Things have been busy at work and home lately, and with the nights drawing in it has meant that I’ve had less time for wildlife. Nevertheless, there was one spectacle I had no intention of missing, and that was the Red Deer rut.
Last Sunday I took a trip to Woburn Abbey, our nearest deer park. You may think it’s cheating, watching the deer in a park instead of in the wild, but as an experience it was hard to beat.
The good thing about the deer park at Woburn is that it is criss-crossed by public footpaths. If the Duke of Bedford should ever read this, I’d like to say thanks for this generous and far-sighted move. It means that you can get close to the deer and also walk through the park in the afternoon when it is quiet. Whilst the deer are by no means tame, they are habituated to people to a degree, so they are not as shy as their wild cousins.
This was the first time I’d spent any length of time in the park during the rut (I’ve been trail running through it during the rut before, but that’s a different story) and the experience was absolutely fantastic. I deliberately went in the late afternoon, so I had the park pretty much to myself. Even as I walked up to the gates I could hear the Red Deer stags bellowing. The stags had spaced themselves out around the park and were calling to attract mates and challenge other stags.
Red Deer stags are truly impressive beasts. With a full set of antlers, and charged up on testosterone, they seem even bigger than they really are. The still evening air was full of bellows and grunts, giving an unreal and almost prehistoric feel to the situation. They may have been park deer, but this evening they were as wild as any others.
I stuck firmly to the paths and gave the stags as wide a berth as possible. My second-worst fear was that they would somehow mistake me for another male deer and take offence. I was carrying a walking stick, but I doubt it would help in a fight, and I wouldn’t want to be on the wrong end of those antlers. I’ve seen the stags when they clash antlers, and it’s incredibly fast and ferocious.
My very worst fear was that they would somehow mistake me for a female deer…
In all, I spent a couple of hours in the park. Like I said, it was an incredible experience, and I’d whole-heartedly recommend a trip to Woburn for anyone. Make the effort and get out of your car and you’ll be amply rewarded. I’ll certainly be a regular visitor over the winter months.
In passing, Woburn is the home to many other species of deer, including the odd-looking Pere David’s Deer, now extinct in their native China. Another deer from that part of the world is the Chinese Water Deer. I mentioned these a couple of posts ago. Like the Muntjac they were originally brought to Britain by the Duke of Bedford and subsequently escaped and bred in the wild. To make up for not getting a photo of a wild one, here’s one from the park. Note the large canine teeth. Even so, these little deer are much cuter (and far less intimidating) than rutting Red Deer.