Thursday, 30 July 2015

July 30th Holkham Hall

Holkham Hall
When Mum and I arrived to Holkham Hall this morning, it wasn't looking great. A heavy downpour of rain felt like we were going to have a rather damp outing here today. Fortunately, to our relief, the sun came out while we sheltered in the cafe for a while and it turned out to be a pleasant day in the end. Not only that, but lots of visitors started to arrive to the estate of this stately home. Mum and I usually visit this place in the autumn to see the annual fallow deer rut and we thought it would make a nice change to see them in the summer as we have never done so before.

Normally, we would walk around the side of the estate with a lake and a woodland with a large monument in it. But we have never done the other half of the estate before and I have heard rumors that red deer tend to hang around that half. I wanted to see if these rumors were true. Along the way, swallows skimmed at grass level around our feet. They were so fast and made circles round us, making you feel a tiny bit dizzy. How they fly so close to the ground at such speeds and not crash into a tree is beyond me! We also came across a large gathering of feral barnacle, greylag and Egyptian geese feeding and resting across the fields of the estate.

Barnacle Geese

Egyptian Geese

Red Deer
All the deer around here are part of the estate, bordered off by walls and cattle grids to keep them in. This, however, does not mean they are tame animals. In fact it is the opposite. These deer are still shy of humans and will still run away if you get too close. Finding the red deer was easy and they were relaxing not far behind Holkham Hall, the tough part was to get close to them without making them flee. To do this, you need to come up with a plan for your approach. Using trees and other objects as cover, we slowly walk towards them, one soft, slow step at a time. Having the wind blowing towards you helps mask your scent from the deer, but the wind was blowing the wrong way this time round. We kept our voices to a whisper and watched the behaviour of the deer. They can still see us and were looking our way and some stood up ready to run. As soon as we reached cover, they were fine with us being there. Though we were close enough to them, we still left a bit of distance between us. It was a perfect deer stalk!

Red deer are the largest of the species found in Britain and are rusty red-brown with no spots. The stags will be at their most impressive during the rutting season in autumn with large multi-pointed antlers. Since last autumn, the old antlers have dropped off and have started growing back again, ready for this year's rut. You can see the antlers are fluffy at the moment in some of these photos. This fluff is called velvet and it will get rubbed off after the antlers have fully grown back.

Red Deer Calf
A female red deer is called a hind and many of them have now given birth to this year's calves. We can see a several calves curled up on the ground amongst the heard. At this age, they are spotty and very 'Bambi'-like. The hinds sometimes leave their calf alone for several lengths of time, so if you find a baby deer 'abandoned' in a field, don't do anything, just leave it alone. The mother will return to it.

Fallow Deer
After lunch at the car park, our attention was now on the enormous herd of fallow deer along the edge of the woods on the half of the estate we usually walk around. To get to them, we kept a massive distance between us, walked slowly towards the few trees available over the open field as cover with the wind blowing at us, as we made our way towards the woodland edge. Annoyingly, families with noisy small children were walking so close to the herd that the deer were now getting stressed out. The deer were making a lot of calls to each other and were running around between the woodland and a small isolated group of trees. I noticed there were people in the woods too, so the deer were corralled to this one spot. There were too many people and not many seemed to understand the behaviour they are witnessing. I don't want to stop people from getting close to animals like this, but I wish they were more thoughtful and gave them space.

Fallow Deer Fawn
I managed to stop an approaching family from doing the same mistake as the others and I persuaded them to join us behind cover with a reasonable distance between us and the deer. Though it was hard to keep the young children be young children, we all had a good look at them without disturbing them any further. The herd was a mass of spotty bodies with the odd male (called a buck) bearing antlers different to those of the red deer stags. Amongst the herd were several young fawns born earlier this summer. They stay close to their mothers and form small creches with other fawns. After spending a short amount of time looking at them, we left the deer behind. We will probably be back for the rut later in the autumn, hopefully with less people around this time

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