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Turkeys in Trees and Lots of Deer Everywhere, 11-26-18

Around 7:15 am I went over to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve again for a walk. When I first walked in, I saw a small group of deer collected behind the classroom facility across from the nature center. There was one of the 3-pointer bucks back there, rubbing his head against some of the scrub brush (to transfer his scent) and showing off to the couple of does that were near him. I would have missed him completely if he hadn’t made such a fuss over the bushes, rattling and shaking them with his rubbing.  I climbed up onto the stone bench next to the building to look over the plants around there and see him.  He lifted his head up high a couple of times to check me out but otherwise ignored me. He was more focused on trying to impress the gals.

One of the does had a springtime fawn with her, so she wasn’t interested in the buck, and kept moving around to keep him away from her baby. The other doe didn’t seem overly impressed with him either. She walked through a garden to nature center, lifted some of the tomato cages they have around young plants there (to protect them from the deer), and ate the no-longer-protected plants. Hah!  What a brat!

Further along the trail, I came across another buck that was sitting on the side of the trail. He looked pretty good but had a rosy spot on the tip of his nose that he might’ve gotten from jousting.  He just sat there in the grass and let me get pretty close to him to take photos. He stayed where he was until a pair of does came down the trail and caught his eye.  He got to his feet as soon as they sauntered by, and just when he was approaching them, the big 4-pointer buck came across the field and ran the other buck off.  So, the younger buck’s wait was for naught.

On a different part of the trail, I found the buck with the damaged antler. He was standing amid some fallen logs and scrabbly brush… and it took me a while before I realized there was a doe sitting in the grass on the other side of the log. When I went to get some photos of her, the buck poked his head under the log to keep his eye on me.  On the other side of the trail, I also noticed a young spike buck who was sitting in the tall weeds where the larger buck couldn’t see him. When the doe decided to get up and walk away, the older buck followed her… and the spike buck followed him. Stalker.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

The Wild Turkeys were out in force again. The males are all in strut, showing off to one another and the ladies. Although most of the time they were just posturing at or bluffing one another, I saw a couple of short fights break out among them. They chase one another around, jump up and use the heavy spurs on the sides of their legs to whack one another. You can hear the “crack!” when they make contact all over the preserve; it’s actually louder than the sound made by the deer when they joust.

I was surprised, though, to see about a half dozen of the turkeys way up in the trees over the trail. They were complaining to one another, so I assumed there was something on the ground (a cat or coyote) that was distressing them. After about 15 minutes, I saw them all fly down, crossing over the tops of other trees and landing in a shallow field. They’re big birds and tend to glide rather than flap-and-fly, so they don’t make a whole lot of noise until they get close to the ground, set their feet down and run to a stop.

About halfway through my walk, I was irritated by the fact that the continuous-mode setting on my camera (that takes photos in a burst of 5 shots) decided to stop working. It would take a burst of photos and then stall – the whole camera would freeze up and I couldn’t get it to release unless I took the battery out of it to make it stop.  After quite a while of this nonsense, I set the camera to single-shot, but I hate taking photos like that because there’s a second or two between each photo that you have to wait until the camera resets itself and is ready for the next shot. It’s apparently a problem for my type of camera when I take a lot of photos. The scan disk card isn’t “fast” enough to handle all of the data and the buffer fills up and makes the camera crash. So, I need to get a faster card.

I was in single-shot mode when I came across an Acorn Woodpecker that I wanted to get photos of. As I finished with those shots, I saw that on another branch on the same tree there was a Red-Shouldered Hawk. The bird was polite enough to sit for me and I was able to get quite a few good shots of him.  When nature sits still, single-shot mode works pretty well. Hah!

I walked for about 3½ hours.

Lots of Deer and a Squirrel Stuffing Her Face, 11-17-18

After giving the dog his breakfast, I headed over to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve for a walk. The air quality has been so bad that the zoo and other recreation places in Sacramento have all shut down for the day. The nature center at Effie Yeaw was also closed, but the trails were still open.

