Tag Archives: Somerset

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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The Wily Exmoor stag that learned to use his antlers as tools

When researching and filming red deer in the urban fringe over the past two years (see my previous blog) one particular stag always stood out for his intelligence, dexterity and constant twinkle in his eye !

Startled !In one video clip featured widely on BBC TV and other media during March, I’d filmed him dislodging bird feeders in gardens on the edge of the Exmoor National Park in Somerset.  The intriguing thing about this however is not merely to have a stag in a garden pinching food from a bird feeder, but the very intricate way this stag gradually ‘learned’  to use his antlers to unhook the feeders.  Not least as hoofed animals (ungulates) are not generally regarded as the brainiest among mammals. I’d observed a number of other stags in the past simply thrashing their antlers against bird feeders, scattering a few seeds on the ground now and again.  But in the amusing trimmed version of my clip with audio as used by the BBC Instagram  it shows this old wily stag actually using the tip of his antlers to lift feeders off the tree branches they were hooked on to.  In the first part of the clearer full size youtube clip (below) you can see the feeder being  seen to smash open on the deer’s back, though this was far from a one off.

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“Wily old stag uses antlers to dislodge bird feeders”

Having set up cameras by several bird feeders in nearby gardens. the wily old stag i named ‘Cedar’ managed the trick increasingly quickly; but normally once dislodged the he would paw at the feeder on the ground until the lid snapped off and then ate the contents.   Red Stag at birdfeeder Red stag at bird feeder

One of the first occasions I noted him and another stag feeding from bird feeders was two year’s earlier in spring, soon after the stags had cast their previous antlers to start to re-grow a new set (see antler growth blog). Even then ‘Cedar’, aged at least 12 to 15 years old at the time, showed he was much more adept than the other deer. Above he is seen reaching with his tongue right into a bird table, while the others just waited for the occasional tit-bit to fall on the ground.  Sadly due to an infected injury sustained in the rut this stag did not make it through yet another winter, though he’d lived far longer than most wild stags ever reach on Exmoor.  It will be interesting to see if some of his many offspring turn out to be just as clever.

To see some of the other antics this wild stag got up to when visiting various gardens I’d been filming in, click on the thumbnails below to link to short video clips, ranging from some where he uses his antlers as backscratchers, to others where he raids the washing line to dress up for Halloween :-). Click on thumbnails below to play clips.

“Cedar making an entrance”

Scatch

“Stag Cedar using antlers a backscratchers”

Halloween

“Stag Cedar dresses up for Halloween”

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Stag Cedar Smoking

Mapie

“Stag Cedar and Magpie Friend”

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“..and a Good night from Stag Cedar”


 

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Bambi: “Look how I’ve grown”

In early June this year during a walk on the edge of Exmoor I was thrilled to stumble across a newly born deer calf lying up concealed among nettles and brambles. Most deer calves hide up quietly on their own for much of the day during the first few weeks of life, and the mother returns only briefly a few times each day to suckle them.

One week old red deer calf hiding.

One week old red deer calf hiding.

Newly born calves even of our largest UK species – red deer – measure barely fifty centimetres tip to tail, and their reddish brown coat flecked with small white spots provides perfect camouflage among the woodland vegetation.

Photographing young calves in the wild without disturbing them becomes easier in late summer when they start to follow their mothers and join the rest of the herd.  Having had little chance to observe calves again until now – the first week in September – it is quite staggering to see how much they have grown even though most are still barely 12 weeks old.

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“Barely three months old, but I’m already able to look over mum’s shoulder”.

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

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“With my legs growing faster than my neck, grazing too is easier kneeling down”.

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“The other calves say I have a face just like my mum!”

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“Time for a rest …..

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… before joining the herd to eat my greens”.

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See below for a video clip from earlier this summer when calves were just 3 – 4 weeks old :

Meanwhile the stags have been chilling while regrowing their antlers :

Meanwhile the stags have been chilling and regrowing their antlers


 

25 years of Deer Counts on the Quantocks

Last week I was asked to speak to the Quantock Deer Forum on the history and findings of the annual Quantock Red deer count, which I have now been involved with in one way or another for over two decades.  Ever since 1991 this count has been organised on behalf of the Quantock Deer Management & Conservation Group (QDM&CG) with assistance of the Quantock Hills AONB service. The count is undertaken usually on a morning in early March and focusses primarily on assessing trends in Red deer numbers, although records of other deer species seen are also recorded. It is undertaken by around 50 – 60 volunteers from a very wide range of backgrounds, including wildlife watchers and photographers, hunters and deer stalkers, as well as countryside rangers from the AONB, Forestry Commission and National Trust, most importantly all of them sharing an interest in the health and sustainable management of the red deer.  On the day of the count each volunteer is allocated to survey all or a part of one of 49 different count blocks covering the Quantock Hills and adjacent lower lying land.  Wild deer are notoriously difficult to count accurately, not least across areas as large and diverse as the Quantocks Hills AONB, but this count is never undertaken with the expectation of obtaining a complete count of the entire Quantock red deer herd. A proportion of those deer present within the count area will always be missed in concealing cover, and others – not least some older stags – tend to move well off the hills from late winter onwards until rejoining mixed sex herds in the autumn.  Instead the main value of the count  – undertaken in the same way year on year – lies in identifying minimum numbers that remain and to serve as an index of long term population trends.

Change in nunders of Red deer seen during annual count

Changes in numbers of Red deer seen during annual counts 1991 – 2014.

The graph above shows red deer numbers seen during individual counts have fluctuated widely over the years, with around 600 noted in most years during the early 1990s but falling to below 500 later in the same decade. Thereafter counts rose steadily up until 2005 to a peak of 958, but have fallen back again steadily since, to reach a low of 386 during 2013 and recovering to 511 at the most recent count in March 2014.  Multiple different reasons are likely to have contributed to the trends observed, including changes in the size, spread and manner in which deer culls have been undertaken, but also variation in farming and cropping practices off the Hills and public pressure on the Hills.  Information on how many deer are culled each year by different landholders across the count region remains lacking, as to date only some regularly report their culls to the QDM&CG.  However, when laying out its policies (see QDMCG leaflet) most individual landholding members and organisations of the QDM&CG group agreed that a population based on around 400 – 450 red deer noted at the annual spring count is believed to constitute a sustainable population size for the area in the long term; on the proviso that it is well distributed across the region.

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Click to view pdf

The overall and regional differences in the trends of the count are explored further in my Deer Forum presentation about the history of the Deer Count – a copy of which can be viewed here:

Most of all however the Quantock deer count demonstrates the value of such quite basic but nevertheless consistent long term monitoring of mammals over many years; and not least in areas such as this where the red deer are managed largely independently of one another by numerous different landholders, in order to provide an overview of trends across the wider area.