This weekend a friend and I decided to take a trip to Richmond Park in London to observe and take some pictures of the rut, so up at five and on the road half an hour later we arrived at the park gates just before 7am as they were being opened. We parked up the car, got the camera gear ready and took a slow stroll through woodland in search of some tracks. As we exited the woodland there were a group of stags, two of them were clashing antlers. These were young stags that looked to be practicing or just fulfilling what their genes and internal instinct were telling them to do. They had a quick gentle clash of antlers then stopped, looked at each other as to say “what are we doing?”
This was not the case for some of the clashes we experienced later on with larger older stags really going at each other.
Across the park you could hear the varying deep bellowing tones of different Stags along with the clash of antlers.
We observed that small groups of stags would travel together and approach the groups of hinds together only to be individually chased off by the dominant stag. Around these harems were younger stags that were tolerated by the dominant stag, but if they got to close he would chase them off. It was interesting to see that these very same stags when approach by an outside group of stags would then back the dominant stag up and chase off the invaders (if they were big enough).
We also observed that sometimes two stags would come face to face and if one of them didn’t fancy his chances he would become what appeared to be submissive and walk away.
Obviously you have to be even more cautious during the rut and try and keep your distance but even with that in mind we still managed to have a couple of close encounters during the day. At one point I was stalking up to a tree to get a better view of a stag and his harem of hinds where I found myself with a couple of meters of a young stag sitting in the bracken on the periphery looking inwards, I can only imagine that he was picturing himself in the middle there one day. He gave me quick glance and then his interest turned back to dominant stag that was bellowing and chasing the hinds around. I slowly moved away after taking a couple of shots of him.
On another occasion we were following a small group of stags that had taken an interest in a group of hinds. We stayed back down the track taking some pictures of one of the larger stags at the back of the group. He then decided to make a U turn and head back our way, all we could do was stand still, let him pass by and of course still take pictures. He walked within a couple of metres us lifting his head and bellowing.. The whole experience made us both tingle; you can feel the bellowing vibrating through your body. My friend actually stated he was a little scared but was totally blown away by the experience, I remember him saying “you can’t get better than that”.
The third occasion we were observing a group that were being visited by a flock of Jackdaws. The jackdaws were landing on the Deer and picking off the ticks. This was quite an open area and as the park info advises we were constantly checking behind us to make sure we weren’t getting penned in by any approaching stags. Well you guess what I’m going to say, we turned and there were three stags spread out in a line between us and the group. It felt like we were in the middle of what was a gang fight. We kept calm and slowly manoeuvred ourselves out of the line of fire. The stags tried their hand but were soon seen off.
We did witness some stupid actions by people in the park one of which was a woman with two unleashed dogs who walked straight through a group of stags just because the track went that way. The stags scattered and I think she should count herself lucky that either her or her dogs did not get injured or killed. We also spotted another photographer moving around in the grass and bracken with shorts on… I hope that guy checks all the nooks and crannies for ticks, bad move…
Although these deer were within the confines of an 8 mile walled park it was great to observe and grab a few pictures along the way. I normally always prefer to be out tracking my photographic prey and originally felt that going to the park was cheating a little, but for observing the deer’s behaviour this was a great experience.
During our time at the park we also saw Jays, Green Woodpecker, Kestrel and Stonechat. We saw a few Fallow Doe’s moving between woodland but the Fallow Bucks were not to be seen, they were probably keeping within the confines of the woodland out of the way.
One thing that did seem quite surreal was that fact that there were groups of parakeets squawking and flying around. A couple of the “friends of Richmond Park” people that volunteer their time to do nature walks and the like approached us for a quick chat. We asked them about the parakeets and we received a response of “ah yes those pests”. They are not quite sure of the exact origins, escaped from a movie set, a pop concert or escaped from a zoo but they did say that there were some very large roosts. Fortunately they no longer roost in the park but just visit during the day..
All in all a good day.. I have uploaded a few more photos to my flickr stream.