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Monday, 7 July 2014

Coming full circle, Fallow deer at Charlecote Park


Over the last year I have seen more closely some of the changes that happen from one season to the next at Charlecote Park. With all the fawns being born at the moment I thought a good place to start was with the fallow deer. Through my photography I have documented the changes from the rutting season through to the birth of these beautiful animals and also the changes in both the does and the bucks as the months passed by. I have to admit I do spent a long time watching the deer as I have always thought they were amazing creatures.


I have often written about the fallow deer but I thought it would be nice to give them a blog to themselves and explain a little more about them. The fallow deer are one of 6 types of deer living freely in Britain and are growing in numbers. It is good to hear they are doing so well in this country as we lose so many animals over the years for all sorts of reasons.


Fallow deer are a very decorative type of deer which many wealthy people of years gone by added to their estates as decoration. Some people find this strange but if you see the fallow deer in beautiful surroundings like at Charlecote Park, it does make a perfect picture.


                     Running fallow deer through the avenue in West Park.


Fallow deer are common to both Europe and Asia and have four variations in the colours of their coats. The first and most common type are the chestnut coloured, white spotted deer which many people think of as the Bambi deer. This is because they can still look like young deer as adults due to their spots, especially in summer when their coat is richer in colour and the spots more prominent.
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The next photo is of a small herd of males which are called bucks, not stags as I used to think. This photo was taken around mid-June last year and shows the bucks' new antlers starting to grow.


                                              The doe.
                                       

The female fallow deer are a lot smaller than the males and are often mistaken for young deer. Mother and fawn taken last September. There is a lot of ear cleaning that goes on between the mothers and their children. No different to us :)


The 'common' fallow deer has a light area around the their tail which is edged with black and the tail is white with a black stripe going down it. It is often referred to as a horse shoe as it does look like one.


They are really beautiful animals. In winter their coat fades and looks more grey and the spots are harder to see. This is one of the common buck variety during the rutting season. You can see the change in both the coat and the size.


The second variety of fallow deer is the 'Menil' which is paler in colour and has white spots all year round and has a light brown horse shoe shape at the rump. 

 The Menil fallow deer taken last year in June being a little cheeky sticking his tongue out!


July


                                                       In its winter coat.


Next we have the 'Melanistic' variety which are very dark in colour and can vary from a chocolate brown to a black but these have no spots. This photo was taken last winter when the deer get fed hay and nuts to help them through the winter.

                                           
The last  of the colours are the 'White' fallow deer which can vary from white to sandy but become whiter with age and also have no spots.
                                                    A white buck


A white doe.


Both the White and the Melanistic (Chocolate/Black) are thought to be rare so it is really nice to see both colours doing really well at Charlecote Park.


I have watched these beautiful animals closely and both autumn and the beginning of summer are very important times for them. As autumn approaches the buck's coat changes but they also increase in size. They look broader,solid and stand so proud with their antlers at the biggest they will be all year. The antlers are worn very much like a crown with the heads held high.

                                Taken September last year. The bucks filling out nicely.


                                 Late September just as the rutting season starts.


 The end of September is the time of year to keep your distance from the bucks as it is the start of rutting season and I can tell you these bucks can move. I haven't seen them move as fast at any other time of year. I watched one buck move from one side of West Park to the other in what seemed like seconds. At rutting season the bucks will separate from the herd. Normally fallow deer are quite sociable amongst themselves and will stay together in separate sexed herds but also mixed ones. In autumn this changes and the bucks will be seen on their own.
The Bucks make a calling noise during the mating season which sounds very much like a groan, you can't miss it as it is very loud. Even with West Park closed at this time of year you can still see and hear what happens. The next two photos were taken from the main park area as this buck was showing off his mating call in the Orchard, just the other side of the River Dene.


The bucks call to attract the females. Look how solid he looks!


One of the white bucks calling further into West Park. West Park is closed at two times of year and for very good reasons. This is one of them.


The bucks will do everything they can to attract the females and they can often be seen with bits of trees and grass in their antlers. Anything to make them look bigger and stronger. It is all part of the show.


This buck is also putting on a display. I have to say that I am pleased I have a big lens. I am very careful at this time of year and keep my distance. People do get hurt in rutting season when they get too close as these deer can move very quickly without warning. I haven't heard of this happening at Charlecote Park but then that is probably because this part of the estate is closed at that time of year but I have heard of accidents happening in other areas. It is always best to stay safe and stay back and away.


The bucks can be seen standing tall defending the area they have chosen. As they attract more and more does into their harem, they get even more protective and will chase any females trying to leave but also fight any males trying to enter their territory. The picture below shows one of the bucks starting to build his harem up. You can just see the does by his feet. 



 The bucks will even run with their heads high at this time of year and are constantly looking out for other bucks trying to steal their does. If a buck does get too close, a fight will often happen.




