Tag Archives: deer

Talking to the wild things

Here’s a typical scenario. We are walking, and there are deer in a nearby field. We stop to look at them and the deer become aware of the scrutiny and look round. The deer see us. If there’s something about our location or direction that bothers them, they may just leave, but often they don’t. Often they give it a little while and check us out. At this point one of us will normally speak to them, saying in a calm and clear voice that we mean them no harm, and we aren’t coming into their field. Usually at this point, the deer go back to whatever they were doing.

A squirrel who has stopped beyond arm’s reach doesn’t always run away when spoken to. The same with foxes. Sometimes also small birds. Without a doubt, some of it is about not making sudden and dramatic moves, and not doing anything else that suggests being a predator. However, I’ve talked to wild things many, many times and it is so often at the point after I’ve spoken that they go back to what they were doing, that I don’t think this is a coincidence.

The conventional wisdom (at least here in the UK where there are no bears!) is to be quiet to avoid startling wild creatures. When dealing with urban and semi-urban wildlife, it’s clear they are all well used to our noise. As long as we are engaged in human stuff and not heading their way, creatures are unfussed by us. I have noticed when walking that many people show no signs of seeing the wildlife around them, and that the wild things seem aware that they are effectively invisible. It’s when you notice them that they become alert and cautious.

I don’t imagine that the words matter, but the tone and intention does. Recognition that everyone has seen everyone else and that no one is trying to hide is probably part of this. Based on how they respond, I think the deer are a bit surprised by people who can see them. I think also over time they come to recognise us, and become less bothered by us seeing them.

When we ‘watch nature’ by being silent and observing, we’re casting ourselves as outsiders. When we talk to the wild things, we cast ourselves as part of their world, too. We stop imagining that we are different from them, and I think that’s better for everyone.

Wildlife encounters

I regularly walk a route that takes me down a cycle path and through a narrow strip of woods. Like many of the cycle paths round here, it’s a former train line, so the trees and undergrowth have probably reasserted themselves. The size of the trees suggests they are largely the same age, and while my tree-aging skills are not what they could be, I think 30-50 is probable. Interestingly though, the undergrowth includes a lot of the plant types you’d expect to see in ancient woodland. There’s far more to woodland than just the trees, and there’s estimated to be a fifty year window after the trees go in which you have a fighting chance of restoring the diversity of ancient woodland.

So I have this corridor of wood where the trees are clearly not ancient, but the woodland effectively is. Even though it is a very small wood, it is home to at least three deer. I only ever see them in ones or twos, but having seen two females together recently and a male on his own, three at least. I watch other path users pass by without registering their presence. The deer are wary, but not fearful, so on a number of occasions I’ve been able to stop a matter of yards away, and make eye contact with them, and have a few moments.

Today walking down the towpath (strip of path alongside a canal, originally for the men or horses who were pulling the first boats at the very beginning of the industrial revolution) I met a frog. It was a tiny frog, no bigger than a fingertip, and I stopped to ush it out of the path and into the safety of the undergrowth.

I have a knack for finding the wildlife. It’s not about keen eyesight. Today’s frog was no bigger than the many small stones on the path, and wasn’t moving. I had a moment of awareness and doubled back to check. Only when I bent right down could I make out the legs. I often know the deer are around before I see them. It is not something I can easily explain, but it makes for reliably interesting walks.