For those who don't know, the deer rut is an annual event for all types of ruminant animals, of which red and fallow deer, the two species found in Richmond Park, belong. The rut in many species is triggered by a shortening of the length of daylight hours each day so, in the UK, it is usually over September and October. During this time the males, or stags, have one thing and one thing only on their mind; women. The females, or hinds, only come into season once a year and for a very short period of time so the stags do their best to maintain control over a group of females so he and only he can breed with them. The stags do not eat at all during this period and often lose up to 20% of their body weight by the end of the rutting season.
During this time, the biggest and strongest stags constantly bellow an echoing roar to other stags, telling them to stay away, and also to the hinds, to attract them. After all, the hinds want to mate with the biggest, strongest stags. In my opinion, the roar of a red deer sounds something like a cow mooing whilst burping at the same time. I recorded the following video to show what it's like.
If other stags don't get the hint and decide to come too close to the dominant stags group of hinds, the dominant stag will attempt to chase the contender off. Inevitably, however, fights do break out which can lead to some incredible scenes of clashing antlers.
The way two stags of equal size square up for a fight, generally follows this pattern of behaviour; Two stags bellow and roar to each other, both trying to exert their dominance over the other.
If that doesn't cause one to back down, they will parallel walk. This is exactly as it sounds; the two stags walk up and down in parallel, sizing each other up.
If neither stag will back down after this, that's when antlers clash. This clashing can be quick or it can be lengthy and bloody.
Within Richmond park, there are two types of deer; red and fallow. All photos on this page, apart from the next one, are of red deer. The fallow deer are smaller than the reds, have spots on their backs and have thicker antlers. Male fallow deer are called bucks instead of stags and the females are called doe.
Red deer do a lot to attract hinds. Not only do they roar and fight with other stags but they also cover themselves in their urine, as it contains powerful pheremones; it can be quite over-powering. The also like to wallow in mud, as this guy had just done.
And, obviously, it's all about the accessories, and accessories for a red deer stag is ferns and bracken in their antlers.
It wasn't all about deer though and I managed to see something I had wanted to but never quite managed; to see one of the parks Ring-necked Parakeets appearing from a nest hole. This one posed quite nicely for me.
It was the deer I had come to see, however, so that's what I saw. I'm not going to lie, the guy in the next photo nearly made me mess myself. I was cutting through one of the tracks in the bracken (in hindsight, not the best idea) and, as I approached a better established path, I spotted this guys antlers about 2 metres away from where I was standing. With this, I decided it might be an idea to run a little further away from him. Fortunately for me, it was a very hot day and I don't think he could be bothered to be too worried about my presence.
One very important note on the deer rut; these are WILD ANIMALS! It amazed me the stupidity of the behaviour of some groups of park users, including a family quite happy to have their kids, no older than 6 or 7 years old, running up within a few metres of a group of fallow deer, trying to get a photo.
Again, they are wild animals, they haven't eaten for weeks and will think of anything getting too close as a challenger. If you don't believe me, maybe find this woman and ask her what she thinks; http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-15077514 For goodness sake, they've been known to attack cars!
It was wonderful to see this spectacle of nature, and right on my doorstep.
I shall be there again this weekend and this time my girlfriend, Kelly, will be there to witness it as well. Here's hoping for some dry weather again!