I was lucky as the park gates opened just after 6.30 am. My early start missed the traffic on the A316 and it was still dark as I drove around the park to Pen Ponds.
Within a few minutes of parking other cars arrived in the car park and photographers climbed out – a better sign than my earlier visits. I changed into my boots and started to walk to the open space above the ponds. Still dark as you can see from this cyclist.
There was a small group of deer at the side of the gravel path to the ponds. The stag was lying down and occasionally baying to the world.
This young stag was hanging around under the trees watching…
Past one of the ponds
I took the diagonal path to the ponds. This meant I was a few yards away from a couple of the does who moved further into the open space as I passed. When I looked back the stag had decided enough and was moving towards the buck who turned and ran away.
The pond was full of Canadian Geese honking. The herons were nowhere to be seen.
Then I could hear a stag baying away to my left towards the trees on the hill. I walked the length of the pond and almost reached the other pond before I could see two photographers watching the bracken on the hill.
There a stag was baying and in front of him a couple of does were in full flight through the bracken. Suddenly he started chasing them. Now they were running in parallel to the path that I had just walked along.
The stag stopped and turned and started walking straight towards me on the path! The two photographers had by now sensibly stood behind the waste bins and the life preserver, to watch the stag approach. I scrambled to leave the path and hoped that I was now far enough away!
Back into the bracken
The stag passed by all of us without incident and returned to the bracken. As he moved through the tall bracken I could see more does that had stayed in there.
The path, at the side of the bracken, wound its way away up the hill away from the ponds.
I retraced my steps back to the far side of the pond. Below me fallow deer were eating amongst the trees. On previous visits fallow deer haven’t been so close to the ponds.
Following the path from the ponds I walked up to the road, and then up the hill. This visit there were no deer to be seen on the large open area there. I could hear the first stag by the car park baying. Paths across the open grassy area are marked by two fences with a gap between. This is to encourage visitors to see and then use the paths through the area. This area is where skylarks nest. Going down I passed large mushrooms on either side of the path.
I was far enough away on this path that my presence didn’t disturb the deer.
In front of me two other photographers were closely watching the stag’s antics.
There were now two bucks close to the Pen Ponds car park. To get closer I apologised to a group of photographers lined up along the path. To my surprise this was a group lead by Steve Hedges. We had a short chat and then he returned to his excellent coaching. The bucks were alternating between grazing and butting antlers.
The stag decided to add to his presence
The stag went into the nearby bushes to add large amounts of greenery to his already impressive antlers
Walking back to the car park
Further along the path I was able to get closer to the young stags. Both now resting close to the trees.
One last look back at the resting stag.
This photographer from Steve’s group joined me up the path and was shooting the bucks from the shelter of the trees.
Breakfast Pen Ponds Café
On the nearby noticeboard was a plan of the park’s roads showing the closures that were now permanent. This indicated I would have to use a different gate to get to Pen Ponds at weekends.