Tag Archives: autumn

One sunny November morning on Exmoor

Not allowing myself to be put off by first having to scrape ice from the car windows at 6.30 am, and heading up onto the moors last Wednesday morning was definitely my best decision of that week. Better still, when on I found that most other folk seemed to have stayed in bed, leaving Exmoor at its most peaceful and tranquil.
B_EOS80D4137smWalking for an hour from first light through icy puddles, weighed down by my tripod, video and stills camera, I neither heard nor saw any sign of wildlife during an almost eerie calm just before the sun emerged from behind Dunkery Beacon – the highest point on Exmoor.

Even without sightings of any wildlife the views from up there are always stunning, showing off the diverse blend of moorland, woodland, pasture and coastal habitats that epitomise Exmoor National Park in a single vista.

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I began to feel that I may see little of the deer that I had come to film here, and decided to walk back to my car via taking a detour through the many lower lying sheltered combes and autumnal-looking oak woods. Eventually I spotted a few of the hardy Exmoor ponies, that live on the moor year round, grazing on small patches of grass in between the heather, lit up by the first rays of sun.

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Then, much to my surprise, I spotted a few brown ears twitching among the heather and bracken no more than eighty metres below me, which from a quick look through the zoom on my camera I could see were a group of red deer. Although through the brown fronds of wilted bracken that I was hiding behind I was unable to get a clear view of how many there were in all, I could see at least several hinds and calves as well as one fair size stag. Some were lying down and others browsing partially out of sight further down the slope. I settled down, not daring to move to take any pictures for at least 15 minutes, (“that’s a record!” I hear my wife say !) to enjoy that unrivalled feeling when able to watch wild animals close-up, behaving naturally but totally unaware of my presence.

Eventually, having waited for a moment when all deer were head-down or facing away from me, I dared slowly to raise my video tripod, to get a few quick clips of them before they would most likely spot me when they stood up. As luck would have it, they did get up suddenly but looked away from me downhill in the direction of another stag that was bolving (the roar stags make during the mating season) in the distance, but appeared to be coming ever closer.

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The herd however appeared to ignore him and casually started to walk off towards the next combe, enabling me to stand up without startling them. Once they were a little further away I decided – as I often do while filming deer – to show myself clearly to the deer, and let them see me walking gradually away at an angle while still keeping them in view. I often prefer this to attempting to stalk up closer to red deer, which more often than not results in startling them, and in photos of a lot of rear ends or of alarmed deer looking at the camera. Instead, I find it much better to try to predict where the herd will head next if not pushed, and re-approach using the slope of the land to provide cover while getting into a new position where the deer are likely to come into view again. Soon I was rewarded by seeing the herd – which turned out to be much larger than I had thought – reappear ambling up to the top of the next combe. They hinds and calves grazed calmly, while the lay down unperturbed by several Exmoor ponies close-by, and taking no notice of me settled in full view of them, but on the other side of the combe.
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Having watched quietly for some time, the stag I’d heard bolving previously suddenly ran up the slopes to join the herd. The resident stag, which had appeared to be holding the herd, immediately moved to the edge of the group and stared to graze head-down; a typical displacement behaviour signalling his sub-dominant status to the other stag that had suddenly appeared. However, after just five minutes of inspecting the hinds and taking in their scent to check if any were yet to come into oestrus, he took off again and headed directly towards me.
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At first I thought he might truly be aiming for me, but rather than pretending to graze, in my case I stood up and made sure the stag could clearly see that my tripod was not a set of antlers! Untroubled, he calmly trotted past me back down into the combe to re-join another smaller group of hinds that were clearly of much more interest to him.

Meanwhile the other deer were all still stood up above looking at me, allowing me to get a few more close photos of them in the bright late autumn sunshine.
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I retreated to leave them all in peace, and returned home via Porlock Common to take in just a few more of my favourite Exmoor views.
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View from Porlock Common over Bossington Hill and the Bristol Channel.

[All images taken on 08 November 2017 by Jochen Langbein ©LangbeinWildlife]


 

The Spectacle of the Autumn Deer Rut

Looking forward to the Spectacle of the Autumn Deer Rut

For many autumn conjures up thoughts of deciduous woodlands transformed into a splendid array of mellow colours, wind-swept days, and acorns and conkers falling to the ground. As a wildlife enthusiast, for me equally evocative of autumn are the sound of clashing antlers and roars of stags that signal the on-set of the rut for the three largest (Red, Sika and Fallow) among the six species of deer living wild in Britain.

