Sunday, 14 May 2017

Roe Doe!

Welcome to a partially sunny Sunday update! 

Here's a little more about Roe deer that might feature in my current writing which is set in the north east of Britannia (Aberdeenshire) in October, AD 84. Has the species change very much since then? I doubt it because the Roe deer has been indigenous in this area of Scotland since the Mesolithic period. What follows is a description of what I'd be looking for if I were the one who was in the locale in October AD 84 and was a character in #4 of my Celtic Fervour Series.

How would I recognise a Roe deer? 

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The adult female doe stands around 60 - 75 cm at the shoulder and weighs 10 - 25 kg. That means that the back of a female doe would be about half of my height (152 cm) perhaps coming up to my waist.

The Roe deer I’d expect to see around Tap O’Noth (Aberdeenshire) would turn from their reddish brown summer coat to a more greyish pale brown coat by October, giving them more camouflage in winter conditions.

I’d expect to see a black muzzle area and probably white patches at the rump. The buck’s short antlers are ridged with three tines.

Roe deer would be browsing within an original Caledonian forest habitat of Scots Pine, birch and alder (possibly other species) nibbling on the softer tree shoots. In the locale near Tap O’Noth they would likely be seeking the berries of late brambles, blaeberries (bilberries) junipers and other nutritious berries.  

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Above the tree line, the natural point at which it is impossible for trees to successfully grow given the weather conditions and climate (anything which does survive the conditions are stunted and exposed), the heather moorland of ling and bell would provide good grazing. The roe deer are fond of heathers but the moorland would also be home to crossleaved heath, cotton grass, though in the wetter parts there would be a plentiful supply of slippy sphagnum moss- probably to be avoided.

The breeding season occurs July-August and if I was interested in any of the sometimes aggressive, chasing, mating ritual I’d need to be fairly limber to see them in the woodlands near Tap O’Noth. Territorial fights can result in serious injuries before the winner takes over the territory and the awaiting doe, or does, who then maintain a ‘catch me later’ policy till they are ready to mate. It is common for males to mate with several females and vice versa has also been observed.

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Interestingly though mating occurs by mid August the fertilised egg passes into a ‘dormant no-embryonic’ stage till it is fully implanted and begins to grow (foetal growth) in January and continues for approximately 5 months, the does giving birth May-June.  (The technicalities of this require my further research some other time). I can see why nature has ‘delayed’ the gestation process so that the does do not give birth till well after the winter season is past. However, in today’s climate the seasons are not so defined to be sure of when winter conditions – including snow, frost and bitter winds – will occur. Living in north east Scotland for almost 30 years I’d say the most common time for snowfall is probably mid February but I’ve seen snow fall in September and June and all months in between. During a really harsh winter with lingering snow cover the more common time is probably December to January.

Roe deer tend to be solitary, though they also form small groups in winter. Their most active periods tend to be dawn and dusk though the hours of dark can be good grazing times if there’s strong moonlight.

What would alert me to Roe deer being nearby?

They give a short, often repeated, bark if alarmed by potential predators. If I hear a high-pitched piping call the doe is attracting a buck who in turn would be making wonderful rasping noises. At such times, I’d be best to make myself scarce!

I'd best get back to my writing now...


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