October, would be a forlorn wish.


However, there are still plenty of photographs to be taken during this short month. And the trick to making them is understanding how the deer behave on a day-by-day and hour-by-hour basis.


First of all, what do the deer do during a typical winter’s day?


Having spent numerous whole days with the deer at this time of year, a very clear pattern emerges:


The start of the day (just like dusk) is a particularly good time to see them moving around. Irrespective of the weather, it's rare not to see at least one individual feeding at this time of the day.


If the animals are undisturbed when they're moving around, they're going to be doing one of two things - 1) feeding, or 2) transitioning from one favoured spot to another. 


Plus, they will spend some time grooming themselves, or in the case of a parental doe and her fawns, grooming each other, reinforcing the family bond.


Very little time is spent by the adult bucks engaging in boundary patrols etc.; their testosterone levels are still low and their antlers still in the growth stage, so they are not territorial.


After feeding, the deer will lay up in a sheltered spot, not too far from where they fed. They will typically lie down for anything from one to three hours, during which they will simply sit there and rest (to conserve their energy), ruminate (chew their cud, as part of the digestion process) and sleep (for recuperation).


The keys to making these shots is use the longest lens you can, and be prepared to crop the resulting image.


As you know, roe deer are not a large species of deer, and trying to fill the frame in-camera is not the answer. If you do attempt to do that, you will probably overstep the mark and cause the deer to get up.


And this is another time of year when causing disturbance to the deer is a thing you must do all you can to avoid.


The reason being that their fat reserves are running low right now, and causing them to unnecessarily use up some of their precious energy, simply to get away from a wildlife photographer, is certainly not a positive influence on the deer's life. (We are, after all from their perspective, unwelcome visitors to their home.)


And besides that, the photographer will lose out, too, since they will not be happy about how their actions will have negatively impacted on the animal, and they will be missing out on other shots they could have made, if he or she would have shown a little more sensitivity towards their subject.


But, provided you are sensible, and don’t push your luck, you can make some good images that you'll be pleased with, without unsettling the deer.


Making a photograph of them sleeping is not an easy thing to do, but winter is the best time to try. The reasons being that you can see them sleeping more often at this time year than in the summer, plus the vegetation is shorter, too.


But when the deer puts down its head, you must be ready though; the length of time for when the deer has its eyes properly closed and really is sleeping, is a short one - normally, in the order of seconds to just a few minutes. Only on one occasion, have I been present when a roe deer slept soundly for almost half an hour, and that, interestingly was in the summer.


Eventually, the deer will get up and start moving around, so you can photograph them feeding. Naturally occuring foods commonly eaten at this time of the year are ivy, bramble and grass.


However, if there's been a period of strong winds, and some tree branches have been blown down, any leaves remaining on the branches will soon be plundered by hungry mouths.


When it comes to getting some slightly more dynamic images of the deer in the winter, the weather can really help, particularly rain.


When it rains, especially when it's heavy and prolonged, the deer will lay down and end up getting the outer part of their coat laden with water. When this happens, they will periodically stand up and shake-down, in order to stop the moisture penetrating through to their warm skin. And when they do that, you can make images of them throwing off the water droplets.


Of course, you can get too much of a good thing, and large areas of the site can flood.


When this happens, you have the opportunity to see them moving to higher ground and gathering in areas where they wouldn’t normally frequent. Family gatherings are common during these times.


However, barring any extremes in the weather and man-made disturbances, the deer will often be found in one area for a number of consecutive days, which makes location a little easier than when they are more mobile.

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