The mating season for red, sika and fallow deer may stretch out over eight weeks, but for all reaches its peak (the rut) sometime during October. Having lived placidly together in all male bachelor groups over the summer (first clip below) , …..

…by September the mature males develop thickened necks and manes, become increasingly aggressive to one another, and set off in search of female groups and mating grounds (see second video clip)

The ensuing spectacle of the rut has all the ingredients of a cinema blockbuster, as high-ranking males lock antlers in fierce battles for supremacy and access to females, which can lead to injuries and sometimes death for the looser. Such battles are preceded by a wide range of ritualistic displays including thrashing of vegetation, wallowing in mud, and parallel walking to suss out the opposition, all backed by a soundtrack of the loud roaring of red stags, the deep belching groans of fallow bucks, or eerie high-pitched whistling of the sika. The prize at stake is to be one of the small proportion of sexually mature males to dominate the great majority of matings that season, either by gathering a large harem of females that a stag will repeatedly chivvy to keep them together, or defending a prime mating territory (or stand) that he will guard fiercely against any other male.

I don’t have any decent HD footage of stags fighting and mating (yet!), but can’t wait to try and get some over the next few weeks. Aside from well-known deer forests such as Cannock Chase, The Forest of Dean, The New Forest, Ashridge Forest , Exmoor in SW England and the Cairngorms in Scotland, some of the prime places to observe the autumn deer rut are the numerous readily accessible deer parks located within easy reach of most of our major cities; Including The Royal Parks – Richmond, Bushy and Home Park– in London, NT Petworth park in Sussex, Powderham in Devon, Wollaton in Nottingham, NT Lyme Park nr Stockport, Knole Park in Kent …and many many others.

WHEN GOING TO OBSERVE THE RUT HOWEVER PLEASE  arm yourself with binoculars or camera with a long zoom lens, don’t be tempted to approach the deer closer than about 150 metres and avoid the deer becoming surrounded by people on several sides, so as not to disrupt the natural behaviour of the deer as well as for your personal safety.

One other consequence of the heightened movement of deer during the mating season, is that they may run blindly across roads with other things than traffic foremost on their mind (!) leading to an annual spike in fallow, red and sika deer road casualties from early October through into November. With clocks then going back for daylight saving, this also brings rush hour traffic in line with dawn and dusk and the early part of the night – when deer crossings and near misses are most likely.  So as nights draw in, Take care – Be DeerAware !


 

The Red deer Year : August

Pesky Flies and Bloodstained Velvet

During early August most mature red deer stags will have completed regrowth of their antlers. The protective highly vascular velvety skin that supplied oxygen and nutrients to the growing bone over the past months now starts to dry out and decay, attracting numerous flies. Stags may become more difficult to spot at this time as they lie up in high cover, such as reed beds, bracken and cereal fields for much of the day, to get away from pesky flies. More unusually some stags may seek out shade in a secluded garden, as shown in the clip below of a stag that came right up close to my garden trail camera last year, and shows swarms of flies surrounding his antlers during mid-August.


By the end of August mature stags will ‘clean’ their antlers of the remaining velvet skin that is now ‘in tatters’, to reveal their shiny new antler tips, ready to do battle in the autumn rut.

“My legs are getting so long now I have to kneel down to suckle”.


 

See below for previous Month:

The Red deer Year: July

Velvet Stags and Spotted Calves.

In July red deer stags are at their most tolerant of each other. Many join all-male bachelor groups, commonly 5 to 15 strong, though occasionally as in the clip below much larger aggregations may be seen even in the wild.  Meanwhile, young red deer calves born during May and early June, which had been hiding away in dense cover most of the day for the first few weeks of their lives, become easier to see out in the open in July. They now start to join female herds for at least part of the day, and may form ‘nursery groups’ of several calves together,  looked out for by one or two mature hinds. This often leads people to think they are seeing twin calves, though twins are actually quite rare among red deer. Hinds with young calves nearby are especially vigilant and will bark loudly at any sign of perceived danger, …. such as an amateur cameraman hiding in the bushes!

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