It was about 38° at the river, so I could see my breath in the cold air; and it got up to about 60° by the afternoon. I don’t know how much the smoke is affecting the local temperatures, but I’m sure it’s contributing to the lows.

The first thing I saw when I went into the preserve was the big 4-pointer buck (now working on 5 points) with his harem of does.  In my head, I refer to him as “Big Boy” because of the size of his rack.  He was hanging out in the meadow right next to the picnic area, so I was able to get quite a few photos of him.  As I watched him, a spike buck (1-point) approached, following after a doe who had a fawn with her.  The fawn was pretty good-sized and out of its spot, but still considerably smaller than its mom.  The doe headed deeper into the meadow and the spike buck followed her but was cut off by Big Boy who then tried to get the doe into his own harem. The fawn got spooked and ran toward the harem while its mom was being pursued. She wasn’t receptive to either one of the boys and pretty much ignored them. I didn’t hang around there long enough to see when she reunited with her fawn.

At different points along the trail I saw other deer: some lone does, some small herds, and some of the other larger bucks, including a 3-pointer who, oddly enough, seemed to have the center of his back shaved. There was a large spot that was completely hairless, and the margins of the spot were too clean and symmetrical to have been natural (like mange or something). I couldn’t see any suture marks or anything that might have suggested the buck had gotten medical attention, so I wonder what had caused the bald patch. (I guess I’ll have to call him “Baldy” for now.)  The obvious “flaw” in his coat didn’t seem to detract from his attractiveness to the does. He had his own small harem of three or four of them.

When I was walking away from the 3-pointer and his group, a male photographer came up the trail. “He walked right by you, didn’t he?” he said, referring to Baldy.

“Yeah. He’s got some females with him right now.” I said.

The male photographer then joked that the deer weren’t cooperating with him much, but the squirrels were posing for him everywhere he looked. He even struck a couple of squirrelly poses to demonstrate. Hah!  I’d gotten a lot of squirrel photos, too. They were all over the place: California Ground Squirrels, Western Gray Squirrels, Eastern Fox Squirrels… I got photos of some of them chewing on black walnuts, and one female literally stuffing her face with grass and leaves for her winter nest.  So funny.

I also came across solitary deer throughout the forest; some camouflaged so well in the gold-brown grass that I was only able to see them because their silhouettes gave them away. I saw the doe with the peculiarly long, thin face (“Long Face”); she’s very distinctive. At one spot on the trail, I could HEAR the deer before I saw them.  There was a small group of does and fawn that were very loudly crunching on acorns (which are plentiful this time of year). They needed to eat with their mouths shut. Hah! I guess they felt safe enough, though, to make that much noise.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

One of the obvious things all along the trails today was the coyote scat. It seemed to be on every trail; some of it very fresh. I must have just missed seeing some of the coyotes.  I think, though, that a coyote is what caused a flock of Wild Turkeys to take off en masse from the top of a hill and fly down, right over my head, into the woods. Those things are BIG; I was surprised when none of them hit me or crashed into anything.

A neat sighting was a male Western Bluebird sitting on top of a bat box along the Natoma Trail. There are a few bat boxes on posts throughout the preserve, but I don’t think they attract very many bats. The boxes look too “exposed” to me; they get the full sun in the summer months. Bats need darkness and protection to sleep in during the day; I doubt that those sunny “saunas” are attractive to any of them.  I’ve seen lots of different birds use the boxes as perches, though, like the Western Bluebird, so I guess they’re not a complete waste.

On my way out of the preserve, I came across a couple of volunteers who were taking the nature center’s “animal ambassador” bird out for some air.  One was Wak-Wak, a female Peregrine Falcon, and the other was Orion, the Swainson’s Hawk I’d seen the last time I was there. Wak-Wak had been accidentally shot by hunters (who then rescued the bird and brought it in for care), so one of her wings is permanently mangled and she can’t fly.

I walked for about 3½ hours and then headed back home.

