The Rum red deer rut diary 2012

Thursday 1 November 2012, 13:19

Paul Deane Paul Deane Web Producer

I'm delighted to introduce Stuart Armstrong to the Autumnwatch blog. This year, Stuart has been fillming the red deer rut on Rum and here is his account of the action so far. 

It’s quite a trek getting to the Isle of Rum. A 12 hour drive up from Bristol, a quick kip in a Mallaig hotel, then 3 hours on a ferry gets you there. But it’s always worth the journey, not just for the epic scenery that greets you on arrival. It’s the best place in the UK if you want to watch, or in our case, film the red deer rut.

In late September, four of us disembarked with Land Rovers full of filming and editing equipment, ready for a two week trip. The plan? Make four short films following the drama of this year’s rut. Wildlife cameramen, Pete McCowen and Lindsey Macrae would be at the coal face, filming from dawn to dusk, whilst myself and edit assistant Josh Helliker, would start cutting the material together back at base – Kinloch Castle – a magnificent Edwardian mansion that’s now the island's only hostel.

It’s a 30 minute trundle along one of the only tracks on the island to get to our filming location, Kilmory Glen on the north shore. It’s this combination of science, spectacular setting and the closest of views that make this place unique to watch the rut. All the deer in this glen are wild animals, but after 40 years as part of a research study, they’ve become about as tolerant of people as a wild deer can be.

One person who knows this place and these red deer as well as anyone is Ali Morris, a Rum resident who has been studying them for close to a decade, and who was to be our guide for the next two weeks, interpreting the behaviour and just as important, telling us who’s who. The good news was that our timing was just right; the rut was just getting going and we hadn’t missed any action. With everything in place, all we needed now was for the stags to start performing. If they did that, the rest would come easily.

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The Isle of Rum hosts of one of nature's most dramatic annual battles. Part 1 of 4.

It’s September 28th, and the crew’s first filming day in Kilmory Glen. Framed on one side by Kilmory beach and the Cuillens of Skye across the water, and on the other by the twin peaks of Askival and Hallival up the glen, it’s a magical spot who’s rich pastures attract a good number of female deer, called hinds. And at this time of year, the stags are hot on their heels with one thing on their minds. Over the next few weeks, most of these hinds will come into season, and the stags would battle furiously with each other for the right to mate.

One stag right in front of us, called Mozzarella 03, was an early front runner, already holding a good number of hinds. The scientists name the stags after their mother and the year they were born, so to simplify things we decided to call him Mozart. At 9 years old, he looked in magnificent condition, nearly 100 kilos of testosterone fuelled bulk topped with an impressive set of antlers. But Ali Morris, Rum deer guru and our guide for the shoot, told us that he’d never really amounted to much before. He just lacked experience. He looked magnificent, strutting about and roaring his intent just metres from us, but would he have the strength, stamina and tactics needed.

He was surrounded by competition. Watching in the wings we could see five or six other equally impressive stags, including an old friend of Autumnwatch, Cassius. Now 12 years old, he might be past his physical prime, but he had experience on his side. We knew Mozart would have his work cut out holding top spot.

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With other stags being drawn to the glen, dominant male red deer Mozart is under pressure.

It’s the end of September and the rut is building nicely. The atmosphere in Kilmory glen is electric, echoing with the stags baritone calls. We’ve seen a few fights already, including one that lasted over 8 minutes. When they’re evenly matched they really do give it their all. It must be exhausting.

Dominant stag Mozart is still holding onto a good sized harem of hinds. He’s mated once, but the challenges are starting to build on this young stag. From Cassius, the old boy, who keeps challenging from across the river. And a new stag called Lucius who at 11 years old is in his prime. Mozart’s starting to look like he might crack.

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Lucius is the dominant stag, but contenders wait for their opportunity

In early October Lucius is now bossing things in Kilmory Glen.  He’s working his socks off defending the largest harem in the area. He’s kept far too busy fending off the challenges to even eat, so every chase, challenge and fight must be a real drain on his reserves.   He could only keep this up for so long. Cassius, the old boy, has been keeping a close eye on things from across the river.  And when he senses one of Lucius’s hinds is in heat, that’s all the motivation he needs.  Fight on. 

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The rut draws to a close. Can Cassius become dominant once again?

It’s now October 7th and the previous day we saw Cassius depose Lucius in a thrilling fight, with a bloody stab to the side.  Injured in battle, we immediately though Lucius’s rut would be over,  but somehow this brave stag stayed in the play, magnificently defending the few hinds he had from other stags in some impressive battles.  But would he have the strength left for one last challenge on Cassius? Would he get revenge on the old boy, or would Cassius end up King of the Greens. 


