Rum Deer Rut
Published: 12th October 2014
Glenloy Wildlife made a much anticipated expedition last Saturday to see the red deer
rut on Rum. Filled with images of battling stags captured for posterity on Autmnwatch, we were keen to see if the reality lived up to the expectation. All week we had nervously watching the iffy weather forecasts to see if we would actually be able to make the crossing from Mallaig. As it turned out we had a beautiful day and the sea was relatively calm. Even better, a fast boat, the Orion, had replaced the usual CalMac ferry, which was in for repairs, and we had a short crossing. We still had plenty of time to see groups of porpoise and fishing gannets. At the pier we were met by, both Trudi, the ranger, and Mel representing SNH, who kindly ferried our lunches across the island by land rover. We had a leisurely walk across to the Community Centre and then set off on the 5 mile walk across to the rutting grounds at Kilmory. Did not see much at first, apart from a kestrel (yet another, all of a sudden these have become common birds locally!), until we started to spot deer about half way across. The first distant group that we watched through a scope were soon replaced in the mind by ever closer encounters until we reached Kilmory itself, with increasingly good views of the deer and their behaviours. Memorably, an aggressive stag crashing through boggy ground flushed a snipe, which whirled away as he saw off a distant challenger.
On reaching Kilmory, a long-time researcher, Ali, fondly introduced us to a rather
ghoulish ossiary of red deer bones and antlers. Almost all deer involved in the long term red deer project (over 40 years and still going strong) end up in here, and Ali was able to point out previous stars of screen and rutting ground such as Caesar and Brutus. Bones are used to assess growth, health, nutritional status and as a source of genetic material, and as the pedigrees of all animals born in the study are known, much can be inferred from the collection. Finally we were taken past several groups of hinds, attended by smug or anxious stags, to a hide overlooking the central rutting area. The backdrop of sea (a flock of several hundred kittiwake) and mountains was second to none. There we spent a couple of hours watching the rut, and yes, we did see some stags fighting. These exhibited a full range of challenges before locking antlers and shoving each other for several minutes, before one finally ran off, subsequently losing a good part of his harem to his vanquisher. We also witnessed several more common behaviours such as roaring, antler thrashing, stags chasing rivals and rounding up recalcitrant females, and even bouts of parallel walking. Ali added an expert commentary on who was who and what was going on. An added bonus was a hind with a very young calf, still spotted and suckling (and a further soap in the making as to whether it will survive the winter). We were even treated to hot soup while watching, although the sun was glorious at this point.
All too soon it was time to retrace our steps, and some of our party even managed to cadge a lift back across the rather shoogly road (in the process of being upgraded for next year). On the way back the rest of us stopped to rest and watched three golden eagles using the thermals over an adjacent ridge. A youngster landed and remained feeding on the side of the hill, and was still there when we tore ourselves away. Back at Kinloch, the café had kindly opened so that we could grab something to eat before we had to catch the boat back to Mallaig. Around Kinloch bay, eider and merganser fed off shore, accompanied by a couple of curious common seals, while curlew and oystercatcher probed along the shore. A couple of dippers bobbed and dived in the river just before it met the sea. A quick detour to the otter hide produced many more seals, and an unfortunate hail shower, which left as quickly as it came. Dusk was falling as we returned on the boat, a near-full moon illuminating our way home. The patches of light it shone on the sea were so vivid that even Pete, the skipper, went over for a closer look. A truly memorable trip, many thanks to all the staff involved.
We also saw plenty more that week, with eagles yet again taking the starring role. Angela took out a couple of guests on the last Eagle Watch Cruise of the season right along Loch Shiel. They saw a sea eagle and a couple of peregrine on the boat, and the first whooper swan of the season. We subsequently had good views of two more golden eagles and a further peregrine later in the afternoon. A trip around Ardnamurchan produced another sea eagle and a rather distant otter, although the deer were being rather shy that day (we did see some), along with yet another kestrel, buzzards and a red–throated diver. There were plenty of deer along Glen Garry the next morning. Apart from a couple of chasing stags the most active thing that the deer were doing was shaking the rain out of their coats, in what was a truly foul morning. With just our son for company over the next couple of days we managed to see three more sea eagles and get great views of the red squirrels at Inchree, starting to cache food for winter. An added bonus was a nice barn owl, sat on a fence post by the side of Loch Linnhe– my first of the year so far.