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Red Deer at Ashton Court Estate, Bristol

It's October, we are right in the middle of rutting season for red deer here in the UK. Annual occurrences such as this are just one way that photography keeps me in tune with the seasons and nature. You become more aware of what is going on around you and how the changing weather can affect the way your favourite landscapes look month by month.

I haven't been to Ashton Court around rutting season before and I knew it was something I wanted to tick off the list for things to photograph in Autumn. We've been blessed with an unusually warmer month than I remember previously and the mornings leading up to my visit were producing bright and beautiful bronze sunrises. I arrived well before any sign of daylight and made my way around the estate in search of where the red deer may be sleeping so I could be ready for sunrise and the best possible light for 'atmospheric' shots. I eventually found them in a low fenced off field where they were being kept mostly for public safety as during the rutting season the stags (male red deer) can be highly territorial and have been known to attack people. My first up close look at the deer was of three young bucks playfighting with their small antlers;

Three young bucks looking suspicious as they spot me approaching for a closer look

Two of the youngsters continued to playfight until a nearby stag began to call and send the herd into alert. There is approximately 10 adult stags on the estate all fighting for dominance and mating partners during the rutting season which runs from late September to early November. They mark territory and attract mates by rubbing against trees, digging their antlers into the ground and surrounding greenery, rolling in their own urine and locking antlers with other bucks. Sunrise and shortly after is the best time to witness this rutting activity and when I got a better look at the herd the stags were already on patrol and making mating calls. Shortly after the sun appeared over the horizon and lit up the industrial backdrop of Bristol the skies opened up and released a barrage of rain showers. This photo of a hind (female red deer) right after sunrise shows her hearing a call from a stag and preparing to bolt;

Red deer hind hears a mating call from a nearby stag

The bright orange glow over the Bond Warehouse in the distance makes for a really great contrast to the sloping grassland of Ashton Court. After the sun has risen a little higher the low fog clears and you can make out a lot more detail in the cityscape;