I stand at the bottom of a steep slope, silent and still. In front of me is a noisy congregation of birds – blackbirds, a robin, a tree creeper and a chaffinch. Why would such a number of birds gather in one spot in the winter woods? What is drawing them to this place? The blackbird flies off, the robin ticks and the tree-creeper rises and begins another spiral dance up a tree. As I stand watching the tree creeper, trying to plot its journey against the bright sun a roe doe walls to the edge of the glade and looks down at me. I am still, my outline broken by my clothing, my scent masked as much as I can. I lift my camera and take a picture. I have found that animals usually take fright from the sound of the camera but this doe seems to be curious. It comes forward for a better look. I take another picture. It lifts and drops its head, sniffing the air. If there is any wind in this deep cover I can’t feel it and the deer can’t get my scent. It looks straight at me, its eyes locked to mine. These animals see people every day but they are usually lumbering along paths, walking their dogs or making a noise. Here is something new, and close. I take another picture and the animal begins to walk down the slope towards me. This is the closest and longest encounter I have had with a roe deer all year and I have my camera in my hand. Finally something spooks the deer, my camera or my scent or maybe it realised what I am and it turns to its right and bolts. I can hear it breaking branches and upturning the snow as it runs. By the time I get up the slope it its long gone.
Thrilling though the encounter was what I find most interesting is the interaction between the deer, the birds and me. At the top of the slope I find a large scrape over a metre long. Last winter I found scrapes twice this length but they were cold – here I had found a deer in the act and just as crows and seagulls follow tractors the woodland birds were waiting for the deer to open up the woodland floor. It was the presence of so many birds in one place that alerted me to something unusual and maybe it was the birds, who noticed me before the deer, that alerted the doe to me. This is the first time I have been able to use the behaviour of one species to locate the presence of another in such a direct and intimate way. It is a satisfying and affirming experience.