Armed with my camera and some lunch I decided to take a
stroll along the Itchen Navigation in search of some Water Voles. I had
recently attended the Hampshire Mammal Groups (coordinated by the Hampshire and
Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust) open day where they gave a very interesting talk
on Water Voles amongst other things. I remember as a lad seeing these little critters along the Basingstoke Canal
and then thinking that was probably the last time I do remember seeing them.
The Wildlife Trust has been carrying out lots of work to rebuild the required habitat
that will help the Water Voles flourish and one of the places they have been
doing this is the Itchen Navigation.
As I made my way along the tow path I saw a Spotted
Woodpecker, a Heron flying over head and the blue flash of Kingfisher flying by.
Eventually just upstream I could make out the shape of Water Vole sitting on a small
branch having a snack. I slowly made my way along the path being careful not to
make any noise, found a spot with a good view of the other side of the bank and
there I spent the next couple of hours watching the Water Voles go about their
The spot on the other side of the bank was well protected by bushes and trees.
This I soon learnt made a great spot for a watering hole. Whilst I was there
Finches, Robins, Blackbirds, Wrens and even Rats came along for a drink.
I still find it amazing how that once you have zoned in the wildlife will go
about their daily tasks around you, coming within metres of where you are sat.
The Hampshire Wildlife Trust is doing a cracking job along
the Itchen and for me it was a privilege to see and get so close to these wonderful
I was fortunate to be invited back by Woodlife to attend
their Pilot Woodland Tracker Course, this I attended last weekend. This course
was the next step on from the Wilderness Immersion Course that I had attended
at the beginning of the year. Once again expectations were high and once again
they were met.
We started off the weekend with a little recapping from the Wilderness
Immersion Course and then on to a nice social evening around the fire.
Saturday morning and it was up before day break with a quick stroll into the
Forest for a zone in. Morning zone ins are my favourite, from the blacks and
greys of the darkness to the pastel shades of colour that in turn burst into
the vibrant colours of the Forest.
During this magical period you can hear owls calling and as the sun comes up
the forest starts to awaken and the bird song fills the air.
I sat on the opposite side of a pair of oak trees to my friend Tom who also attended
the course waiting for our first glimpse of the local wildlife. We were
rewarded with a big Fallow Buck and half a dozen does. There were also a couple
of owls very close one of which landed in a tree just in front of Tom. After
the deer moved on we made our way back to camp for some breakfast.
The following morning’s zone was even better; along with the
usual deer sighting I had a very close encounter with a squirrel and a fox. Whilst
sat under the twin oaks a squirrel can running down the trunk opposite. I could
hear the sound of his claws gripping the tree as he made his way down before we
came face to face. He stopped, looked at me and did a little dance to show his annoyance
that I was in his spot. I could hear his tail thudding against the trunk. After
a while he accepted that I was no threat and carried on about his business. Whilst
watching the deer I caught some movement in my peripheral vision, as I slowly turned
my head there was a fox a few meters away eating something he had found on the
track. As I watched him he jumped back across the ditch walked a couple of
meters then decided to jump back onto the track right opposite me. At this point
he looked at me, sniffed the air and slowly back up across the ditch where he
had just came from. He walked along the edge of the tree line and disappeared into
The deer had now moved on and we decided to make our way back to camp when all of
a sudden the fox jump the ditch, ran across the track and back into the trees
on the other side all the time his head tuned and eyes fixed on us. It was
almost like he was having the last word.. “Huh I can see you, you can’t catch
The day and a half was all about learning. We covered
everything from the different methods of tracking, recognising fresh tracks and
trails, different types of spore, time stamping, gaits and depressions to name
but a few. There was a lot of information to take in and it made me wonder how
many times I would have to practice and recap what I had learnt before actually
putting it all into practice
Well I didn’t have to wait long. After lunch we were told to
“Go Tack Something”.......
To my surprise within 10 minutes of leaving the camp we picked
up a fresh trail with lots of fresh spore. We followed the signs and were
presented with splits in the track. There was evidence that both trails were in
use but we used the knowledge that we had been given that weekend to speculate
and determine the path of the fallow that we were tracking. We were reward with
finding a big fallow buck and his herd of does. The feeling you get from
actually tracking your first wildlife right up to where they stand is
So just to make sure it wasn’t a fluke Tom and I moved off
to another part of the forest and started again. Again we found another herd of
fallow. They were spooked a couple of times by some dog walkers which made the
trail a lot harder to follow as the tracks were scattered and we were tracking
on fallen leaves. But again using what Pablo and JP had taught us we caught
back up with the deer. During the tracking we had squirrel passing just a
couple of feet away as we sat and watched the herd. We came face to face with a
fox passing through some dense undergrowth but the Pièce de résistance was coming
face to face with a fallow buck. As I rounded a large bramble bush there he was
in all his glory looking at me square on, a brief moment of stillness and
silence and he was gone.
