Deer, Squirrels and Fighting Turkeys, 12-09-20

I felt like I wasn’t getting any kind of exercise at all lately (because of The Poltergeist), so I got my carcass up around 6:30 this morning and headed over to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve for a walk. It was about 34° when I got to the river, but it warmed up to about 63° by the time I left. There were clouds, but they seemed more “decorative”, not really organized.

I wasn’t looking for anything in particular today, so I was more open to seeing whatever Nature wanted to show me. It seemed to be all squirrels, deer, and fighting turkeys.  I didn’t see any of the larger bucks, but I did see several 2-pointers and spike bucks chasing does around.  No sparring, though. The big boys usually show themselves later in December when the rut is full on.

Among the spike bucks, I saw one with mismatched tines, one long and one short. I watched that youngster as he walked around and I seemed to me he had a slight limp in one of his hind legs. “…Usually, but not always, the deformed antler will appear on the side opposite of the leg that suffered the nerve damage. So, nerve damage in the right hind leg may show up, through systemic influence, as a deformed left antler…” CLICK HERE for my article on deer antlers.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

Columbian Black-Tailed Deer, Odocoileus hemionus columbianus

At one point, I was amid several small groups of the deer and they all stopped perfectly still, and looked in the same direction, pricking their ears as though listening for something. I wondered if there were coyotes nearby.  Whatever it was, the collective action freaked me out a little bit. The deer could hear something I couldn’t.

I noticed, as I was taking photos, that in some areas the deer stopped at places where it was obvious the larger bucks had been scraping their antlers (and leaving scent) on the trees. The bark was rubbed completely off in some places on the younger trees.

The turkeys are going through setting up their hierarchies for the season and there was a lot of very loud fighting throughout the preserve. Males are battling males and females are battling females. What I saw today was the “pre-fighting” – jumping and kicking with their spurred feet. When the battles get really serious, one bird will grab the face or beak of the other bird, and neck-wrestle him to the ground. The kick-boxing fights got so loud and aggressive that they frighted some of the other nearby noncombative turkeys, who then flew up into the trees all around me. One of them was a leucistic female, and her white-ish feathers really showed up in the high branches.

Rio Grande Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia

According to Cornell: “…Snood of submissive bird retracts and bird moves away. Winner may follow with snood extended, head held high, threatening or pecking submissive bird; winner, if male, may shift to courtship. Males fight more vigorously than females but pattern is the same in both sexes… Gobbling elicits gobbling in other individual males in reflex-like fashion so that whenever one male of a group gobbles, other males join in, with a delay of 100–800 msec…”

There was lots of gobbling, and snoods retracting or flopping around everywhere today.  Hah! One of the fights progressed down the trail right next to me, and I was afraid for a moment that I’d be caught in the middle of it. The brawl moved by so swiftly though, I don’t know if the birds even knew I was there. I did have to watch my head, though, when the turkeys in the trees decided to come down. They’re not the most graceful of flyers and kind drop like stones.

Rio Grande Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia, in a tree

As for the squirrels, it seemed like the Eastern Fox Squirrels were just totally wired. They were chasing each other all over the place, and even the ones that were sitting and eating acorns looked like they were on speed. They all gave me a chuckle.

As I was heading out of the preserve, I came across a Ground Squirrel who was busy trying to dig up goodies from under the leaf litter and eating shard of green grass. As he was digging, the squirrel would taste things he came across and throw away those things that didn’t interest his palate.

Of course, this time of year means a lot of leaf litter on the ground, so as I was leaving, I stopped to get photos of those leaf-collections that seemed prettiest to me. And then I got the extra bonus of seeing some Lesser Goldfinches and an Oak Titmouse flitting among the tules in the demonstration pond.

Lesser Goldfinch, Spinus psaltria, male

I was a little stiff, and my hip complained a tiny bit, but I still managed to walk for 3 hours. My sister Monica suggested I call my pain syndrome “Methuselah” instead of “The Poltergeist”.  Hah! That’s probably more appropriate.

Species List:

  1. Acorn Woodpecker, Melanerpes formicivorus
  2. Anna’s Hummingbird, Calypte anna
  3. Azolla, Water Fern, Azolla filiculoides
  4. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
  5. Black Walnut, Eastern Black Walnut, Juglans nigra
  6. Blue Oak, Quercus douglasii
  7. California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi
  8. California Mugwort, Artemisia douglasiana
  9. California Pipevine, Dutchman’s Pipe, Aristolochia californica
  10. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica
  11. California Sycamore, Platanus racemose
  12. California Wild Grape, Vitis californica
  13. Columbian Black-Tailed Deer, Odocoileus hemionus columbianus
  14. Eastern Fox Squirrel, Sciurus niger
  15. European Starling, Sturnus vulgaris
  16. Fremont’s Cottonwood, Populus fremontii
  17. Interior Live Oak, Quercus wislizeni
  18. Lesser Goldfinch, Spinus psaltria
  19. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura
  20. Northern Flicker, Colaptes auratus
  21. Nuttall’s Woodpecker, Picoides nuttallii [heard]
  22. Oak Titmouse, Baeolophus inornatus
  23. Red-Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus
  24. Rio Grande Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia
  25. Spotted Towhee, Pipilo maculatus
  26. Tule, Common Tule, Schoenoplectus acutus
  27. Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura
  28. Valley Oak, Quercus lobata
  29. White-Breasted Nuthatch, Sitta carolinensis