When we first moved to Norfolk, I can remember walking round the garden and seeing a small deer scampering away from me into the undergrowth. Ever since then, I have tried many times to capture this creature on camera – most of the time this has not been particularly successful, however recently I changed my tactics and now finally have some videos to share!
The deer which are most common in the woods and fields surrounding where I live are muntjac – these are not native to Britain: they were introduced from China in the 20th century as an ornamental species. Being an invasive species they don’t actually do much good in the niche they have filled in the ecosystem – rare plant species and woodland birds have suffered as a result of their release.
However, they are still a part of the wildlife in Norfolk and have proved to be very useful while I find my feet with tracking larger mammals in their natural habitat.
Standing at around 50cm in height, muntjac have short legs and relatively long bodies, meaning that they are quite low to the ground. The patch of white underneath their tails is unlike that of other deer in that it is a vertical stripe and cannot be seen when the tail is lowered.
There are various signs that muntjac leave in their habitat which can be used to determine their presence.
The first of these is footprints: as shown in the picture below, these would at first glance appear to be just like the prints of other UK deer species, but there is a significant difference in the size of them, with muntjac prints not generally exceeding three centimetres in length.
I found these ones at the side of a ditch – the deer would either have been stopping there for a drink or may have just been crossing over.
Another sign is the characteristic paths formed when the deer repeatedly use the same route through the undergrowth – this particular one shown here has been there since I first saw it four years ago! When the surrounding foliage is taller, these paths create tunnel-like structures.
Muntjac deer also bark – to the untrained ear this can sound similar to a dog, but it is a rougher, lower sound. I often hear muntjac barking if they have been disturbed.
When heading out to watch the deer, I set off in the evening at around half past seven. At the moment it begins to get dark at around half past eight, so this gives me an hour to walk and observe.
I felt that the evening was a better time than early morning as I never see anyone in the woods at night, whereas there are often dog walkers and game keepers in the earlier hours.
The route I have been using takes me around to the far side of the wood – I don’t really know if this has an effect on my success with finding the deer, but I feel less exposed than if I were to enter the woods by walking down the main path.
Once in the woods, I try my absolute hardest to walk quietly… when wearing wellington boots this is much easier said than done! (My walking boots are currently in Manchester). I walk quite slowly, taking care with where I place my feet to ensure that I don’t snap any twigs underneath them.
If I see a deer, the best thing I can do is stand very still. I usually walk with my camera set up and ready for action, so I simply have to press one button and then just watch. You will see in the video at the end of this post some very wobbly filming where I am moving in an attempt to get a better view of the deer but have disturbed them in the process… I have since learnt that it is much better to just remain still and quiet.
Considering that these were the first few occasions on which I went out specifically to watch deer, I’m pretty pleased with how the footage turned out.
In the coming weeks I hope that I may be able to travel a little further afield to find some other species. There have been deer other than muntjac in my area, but sightings of them are rare.
Last year I accidentally disturbed a large deer: as it ran off into the trees I realised that it was a little bit too tall and leggy to be a muntjac, so my next guess is that it was a roe deer. Despite keeping my eye out, I haven’t seen a deer that size since…
About two years ago I also came across this fawn – clearly I didn’t want to get too close and I didn’t have a decent camera at the time, so this photograph is terribly blurred but I believe that this could be a roe deer? Maybe some of my readers can enlighten me!
I hope you enjoyed today’s post on Wild Call – maybe you might feel inspired to go on a deer watching adventure of your own…