Once Rutting season is over which is normally around middle to the end of November, everything starts to calm down a little and the deer go back to mixing like they did before. Rutting season can really take it out of the deer and you see a few bucks a little worse for wear. The ones that have had enough and want no more of the rutt will slowly head back over the river in to the main park. They are often seen relaxing under the trees in Hill Park.


 I always feel so sorry for them at this time of year, they look so tired and battered but it is all part of nature and it doesn't take them long to recover and get their strength back. After the Rutting season the Rangers at Charlecote Park give the deer extra food including nuts and hay to help build them back up and keep them in good health through the winter. The next picture shows the deer eating the nuts that are dropped from the back of the buggy.


After the deer are fed in West Park the Ranger will then go in to the Main Park in front of the gatehouse to feed the deer there. The feed outside the gatehouse is often done around opening time or just after so if you happen to be in the Park during the Winter months at that time, look out for the buggy. It is nice to watch the deer running after it as they know what is coming. 


They are also given hay which has been made from cutting and drying the grass in the summer months.


The Ranger will feed them extra food until spring when everything starts growing again and there is plenty for them to eat on their own.

During April and May the bucks start to lose their antlers. They also look smaller and look so different from how they look at the beginning of the rutting season. Their coats is also starting to change.


The bucks are so mellow at this time of year and will allow people to get a little closer than they normally do but it is always best to give them a little space.


                         The white buck the day he lost his antlers.


It doesn't take long for them to grow back though. I am quite amazed how every time I go to Charlecote I notice such a difference. I also notice how rich their coats are getting. They are really looking good right now!
This photo was taken on the 10th of May



30th of May



How they look at the moment. take the 3rd of July.



The bucks are really starting to fill out again now.


These two look like they are laughing at something. Notice the velvet is starting to come of the antlers.


With the new long antlers it is easier to have a good old scratch!


While the bucks have been relaxing and growing new antlers, the does have been very busy. After eight months of pregnancy they are now having their fawns. The does start to give birth in June but it can run well into July. West Park is closed at this time too and will re-open after all the does have given birth. Most of the fawns have now been born but there were still a few rounded does about on my last visit. 

Pregnant does.



A new born fawn hiding in the long grass.


You can tell when there is a new fawn in the area you are in as the females tend to stay in groups but after they have given birth they will stay in the area in which their fawn is sleeping so you will see a doe on her own. They are very jumpy at this time of year. If you see a doe run but then stop and watch you, there is normally a fawn somewhere near you asleep or hiding.


A fawn in the long grass.


Last Thursday I managed to get over to Charlecote for a little while and I did very well spotting fawns but it wasn't as easy as just walking down a path and it also involved a little bit of luck and knowing how the deer act at different times of the year. The does are very jumpy right now and it is to be expected. One look at you and they will run. If you spot a doe and fawn, it is best to stay still and watch them from where you are because if you get too close they will go and you will see nothing but their bottoms bouncing away. They are the same as any protective mother.

Here are a few of the photos from that day.


As I approached the bend in the avenue I spotted one doe and then it's fawn but the mother had not seen me. Very slowly, not wanting to make a sound, I moved between the stinging nettles and behind a tree. I was so lucky, how I hadn't been spotted, I really don't know. The next thing I know the fawn starts feeding from it's mother. I stayed so still trying not to click too much on my camera enjoying the beautiful view, nature at it's best, new life.



I moved slowly forward from one tree to another trying to keep low and also not to get stung. I managed to make it to the bend where the entrance to the deer sanctuary is and a little clearing of grass. I laid down on the grass, hidden by stinging nettles and watched. I could not believe I had got away with moving and I could not believe my eyes as more and more does and fawns appeared further down the avenue.


They were walking up the avenue in my direction, I thought if I stay still, I wonder how close they will get.


From under the trees came more and more. I spotted six in the picture below, one hiding behind her mother in the middle. It was like a Mother and Toddler meeting! I was so happy but I had got my long lens on my camera and it was at maximum and not the best shot so I stayed still waiting for them to get closer.


At this exact moment my phone went off! I had forgot to put it on silent!!! All the does and all the fawns looked up at once and saw me but they didn't run, they just backed off and went under the trees and the moment was gone. I was low down so I guess I did not appear as a threat to them so they didn't run . I always stay low down when the deer are around, somehow when you are lower than them they don't seem to mind so much but you have to stay still. This is why I often find a tree to sit under and just wait for them to come to me. I have said before that I think the animals get to know you. Sometimes I feel that from these. 

So there you have it, we have come full circle in the year of a fallow deer's life. I have missed some information out but if I included it all, it would make for an extra long blog so I have tried to cover the important bits. I hope you enjoyed it.

                                                 Photos copyright Jana Eastwood

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