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Tracking red deer with my trail camera


As you'll know if you follow my blog, I bought a trail camera last year, and since last November I have been tracking a pine marten that lived in a wood on the moors above my house.While I managed to get  some really good footage of him, I seemed to be getting fewer and fewer clips of him, and I wasn't able to track down where he was living either, so at the start of July I decided to try and film something else instead.

Around where I live there are foxes, badgers, stoats, rabbits, roe deer and red squirrels, but I decided to try and film red deer. I thought they might be easy to film because I know where they live, they leave distinct tracks, they tend to move between the same places, and they are very big. So on the 5th July, I moved the camera...and this is what I have discovered since then !

Choosing a wood.

An ideal wood would be within walking distance from a road, have plenty of trees to position the camera, hardly any people walking through, and have red deer in it. 

That is not easy to find ! I used my knowledge and found a strip of wood about a quarter of  mile long and a few hundred yards wide, running north to south. At the north was farmland used for grazing, at the south was a deer wood called Suicides Graves which I know really well, at the west was a deer fence dividing it from another private deer wood called Dougal's Cairn, and to the east was the remains of the rest of the wood which was cut down a few years ago. It was pine wood, but not dense, and there was lots of grassland:

Positioning the camera

This is my trail camera, made by Bushnell.  It a box with three holes, one for a light (it's invisible to the human eye, but shows up on the camera, strangely), then the camera lens, and finally the sensor. Whenever anything walks in front of the sensor it films for one minute (it can also so stills photographs) and if it is dark enough, the light comes on. The best way to position it is to find a tree overlooking a good area. Then we wrap a cord round the tree, place the camera then lock it with a padlock and leave it for a couple days.

The first place I thought would be really interesting to film was this mud wallow. Red deer cover themselves in mud during the summer to stop the midges from biting, and I could tell that the deer were currently using this because there was loads of "slots' (footprints.)

I left the camera there for almost three weeks, and got lots of GREAT footage (read on !). The footage tended to be either late at night (9pm-11pm) or early in the morning (5am-7am). I think the deer tend to move north through the wood at sunset, to graze in the farmland there, then move back first thing in the morning back into the safety of the wood.

On the 24th July I then moved it slightly to the south on two paths, where I thought the deer would be going inbetween. The footage I got there wasn't as good as before, although I did get three seconds of footage of an animal which I thought was very strange, and I thought I knew what it was but I couldn't properly identify it.

A week later I moved it to the best position, on top of a hill, pointing south down the hill, with the camera at the point where three paths joined. In this picture, my trail cam is at the red arrow and the dots are showing the paths. 

Because there was lots of storm damage and fallen trees, this was the easiest way for any deer wanting to go along the wood. It also gave a really good view down the hill, almost to where this picture was taken from. One of the best films I got was on 1st August, because it showed a large part of the herd together:

So what did I film ?

This is my favourite video, even though the camera position isn't quite right (it should have been angled down more). You can see a whole herd, and they come up right in front of the camera to have a look at it. This was at 9.07pm, only a few hours after I set up the camera !

I counted 11 red deer in this video. It's difficult to work out exactly but I think I can see:

  • A dominant hind (adult female): She is the one who first comes up the hill and leads the rest. Whenever I have watched the deer in this wood, there has always seemed to be one adult female who is on "lookout", and who seems to lead the group. I think the same female leads the group all the time, but it's hard to tell because female red deer don't have many distinguishing features. 
  • Three other adult females (hinds).
  • 2 spiker stags. These will be 2 or 3 years old. Their antlers are stubby, have one spike and look furry because they are growing Antlers grow each year with fur (velvet) around them until they harden then the velvet falls off. Red deer antlers start growing in April and finish in August.
  • One calf, which would have been born around late May.
  • Two yearling hinds, about a year old.
  • Two older hinds, about two years old.

So where are the adult males ? Adult red deer split into two different groups during the year. This group is the hind (female group) which also has the youngsters. The stags (males) live in woods to the north. The groups only meet during the "rut" (late September-early November) when the stags move into the female territory for mating. I wrote more about the rut last year.

I also know this isn't the whole group because I had seen two calves together on another video on the path. It's possible the calf died in the few days before this was taken, but more likely it and its mother were elsewhere (calves rarely travel apart from their mother when they are that young).

This calf was hidden in the long grass to the north of this wood on the 6th July, when it was about a year old, and dad got a good picture of it when it ran off. It's spots fade within a few months.

