Monday, 12 October 2015

11th October - Petworth Park, West Sussex

Where Saturday was misty, overcast and quite cold in the easterly wind, today the skies were clear, and despite the still fresh breeze from the east it felt like the perfect autumn day. 

We decided to head across to Petworth in West Sussex, at this time of year the Fallow Deer rut is in full swing, and the weather was perfect for hopefully photographing the stags and their herds around the park.

As we walked down from the gate in Tillington towards the main park you could hear the calls of the deer in the distance, and there were several groups of deer occupying the shade under the large beech and oak trees.  The bucks were standing away from the herd and from a distance you could see the magnificent antlers so characteristic of the Fallow Deer.

The Fallow Deer were brought to Britain by the Normans in the 11th century, it is thought that the Romans may have attempted to introduce them much earlier. Fallow deer were prized as ornamental species and were protected in royal hunting forests for royal sport. Many deer parks holding fallow deer were established during medieval times and these, and more recent park escapees, are the foundation of the free-living population found in Britain today.

As we approached the herds one buck was bellowing away with a very guttural sound.

Throwing their heads back as they bellowed, the prominent adams apple moving up and down as they did so.

Only bucks have antlers, which are broad and shovel-shaped from three years. The fallow is the only British deer with palmate antlers, and in the first two years the antler is a single spike.   They look huge and heavy on the deer, and it must be a blessing when they fall.

Rutting behaviour depends upon the density of the deer in the area.  In most populations bucks maintain a traditional, defended rutting stand.  In areas with very high buck densities a lek (a gathering of males engaging in competitive display to attract potential mates) may be formed.

While there were many bucks with harems, there were also plenty of bucks with wonderful antlers lying down in the long grass enjoying the autumn sun, but probably recharging their batteries.

One individual had decorated his antlers and head with grass, this behaviour is associated with attempting to make themselves look bigger, not necessarily anything to do with sartorial elegance as you can see.

We walked along one of the grass paths that had been cut short.  This was attracting Small Heath butterflies, and they were duelling for the right to settle on what yellow flowers there was available.

Away from the short grass Red Admirals were also about in the sunshine, preferring though the nettle beds.

All around there were bucks either resting in the grass holding their antlers high.

or they could be heard bellowing as they walked around their does, their tongues tasting the air

Petworth Park was a picture, many of the trees in their golden autumn colours.  

The trees look magnificent, with perfect shapes and height.  This must be due to the fact that the planting has not meant they have to fight for light and can develop to their full potential.  There were many wonderful specimens of Beech, Oak and Sweet Chestnut.

But it was the Fallow Deer show and the bucks continued to dominate the landscape.

In amongst the long grass there were quite a few clumps of Parasol mushrooms, some broken up by probably the herds of deer, but in places there were some still perfect individuals.  The parasol mushroom is a basidiomycete fungus with a large, prominent fruiting body resembling a parasol. It is a fairly common species on well-drained soils

In a small copse there was a large herd of deer, with several bucks seemingly taking ownership.

During the rut bucks will spread out and females move between them, at this time of year fallow deer are relatively ungrouped compared to the rest of the year when they try to stay together in groups of up to 150.  You could see this with the females and young deer moving around as the bucks attempted to round them up.

At one point a Buck moved away as someone approached a little to close.  It crossed the path we had walked down, and settled under another tree.  After awhile the females started to move, and a long line of deer walked slowly over to the tree the buck was standing under.

There are four main variations in coat colour, with many minor variations also existing. The common variety is the familiar tan/fawn colouring with white spotting on the flanks and white rump patch outlined with a characteristic black horseshoe. The Menil variety is paler, lacks the black-bordered rump and keeps its white spots all year. The Melanistic (black) variety is almost entirely black with no white colouration anywhere. Finally, the white variety can be white to sandy coloured and becomes more white at adulthood. This is a true colour variety and not albinism, which is rare.

The young are born in June and July and in amongst the herds moving behind us there were some really young fawns.

The buck watched as the females made their way across to him.

every so often there would be little skirmishes and bucks could be seen chasing other bucks away, but there had not been a serious fights.  Then away from us we could see two bucks eyeing each other up, and there looked to be some tension between them.

During any conflict the bucks’ behaviour escalates from groaning fronting each other up to walking in parallel.  The buck closest to the camera looks as if it has been involved in previous fights as it has what looks like a scar on its side.

Then if one buck hasn't decided that it doesn't fancy the challenge it ends in actual antler to antler fighting as was the case here. You can hear the rattle as they clash from some distance.

There were three clashes of antlers, and then they parted without any real outcome.  

We made our way out of the park with the bellows of the bucks still ringing out.  It is always worth the time to watch this autumnal spectacle, and even better if you can command weather like we had today, beautiful.

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