Autumn wildlife thriving at Baronsdown

Local wisdom says that you need a few nights of frost to kick off the annual Red Deer rut. However, this year as we enter November and the rut begins to wind down for another year mild weather still prevails. The trees have largely lost their leaves, thanks to a few windy days and nights, but there is still enough warmth during sunny spells to rouse bumblebees and Red Admiral butterflies from their temporary slumber in order to grab a last mouthful of energy-rich nectar.

This year has been a good one for all sorts of insects on the League’s wildlife sanctuaries. We like to give wildlife time and space to get on with life and so we don’t use pesticides or weed killers on the fields, we don’t flail down the hedges to nothing and we allow the grass to grow until late into the summer before it is cut for hay. As a result, from the first bumblebees whirring into life in spring, through a bonanza of butterflies throughout the summer, to a mass late influx of ladybirds in early autumn, the air has been alive.

Hornets generally get a bad press, but these spectacular super wasps have had an exceptional year, with nests found on three different League sanctuaries. One nest was in an old stone building, another was in a hollow tree and the one that took me by the most surprise was in (and out) of a dormouse box. Needless to say I gave this box a wide berth and I expect the dormice did too.

Despite the mild weather, the Red Deer rut on Baronsdown was as spectacular as it has been in recent years. One stag, who is easily recognisable because he only has one good eye, got in position early and held a big harem of hinds for the first half of October. When he tired, he was deposed and he retreated to the woods to recover before the winter, having no doubt achieved what he set out to do. Other big stags then took his place on the fields and vied for the position of top stag. Meanwhile, some mature stags were less keen to reveal their hand and they adopted an ambush approach, seizing opportunities as the female hinds moved around the sanctuary to feed. All this time the younger stags and juveniles were hanging around on the periphery just in case they might get a chance to mate.

Of course, it is the hinds that are really in charge, testing out the stags and deciding which one is fit to sire their offspring. Some hinds may prefer an imposing set of antlers, while others might succumb to a muscular body or a particularly impressive booming voice. We will no doubt see the results next June when the deer calves are born.

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