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January 30, 2012

Of all the creatures who share the woods with us here, it is the roe deer that have me enthralled. In a garden they are a menace: I have seen them steadily nibbling every bud off an azalea bush, and they can do terrible damage to tender young trees. In mature woodland, however, they are in their element. Surrounded by trees as we are, it’s therefore not surprising that I see at least one deer on an almost daily basis. Capturing them on camera, though, is a different matter. I have only the most basic point-and-click pocket camera, and there is little hope of getting close enough to these swift, shy animals to photograph them without a zoom lens.

But last week, for once, camera and deer coincided. We have seen a group of five roe deer hanging about near the house for the past week or so – apparently such groupings are common in the winter months, although five is the biggest group I’ve seen. (If you must have a gang of youths hanging about near your house, it’s pretty great if they are deer!) When I opened the back door to go outside on Thursday morning, there they were at the far end of the lawn, wandering off into the woods. We were heading that way too.

There are three deer visible here if you look carefully (two are behind the dog)

It was a beautiful frosty morning. I was standing under the trees, trying to capture something of the sunlight in the branches, when a large brown blur flashed past. One of the deer, startled out of hiding by my inquisitive dog. I stayed quite still. The dog came to sit quietly at my feet. The deer halted in her flight, and stood watching me from the top of a bank.

How beautiful they are, these wild deer, with their strong delicate legs and shadowy coats, their sooty noses and their huge ears twitching this way and that. My camera was already in my hand, so there was no fumbling or whirring to spook the doe. She stood undecided while I took photo after photo, none of them close enough to show her beauty but each closer than I’ve managed before. Framed by the trees, I thought that she looked almost mythical: a creature from a medieval tapestry.

I took a cautious step closer. Her ears twitched. One more step…and she was gone, an empty space where she had been.

Breathing out, I became aware that the woods were full of birdsong. And I would swear that the sun was shining that little bit more brightly as we continued our walk.

You might enjoy The path through the woods or Gratuitous fluffy animal pictures.

24 Comments leave one →
  1. Liz permalink
    January 30, 2012 1:48 pm

    We have a group of three at the moment, all does. They are so beautiful and I am always amazed at their ability to vanish completely.

    As a matter of interest, do you know whether the old terms for deer (stag and doe, hart and hind, buck and doe) relate to the different species? Presumably buck and doe are roe deer, but what of the others?

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      January 30, 2012 3:15 pm

      Their ‘cloak of invisibility’ is one of the things about roe deer that fascinates me. They really are the colour of the shadows under the trees.

      The different terms do, by custom, relate to different species. Red deer are commonly called stags and hinds, roe deer are bucks and does. I’m not sure if the evocative ‘hart’ is still in common use. It makes me think of Richard II of England, whose badge was a white hart…but he died in 1399!

      • Liz permalink
        January 30, 2012 8:09 pm

        It’s just idle curiosity really. In Benjamin Britten’s Noye’s Fludde they refer to “Buck and Doe, Hart and Hind”. I did wonder whether the ‘hart’ was a fallow deer. We only really come across harts in pub names now.

  2. Toffeeapple permalink
    January 30, 2012 3:29 pm

    Such beautiful pictures, the second and third in particular make it seem as if the deer was in the centre of the circle made by the sweep of the land and the branch.

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      January 30, 2012 6:33 pm

      Thank you, yes, that’s the way I saw her too.

  3. January 30, 2012 6:58 pm

    Lovely, DB. Definitely something of the faery in your photos today, A touch of the unicorn, perhaps?

    We’re used to seeing red deer regularly when we’re up in the far north, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen roe deer in the wild. The red deer too can spell death to one’s favourite garden plants. A friend had many of her shrubs and young trees badly damaged by deer one winter’s night, despite having a cattle grid and good fencing. They were hungry and simply jumped it.

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      January 30, 2012 10:59 pm

      It’s astonishing watching deer jump fences. They seem to be able to jump almost anything, even from a standing start. They take ordinary fences in their stride, apparently barely noticing them. Roe deer are our most common species in the woodland around the house. There are a few fallow deer too but, to see the red deer, we have to go up onto the heathery open moorland of the hills.

      By the way, I agree with you on the unicorn. That’s just what I thought too!

