In A Red Rut?
You might not be in a rut but the red deer are and well worth a visit to watch their antics. The best place, only place to my knowledge, to see them is Studley Deer Park, where alongside the rutting red deer you will see fallow and sika deer. The rut takes place amongst red deer from the end of September to November and it’s just like you see on television, at least I assume it would be if the day I went to watch the rain hadn’t driven us away. Certainly one particular testosterone fueled stag was bellowing like Brian Blessed. His rivals stood around nonplussed, no doubt feigning a lack of interest whilst actually playing the waiting game. This alpha male ran around after his females, bellowing with his tongue hanging from his mouth, as he smelt the air to determine if the female, called a hind, was ready for his attention. I doubt affection comes into it. The red deer is our largest deer species with the males bigger than the females. They have a reddish coat and no spots, although the young do for the first period of their life. The antlers are also normally branched with as many as three branches and the rump pattern is creamy, not delineated by black lines. These, along with the roe deer, are Britain’s only native deer species.
I mention this because they can be difficult to differentiate from the sika deer which are also at Studley. Now I must admit that I can struggle to tell the difference between these and red deer but here’s an attempt, courtesy of The Mammal Society, to do so. Sika is “a medium-sized deer. It has a similar spotted coat to fallow deer in summer, but usually is rougher, thicker, dark grey-brown in winter. Tail is shorter than fallow deer, but with similar white ‘target’ and black margins. Males have rounded, not palmate, antlers, looking like a small version of a red deer antlers.” So the best way to tell the difference is by the rump pattern, which might be the best side of them to be at, at rutting time. To complicate things sika also rut in October and they have been known to mate with red deer, although whether this takes place at Studley I am unable to say. Certainly I recall being advised by a deer warden there many years ago about how proud they were of their pure manchurian sika deer. These deer are also called, dybowski sika, after Polish naturalist Benedykt Dybowski. Males and females of this species are called stags and hinds respectively.
The third and final group of deer at Studley is the fallow, which was introduced by the Normans and therefore by my book should clearly qualify as native by now. The fallow deer are smaller, usually with a spotted coat, a longer, permanently twitching tail and the males have palmate antlers. That is more like webbed than branched antlers. They can, and at Studley do, vary in colour and you might see plain black or all white animals, you’ll know they are fallow because of their small size but for completeness the rump or ‘target’ (I wonder where that descriptive word comes from?) is white with black margins, and a black stripe down the tail. During the rut in October, fallow males (bucks) become territorial, groaning and defending a rutting stand where the females (does) visit them to mate. Please don’t take your dog if you go to see them and keep your distance, these animals can become aggressive at this time of year.
Now is a great time to visit Studley with not only are the deer rutting but also the trees are turning colour. Another fine spot to see autumnal colour is RHS Harlow Carr, but if you want to see this seasonal delight then don’t leave it too late and let’s hope for a few days of sunshine to enjoy it in. Apparently the trees are changing colour this year two weeks later than usual and this is blamed upon the unseasonally warm weather.
News from RSPB Fairburn Ings. In the past few days the first redwings and fieldfares of the winter have arrived along with two gannets and a great white egret. There are still marsh harriers and red kites, lots of wildfowl including gadwall, shovellers, wigeon and some big skeins of pink-footed geese. A swallow was seen on October 21 and a long eared owl has been seen just off the reserve.
Sightings at Nosterfield Nature reserve recently include a leucistic linnet, 380 wigeon, six ruff, a bar-tailed godwit, eight common snipe, four golden plover, a yellow-legged gull, five whooper swans and a peregrine. Late butterflies included a brimstone, red admiral and small tortoiseshell.
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