Saturday 29th June 2013
I’m late this morning; the sun’s been up for almost an hour as I squelch my way through the trees to the melodic tones of song thrushes, blue tits and robins. This is my first morning walk on the New Forest for a while now, and the first time I’ve been to this part for over a month. I arrive at a crossroads in the track and check and area of scrub as a fallow buck, with his antlers in early development, watches me. He twitches repeatedly in response to the biting flies before moving off into the pine stand behind. Closer to me a roe doe and buck browse – she spots me and trots across the track into the cover of some trees, while he checks me out and continues with breakfast. I continue along the track as a buzzard calls very close by.
There is a herd of fallow bucks lying in the middle of a field to my right, chewing their cud and growing their antlers. The deer lie in the middle of the field as an anti-predatory strategy; this provides a good field of view for anything approaching the herd. I reach the end of the track and veer off into the stand of pines. A few metres into the trees I flush an adult tawny owl that glides silently across the woodland floor and up into the top of a nearby conifer, out of sight.
I walk along the edge of the plantation as more fallow bucks graze in the peripheral fields. A commotion among the trees ahead of me alerts me to the small russet form of a fox trotting through the wood. I move behind a tree to get a better look but lose track of it in the long grass. As I stand there surveying the forest floor I spot a herd of red deer deeper in the plantation - a mixture of stags, hinds and calves from this year (now getting pretty big) are having breakfast, and I stand and watch for a few minutes.
As I walk on, two red deer (a hind and a young stag) leave an adjacent field and come into the plantation to my right, stopping in their tracks when they spot me. Assuming that they wanted to join the rest of the herd to my left, I move back about 20m and stand next to a large pine; both deer continue on their path, keeping a wary eye on me, although unable to tell exactly what they’re looking at as the wind is in my favour. As they’re trying to get a better idea of what I am, I get the best views I’ve had of red in the Forest to date as the hind comes within only about 15m of me. The stag makes his way to the herd, but the hind circles back towards the field.
I follow her path and my eyes pick up the fox again, this time with two smaller, sandy ochre effigies – a vixen and two cubs. The cubs roughhouse and tumble with each other in the long grass. One of the cubs breaks away and pounces on the vixen, the pair rolling for a second. The vixen stands and grooms one of the cubs, while the other explores a nearby tree stump before joining them. I watch for several minutes as the vixen grooms both cubs before sitting and scratching while the cubs return to their play. I stand and watch for another couple of minutes before they trot around a tree and into the field and I make my way back to the track, passing another roe doe lurking among the bracken.
As I walk down the track a roe doe (possibly the first one I saw this morning) pronks across the patch and vanishes into the bracken. I stop at the bottom of the track and look into the field as a buzzard flies low along the fence and into the trees, with the nasal ringing call echoing out among the trees shortly after it alighted. As I walk back to the car a pair of bullfinches work the trees in the scrub, the first I’ve seen this year.