Thursday, 20 January 2022

Insects and deer fighting

SUDDENLY a myriad of red admirals, Vanessa atalanta, dancing in the sun by the path on

SUDDENLY a myriad of red admirals, Vanessa atalanta, dancing in the sun by the path on Remenham Hill, as I’d anthropomorphically, and mistakenly, describe them.

In fact they are either in a mating dance or, more likely, defending this rich food source of ivy flowers from other butterflies — they are attacking each other.

With such fresh red wing stripes, they are the August hatching from pupae which have rested in silk-bound leaves wherever, as caterpillars, they stopped munching.

They conceal themselves in the leaves they are eating by binding them together with silken threads, pupate there and hatch out to feed on the pollen of the ivy, which flowers in October and November and provides those vital winter berries for the birds.

The hedge buzzes with bees, yellow pollen clusters on their rear legs, and flies of all sorts.

Red admirals arrive here from March onwards from the south of Europe, even north Africa, and travel as far as Iceland, returning south in the autumn. Some will hibernate here but few survive as our winters are perhaps too long.

The ivy in Remenham Lane has no such crowd of insect admirers. Perhaps the crops on either side have been too well sprayed?

Two fallow bucks in the unusual white Culham Park herd are clashing their antlers in a desultory fashion while others look on.

Lower down, away from the herd, there is a pair of well-matched bucks with huge palms on their multi-tined antlers, sitting about three metres apart with their backs to each other, studiously ignoring each other’s presence.

Perhaps one of them has used those tines to carve the 30cm deep hollows in the grass. I find three of these hollows, surrounded by hoof prints, within a few metres, close to the footpath through the park.

The trees are nearly all neatly fenced to protect them from slashing, rubbing and bark-nibbling because the fallow deer is a woodland species and would mark his territory.

The deer keep to their separate groups: last year’s young, the bucks with tiny pricket horns, doze with this year’s fawns still nearby,

The bucks have horns of varying sizes — the number of tines denotes their age — and have scraped off the outer layer of velvet which held the blood vessels, enabling the horns to grow.

The big bucks with palmed antlers are at a distance, sizing each other up, pacing in parallel, preparing to spar and capture groups of does. Come back in a month to hear the roaring and fighting of the rut!

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