Thursday, 16 October 2014

Red Deer Rut At Richmond Park, Stag Beetles Need Our Help, And An Update On Snakey...

I had a day at Richmond Park this week, in between the rain showers. It was a treat.

It's rutting season and the stags are somewhere between pumped up and exhausted. The Reds (our native British species) have been in rut for a couple of weeks now and the Fallows are just coming in.

Male Reds and Fallows are called Stags, and their women are Hinds. Roe, Sika and Muntjac are Bucks and Does. It has taken me a full year to persuade that information to stay put in my head. This chap with the magnificent set of antlers below is a Red Stag. You don't mess with them, as his expression is so eloquently saying.....

Richmond Park was created as a Royal Park by Charles I in 1637 and it has been that way ever since. Its Royal credentials go further back, to at least the 13th century when it was the Manor Of Sheen frequented by Edward I. Today, it is a SSSI (site of special scientific interest) and an NNR (national nature reserve).

It is a place rich in wildlife, despite the close proximity of London and its eight million people, which intrudes every now and then...

Despite that, it is possible to stand in the middle of the park and have London be silent, and then you can easily believe you are deep in ancient countryside.

The many trees support a plethora of wildlife: native species such as this Jay, who was busy burying acorns (Jays are responsible for a large percentage of the Oaks that grow in this country)....

And also non-native species like these Parakeets, who have taken London by storm and are Very Noisy Indeed. They say a kind-of high-pitched ' heeeeellooooo' which made me smile every time they did it.

They are a problem because they use the same nesting holes as native species such as our woodpeckers, thereby competing with them for all-important resources.

In bygone years, the park was managed traditionally and many of the bigger trees were pollarded. This method of woodland management lost popularity during the last century with the result that some of the older oaks are very odd-shaped indeed......

A rather brutal re-introduction of the practice resulted in a number of the trees dying, and now they are managed more sympathetically. One interesting practice is to create areas of dead wood within the living canopy. Standing deadwood is a vital habitat for many insect species, but I can't help but feel that this too seems a little savage and that administering a sudden shock like removing a section of healthy wood from the middle of the tree would also ultimately lessen its health.

There is plenty of standing deadwood about in the Park, thank goodness, and it is this that makes Richmond such a vital place for that rather wonderful creature, the Stag Beetle. There are 12,000 Stag Beetle species in the world but only three live here in the UK. The Stag beetle is Britain's largest terrestrial beetle (30-70mm) and it is now seriously endangered. Once common, its habitat range has contracted drastically over the last forty years and it is now mainly found in the south east, predominantly in the Thames Valley. There are some colonies in places like the new forest (I found one here last year but haven't seen any this), and surprisingly, Greater London is believed to have the biggest population.

Lesser Stag Beetle found on the carpet at home during summer 2013. Lesser SBs are similar to female SBs but for the number of spurs on the middle section of the rear leg. Lesser SBs only have one, whereas SBs have three.

The tidying up of woodlands, parks and gardens is responsible for their sharp decline as these beetles need dead wood for their life cycle. If we go tidy-mad and remove it all we are effectively wiping them off the face of the planet. Leaving a pile of logs in your garden will help them enormously (especially if you are able to bury some pieces as the eggs are laid on underground wood). As they live as grubs in the dead wood for up to six years it is really important not to move the log pile. The larvae are believed to communicate by rubbing their legs together- if you put your ear near dead wood you can sometimes hear them. The adult beetles emerge in May through to July/ August and often end up in water butts and ponds so it's worth checking them- they'll need your help to get out. Despite the fearsome pincers, adult SBs don't eat. They are not carnivorous and I've never been bitten by one so please don't be frightened by their appearance. If you find one on its back please help it up (gently). Scientists have discovered that the adults like ginger and garden traps (for monitoring purposes) have been baited with it accordingly. Ginger contains high levels of the chemical alpha copaene which is very attractive to insects (so don't put any ginger in your bedroom if you are spider phobic, eh?). This was used as part of a national programme to try and understand more about the beetles and therefore help them.

