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Friday, 14 November 2014

Fallow Deer And Rutting Season At Charlecote Park

Last year I photographed some of the rut at Charlecote Park but as a visitor not a volunteer and what a difference a year can make. I have now been at Charlecote for a whole year and I still love every moment spent there.

 With special permission I have been able to go in to the area which is closed to visitors during the rut and from a very safe hiding place, 'my' lovely hollow tree, I have been able to record some of the action to share with you. Recording it means I haven't taken many photos but I thought it would be nice to share the real action rather than just still photos.

When I arrived early one morning, it was darker than usual as there were thick clouds around so any light that would normally be coming from the Sun before it rises, was not there. It was pitch black! With bellowing and clinking noises as antlers hit antlers coming from every direction and silly me forgetting my torch, I thought it best to wait awhile before entering West Park until there was a little more light and my eyes adjusted to the dark better. However much I felt like I was missing a lot of the action, I am not daft and knew exactly what I could be walking into so I waited. What's the old saying? 'only fools rush in' It didn't take long for there to be enough light to show me the way and with a little bit of slow careful manoeuvring, I managed to get to my hiding place safety.I could hear the bellowing of the buck and the sound of the antlers banging together but I couldn't see them all as the noise was coming from all over the park.

My hiding place gives me a view of only part of the deer sanctuary but as it was, a perfect view of a buck and his little harem. Once a buck has picked his place for mating (his stand) he won't move far from it. In front of me I could see one of the older main bucks, he looked amazing. At this time of year they are at their biggest and strongest. Their coats have darkened and their spots faded. Their necks are thick and their antlers have grown through the year all building up to this very moment. They will 'strut their stuff' and put on their show trying to attract as many females as they can. Often at this time of year you will see some sort of plant stuck in their antlers, anything to make them look bigger and stronger and more attractive to the female.

The does will only be in season for a very short time but they will choose who they wish to mate with. I had heard that the bucks were not doing much but chasing the young males away. While watching this one group of deer, I had to laugh to myself. These young bucks were like all teenagers just hitting puberty. They were funny. All the older bucks stood around this group and kept their distance but these young bucks didn't seem to understand that there was a way these things were done and you don't just run into another bucks harem. No wonder the main buck spent all his time chasing them away. There was one little chocolate & black young buck that didn't give up easily at all! The older bucks hanging around the edge were the ones fighting trying to attract the females away. any way they could except by direct contact. Saying that, when the main buck went to the river for a drink, suddenly from nowhere, a load of bucks would appear, running quickly away on his return. When you watch them you see they are quite sneaky.

The following weekend was lovely. It started early again but this time I wasn't alone. Charlecote had their 'Deer at Dawn' walks on the Saturday and Sunday. I met Lisa the Park and Gardens manager at Charlecote Park in the main car park. We waited for all the other walks to arrive. The sky was so clear and the stars so bright, a perfect start to any walk. As we walked through the gate we could hear the bellowing coming from the bucks but it was very dark and misty so you were not sure where the noises were coming from. You could just see their shadows if you looked carefully.

    A beautiful misty morning with the changing sky just before the Sun came up.

As we walked, Lisa spoke about the fallow deer within the park, how they are free roaming, their ages, sizes and colour and how they are looked after. She also spoke about their breeding habits, which of course was why we were there, to see some of the rut. Splash splash! Right on time, a small group of deer came rushing past us, down the embankment and splashing through the River Dene towards West Park :) Perfect timing :) They did the exact same thing the next morning :) If I didn't know better, I would think Lisa planned that! :) The photo below was taken another day when light was better.

This is a lovely short video Lisa made from some of the photos I had sent her. It show the deer splashing in the River Dene.

The Sun shining through the trees. I love how it makes the trees glow from their base.

We followed the drive that runs along the River Dene until we came to the old Slaughter Bridge where the entrance to West Park is. There Lisa spoke again and then we listened, you could hear noises coming from both sides of the river. It is quite an amazing experience to be there at that time of day at this time of year. Something really special. As we walked through Lime Avenue, which is the old original Stratford road before it was moved, you could see bucks ahead fighting and putting on an excellent display. As we looked behind us, we also had another amazing view. The Sun was just starting to come up and light our way. It couldn't have been a more perfect morning. 

A little further up the avenue and we were at the area I had watched the week before and it was still very active. This one buck really was 'King of the Rut' this year! He is in amazing shape and he looks so big and solid! No messing with him. I have to say I did not see him get into one fight. He did a lot of chasing the younger bucks away, a lot of bellowing and strutting around but no one took him on. I don't think I have any photos of him but I do have plenty of video recording which I will add at the end of this blog.

                    Here are a couple of the bucks fighting.

I was asked if the little ones get hurt? Well they can but not by an older bucks. Bucks will only ever fight with another buck the exact same size as itself. The young 2-3 year old males can hurt each other as they will try to get in on the action and they like the older buck, will fight around a stand, trying to show off how strong and worthy they are. The main difference is that at this young age, their antlers are two single spikes which don't lock in battle as with the older bucks. The picture below shows you the difference in the antlers of a young male and a full grown male.
A young buck such as this is called a Pricket. A Pricket is normally aged 2-3 years. After the age of 3 they are called a Sorrel. At 4 years of age a Buck is called a 'Sore'. By the time he reaches 5, he will be classed as an adult and his antlers will grow bigger as he gets older.

Some of the older bucks have amazing antlers.

And of course not forgetting the females in all this as just because the boys make all the noise and get all the attention, doesn't mean the females don't do their bit. 

As the rutting season starts and the females comes into season, she will stop feeding her young fawn.
This is probably one of the last fawns to be fed by it's mother this year. At this time there is a lot of noise coming from this year's fawns as they call for their mother. It sounds a little like a cat to be honest. With their mothers being busy making more fawns for the next year, the fawns have to fend for themselves.

As you can see in this short video. The fawn has no problems with that at all and as soon as the rutting season is over, they will be together again. Fawns will stay close to their mothers for the first couple of years.

The morning was finished off with a walk into the restricted area to get a closer look at the bucks in the old wood and then along by the Heronry just in time to see some taking off. 

                           Walking back for a coffee with the Sun still coming up.

                               Sunrise at Slaughter Bridge.

A perfect morning with perfect company. A lovely group of walkers on both days which I joined for a coffee and a chat in the Orangery after.
 There were also some 'Deer and Dusk' walks but unfortunately I could not make them. Next year I will. One to mark in my diary :)

 This next video is around 18 minutes long and I have edited the delicate scenes out, of which there were many! Recording is still new to me and I am still learning but I hope by watching this video, some of what I have written about will be explained a little better and you will understand why I spend so much time watching these amazing creatures. This video starts a little dark but will get better as the Sun starts to come up and there is more light. It can be watched on YouTube in HD as a larger video. Hope you enjoy it.

For more information on special events at Charlecote Park. Here is a link to their events page.

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