Autumn on my local patch brings stunning trees and bracken the colour of fire. It’s also when the annual deer rut happens. October is when most of the action happens but now the bracken has coloured up and still a lot of activity. I decided to get out and see the spectacle for myself – in the company of wildlife photographer Danny Green, on a visit to Bradgate Park in Leicestershire.
Bradgate Park is an enclosed medieval deer park and home to around 400 deer, around 300 of which are Fallows. Luckily it’s on my doorstep, so I only had to roll out of bed a little before meeting Danny at 6am, for a day photographing both red and fallow deer, in the hopes of a rutting frenzy.
The weather was awful for photography; rainy, dull and grey all day but I still got chance to see some action. When Fallow deer are looking for love they either choose open spaces where males compete for a harem of hinds much like a lec, or they can chase down fertile females, but most commonly a stag will choose a rutting stand beneath a fruiting tree (such as an oak or sweet chestnut). Here he will attract the females to him (they get the added benefit of a feast of acorns) and he bellows his claim.
By bellowing he is demonstrating his fitness and size to females as well as other males who may try to fight for the mating rights of the hinds.
The females each only come into oestrous for around six hours so he needs to be ready. He will follow a female, curling up his top lip and sticking out his tongue to taste the air for pheromones. When she’s in the mood she stands still (I saw him giving her a gentle head but or two) then he gets his prize.
But all this shouting, chasing and mating takes its toll. A dominant stag doesn’t get a lot of time to eat or rest (hence the acorns being handy) and he needs to keep his weight up because in the wings other males are waiting. Ready to pick their moment to take over.
An almost black stag came a little too close and bellowed a challenge which the resident male rose to. If the ‘who shouts the loudest’ competition can’t be decided they start to parallel walk. Then in a flash they lock antlers and fight.
Keep your eyes peeled though as you don’t want to stumble on a fired up big Red Deer stag taking a breather amongst the bracken.