The Art of Silence

It sounds like an obvious thing to say, but most wildlife isn’t keen on loud noises. Go into a woodland with a marching band and your chances of seeing anything more than insects are pretty remote.

So as a wildlife photographer, I’ve had to learn the art of sitting and walking quietly. It’s not an easy thing for a tubby 53-year old. I’ve learned that you have to walk very slowly – it can sometimes take me an hour to cover a hundred yards. I’ve learned that you need to have shoes which are comfortable, soft-soled and not made of leather (which has an unfortunate habit of creaking or squeaking at just the wrong moment. And I’ve learned to hate gravel paths and beech trees.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Beech trees. They are my favourite tree – graceful, smooth-barked, with leaves that are an astonishing shade of green in the spring. But Beech trees produce nuts – Beech “masts” – in abundance, and these little dried-out pods little the ground and crack when you step on them. Walking near a Beech tree is like walking on a layer of bubblewrap or Rice Crispies. You have no chance at all of doing it quietly.

It  was 8am and I was walking in the Savernake Forest, near Marlborough, Wiltshire when a movement caught my eye. It was a Roe Deer doe, a large female, and she was no more than 30 or so feet from me. Despite the fact that I was upwind, she seemed unsure of what I was. She hesitated. I did what I always do when I first spot wildlife – I stood completely still, and she gradually relaxed. I got a couple of shots off, although it was too dark in the shade of the trees for anything good. It’s just starting to be Roe Deer rutting season and I started to hope she might lead me to a herd nearby that I could photograph.

She started moving towards a small pool of light that was penetrating the trees, and I had to turn to follow her -but I had forgotten that I was standing under a Beech tree. I moved my foot slightly, and a sound like machine-gun fire or popping corn echoed around. The Deer startled, and bounded away. I never saw her again. Despite the fact that it cost me a picture of a species I enjoy being near, I can’t get cross about beech trees. They are the queens of the forest – tall, graceful and imperious. Beech nuts support a wife variety of birds and animals. The noise factor is a price I’m happy to pay. Usually.


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