Last night – Saturday night – a small herd of fallow deer does crossed the road in front of my car. Fallow deer are easy to recognise from the car because of their obvious tails and rump patches as they disappear into the hedgerows. It happened just a few hundred yards from my house, and close to the field where I usually go for my Sunday morning dawn walks. Knowing that they were in the vicinity gave me a great opportunity to see if I could track them.
On the face of it, it didn’t seem promising for any tracking on Sunday morning. It rained heavily all night, so much so that severe weather warnings were in force for much of the UK. Nevertheless, with an effort I got out of bed to find a cold but clear dawn. The rain had stopped at some point in the early hours.
Much of the field was too wet for clear tracks. The lower half of the hill is on clay, and was almost underwater, although a few isolated fallow deer tracks were visible, alongside those of the ubiquitous muntjac and Chinese Water Deer.
On the better drained sandy part of the hill it was a different story. There, spread out before me was the full story of the morning. A clear line of tracks showed where the deer had crossed the field from the northwest.
The deer were walking calmly, as the tracks had a perfect register. In other words, the rear foot had come down exactly on top of the track of the front foot. Measuring the stride of the deer gave me a distance of 50cm on average. This is shorter than the 60cm that the guidebooks suggest, but maybe it’s because my deer were does, or maybe they were not yet fully grown.
The trail of the deer led across the sandy soil and into a pasture field. Unlike the deer, I respected this as private property, and I walked around to the next arable field where there was a convenient footpath. I was able to pick up the trail in this field. The deer had crossed it at an angle, still heading southeast, before crossing the main road and disappearing into the pathless woods beyond.
Fallow deer are not uncommon in the area, but it was quite exciting to be on the trail of a herd, and particularly satisfying as I had seen them the previous night. If I was a more experienced tracker I’m sure that I could tell a lot from trail like this – how the individuals are spaced out, which one takes the lead, which ones follow behind and so on. It was quite confusing to have a mass of tracks all together. As always, there’s so much still to learn, and I’m enjoying every moment of it.
To end on a happy note, there were badger tracks in the field too. I hadn’t seen any definite badger tracks here since September, and I was beginning to fear that the badger that was making them (I’ve only ever seen one set of tracks at a time) was the road casualty of early October. Happily though, it seems not, and the badger is back to it’s regular haunts again. I’ve only ever seen it’s tracks, but it’s kind of an old friend to me now.