It was wonderful on Saturday 30 September to have had the opportunity to tick off the majestic , noble red deer stag from my bucket list of photographic wildlife subjects at Richmond Park. For me this meant that in a year I have managed to photograph both the UK’s smallest ( a harvest mouse) and her largest mammal. Their portraits join those of the African Big Five in my wildlife archive.
An Early Start
We left Binfield at 6.00am and entered the park through its impressive Victorian gates just before sun rise to spot a lone female red deer near the road. After Paul had parked the car and changed into his waterproof suit, we hoiked our camera bags onto our backs and set off at a fast pace towards the rising sun.
As this was my first ever trip to this royal park, I soon fell behind Gladys and Paul because I stopped to click a few early morning landscape images as the sun rose painting the sky a delicate rippled pink.
Signs of the Rut
Then we heard it. A deep and resonant bellow…the precursor to the rut. Male stags try to scare each other off by calling as loudly as possible to actually avoid physical contact – the loudest longest and gruffest bellow can determine the winner without the stags having to lock horns. The bellowing also triggers the hinds to come into season which the stags sense by sniffing the air. But the bellowing allows you to track down a harem of deer and a fine looking stag with ease.
A more quirky pearl of wisdom about the stag you may not know, is that just before the rutting season, the living tissue dies on their antlers. Stags can be seen rubbing their antlers against vegetation to scratch off the velvet that resides on them as it attracts unwanted parasites. This can lead to the potential for some amusing and surprising photos, such as stags with crowns of bracken tangled in their antlers! Nature’s own milliners…
Very soon the numbers of the BCC members had grown to nine .We were joined by many other photographers from all over the world armed with impressively long zoom lenses who inundated the bracken trying to get their shot of the day despite the 50m boundary in place to protect the stag and his harem.
The Golden Hour
The golden hour light can be used in three different ways in capturing the perfect stag image: front, side and back.Back lighting can either be used to create a halo effect around the deer, emphasising the hairs around the body, or can be used to silhouette the deer if the light is not directly shining on their backs. This can be used to bring out the sharp shape of the deer’s silhouette, and is especially effective for the stags’ antlers. Side lighting can be used to bring out a more sinister appearance to the deer and front lighting reveals the deer’s features in all their glory including misty breath… and yes, stag have no fear about pulling tongues at you.
When stalking deer for photography, it is useful to walk parallel to the stag but it is crucial that you remember to always prioritise the welfare of the animal over simply getting the shot. And truth be told, it is really challenging to capture that perfect image without the shot being littered with photographers, runners, cyclists or dog walkers.
It is said that when a Great Stag emerges from its dark arboreal shelter, great deeds are at hand…and are reflected in the images posted below as captured by members of the BCC Nature SIG.
There is a lovely cafe to retire to for mid-morning coffee and cake after having easily notched up your 10000 steps for day.
“There was a stag did in the forest lie,
Whose neck was long, whose horns were branched up high.
His haunch was broad, sides large, and back was long;
His legs were nervous, and his joints were strong.
His hair lay sleek and smooth; he was so fair,…” by Margaret Cavendish.
by David Watkins
by Deborah Collins
by Andy Myatt
by Gladys Perrier
by Paul Hendley
by Mark Perkins
by Pippa McHale