Ideal Stag Beetle habitat
Whilst keeping an eye out for the deer I found other creatures enjoying Richmond. This Dragonfly was hunting over one of its many ponds. I think it must be a Darter judging from the time of year, but no doubt my friend Dave will put me straight if I'm wrong (what d'you reckon, Dave. Not the best piccy I know....?).

Seconds later, this news chopper appeared and hovered in the sky in much the same way the Dragon was. I was very struck by the similarity....

There were rumours of an ambulance being somewhere in the park: I don't know what had happened but despite the warnings, not everyone is as careful as they should be around the deer and we saw people getting far too close. What bugs me about this is that if something were to happen it's the deer that would be blamed.

I didn't get them in the shot, but immediately behind this Fallow Stag (who was rubbing his antlers in the bracken in order to collect greenery on them and make himself look more impressive to the ladies), were two people standing watching. They were far too close to him and it was lucky that the Stag was more interested in the bracken than in them....

I had a Close Call myself, and it is only thanks to the fact that I grew up meeting deer in the woods (albeit on horseback) and therefore am familiar with them that I managed to avoid a potentially nasty experience.

Rounding a corner and walking through some ancient trees I spotted a herd of Reds in the bracken to my right....

They were all Hinds, and I knew the Stag wouldn't be far away so I proceeded with caution...

Even so I very nearly walked straight in to him. He was so well camouflaged  by the bracken and a dip in the ground that I only just spotted his antlers in time. He was in full rut, as the roar he emitted a second later confirmed. I moved very quietly and as quickly as I dared backwards, put my dark blue coat over my red sweater, and got behind a tree so I could peer round to watch. He was literally a few feet away from me and so close that I dared not even get my camera out until he'd moved closer to his ladies....

My heart was beating quite quickly at that point. Luckily, he hadn't seen me and as he moved off to be with his girls I was able to slip away unnoticed between the trees.

A little further on I came across another herd sitting placidly among the tall grasses. These are also Reds (bigger than Fallows and minus the spotty coats)...

Further still and another enormous Stag was on the path, close to where some workmen were working. He wasn't remotely interested in us. They don't often eat during rutting season and I suspect he had finished his and was making up for lost time with some much-needed nourishment and therefore couldn't be bothered with puny people. Those antlers demand respect, don't you think?


Photographers were in evidence all round the park. Some of them weren't great at respecting the Deer in terms of proximity, despite the enormous lenses they were sporting. These guys were busy photographing the Stag in the pic below, totally unaware that they were being watched by another one who was just behind them....

In amongst the trees I found some Tree Art, which was rather lovely....

And some amazing looking fungus was growing inside the split trunk of this tree..... 

I was rather taken with the shapes of these trees....

And with the Autumn Colours, which are more advanced at Richmond than they are at home....

As I got closer to the car park the Reds morphed into Fallows. If you get to Richmond, have a look at the area near the rugby posts, and then at the Roehampton Car Park. The Fallows are on the playing field part and the Reds are near the car park....

Fallow Deer

Fallow hinds with their stag

As I walked down towards the herd with the open ground on my left and the woods on my right, I remembered how often when I was out riding I would see a Fallow stag just sitting quietly among the trees. I had no sooner had the thought than I spotted one. They are so well camouflaged that it's easy to overlook them. Their antlers closely resemble branches and twigs and their coats have the same mottled pattern of damp bracken and autumn leaves so they easily blend in to the back ground. Fallow are less aggressive than Reds and more likely to move away from rather than towards you, especially if sitting on their own so I knew I was relatively safe with this lovely chap.....

Back at the car park and London starts to intrude again. Apparently, you can see St Pauls from the highest point of the park....

Richmond at rutting time is a place well worth visiting, but do take care NOT to get to close to the deer.