That for me was one of the most closest and breathe taking
So once again a big thanks to Woodlife (Pablo & JP) for
a most memorable course.
If you want to get close to wildlife then make Woodlife your
There are times when you’re out looking for wildlife, you
know it’s there in the distance but it just doesn’t want to come your way. One
way to get around this is to bring it to you..
Well electronically that is.
A few evenings back with my camera and long lens in hand I
went to the small strip of woods at the end of my road where I set up on the
edge of the field the adjoins the woodland. In the distance I could see a Roe
Deer feeding along the tree line. This was a very open space and there was no
easy way with kit in hand to approach the deer without the risk of scaring it
So with the telephoto lens at 400mm I switched to the
640x480 video crop mode (this gives a 7x magnification which adds up when you
have a focal length of 400mm) where I managed to get some great footage of the
The footage is a little grainy due to low light but clear enough
Watching the Roe through the view finder doesn’t
substitute being close up but it was still a pleasant relaxing half hour wildlife
An evening stroll through Whiteley Woods rewarded me with a
Buck and Doe Roe deer sighting.
After a brief zone in I made my way along one of the wide paths between the
woodland. There was a lot of movement and noise most of which were squirrels..
noisy little buggers. As I made my way along the path there were numerous
tracks leading off into the woodland. Here I saw evidence of Fox, Deer and Rabbit.
When I reached the watering hole I made myself comfortable and waited for the
sun to go down. To my delight from one of the well used tracks a Buck and a Doe Roe came out of the woodland and
across the track towards the watering hole. I managed to get some footage but some
of the video is a little dark due to the falling light. It’s also a little
shakey in places due to the fact that the midges were eating me alive....
As I type the swelling has now gone down after two days and
all of the bites are becoming apparent and very itchy...
Yesterday evening I went for a stroll to the thin strip of
woodland at the end of my road. On the other side of the woodland is a field where
on previous visits I had noticed some well defined trails.
I had only been zoning for around 10 minutes when a
couple of bats arrived. As I sat there they were buzzing me, checking me out.
As I sat looking up at the bats against the sky I noticed
something in my peripheral vision, a fox was making its way alone the trail
towards me. As he came closer he stopped, checked me out for a while and then
decided to walk around the back of me through the woodland.
I managed to slowly bring the camera around to catch him walking off into the
woods. The quality is not great as it was pretty dark at this point and beyond
the ability of the camcorder so I have lightened the video in a software
The base line at this particular location is very noisy due
to the road and people walking by, this can make it quite a challenge to zone
in. But in those moments when the cars and people are not there all the noises
of the woodland come alive. This is a location where your sense of smell overrides
your hearing. I have been walking along the hedgerow and the fox scent has been
so strong that I was able to pin point a 2m stretch where the fox was probably
sat there watching me, other times a more faint smell drifts across the field
on the breeze.
You don’t need to go far to see the wildlife, slow down and
open your senses as it’s a lot closer than you think...
Myself and a few friends decided to take an evening stroll around Whiteley Woods. The Bluebells were in full bloom casting a sea of blue across the woodland floor.
Along the way we spotted several deer from distance, we weren’t actually in tracking mode so I was surprised when we came across a small Roe Deer. As soon as we spotted him we all stood very still and I managed to get some shaky footage of him on an old camcorder that I had taken with me. He didn’t seem to worried that we were there. He gave us a good looking over then carried on about his business.
Later on in the evening we spotted another deer in the woodland, I switched the cam to IR and again a bit shaky but you can see the silhouette of the deer watching us watching it.
Myself and a friend went for a lunchtime stroll around near our workplace. Usual finches an tits. The prize sighting was three voles that we saw after lifting a piece of wood.
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Last Friday we decided to take a stroll along the Titchfield Canal from Titchfield village through to Hill Head which is on the coast line. It’s around a 3 mile walk each way so nothing to strenuous. The canal is regarded as the second oldest man made canal in Britain.
Along the way there were plenty of butterflies and birds but perhaps not the best time for observing as there were lots of dog walkers and ramblers.
