Red Deer Rut (Again!)

It didn’t take much to convince me to go back to Richmond Park again. A good weather forecast with a high chance of mist was all it took for me to head off for another weekend photographing the Red Deer rut.

Red Deer Bellowing Golden Breath

I’d last visited just a couple of weeks before, but there were still quite a few shots that I wanted. And besides, seeing the largest land mammals left in the country fighting it out for breeding rights is a pretty spectacular sight whether you get any photos or not.

As luck (and planning) would have it, the weather was superb! The first morning was the mistiest I’d ever seen at Richmond, with the whole park enveloped in its soft embrace.

Misty Stag at Dawn

However, the stags didn’t seem keen on my photography agenda. Just as the sun rose and the beautiful morning light took over from the blues of a few minutes before, all the big guys seemed to disappear! I spent a while rushing around, desperately trying to find anything to photograph before the gorgeous light faded. A lone stag poked its head through the bracken for a few moments before quickly ducking back down out of sight.

Golden Antlers

After a few minutes of anxiously waiting for him to reappear, I gave up and moved on. A pair of Red Deer hinds walked slowly by, but they headed into a very un-photogenic area, so that was that for the morning. So much promise, but relatively little to show for it.

Red Deer Hinds at Sunrise

Not quite sure what to do or where to go, I spent a while walking through the woods, heading in whichever direction I heard a stag roar. Eventually I found myself on the path leading up to Pembroke Lodge, where a couple of stags were challenging each other for dominance over the assembled harem of females.

But my favourite shot from here was of one of the hinds on her own, looking for all the world as though she were about to embark on a long journey down an ancient road.

Red Deer Hind

I followed this road myself, and suddenly – as if out of nowhere – the mist returned! It seemed very peculiar, as the mist was even thicker than it had been at dawn, and there didn’t seem to be any obvious cause for it. No clearing of clouds, no change of temperature, nothing! Still, I certainly wasn’t complaining. By now there was of course no golden light, but mist and deer will always make for a fantastic photographic combination.

Red Deer Stag in Mist

Walking through the long wet grass in the mist, I stumbled across one of the roads that cuts through Richmond Park, with a lone stag roaring just over the other side. This seemed like a perfect opportunity for some urban shots, so I lay down on my belly (getting soaked in the process) and waited for someone to come by.

Luckily there were lots of people going to and fro, and I got shots of the deer roaring at a cyclist, looking on as a van drove past, and more. I didn’t realise until I checked my images later, but in one of the photos, the stag seems to be sticking out its tongue at a passing walker!

Stag Pedestrian Tongue

Eventually the mist burned off and the sun regained control, with an unexpectedly rapid transition in between. Cue more running around in the woods to find a stag in a good position!

Stag Bellowing Sunlight Shafts

The shafts of sunlight coming through the trees were beautiful, but rarely did the stags line themselves up nicely, and the drama was over all too soon.

The spiders’ webs were still laden with dew though, and with the strong backlight it would have been rude not to get the macro lens out…

Spider's Web with Dew

I walked off to find a nice spot that didn’t smell of stag (they really do stink during the rut!) to grab some food, when I came across a young deer lying on the ground. Forget about the food! He didn’t seem at all bothered by my presence, and I spent a while slowly edging closer and closer on my belly. I’ve never had the chance to capture such intimate portraits before.

Red Deer Stag Portrait

After getting closer than I would have thought possible (and with the deer still showing no signs of disturbance), I left him alone and wandered off to satisfy my growling stomach.

I’d only just started to tuck into my lunch when a couple of Jackdaws landed nearby. These beautiful corvids are everywhere in Richmond Park, but they can be surprisingly tricky to get a good photo of. So as soon as the opportunity appeared, I was back on my belly and crawling towards my beautiful subject as the sunlight caught its iridescent feathers and turned them blue.

Jackdaw Portrait

I took a few hours off photography until the light improved again in the afternoon. Most of this time was spent waiting for a Little Owl I’d found to move into a more photogenic spot, while I entertained myself climbing a huge oak tree (who needs to grow up?!). Unfortunately the owl flew down onto the ground and I couldn’t find it again, but it was still definitely an afternoon well spent!

I had another close encounter with a stag that evening. He was much bigger than the last, but again lying down and thoroughly disinterested in me. So I used the same approach, slowly crawling closer. But unknown to me, another stag had suddenly crested a small hill behind me! Lying on the ground between two testosterone-fuelled stags is never an ideal place to be. It was definitely a nervous moment, but the stag I was now uncomfortably close to clearly didn’t consider me a threat – he just sauntered off, ignoring me completely.

Red Deer Stag

So ended a productive and exciting day of Red Deer photography in Richmond Park, but the best was yet to come…

The next morning was superb! The perfect amount of mist, a spectacular sunrise and a couple of deer that were willing to pose. This was the Richmond dream!

Red Deer Stag Pink

The pinkish light barely lasted for a minute before the sun was swallowed by a thin layer of cloud, and the assembled photographers waited impatiently for the light to return.

Red Deer Hind Mist

We didn’t have to wait long, and the sunrise was one of the most dramatic I’ve ever seen! When it broke the horizon, the sun was a glowing orange disc, and by re-positioning myself I could line it up nicely with a very confiding Red Deer hind that had the decency to look in my direction.

Red Deer Sunrise Orange

And not a moment too soon, as a large stag appeared out of nowhere and chased the hind away, leaving a perfect sunrise with no deer in front of it!

A small skein of Canada Geese made a pretty good consolation prize.

Canada Geese Sunrise

As the light faded and the mist burned off and I couldn’t find anything to photograph, I bumped into my friend Alex and headed off to explore a part of Richmond Park I hadn’t been to before. This was a great decision, with several stags competing for mating rights over a large harem of assembled females that didn’t know which way to turn.

Red Deer Female

I had to leave to catch the train home before long, but there was enough time for us to find yet another exhausted-looking stag lying on the ground. This one hadn’t quite given up yet and would still bellow occasionally, so we didn’t get quite so close – but definitely close enough!

Black and white stag

I’d been hoping to get a shot that I’d imagined before, where the frame would be completely filled by nothing but the deer. Apart from the bit of grass at the bottom of the frame, this was the perfect opportunity. It wasn’t quite what I had envisioned, but I was happy nevertheless!

Red Deer Stag

And that was the end! I’d already overstayed and had to march as quickly as I could back through the park and down to Richmond Station, but it had been another fantastic weekend, and probably my most photographically successful trip yet! Until next year…

If you somehow haven’t seen enough deer photos yet, there are loads more from this trip and the others in my dedicated Deer Gallery!

Also, be sure to sign up for monthly email updates using the box on the right if you don’t want to miss out on the latest from Sam Coppard Photography 🙂

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