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Some deer, two skulls, and a licence plate


There's a wood north of my village which I've passed by twice a day every school day for the last year and a half. It's about a mile long, but I never thought of exploring it, until last autumn when dad thought there may be otters. He went to look for sign sof them - but found lots of red deer markings instead. I left the trail camera there to film the red deer, then at the start of December, a roe deer died close to where the camera was, and it's been filming there ever since.

So I know lots about what is in the wood from the trail cam footage, but I hadn't explored it properly, so last Saturday I decided to explore the wood in more detail to see if I could see any animal signs or find more bones - and this is what I found !
It was a sunny day, cold, but warm enough for the snow to be melting, so I had to wrap up warm. The wood is about four miles away from my house so we drove there and parked at the entrance of it. There was a lot of dumped rubbish at the entrance of the wood, which is sad.

I went in the wood and followed the edge of it round to the south. Within a few yards were signs of the red deer herd:

The wood is really in four sections. The bit in the middle is quite open, but there are lots of fallen down trees from recent storms, especially on the west side. The bit to the south is much denser:

We decided that we would walk around the edge of the wood. We decided to split up. Dad found these bones. They were pretty chewed up, and looked like they were from one of the woodpigeons that roost in thewoods. There was a keel, coracoid and a wing.

I found this old number plate. When we got home, we did some research and found that it was from a car that was first registered in the area in 1965: 50 years ago !

At the south edge of the wood we found this grey squirrel trap. The black bit at the top had a small ledge for shelter, and there were still some grain in it. Taking the grain would normally shut the trap.

There was a bit of wire, stopping the trap from closing, but I don't think the squirrels (or the pine marten) have ever been in here because it still had all of the grain. I certainly haven't see many signs of squirrels being there, whether grey or red.

They had these old feed bags hanging at the edge of the wood to scare off the deer from going into the field beyond.

There was a gap at the south-west corner where there was a deer path. I We looked out another edge of the wood with our binoculars and we saw a deer at the end of the field. It was alone, which is weird because red deer usually travel in groups

Through binoculars it looked like a red deer calf.

This was the bit of the wood that was completely destroyed by the storm we had a couple of weeks ago. It is almost impossible to walk through.

Some of the really big trees, like this one, were also blown over in the storm. It just shows how powerful it was ! 

Just beside the tree we found a red deer spiker skull.

It had five teeth through, but not the final back molar, which wasn't even starting to emerge. If you use my guide to aging deer by their teeth, that means it was likely somewhere between one and two years old.

By using the antlers as a guide, you can narrow it down a bit more. The antlers would have started to grow in April, but harden by July/August. Red deer are born in May/June, and these antlers are hard, so it would have died somewhere between 14 months (when the antler hardened and came out of velvet) and 22 months (when it would have been April, and the antlers would have been shed again)

There was a game-keepers seat on the edge of the wood. It looked fairly new,since the last gamekeepers seat as further in the wood and would have been destroyed by the storm.

We found this poo on the wall next to the seat. We thought it could be from the pine marten, but it seems a little small so we're not sure.

On some of the trees that were blown down, The deer have been nibbling on the bark of some of the trees that were blown down.

You can see bite marks on the end of pine tree branches and antler marks at the bottom of trees.

The middle of the wood is open, and is a good place to see the deer. Dad saw this young stag a few days before, when he was checking the trail camera for me when I was at school:

Although he looks older, the stag would be less than three years old, and still living with his mother in the hind herd.

I'd begun in this wood by filming the red deer, and I'd got to know the group from trail cam footage. It was a hind (female) herd with younger deer, including some calves born last June. The best spot was beside a mud wallow which the deer were still using even until the end of November.

Walking up to the cam, we saw a buzzard fly up from where the body was - it had been feeding off the body about 20 minutes before, and must have been resting nearby. After we checked the cam, we went into the dense bit of the wood and found this hind skull.

She was an adult because she had all of her teeth through.

The two cracks had both fused along the line between the spine hole and the nasal cavity, which shows this was an older adult...

...but the lower teeth on the jaw nearby weren't very flattened, so I imagine this hind would have been 6-8 years old when she died. I left this skull there.

It was unusual to not find any trace of the rest of the skeleton - but this can be a sign that the deer was killed by gamekeepers, who discard the head and lower legs but take the rest.

We found some wood pigeon feathers in a heap. It was most likely killed by a fox or buzzard, or possibly the pine marten.

In a clearing in the centre I found some old machinery under some grass. 

After we pulled it out, we I originally thought it was a wheel, but now we think it could be part of a mill or other machinery and it had a belt going round it.

There were deer tracks through even the most dense parts of the wood. Red deer are easy to track, because they often use the same paths in large groups in single file, and their heavy weight means they leave distinct footprints, especially when they need to jump over streams or fences.

At the very far end of the wood, it is much more open with silver birch trees. I saw a few deer moving at the far end as we went in, but didn't get a proper look. There was another squirrel trap here as well, although it wasn't activated.


From here we walked up the side of the wood beside the road, back to the centre where we had parked. As we came into the open, central section, we saw a group of deer on the far side of the wood !

I counted 15 in total - and this was a really good sight because the biggest herd I have seen in this wood was a herd of eight !

I'm keen to write about walks that I have done, even the boring ones, because I think a lot of people reading this blog get disheartened when they don't find tons of skeletons at once.

On this walk I only brought one skull home (plus a dead baby mole I found), but it's still taught me a lt about where I might track the red deer in the future - and other things I can look for !

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Findlay Wilde said...

That must have been a really bad storm to do all that damage. Even walks when you don;t find what you are looking are good, because you often see something you weren't expecting to see.

Bernard said...

I think the most interesting thing for me was that you found a dead young mole. I have found plenty of dead adult moles but never a young one. Was this a very young animal that might have been dug out of a nest or a juvenile that was moving away from its birthplace?
I does seem amazing that moles can breed at all times of the year but then their environment does not change as dramatically as that of creatures that live above ground.

Psydrache said...

I don't think such entries like this are boring. The pictures with the deers and especially the little movie are pretty cool.
About the feathers: It's easy to see if the "murder" was a bird of prey or a predator with fur. I will write about feathers and that theme in my next blog entry :)
Wow, a baby mole! Sure that it was no shrew? I hope you kept that baby mole or did at least some photos of it.

Jake said...

There's been so much storm damage down here in the last few years. Some of the woods are almost impossible to walk in.

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