 

Mostly Lots of Deer and Bucks with Wonky Antlers, 11-18-17

I wanted to sleep in a little bit today, but my dog Sergeant Margie wanted to get up to pee at 5:30 am. So, I let him out and went back to bed. Then he sat on the bed staring at me: he also wanted his breakfast. Hah! It’s a good thing he’s so cute…

I got up again and fed him.  And then since I was up anyway, I got dressed and headed out to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve for a walk.  It was 39º at the house when I left, and 37º at the preserve when I arrived.  As the sun came up, it stirred up some ground fog and mist; I stopped several time just to watch the steam rising from the bark of trees and stumps.

CLICK HERE to see the album of photos and video snippets.

I saw a lot of deer today, including a spike buck (one-pronged antler), a buck with a broken antler (The rut was apparently pretty rough on some of the boys this year.), 2 bucks with oddly matched antlers, and a handsome 3-pointer who was nosing around a receptive doe.  I followed that pair for a while – making sure I never got between the buck and the doe – but they wandered off into the thicket and I eventually lost sight of them.

There was one spot where I came across some does sitting out in the grass in the morning sun. I was  able to get within just a few feet of them. And I noticed that one of them had stashed a fawn in the higher glass to my right. As I was taking photos of them, a third doe appeared, followed closed by one of the bucks with and odd set of antlers.  One antler was full-size but was “swooping” and spoon-shaped at the end, and the other was completely stunted. At first I thought maybe it was broken, but the terminal end of it was too smooth… This buck also walked with a distinctive limp.

Antler abnormalities are somewhat common, but because they’re all so different, it’s hard for scientists to determine the exact cause of them. Some antlers can come out misshapen if the pedicle (the point where the antler fits onto the head) is damaged or just grows in a weird shape. Others can look odd if damage is done to the antlers when they’re in the velvet stage (as they’re forming), and for some reason, misshapen antlers is also often associated with damage to the buck’s hind leg. In the same area as the limping buck, I saw another one with a mismatches pair of antlers: one had four points and the other only had two… [[As an interesting aside, I also read that hunters had come across what they thought were female deer with antlers… but genetic testing on the deer showed that although the deer had external female parts, they were actually genetically males.  Transgender deer.  Who knew?!]]

After a short while, all of the deer in that area startled. I knew they weren’t responding to me because they could all see me and had allowed me to get close, so I looked around to see what might have set them off.  And then I saw a thick-coated coyote chasing after a jackrabbit. His rushing path took him right past the deer.  The females all jumped up onto their feet and ran to where the fawn was sitting in the grass and surrounded him until the coyote was out of sight.  I wish I had been able to get that on video…

It’s interesting to me how different deer react differently to my presence. Some ignore me or let me come within touching-distance of them; others run away stotting as they go; and other try to “hide” between trees or clumps of grass while all the while keeping an eye on me.  Makes for some thought-provoking photo ops.

At another spot along the trail, I came to the tree that had held the wild bee hive for a few weeks (before the queen took off to find another spot). The opening in the tree is still surrounded by the bees’ “propolis” (hardened wax and plant resin the bees chew and then build up around the exterior of the hive to stave off bacteria) and I could see insects flying into and out of the hole… not as many as when the bees were there, but still a presence.  I walked up to the tree to check it out and found a lot of black ants crawling around the opening.  They were joined by several Yellow Jackets.  Having been stung already this year by the wasps, I kept back away from the tree, but took some photos and a little bit of video.  The wasps were obviously checking the spot out (if they hadn’t already moved in.) Nice of the honey bees to make the place inviting to them.

I also saw quite a few Wild Turkeys today, along with Acorn Woodpeckers, California Scrub Jays, a male quail, Dark-Eyed Juncos and a few other birds. The surprise for me today, was seeing some male Goldeneyes in the river, diving and fishing around one another.  They were too far away for me to get any really good photos of them, but it was nice to see them… It means all of the migrating waterfowl are moving into the region.

I walked for about 3 hours and then headed back to the house.