Deer Stalking

In the nineteen years that I have lived in Hertfordshire, a thirty-minute train ride from London, I have never been to Richmond Park. This realisation dawned on me last week when I was home for Christmas. I was due to return to Carlisle that Sunday, so I seized my last opportunity and invited my friend from Wildlife Media, who lives in East London, on a trip to the park to see if we could see any deer.

I wasn’t quite aware how fiddly the tube journey to Richmond was – the District line is what my grandfather would undoubtedly describe as a ‘tricky customer’. But, after only getting on one wrong train, I found where I needed to be.

Finding the park was another challenge, but eventually we arrived, just as the rain started. I wasn’t sure how easy it would be finding any deer but within twenty minutes we’d stumbled across a herd of Fallow deer (Dama dama) about sixty strong. Not quite believing our luck, we set up and sat hunched in the rain for over two hours, barely noticing the time fly by.

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We were positioned by a group of very relaxed bucks, who would occasionally butt heads almost lazily, as if inconvenienced by some extremely important responsibility. Often they wouldn’t even bother standing up, and instead opted to fight awkwardly whilst laid out on the grass.

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We were sat by what we thought was Head Honcho, Buck No.1, judging by the size of his antlers. Therefore we were surprised when a buck further away began bellowing and chasing the does around. Buck No.1 did stand up at the commotion but didn’t respond, so led us to believe that although he was a very impressive looking individual, he wasn’t the dominant male in the herd.

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When our legs were finally dead and a group of tourists had started to approach brandishing selfie sticks, we moved on. After walking about quarter of a mile, we saw two Green Woodpeckers (Picus viridis) and a whole group of chattering Ring-Necked Parakeets (Psittacula krameri). I’d heard about captive Parakeets escaping and colonising in the wild, but I’d never had the opportunity to see any.

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A little further on we asked some dog walkers if they’d seen any Red deer (Cervus elaphus). Just after they told us they hadn’t and went on their way, they called us back and pointed over the hill to a large group of Red stags lounging in the sun.

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There my friend and I were, trying not to jump up and down and shriek. Instead, we set up again and began capturing some shots. I was a little more intimidated this time because those stags were big old brutes. Luckily, they seemed to be in their golden years as they weren’t nearly as active as the Fallow bucks.

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After a time we settled down for some food, and were joined by a pair of Egyptian geese (Alopochen aegyptiaca), which I’d never seen before. At the time I had no idea what they were, but I was astonished that a goose could look so beautiful.

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By then it was mid afternoon and we were both cold and tired, so took the long route out of the park (unintentionally) and back to the station. A good day had by all.

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