I got home just as the rain started in earnest, took the dogs up the garden for a pee and very nearly trod on Nate, my baby grass snake (so called after the posh Latin name for grass snakes, which is Natrix natrix. I hope you are suitably impressed? I have told him he has to survive to be a big snake so he can grow into his full name, which is rather long for him at present).

He has been back under the refugia again and so I've been popping up to see him most days. But he'd not been around for the last four or five and I thought perhaps he was hibernating. What I did not expect was to find him ambling slowly down through the grass across the middle of the lawn in broad daylight as if he hadn't a care in the world. Luckily the dogs were oblivious and there were no other predators about, because he certainly doesn't have the speed to out-run anyone at present, and, impressive those his 'I'm a big scary grass snake really' lunge is, I don't think it would put off many birds either. This leave the 'sticking your head into the grass and pretending you aren't there' option, which frankly fools no one when you are black and zig-zaggy with a bright yellow collar and the grass is bright green.....

 I think he has grown- what do you all think?

I'll leave you with a suitably Autumnal shot, of a spider's web flecked with rain....

....and wish you all a pleasant rest of the day.

CT :o)


  1. Great pics! Dragon is a Common Darter.

    1. Hooray! I thought it was. All those visits over the summer drumming Dragonfly IDs into me are starting to pay off.... :o)

  2. Well, I think this is your best post yet, and there have been some corkers. I'm learning so much from you and enjoying every word i read.


    1. Many thanks, Jean. That's a very kind thing to say. Am so glad you enjoyed it x

  3. Thank you so much for the photos, absolutely fantastic. Those antlers are magnificent, Lovely bit of tree art as well

    1. It is a great place and the wildlife is very accessible there x

  4. Wonderful pictures of the deers and Richmond park. Was it a year ago that you last visited? The helicopter and the dragonfly look so similar! Sarah x

    1. It was indeed a year ago - where has that time gone? I wonder how many inventions take nature as their blue print x

  5. 'Beef-steak' fungus - edible when young, but don't take my word for it. Not very tasty, but good in stews, especially if WW2 is raging.

    Watch out for those stags in rutting season...

    1. Excellent! Thank you, Mr Stephenson. I've just looked it up and the other name for it is Ox Tongue. Yum.

  6. Great place, yet another place I would love to visit, the trees look great and did you find out what the fungi was called? Shame we don't get Stag Beetles up north, we have allot of rotting trees at the park, cut down two years ago and left for the wild life, the Jays love them. Love the photos of the deer.
    Managed to get out with my camera to day, we have had a explosion of Harlequin ladybirds to day at the park..talking hundreds.. Hope to post tomorrow.

    1. Thanks to Tom, yes- it's Beef Steak fungus and is used as a meat substitute in food terms.

      It is a great pity that you don't get Stag Beetles, although I do wonder whether they might simply be under-recorded as they are so difficult to find. You could try the ginger trick next summer and see whether you get anything?

      Will look forward to your post- so pleased you've been able to get out with the camera. Hope the hand is well and truly on the mend xx

  7. I used to go to Richmond Park a lot as a kid to watch the deer. Glad to see they are still thriving.

    1. Definitely thriving. There were so many it was hard to miss them!

  8. Great pics. I would be nervous of those antlers even if they were the other side of a fence.

    1. They are pretty impressive aren't they? Fantastic creatures.

  9. Great photos - haven't been to Richmond Park for years and years. Looks like you had a great day out :) Love the grass snake photos - so tiny and yet so perfect :)

    1. I love that little snake and will be very upset if anything happens to him :o)

  10. Oh how I have loved seeing these images of the deer. We used to go to Tatton Park and cycle around it to watch the deer from a distance...people are so foolish! Great post CT, thanks.

    1. Many folks have become too removed from wildlife I think to know how to be around them. It is a real treat seeing these wonderful creatures at such close quarters. I must remember to go again next year! x


Thank you for leaving a comment. I always enjoy reading them and will try my best to reply to every one. CT x