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 trees. 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 me!”
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 fantastic.
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 encounters yet!
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 first stop.