Today was one of those days when various threads come together in a fortunate way. Firstly, I have now finished my professional logbook – a task that I’ve been working on, on and off (mostly off) for the last three years – so I have some free time again. Secondly, it was a nice day and I was looking after Scarlett, so I had the perfect excuse for a walk. Thirdly, it was the third Sunday in the month, which meant that the Woburn Farmers’ Market was on. Lastly, we’re in October so the Red Deer in Woburn Deer park are starting their rut.
It was too good an opportunity to pass up. I put Scarlett in her buggy and took a walk through the deer park to visit the farmers’ market and have lunch in the tea shop in the crypt of the church.
As I’ve said before, the Woburn Deer Park is a great place to visit. It is crossed by public footpaths so you can stroll through at your leisure (stick to the paths though please). I’m very lucky having it on my doorstep as I can walk there in the evenings when it’s quiet. The Woburn estate has had a big influence on the wildlife in the local area, particularly the 11th Duke, who was responsible for introducing almost every non-native species at large in the UK. From muntjac to wels catfish, if you can think of an alien species it’s a fair bet that it was originally introduced in Woburn by the 11th Duke and subsequently escaped. One of these days I really will write a book on the subject.
One of the animals allegedly introduced into Woburn is the black squirrel. This is not a separate species, it is a melanistic version of the common grey squirrel. They’re something of a local speciality here in Bedfordshire and I’ve seen a few now. I’ve been trying to get a picture of one for a while – a clear picture that doesn’t just show a black blur like a snapshot of bigfoot or the Beast of Bodmin. Today I got my chance, right in the heart of the Woburn estate where the black squirrels originated.
The real attraction were the deer though. The Red Deer are starting their rut. Over the past few weeks the stags have been getting increasingly territorial. They each find a space of their own and start to call out to the females, who have banded together into small groups or harems. The Deer Park is dotted with very impressive, testosterone-fuelled stags, each sporting a fine set of antlers and bellowing out their calls. These calls are very atmospheric as they drift across the park, each stag roaring out his challenge. If one stag enters the territory of another they’ll face each other off until the less dominant one turns and runs. As the rut progresses the stags will become more and more aggressive until they come to physical blows, heads down and antlers locked in a violent pushing contest to see who will win the right to the females.
The deer were some distance away from the footpath, which was fine because I don’t like to get too close to the stags when they’re in this sort of mood. I managed to shoot some video which is as good as I could get with my little camera (I really must get around to building that parabolic microphone one day, but that’s another story). The video gives you an idea of what happens with the deer but doesn’t really capture the full spectacle. For that, there’s no substitute to getting out and experiencing it for yourself. If you have a deer park nearby, now is a perfect time to go out and pay it a visit.