Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Oh, Deer!

A few weeks ago we took an afternoon walk in a favourite local spot. Despite taking the route many times I had never been lucky enough to see the wild deer which were reputed to be there and in fact on this occasion I had completely forgotten about the possibility of seeing them. As we strolled in the October sunshine, enjoying the beautiful surroundings, I looked to my left and noticed what I thought was a large log in the distance, halfway up a grassy slope. At the time I thought nothing of it being more intent on looking for birds or the odd, late butterfly.

'Where are you O Wild Deer?
I have known you for a while, here.'

(Shams al-din Hafiz)

We walked on for a while and eventually turned to our left and slowly climbed the steep incline. While stopping to catch my breath halfway up I looked through the binoculars and realised the 'log' had multiplied and that I was actually looking at a small group of three Roe Deer. Completely by chance, I had found them, at last!

Roe Deer (Capreolus Capreolus)

'Up the steep hill we'll zigzag through heather and moss;
We'll dive into the glen and the steppingstones cross;

We'll couch with the red deer, we'll rise with the roe;
We'll rest when the sun's high, go fast when he's low.'

(James Henry)

Of the six species of deer which live wild in Great Britain only the Roe Deer and the Red Deer are truly native having been here since before the Mesolithic Age. Forest clearance and over hunting led to them becoming extinct in England by 1800 although they remained in wooded patches in Scotland. During Victorian times, reintroduction schemes led to their natural spread and an increase in the planting of woodland and forests in the 20th century, has meant that Roe Deer are widespread and abundant in the present day.

There was something which I found very noticeable throughout the entire time we were watching the deer. Our walk had taken us along the valley below them, then up the steep hill at the side of them and finally along the grassy route above them. So in effect we walked full circle around them and at all times, after I first spotted them, at least one of the party was watching us intently while the other/s grazed. I strongly suspect they had been watching us long before we realised they were there!

When alarmed, bucks (male) and does (female), give a short bark, which is often repeated. During the rut, the doe makes a high pitched piping call to attract the buck who in turn makes a rasping noise as he courts the doe.
The rut, or breeding season occurs between mid-July and mid-August. Prior to this bucks become aggressive and maintain exclusive territories around one or more does. Fights between bucks can result in serious injury or even death! The winner will then take over the loser's territory or attendant doe. Bucks usually mate with several does and does mating with several bucks has also been noted. Courtship involves chasing between the buck and the doe for some time until the doe is ready to mate.

Although mating occurs in late summer, the fertilised eggs do not start to develop immediately. This phenomenon is known as delayed implantation (embryonic diapause) and is unique among hoofed animals. It is thought to be an adaptation to avoid giving birth during the harsh Winter months.

The fertilised egg remains ‘floating’, unattached within the uterus for five months. During this time the cells of the embryo divide and multiply very slowly. Unlike those of other species (including those with delayed implantation), the un-implanted embryo controls its own growth. At the end of December or early January, when it is little more than 0.3mm long, the foetus is genetically programmed to reactivate from its period of delayed implantation. It sends a message to the mother by way of a protein unique to the Roe Deer. When the mother receives this message a cascade effect of hormones begins which enables the embryo to expand rapidly. After a short period of very fast growth, the embryo attaches itself to the inner wall of the uterus. Normal foetal growth follows then, for a further five months.

The doe will typically produce two young during May or June of the following year when the weather should be more hospitable. The young stay with their mother for around 12 months. I think it is more than likely that the three I saw were mother and her two youngsters.

'When from my path the startled roe-deer fly,
In their soft glance I see thy gentle eye '


Roe Deer are active 24 hours a day but most active at dawn and dusk. They also spend long periods 'lying up' which is where the deer lies down to ruminate between bouts of feeding.

I had great difficulty
finding any verse about deer which didn't concern hunting. I think it is a great shame that these lovely creatures are not celebrated for their beauty rather than the so called sport they provide for man. However, this extract from a poem written by the publisher of the Rotarian newspaper in Concorde Massachusetts in 1950 after he had read one such poem sums up my feelings perfectly.

'The beauty they bring

To their natural haunts

For all who are privileged to see,
Is full reason it seems
To let them live on

Quite alone, quite alive, and quite free.'

