[Yes, I know it’s a very obvious title but sometimes the obvious just has to be done.]
Monday dawned with the promise a very fine day in prospect. Let’s face it, no fine day in the UK should be wasted and particularly not as we face the onset of winter. So, after a very effective piece of advertising by Kate Humble on the first of this year’s BBC Autumn Watch programmes, Carol came up with the whiz-bang idea of visiting Richmond Park to see if we could witness a little of the annual autumnal spectacle for which Richmond Park is famed, the Red Deer rut. Neither of us being very familiar with the suburbs of London, it was also a good opportunity to try out recently acquired new toy #1, our Garmin satnav, to get us there and back.
Nerves only slightly on edge, we arrived by negotiating some of London’s suburbs where the satnav certainly paid dividends. It dutifully navigated us to the road we requested. Unfortunately, the ex-entrance on this road was now closed off but that was not the satnav’s fault. Navigation Officer took control with a trusty old paper map and fixed the issue by finding one of the correct ways into the Royal Park.
Despite the suburbs that surround it being pretty depressing, Richmond Park itself is quite an impressive location; it looks like both a great place to cycle, which many folks were doing, and an enjoyable place to walk, which even more folks were doing. We first found a plantation complete with ponds and a few late-season dragonflies, though they weren’t suitably positioned for the camera. However, with an uncharacteristically clear blue sky, the unfiltered sunlight did give us some early autumn colours to click away at.
As we began wandering about looking for our primary target, Red Deer, we became aware of what were, to us, unfamiliar bird noises in some of the trees. Eventually Carol spotted the green shape of one of the culprits flying between trees. The only green bird with which I’m familiar is a Green Woodpecker which this was decidedly not – the tail was much longer. Chunks of London and the southeast have been colonized by Ring-necked Parakeets and here they were in all their green plumaged, red-beaked glory. Originally an escapee, the Ring-necked Parakeet is now a successfully established exotic species. According to Autumn Watch, the Peregrine Falcon seems to have developed a taste for this southern Asian/central African meal. Now here’s something with which you really could make a green curry. Being green, they are darn difficult to spot in trees but, since it’s our first sighting, here is one, albeit a decidedly average picture.
Still searching for deer, our next distraction was a lake full (well, perhaps not full) of water fowl. The most interesting inhabitants were Tufted Duck and a goose that we didn’t recognize. The goose (left – Carol’s spot) with the eye-patch and necklace turned out to be an Egyptian Goose. While Carol was snapping the geese, I snapped a couple of Tufted Duck shots (right) and only once back at home base did I notice an interesting feature. Ducks have a third eyelid which is clear. This eyelid occasionally flicks across the eye and cleans it. One of my shots had coincidentally caught this eyelid in mid flick. Compare the duck’s eye in the two shots on the right.
Finally, wandering off from the lake to investigate a rise in the ground, we spotted several people standing stationary in bracken and watching. Shortly, the tell-tale throaty boom of a Red Deer stag protecting his harem of hinds drifted across the bracken. The other give-away was that some of the spectators were dressed in camouflage gear, as were some of their longer camera lenses. Given how used to Joe Public the deer in Richmond Park have become, I’m not convinced that the camo gear was necessary but it certainly looks the part. Our stag had a harem of about 10 hinds and performed quite regularly for the cameras as we watched and clicked for half an hour or so. In retrospect, given the number of shots I’ve discarded due to an unwanted bright blue or bright red shirt wandering across shot aboard its owner, I think I’ll change my original stance on the camo gear – it’s great and everyone should wear it. 🙂
Naturally, not all stags are yet strong enough or successful enough to win harems in the rutting battles. The younger stags’ turns may eventually come but for now they wander about the park looking vaguely dejected. They are still v. impressive animals, though, and, as we returned to our car, a few wandered across our track just in front of us. The contre jour lighting makes the result quite ethereal, I think.
OK, that’s quite enough thinking!