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  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    I'd like to congratulate the crew for some of the footage of Rum this year. It really shows off what a spectacular island it is. Epic is the word for the landscape. The first time I climbed one of the hills (I think it was Barkeval) on the edges of the Atlantic Corrie and I looked down it and out to sea, it was just awe inspiring. I love how the twin peaks of Hallival and Askival have been featured in the background.

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    I wish someone would put Martin right about stags fighting. Contrary to what he keeps inferring the stags are very rarely injured, even worse killed, as a result of these skirmishes. The few times this does happen is when a stag may have misformed antlers, in particular the brow tines. The antlers are very good at interlocking with the other set and fights are usually decided by a trial of strength. In 50 years of involvement with deer management I only knew one stalker who had experience of finding a dead stag killed after a fight with another stag. I also heard of one occasion when two stags were found dead with their antlers so interlocked neither could get free and both died of exhaustion and hunger!

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    Good comments @foxtrotfreddy. It's clear from the fight that it's about locking antlers, not gouging holes in eachother. On several of the clips on the programme, one of the stags had his back to the other in mid fight yet the other doesn't strike it even though it's clear there's plenty of opportunity.

    The one part of the commentary that upsets me is hearing the team use metaphors and analogies from human battlefields. Birds swoop like fighter jets, another creature is a "killing machine". It just seems really inappropriate to mechomorphise these wondrous creatures and bring the terror, oppression, brutality and prejudice of institutionalised human slaughter into the picture. For me, it really sullies it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    The coverage of Rum is brilliant, and it's great to see it back- shame Simon King hasn't come back, too! Do I remember Cassius from when Autumnwatch used to film from Rum?

    I do, however, have to agree with 'Foxtrotfreddy'- the deer do tilt their head into such a position where their eyes, mouth or any major facial organs are not exposed, and the antlers interlock and protect their head. Their skull is very thick above their eyes, so death during fighting is bordering on extremely rare.

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    On the subjects of antlers locking. I seem to remember that there was a stag on Rum featured in previous Autumnwatchs, that had a misshapen dagger like antler. Also being as they have been the subject of such a long standing longitudinal studies, the fatalities and injuries to these stags on Rum must be well documented. I haven't searched through it, but the Isle of Rum Red Deer Project website contains a mass of information about this very well studied population of Red Deer.

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    I really miss the messageboards, even if I only commented to wax lyrical about deer/forestry. Good to see some familiar names mind, hope everyone is having a reasonable autumn after a solidly awful summer.

    Red stags with no tines are called "Murder Stags" for good reason, believe (after googling, as it would appear the message board archives have gone too) that the murder stag on Rum was called Atilla, quite apt really.

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    ive already posted, so i dont suppose anyone actually takes any notice, but it would be nice if the presenters stopped saying lock instead of loch-they surely must know a lock is something you put a key in, not a body of water?
    It may seem pedantic, but its very insulting to deliberately not attempt to pronounce a word properly, especially since the presenters have obviously travelled from england to come into our country-i guess its a peculiarly english trait?

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    It's bad enough having to watch deer rutting againg with the usual sniggering sexual references, but at least we don't have to put up with Simon King.

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    Clearly Autumnwatch producers dont appear to care whether their presenters are insulting their scottish viewers and last nights show wasnt any better - more LOCKS. Now we also have KAY-PER- KAY-LEE and not CAPPER-KAY_LEE. I called Aigas centre this morning to complain to the producer and was told they have been inundated with complaints about the same thing. Well I've had enough and put in a foraml wrtten complaint to the Beeb. I dont expect a reply, but I'm damned if I'm letting them sweep yet another complaint under the carpet and I encourage other bloggers to do likewise.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    At the risk of becoming boring, I am going to post yet again, regarding the irritating lack of attention to our National tongue, by your presenters. It's so sad that the quality of presentation, filming and animal performance is so fantastic, yet these talented presenters persist in their poor diction and undermine all the quality work being done by their 'behind-the-scenes' colleagues.
    I wonder, too, if Michaela has researched her surname and how it should be pronounced?

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    Mallymack, Nobody tells me how to pronounce my name, McNickle, because it is mine and I'll pronounce it the way I want.

    northernjock, I've discovered over the years that complaining to the BBC is mostly a waste of time.

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    I really loved the red deer rut. I have seen this plenty of times and reccomend deer parks to anyone trying to see this event, the deer act naturally but tolerate humans in close proximity. I also believe that the deer on Rum could have more British names (e.g.Cunobelin) rather than Roman ones as the red deer rut is a stereotypically British and although it does occur elsewhere there is something more gripping about such a dramactic event on British soil!!


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