Sunday, 28 January 2018

2017 - The year of the deer?

There are six species of deer resident in the UK and throughout last year there several opportunities to encounter five of them.

Muntjac:
Probably now the most common deer found in the UK and certainly the most likely to be encountered during a walk in the English countryside, the Muntjac (also known as the Reeves-Muntjac) is a non-native species from China which escaped from captivity early in the 20th century. 
The size of a large dog it is often found skulking in the undergrowth or in the open when it is darker, as in this photograph taken at dusk during an evening walk along the river Ock earlier this year.


Roe Deer:
One of the only two of the native deer in the UK and like the muntjac is usually a solitary, yet in autumn and winter, they can form small herds.  Such as this pair, glimpsed through a hedgerow near Marcham.



Fallow Deer
Originally introduced by the Romans, Fallow Deer were re-introduced during the medieval era and kept in deer parks and this is still the place to see them.
In central Oxford, they can be seen at Magdalen College (local residents, including those from Abingdon, can get in for free with proof of address).
Smaller than a Roe deer they are one of the most recognisable of theBritishh deer due to the large herds of does and the stag's impressive and distinctive antlers 
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The deer parks in London also have fallow deer, Richmond is the most famous, but the nearby Bushy Park (https://www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/bushy-park) is somewhat smaller and great place for deer spotting as they are accustomed to being close to people:
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Including this magnificent white hart:
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A lot of the medieval deer parks eventually fell into the disrepair and the deer escaped and now several hundred years later it is possible to have an unexpected encounter with a herd of fallow deer, so as Bernwood Forest in Oxfordshire:
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Japanese Sika Deer:
Looking somewhat similar to Fallow deer, although the males have antlers that more resembles a red deer.  
They are mostly found in private deer parks, but these 2017 sightings were at the RSPB nature reserve at Arne (https://www.rspb.org.uk/reserves-and-events/reserves-a-z/arne?gclid=EAIaIQobChMItPPI_Mns2AIVjrftCh387whJEAAYASAAEgJyIfD_BwE) in Dorset.
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Like most deer, the Sika deer rut takes place in Autumn and so in February (when these pictures were taken)  the stags have calmed down, are sociable with each other and starting to lose their antlers.


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Red Deer
The Red Deer is the other native UK deer, it is also the largest British land mammal and like the Fallow Deer there are wild populations.
But the best place to see them is in managed deer parks which are open to the public, such as Wollaton Hall in Nottingham http://www.wollatonhall.org.uk (also home to Nottingham Natural History Museum and will feature in a future blog post): 

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As well as Fallow Deer, Bushy Park has a population of red deer, in late Autumn the rut has finished and the stags have calmed down and the stags are mostly resting and recovering their strength.

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The younger stags and the herd of doe are also amiable.
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But often cause problems for any drivers taking a shortcut through the park. 
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Maybe 2018 will provide more deer spotting opportunities and maybe a chance to see the other species of deer resident in the UK - the very elusive Chinese Water Deer.

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