Friday, 13 November 2009

Sika and you shall find/Fallow the leader/other awful deer pun

Yesterday morning we went on a short pre-work deer-photographing trip to Knole Park. It was a beautiful crisp sunny morning, which took away the sting of having to pay a quid for parking as the ticket machine 'does not give change' and'does not accept bronze coins'. Gits.

Knole Park is Kent's only deer park. There are allegedly Red Deer here but I have only seen Sika and Fallow and have explored it pretty thoroughly on many occasions so I think that's a terrible lie. The Sikas and Fallows (far more of the latter) range among rolling hills, some grassy, some cloaked in bracken and some wooded. In many places there are loads of anthills, indicating a) ants (specifically, Yellow Meadow Ants) and b) ancient, unimproved grassland. Oh yes, and c) lots of Green Woodpeckers.

The Fallows' rut should be pretty much over but there was still a distinct 'harem structure' going on with most of the groups we saw - a bunch of does and one big buck, with the younger bucks wandering about on their own. At other times of year the guys and girls stay in separate groups, but now's the chance to observe some interactions between the sexes.

The Sikas spend more time lurking in the woodlands than the Fallows, though they're actually more approachable. Both species are still wearing the remains of their spotty summer coats, though both will lose the spots and become more boring-looking over the next couple of months. If you're not familiar with the two species, they can be tricky to identify. Males with well-grown antlers are easy to tell apart, the Fallows having broad, flattened 'palmate' antlers, the Sikas sporting a more conventional narrow 'tree branch' style. Otherwise, one good way of telling the two species apart is assessing 'bum slopiness'. Fallows have an angular backside with the tail base aligned with the back, Sikas a gentle curve with the tail base lower than the line of the back. Also, see the white oval patch on this Sika female's hind leg, just under the ankle bend? That's a Sika thing and is very distinctive. I love field marks like that, which seem not so much part of a pattern but an anomolous bit of colour like a bright sticky label that says 'Sika'. Another example is the black underwing patch of the Grey Plover. (Actually, I think the Sika 'hock blob' is a scent gland. Maybe the same is true of the Grey Plover's armpits...)

We were only in the park for an hour or so but saw a few nice birds as well as the deer - Green Woodies, Mipits, Siskins, Long-tailed Tits, Ring-necked Parakeets. Oh, and this lovely li'l lady by the gate as we were leaving... hopefully we'll have a mild winter and a better Goldcrest year in 2010.

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