Thursday, 30 January 2014

Winter coats for roe

Four roe deer stand exposed in the middle of this fallow field. They are wary but the distance between us, coupled with the half-light of dawn, offers reassurance; my presence is noted but prompts no further reaction. The roe look thick set in their winter coats, olive-grey in colour and longer than the reddish-brown hair of summer. This coat will last them through into April, possibly later; so far this winter it has been little tested by the conditions.

The roe is an animal that I grew up with. It was the deer that I saw most often and the only one to ever venture into the gardens of my childhood. At that young age I viewed red deer as creatures that lived in the Highlands of Scotland, while fallow were ornamental animals kept in nearby deer parks. The roe, on the other hand, was wild but accessible, haunting the margins of the local woodlands at dusk and dawn.

Things have changed a great deal and, having moved away from the Wealden landscapes of my youth, the deer have changed with them. The roe is still familiar enough but less common than the now established muntjac. Both red and fallow can be encountered on my local patch and I do not have to venture too far to see Chinese water deer. The roe still resonates with me though and I delight in each encounter. They have a graceful presence and a certain degree of curiosity, which will often see one stop to watch you once it has retreated to a discreet distance. Seeing four together is not unusual in the winter, which is the season when small groups may form. Larger groups are sometimes reported – sixty animals were once noted in Scotland – but these tend to be unstable, short-term affairs.

These particular individuals are probably coming to the end of a feeding bout (of which there are a number throughout the 24-hour cycle) and I suspect that they will soon move into cover to rest. No doubt I will encounter them again over the coming weeks but at some point they will switch to a solitary lifestyle, ahead of the arrival of this year’s young.

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