I filmed a young calf with four older red deer at the mud wallow. I think the calf in this video is a different one to the one in the first video, because it seems not to have any older male brothers with it. You can see the deer all rolling in the mud to protect themselves from midges, flies and ticks, and as the calf's mother rolls over, you can see the calf rushing up thinking the mum wants it to suckle (suck milk from her nipples) and almost gets kicked in the head instead !

(It's a bit blocky in parts, that happened in the video conversion, not in the trail camera)

The reason I think this is a different calf to the one in the video of the whole herd is because one day I saw four red deer in a field to the south close by. There were two young stags - the same one as in the video - a mum and a two-month old calf. It makes sense to me that they are all from the same family, with the same mother, and the mother is the dominant hind in the herd.

Here's another video from the same spot of a young stag which has only tiny antler growth, because it is young. I have some skulls from stags this age, and so I think this one is either one or two years old. It's in black and white because the light levels were quite low, so it filmed on the infra red setting. On the original video you can see flies around its head:

The video above was on the 8th July, about three months after the antlers started growing, so it's unlikely they would get much bigger. This next stag was an unusual one. I think I filmed him only once. Both antlers are just spies, so they are probably his first set. His left antler looks about 12 inches long and is covered in velvet. The right one is about half the size, and doesn't appear to have any velvet on. What I think happened is that the right antler became damaged or broken, but the left one still grew intact.

Then on the 19th August I got this video which I thought was very strange ! It's an 8-point stag, maybe between five and seven years old, walking past the trail camera ! It's odd to see a stag in the wood at this time, because it's not where he would be at this time, and it's too early for the rut to begin. Then at about 15 seconds in, a hind appears, then at 46 seconds in another hind and her two-month old calf follow them ! Is this stag already rounding up his females ?

And more than just red deer...

But it wasn't just red deer I had footages of. I have quite a few clips of this fox sniffing around the mud wallow. I have seen quite a few foxes on the trail cam, both here and in the pine marten wood.

There are also at least four roe deer in the wood, two bucks and two hinds, although a hind was killed on the road nearby at the start of August. 

I mentioned that I got a few seconds of something on the path. I had a thought that I knew what it was, just from the size, but it wasn't until I got this next clip that I knew for sure I was right:

(It's a bit blocky in parts, that happened in the video conversion, not in the trail camera)

It was pine marten again ! I'd moved my camera down here because I wasn't able to get more pine marten footage despite trying very hard, then without even trying I got footage of it ! A few days ago I spotted some of it's tell-tale poo on one of the paths, which was the first physical evidence I had that it was living here:

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Melanie said...

That's so cool! Great camera footage, and really lucky shots of the pine marten! :-)

Matt said...

I was just wondering how did you first become famous? And how did you get in touch with cheis packam on springwatch?


Anonymous said...

I think that jake should do the ice bucket challenge.

Jake said...

There must be a lot more pine marten round here than I first thought !

Jake said...

Already done it !

sedruff said...

Amazing. Awesome footage. And animals' eyes are so amazing at night, is the glowing from reflection of the camera-light, or moonlight, or something else?

sedruff said...

Hah. Yeah! :D

sedruff said...

Hi, Jake. Sorry this is irrelevant to the post, which was awesome, but I have yet another question about cleaning bones with enzymes. (Sorry I keep bothering you.) In an email to me, you say " add a capful of washing powder for about 3 litres of water" And I was wondering how much a capful is. Sorry I can't seem to figure stuff out. The powder I got is in a box, and so it doesn't have a cap.

Jake said...

I've answered this in the other comment on the other post you left.

Jake said...

It's the light on the camera reflecting off the back of their retinas.

sedruff said...

Did anyone else notice how "Scapegoat" continues to switch back and forth between capitalized and not capitalized?

GK said...

Hi Jake. I'm a 14 year old Canadian Naturalist. I started collecting bones last year. I have a raccoon skeleton, squirrel skull, chipmunk skull, and a fox skull. I just finished decomposing a trio of fisher carcasses and im having trouble getting the smell off of the bones. They are cleaned, but there is a lingering smell im having trouble getting rid of. Any suggestions?

Jake said...

The link at the top of ever page should help: http://www.jakes-bones.com/p/how-to-clean-animal-bones.html Hydrogen peroxide should do it.

GK said...

Thanks. I've been tracking a black bear mother and cubs latley

GK said...

I started into naturalism a couple years ago. I am aspiring to become a herpetologist. I know a massive amount on snakes and lizards. And keep multiple specimens. I read that you want to be a paleontologist

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