The dog and I got up around 7:00 and after giving Sergeant Margie his breakfast, I headed over to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve. The weather forecast called for rain today, but I was hoping to get out before the front settled over this area. I timed it pretty well, too. It didn’t start to rain in earnest (along with some thunder) until just as I was leaving the preserve… It was cloudy all the while I was out there; and in some places the clouds looked really “stirred up”, with “boiling” bottoms. That usually means that on top, the clouds are spiking really high up into the atmosphere. Thunderheads…
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The first thing I saw when I went into the preserve was a buck with mismatched antlers following after a doe. I followed them for a while, making sure not to get between the buck and the doe. At one point the buck stepped out, straight toward me, as though warning me off, but otherwise he was pretty blissed out on doe-scent. I watched as the buck went to a small tree and rubbed his head against it. Male mule deer have an extra scent gland there that the females don’t have – and the scent advertises how mature the male is, how healthy he is, and whether or not he’s in rut. I could smell him even from several feet away… that kind of leather, musk and wet-dog smell. I kind of like it, actually.
When the buck stepped away from the tree and in closer to the doe again, I walked up to the tree and stayed there for a while because the spot gave me a good look at both deer. The doe was confused though, I think, by the mix of my human scent and the buck’s scent on the tree, and she stretched her nose out toward me, with this quizzical “what the hell?” look on her face. Hah! I watched the pair of them until they wandered off into the ticket and out of sight.
I saw quite a few of the bucks out in different parts of the preserve, even a young “spike” buck. They were all looking for girls. I came across several does, too, and they were all out, away from the bucks, browsing with their this-year’s fawns. One mama also had one of her yearlings with her, along with her twin babies. The babies are all out of their spots now, but are still “snack size”, so their moms keep a close eye on them. In one spot, I saw a mama park her baby in a tall outcropping of weeds before she trotted off towards the river to get a drink.
There also were quite a few pairs of Red-Shouldered Hawks flying around and screeching to one another. The hawks mate for life, and during this time of year they reinforce the pair-bond by refortifying their nests and participating in light courtship behavior (jumping from branch to branch, sometimes feeding one another). I came across a volunteer at the preserve, a lady about my age named Elizabeth. She said she and other people had seen a lot of the pair-bonding behavior from the hawks, too. We all wonder if the weird weather this year has thrown off their breeding schedules. (Elizabeth suggested that I sign up to volunteer with the preserve since I know it so well…)
Down by the river, I came across a wake of Turkey Vultures. They were all sitting on a rocky shoal in the water chowing down on salmon and steelhead leftovers that had flowed down stream. Nearby were some Mallards, a male Goldeneye, a couple of pairs of Buffleheads, and some female Common Mergansers. It was kind of “dark” and foggy down by the water, which made picture-taking a little difficult, but it was neat to see so many birds in such a confined area.
Another cool find was when I was heading out the preserve and came across a tree where both a female Northern Flicker and a female Nutthall’s Woodpecker were hanging out, one on one side of the tree, one on the other. Nutthall’s Woodpeckers are pretty small, so I’m not sure the Flicker was even aware it was there, but I was able to get a few photos of both of them.
I also managed – just barely – to get a fleeting image of a male Ruby-Crowned Kinglet showing off his red crown. He was chasing an Oak Titmouse away from “his” tree, chattering, head blazing bright red. What a display!
The neatest find of the day, though, was something I wasn’t expecting to see in this area at all. In a stump very near the nature center building was a large outcropping of Lion’s Mane Fungus (Hericium erinaceus). I’ve seen photos of it before, but have never seen it “in the flesh”. Because it was tucked inside the stump, I extricated a small bit of it so I could get some close-ups of its surface. It’s supposed to be edible and it a kind of “tooth fungus” with long, white, shaggy “hairs” running down its surface. It looks more like a frozen waterfall to me than a lion’s mane, but… it’s still cool.
Here’s hoping this year brings out a lot of interesting fungi in the region!