One thing that I was aware of was the speed that people were walking along the canal. It was a like a race from A to B and back again but did they really see anything on the way?
Ok I admit I was probably the same until recently.. One thing I definitely learnt from the recent course I attended was to SLOW DOWN.....
Anyway here are a few pics of some of the sightings I made... One butterfly that I did see which unfortunately I don’t have a picture of was the Orange Tip. I also noted the cuckoo-flower that the orange tip larvae feed on.
One of the skills that I learnt on the Wilderness Immersion Course was Sketch Mapping. The pictures below show the Sketch map that I created whilst we were out and about in the forest.
The picture below shows the GPS track that I took off of my phone. Ok the sketch map is not perfect but the shape is pretty close to the GPS track and I think it would have been good enough to find my way back to the base camp.
I recently attended the “Wilderness Immersion Course” run by Woodlife Trails. The instructors Pablo and JP are both friends of mine so knowing their level of knowledge and bushcraft / outdoors skills my expectations for this course were set high... I was not disappointed!!
The course was held at Hatfield Forest in Hertfordshire. This is a National Trust site that Woodlife Trails has been given permission to use.
So the aim of the course was to Immerse us all into the Forest and get us as close to wildlife as possible. This included learning some field-craft, basic tracking and some bushcraft skills.
Before learning a new skill the basis for learning that particular skill was explained, this enabled a clear understanding of why and how the skill worked and what it was to be used for.
Next you were given an exercise to put your newly learnt skill to the test.
On the first evening after getting the safety stuff out of the way we were taught a little about zoning in.. At dusk we were taken to a part of the forest were we sat from dusk to just after dark. We were told to go and find a spot on our own, make ourselves comfortable and zone in, become aware of our surroundings and blend in. I found this to be a very peaceful and relaxing time. Once you have found the Baseline (you will learn about this on the course) any noise such as the snap of a twig or an alarm call from a bird becomes very apparent.
It was then back to camp for a debrief, a quick brew and then bed.
The next morning it was up at 05.00, find a spot, zone in and wait. After a while the squirrels came out to play along with 4 Jays that were very noisy. I was watching their antics for a good 10mins when I was rewarded with a Munjact Deer crossing just in front of me.. By this time it was getting on for 08.00 so it was back to camp for some breakfast and a brew.
After breakfast we created a sketch map of where we were all sitting and what we saw. We then broke camp, backpacks on our back and off we set for a day on the trail of learning and exercises.
Some of the skills that we were taught included, adapting your eyes to night vision, the 8 S’s, Spore and signs, trails and runs, field craft skills to name but a few. All of this was in preparation for the evenings experience to come.
The idea was at the end of the day after learning the skills taught to us by JP and Pablo we would pick our own spot to layup, setup camp and really Immerse our selves individually into the Forest.
I have been too many Bushcraft meets and done my fair share of wild camping but this was different. Usually you have the social aspect, a few beers and you’re always within a few meters of someone else. In this case you were on your own, no beer, just you and the forest inhabitants. Whilst cooking tea a couple of small rodents moved through the leaves and up on to a branch just a couple of meters away from me where they had a little Gnaw on the branch then disappeared as quickly as they had appeared. On reflection I think that once you have been in the forest some time and slowed right down I believe you are in a semi zoned in state by default, the little rodents really didn’t care that I was sat there cooking tea. After zoning in and Immersing yourself into the surroundings for the evening, when darkness fell it was off to bed.
(Its worth mentioning that although you were camping on your own you were always within whistle distance from the instructors or another student, sound travels a long way in the forest at night. The instructor also GPS marked everyone’s location and of course you had the good old mobile phone at hand if needed).
The following day it was back to base camp for another debrief, some more sketch mapping of peoples locations and the sights and sounds that they heard. This proved to be very interesting as a picture of the happenings in the forest that encompassed the area that we all stayed in took shape.
From these findings you can plot animal movements along with possible cause and effect for these movements.
For the rest of the day we put into practice some of the skills that we had learnt as well as some sensory exercises. One of these involved being taken into the middle of the woods, taking your shoes and socks off, being blind folded, disorientated and then told to listen for a sound that you must make your way too. In-case you wish to try this yourself I won’t go into details of what I experienced but needless to say I didn’t walk into any trees... After this particular exercise we were sent off to zone in for 20 minutes, Wow did I feel relaxed after that.
At the beginning of the weekend we were asked at what speed in life we felt we were travelling between 100mph & 0mph, I set myself at around 80mph. By the end of the course on the Sunday afternoon I was floating around 20mph.