10:00 I’m in Dinefwr Park again, but this is an extra day. I’ve no volunteering jobs to do and can devote the whole day to getting the shot I promised myself. The shot? This goes right back to the reason I got in touch with the UK National Trust a year ago: I wanted to study the wildlife of the 100-acre deer park, and especially to photograph the rutting season. In my mind I saw stags bellowing and clashing antlers. Last week I nailed the bellowing buck. (these are Fallow deer so it’s “bucks” and “does”) This could be my last chance to catch them fighting.
10:45 The sound: that eerie spine-tingling, croaking, bellowing grunt, quickly repeated. It’s close, but where is it coming from? This is where my one-sided hearing puts me at a big disadvantage – I can’t tell. It changes as I move round and it’s very close now. Is it behind me? I turn and see movement below. There he is! He’s mid-brown and alone, walking as he calls, trying to get any does in season to come to him. I freeze and watch as he moves uphill and out of sight.
I creep forwards to where I can get a view of the next open area, and I see movement to my right. A small group of does is slowly grazing their way to where I expect the buck to re-appear, and bang on cue, here he is again – still bellowing. Disappointingly the does show no interest in him, nor he in them. They all move away, and he stops calling. Slowly I climb up the central ridge. As I near the top I hear the sound again. It’s all round me, but the deer are hidden.
11:50 Damn! I’ve been seen. A whole mob of does and a few immature bucks streams past me and down the hill. What now? If the main herd is down in the open area where they are fed in the winter, I could be in with a real chance of catching fighting bucks. At present though all is peaceful and its lunch time. I decide to go to the Badger Hide, find somewhere to sit where I can see the field below, and have the hide as partial cover. Lunch is a doorstep sandwich of cheese, tomato and chutney with coffee from a flask.
I’m well down on the second half of the sandwich when I hear the sound again. Sandwich abandoned, I quickly move to a position where I can see what’s going on.
This could be it! I know this fellow. It’s Mr Half and Half – dark above and cream below and I’m pretty sure he’s the alpha male. He’s definitely in rutting mode and it’s good to see some tenderness as well as all the testosterone. Camera is in high speed burst mode, autofocus in AI servo and set at 8 metres to infinity; shutter speed 100th, aperture f9 ISO 100, click click click click. I take a quick look at the results on the camera screen. Looks good – nice and clear plenty of detail . . .Oh Hell! Too much detail! This is embarrassing. Here is one of the less explicit ones:
Suddenly the testosterone fuelled tension is ramped up. A second big buck has appeared. Is he going to challenge Mr Half-and-Half? He’s bellowing as well and is now right in amongst the does and head to head with H/H. They eye each other.
Surely the boss man will chase off this intruder? To my astonishment it’s the other way round. The intruder chases off Mr H&H and proceeds to pay elaborate attentions to the same doe. He nudges her, moves round and nibbles her neck.
She chases off a rival doe; more nuzzling. It’s clear who’s the babe magnet here:
After more nudging and nuzzling, he eventually mounts her – passing on those impressive genes. I keep my post for another 20 minutes to see if a challenger will appear. The boss man does a lot of running around and grunting.
He’s quite aggressive towards the immature bucks, but simply ignores Mr H&H. It’s 1:15 and everything is calming down. The does are mostly sitting down: it’s siesta time. The newly identified Mr Big has stopped grunting and eventually joins them. Peace descends.
Real life has defied convention. I have learnt something extraordinary from close observation: they are not going to fight. These bucks tolerate each other. Each one seems to know his place, and it seems likely that several of the mature bucks will be able to breed. This raises a host of questions, and some of the answers will be in books, but no second-hand knowledge can beat this.