Deer stalking the dog!
We observed some quite unusual behaviour in the fallow deer herd at Petworth Park yesterday. We’ve walked there many times and luckily our little cocker spaniel isn’t interested in chasing the deer; no Fenton! moments for us. 😉 It’s always lovely to observe the deer at relatively close quarters, especially during the rut when the bucks are clashing antlers, but usually the deer are pretty shy and move off as soon as you get anywhere near them, making it tricky to get decent shots of them without the kind of kit I can’t afford 😉
Yesterday we noticed that the deer were split into gender/age groups; we first encountered a herd of young bucks, their antlers just beginning to bud, then we came upon a group of does with their young fawns. They were in a sort of bowl of land below us as we were walking around the ridge at the top, and they moved off ahead of us as we approached. So far so normal, but then as we reached the wooded area at the end of the ridge, we were surprised to see a doe tracking us from the other side of the trees. She was intently focused on the dog (who was totally oblivious!) and came closer and closer. She seemed very curious, and although if the dog ran in her direction she’d bounce away a bit, she’d immediately come back again. We thought maybe she was a scout or look-out, keeping an eye on a potential predator. Then, even more surprisingly, the small group of does and their two fawns also appeared, came fairly close to us (I’d say about 50 feet), and stood watching us (and particularly the dog) for a while. They’d doubled back on themselves to do so and it seemed very deliberate. It was the closest I’ve ever been to deer with young as usually they are even more cautious and move away immediately you approach.
As we walked on we put up another group of three young does, who did the same thing; ran off initially but then doubled back to watch the dog. As she ran off they’d follow at a distance, and as she came back to us they’d retreat, with lots of all-four-feet-off-the-ground bouncing and tails pointing straight up in the air. It seemed almost playful – I always try to resist the urge to anthropomorphise, but there was a sort of skittish curiosity to their behaviour. The dog seemed totally unaware of all of this; if it isn’t a scent underneath her cocker nose, then it’s not worthy of her attention, basically!