A Testosterone Fuelled Day at Bradgate Park.

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Exhausted Red Deer following a very physical clash during the rut.
Another day with the red deer today. Last week Roger, Dave and myself had visited Studley Park in Yorkshire for the red deer rut and, although there were lots of deer things were rather quiet. We decided, therefore, to pay a visit to another rutting hotspot, Bradgate Park , near Leicester. We also had the good fortune to arrange to meet up with local wildlife photographer, Steve Houghton to show us around. It was an early start today and I left home at 5.30 to meet up with Roger and Dave with Roger driving. The journey went quickly, despite encountering patches of mist which gave us false hope for wonderful light. As it turned out we were to be disappointed on that front, but in many ways the flat, neutral lighting favoured the deer. We arrived at Bradgate, on the outskirts of Leicester at 7.50 and met up with Steve as arranged. He had been there since 5.30 revelling in the surround sound effect of testosterone fuelled, bellowing deer. Our first port of call was along the main road through the park to a wide flat area, which is one of the main rutting arenas. Early and late in the day the deer tend to congregate here while the stags 'strut their stuff'. When we arrived one particularly fine , dominant stag with a wide spread of antlers was holding court. He ran around his hinds roaring repeatedly with a far carrying bellow to assert his dominance. All around were the bellows of other red deer stags, intermingled with the more guttural grunts of the fallow bucks. All very stirring and primeval, particularly in the early morning half light.
Our dominant stag eventually ran off up the hill to round up more hinds, and so keeping our distance from this aggressive beast, we followed. Shortly we noticed two more stags posturing to each other and so, leaving our first male to other photographers we homed inon the protagonists. And not a moment too soon. As we caught up to them, their posturing turned into full blown fighting with much clashing of antlers, bellows and boring a rugby scrum would have been proud of. This went on for some considerable time before a winner was declared and the loser moved off to safer territory. Both beasts were totally exhausted, however, and spent the remainder of the day resting.
We continued to move up the hillside and over to the next, and more remote, valley where we came across a magnificent 15 point stag in control of a large group of hinds. He seemed fairly relaxed and was dominant enough to ward off any rivals with some impressive, far-carrying bellowing.
By now it was time to make our way back down into the valley to the tea shop and some welcome refreshment. After some lunch we wandered back along the main road taking in the views of the ruins of Lady Jane Grey's early home. We also caught up with some fallow deer. Although smaller in stature than the red, the bucks sport an impressive head of antlers and the hinds, in particular are very attractive. They come in a variety of colour forms from the normal white spotted fawn to almost white and nearly black.
During the afternoon we retraced our steps, revisiting some of the characters from the morning. Towards the end of the day many red deer congregated in the valley on the two main rutting greens and some fine action was observed. Two fine mature stags, in particular, measuring up to each other and only, at the last, resolving the dispute with posturing. Physical conflict is to be avoided, if possible, as it results in extreme physical expenditure and depletion of energy stores as we had witnessed in the morning.
I was very impressed with Bradgate Park. Hardly a park, more a large area of wild, open countryside. And the Autumn colours at the moment are stunning. A plave to be revisited.
Our day ended with a fish and chip supper in the nearby village of Anstey. A welcome conclusion to an excellent day. Once again thanks to Steve for being our guide and being so knowledgeable on his local patch.