The deer park at Calke Abbey provides a fantastic opportunity to observe the rutting season whilst remaining safely behind a high fence. The rutting season is the name given to the deer’s mating season, which runs from mid-September to late October. The rut gives rise to a range of spectacular behaviour, whereby the male Stags are competing for dominance and the chance to mate with the females.
One of our resident photographers Peter has been out capturing some amazing images throughout this rutting season, lugging around his incredible lens that looks fit for snapping intergalactic close-ups.
You first notice the rut from a distance, with bellowing roars from the Stags stopping every living creature in its steps, and turning the soundscape of our deer park into something more akin to Jurassic park (I’m sure that in the history of films the red deer roar must have been used to depict dinosaurs and monsters). These roars are one of the Stags first lines of rutting behaviour, warding off fellow stags and impressing the hinds (female deer) with their vocal prowess.
A formidable stag roaring into the air.
Along with roaring, the stags can also be seen ‘posturing’, where they will stand tall, often turning sideways to a competitor to show off its size. They will also make their hair stand on end to appear larger, and a sure sign that a stag means business is to see its ears lowered meaning that they have aggressive intentions.
The stags will also find a suitable patch of muddy ground, onto which is added all manner of bodily secretions. The stag will then roll around and rub this odour rich scent all over its body to truly let all the other deer know of their presence.
A male developing his personal eau de stag.
If two similar sized stags have sized each other up and neither looks set to back down, then a fight will be likely to follow. Fights do not occur very frequently, as the process requires huge energy expenditure as well as the risk of major injuries. When fights do occur the stags will first lock antlers to test each other’s strength, which will then build to an all-out attack of antlers until one of them backs down or is severely injured.
Game on! Two stags commence battle for supremacy.
The deer rut although present, has been relatively quiet this year at Calke. One possible explanation could be the huge abundance of acorns and conkers, which seem to have been keeping the deer busy with feeding themselves up for the coming winter months. This has also resulted in the dominant stags fighting for prime positions under the horse chestnut trees and oaks, luring in the females with their territory full with culinary delights. At the other end of the park will be the younger males only able to secure a spot under the Sycamore trees.
Whether the deer are exhibiting these powerful displays or simply grazing upon a tuft of grass, there is a certain aura about them, a somewhat majestic presence that is simply stunning to observe. Make sure you spare a moment to gaze out into the deer park on your next Calke Abbey visit and observe these incredible beasts. I’ll leave you here with a couple more of Peter’s stunning photos.