Image of stage looking at camera with open mouth as if talking.
Welcome to a Year of Deer.

This moorland near Sheffield, England is my home for part of the year. Through Autumn and Winter we stags come to the home ranges of the hinds to strut our stuff, at times doing battle for the crown of king stag of this part of the world. Sometimes though January can be a lonely time for a stag who is unsuccessful in the rut. At least there is plenty of heather to eat, although it is cold on the tongue in weather like this.

A stag with three young male deer.
Taking care of the youngsters.

I am keeping busy teaching these youngsters how to survive on the moorland. We are no longer welcome with the main herd, as they have begun plans for new arrivals later this year. I'm not going near those hinds whilst the big stag is around - have you seen the size of his antlers? He must have sixteen tines! Less monarch of the glen, more monarch of moor...

A stag walking across heather and grass covered in light snow.
Looking for some nice grazing.

A stag grazing on heather covered in light snow.
Grazing on frosted heather.

Although there is plenty of heather to eat, finding a good patch often involves wandering around a lot. Here is a nice patch to nibble on, but I must find somewhere more sheltered to rest and chew the cud. If it snows later then I think we would prefer to rest in the woods during the night.

A group of hinds crossing the moorland in the lea of a hillside out of the wind.
Hinds travelling in the lea of a hillside.

The hinds are still here on the moorland, as this is their home range. They move around the moor depending on weather conditions, or any disturbance from humans or their four legged companions. Even though this landscape looks featureless, there are many small gullies and hills or rocks to provide hiding places and shelter if needed. Getting out of even a gentle winter breeze, to graze in comfort if not warmth is often possible, though you might not think it possible on some colder January days.

A stag and hinds deciding whether to cross the path near humans to go down into woods.
Uncertainty, which way should we go?

If the weather is too cold to spend time on the open on the moorland, nearby woodland or the topology of the landscape can provide shelter. This can mean crossing a footpath or area frequented by humans. Gathering near a track with a well used crossing point such as a small stream or gully and waiting for a gap in the traffic, and then a dash across the path and down into the woods safely is often the way. Thankfully though the humans don't often stray from the well worn tracks across the moors, leaving us red deer to graze peacefully in comfort.

A young calf hesitantly following a doe as she begins to cross a path.
Making a break for it over the path.

A calf following a hind as she makes her way across the path near to the people. We use our ears in ways similar to many animals - pointing forward to focus interest and awareness on the land ahead, pointing backwards to indicate uncertainty or discomfort. A good example of this can be seen above, with the fawn unhappily following the older deer past the humans on their footpath, but with the doe intently looking and listening as she makes her way across the track.

A young calf following a doe who has crossed the path.
Wait for me Mum!

Calves in their first year will closely follow their mothers, learning and taking cues about any dangers in the environment from her. This appears to be instinctive behaviour, as newly born deer are often seen high-tailing it away from any danger after a very nervous mother, whilst the rest of the herd are barely aware anything is happening. Look out for this behaviour in the coming months.

The herd of deer relaxing on hillside in the Winter sun.
The deer herd relaxing in the Winter sunshine.

In the distance over the moor, the main herd is relaxing on a sheltered hillside, perhaps using the heather as cover. There are a large number of deer here, with a mix of hinds, this years calves who have grown well over the months since birth in late spring or early summer, preceding year's offspring, and a number of stags.

Two stags in the herd locking antlers, are they rutting or just practicing?
Rutting or just practicing?

Here two of the stags are still engaging in some rut-like activity in January, with their heads down and clashing antlers. It is likely that this sort of behaviour, whether combat in earnest or less serious sparring, will continue until levels of testosterone drop and with it the shedding of antlers that can cause so much damage in the rut.

Two deer hoof prints in light snow next to the edge of human boot print.
Deer tracks in the snow.

If you are out on the moors, look out for tracks like these. They are easy to see in the snow, but often easy to find in soft muddy ground too. They look quite like sheep tracks, but can be a lot bigger depending on the age and sex of the deer making them. A fully grown stag for example can be as large as a small cow, but with smaller hooves. Once you find some tracks, you can then tell which way the deer went as the front part of the hoof curves to a point, and deer usually walk, trot or run only forwards!

If you would like to see more of the monthly posts from this blog, please subscribe using one of the buttons or links available. You can share this blog using the available buttons. Each blog post will comprise a selection of pictures taken by the author, reflecting red deer activity for the month with some explanatory text.