  4. dancingbeastie permalink*
    January 30, 2012 11:04 pm

    Liz, you’ve got me interested in the question of terminology now, and I’ve been doing a little research. It seems that the word ‘hart’ was once used to mean any male deer. It was used in the Authorized Version of the Bible, for example (i.e. early 17th Century) where modern translations have the word ‘deer’. (See If anyone talked now about ‘hunting the hart’ rather than ‘going deer-stalking’, I’d think they were being a little fey!

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      January 30, 2012 11:07 pm

      P.S. speaking of language, isn’t ‘Noye’s Fludde’ a delicious title. 🙂

      • Liz permalink
        January 31, 2012 11:06 am

        Absolutely. It’s a Chester Mystery Play and I love the opera. Way back in the days of O levels it was one of our set works for Music.

        I’ve been dibbling around on the interweb too, and it seems that hart relates to a six year old red deer.

        Funny how easy it is to get distracted from the day job!

  5. January 31, 2012 12:30 am

    What a wonderful morning walk!

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      January 31, 2012 11:32 pm

      It’s blissful. We are very lucky.

  6. January 31, 2012 5:22 am

    Once again, great photos. Oddly enough, living in the woods as I do, we rarely see deer. I’ve been told our woods are too dense with underbrush. Occasionally an elk will wander through, but only once have I come across a deer. Maybe that’s okay, after reading this post I think my garden might be in danger this spring if we had more deer.

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      January 31, 2012 11:34 pm

      Thank you, Lisa. I don’t think there have been elk in Britain since the last Ice Age (please correct me, anyone, if you know better.) I wonder if elk are ever tempted by a tasty garden snack….I hope not, for your sake!

  7. January 31, 2012 8:32 am

    and once again – your photography and descriptions take me to another place

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      January 31, 2012 11:35 pm

      That’s so nice to hear, Alissa. Thank you.

  8. Margaret Lambert permalink
    January 31, 2012 3:53 pm

    What a wonderfully well-behaved dog you have! Etymology is never a waste of time, and it is a wonderful diversion- I loved the conversation above. The point about the hart as a survivor in pub names! And I do love the effects you are able to get with your relatively simple camera.

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      January 31, 2012 11:40 pm

      Well, she certainly wasn’t well-behaved when she was younger, I can tell you! Cocker spaniels are as mad as a box of frogs for the first couple of years. But she’s pretty good now (and devotedly loyal, so never strays far from me as a rule).

      I didn’t know that you were another devotee of etymology. It’s one of my favourite diversions, so it’s always a pleasure to find others who’ll play along! Yes, ‘The White Hart’ is a relatively common English pub name, like ‘The Red Lion’. The white hart as an inn name probably dates back to Richard II’s time, as I suggested above.

  9. Erika W. permalink
    January 31, 2012 7:54 pm

    We regularly see white-tailed deer here in Delaware, any early morning and evening, across our open two- lathe fence and while we admire them and love to watch the the young ones we also have our hearts in our mouths in case they ever jump the fence and discover our rugosa rose hedge which turns at right angles to it. We have decided that they have no sense of smell and that our neighbors’ dogs discourage them.

    The Canada geese which winter on the nearby golf course never come through or over the fence either and we were told by a game warden that this is because they will not come below big trees where there is no free flight path for ready escape.

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      January 31, 2012 11:43 pm

      Oh, I do hope that the deer never develop a taste for your lovely roses! They definitely seem to prefer some shrubs to others, so you might be OK.

      An interesting point about the geese. I guess geese do need a fairly hefty runway for take-off!

  10. February 2, 2012 9:35 pm

    A true photographer/blogger, with camera already in hand.
    My children groan when I head off in mid conversation to get my Chambers Dictionary of Etymology.

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      February 6, 2012 12:12 am

      Aha, another amateur etymologist! I feel a support group coming on!

      By the way. There’s a *dictionary*? Oh my.

  11. February 5, 2012 9:35 pm

    Beautiful photographs. The woodland photos have a real mystical feel to them. Now… have you got snow yet? None here ….so far!

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      February 6, 2012 12:13 am

      Thank you, Sian. I must say, it really felt as if there was something mystical about that morning in the woods.

      We have snow at last, but nothing to write home about. What a difference to last winter!

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