(Samuel G. Kent)

I felt immensely privileged to watch the Roe Deer for so long. These normally shy animals allowed me to observe them openly for quite some time before eventually taking to their heels and disappearing down the hill but not before all three turned and gave one last look as if bidding goodbye.

Until the next time... enjoy the beauty of Nature, wherever you are.

Friday, 5 November 2010

Closer to Home

As I had my little twitch :) with the Lesser Yellowlegs last week I was eager to tell you about it the next day which was when I was originally planning to publish this post. So, after all the excitement of last week, and later than intended, this is one of my more usual posts.

I was reminded a couple of weeks ago that the most magical moments in Nature don't always concern unusual sightings, sometimes the most 'ordinary' creature can deliver something very special.

I was walking close to home when I noticed a Carrion Crow perched on a fence post at the edge of a field. As I approached I expected it to fly away, I started to take photos mainly because I hadn't seen much else of interest during my walk. To my surprise the Crow was completely unperturbed by my presence, as I stood within arm's length of it, clicking away with the camera. For a few moments it seemed that I was totally at one with this bird which seemed to have a certain wisdom in its eyes.

'Crows can recognise individual human faces and hold a grudge for years against people who have treated them badly. This ability – which may also exist in other wild animals – highlights how carefully some animals monitor the humans with whom they share living space.
John Marzluff and colleagues at the University of Washington in Seattle prepared six masks from casts of people's faces, then wore different masks to capture crows in each of four locations. In each case, they found, the crows recognised and scolded whichever mask they had seen when they were captured, and ignored the others.'

(Bob Holmes, New Scientist.)

Unfortunately, all too soon, the spell was broken by the approach of a group of people with dogs and my muddy beaked, new friend flew away.

In a Japanese city, Carrion Crows have discovered how to eat nuts that are too hard to crack. One method is to drop the nuts from a great height on to a road. Some nuts are particularly tough, so the Crow drops it among traffic. To retrieve the nut without getting run over, some birds wait by pedestrian crossings and collect the cracked nuts when the lights turn red! You can see this behaviour here.


It was lovely to see a butterfly recently, after not seeing any at all for some weeks when the weather inevitably turned from late Summer into Autumn. I suspect that is the last one I will see until next year now.

Red Admiral Butterfly

The hedgerows were laden with fruit waiting to provide a tasty meal for the birds.

Rose Hips

'Autumn! soul-soothing season, thou who spreadest
Thy lavish feast for every living thing,
Around whose leaf-strew'd path, as on thou treadest,
The year its dying odours loves to fling
Their last faint fragrance sweetly scattering.'

(Bernard Barton)

Hawthorn Berries


As I walked around the local reservoir I saw a number of Goldfinches flitting through the trees and hedgerows which line the path. By the time I realised my camera battery had run out of power and replaced it with the spare, most of them had dispersed and I only managed to get a very distant photo of one examining a solitary berry, while another sat below it presenting me with a bottom shot!


As is usually the case there was nothing of great interest on the reservoir itself. About the only birds I have ever seen on the water there are Mallards, Grey Herons, Cormorants, Mute Swans, occasionally Great Crested Grebes and of course gulls.

Black-headed Gulls

On this occasion, apart from the usual Black-headed Gulls, I did see this one which I think is a Lesser Black-backed Gull, if you think I have problems identifying waders I have even more difficulty with gulls!

Lesser Black-backed Gull

And here with a Cormorant.

Cormorant and Lesser Black-backed Gull

A Grey Heron was patiently watching the water, hoping to spot its supper.

Grey Heron

'Hermit-like, he stands and muses,
Until he seems to be,
Moveless in dream-like silence lone,
Some spectre bird, or sculptured stone,
Or stump of scathed tree.'

(Bernard Barton)

Surprisingly there were no ducks at all on the reservoir, not even the usual Mallards but I did see some through the hedge on the river

Mallards (male, left and female)

and it was nice to see a couple of wildflowers blooming in October.

White Campion


I will finish with this lovely Robin singing its heart out in the way I love to see them most.


'Bird, are you singing to me ?
Singing of wood and of dell ?
Of the flowers I used to take,
Of the nut-trees I would shake,
Of the fishing on the lake.'

(Menella Bute Smedley, Fanny Wheeler Hart)

Have a good weekend and ... enjoy the beauty of Nature, wherever you are.