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Very Much a “Deer Day”, 01-01-18

Happy New Year!

Around 6:30 am I headed over to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve for my first walk of the new year. It was 37º outside, and the sky was full of little tight-fisted clouds. There was some ground fog here and there, but not a lot. Got up to about 61º by the late afternoon.

It was very much a “deer day” today. I hadn’t walked more than 100 feet from the trailhead when I came across a spot where a lot of young bucks were just waking up. They stretched and peed and sparred and had some breakfast. Within just a few minutes I had taken over 300 photos! (Keep in mind that a lot of them are sort of “duplicates”, taking about 3 or 4 shots in succession – but still… Wow.)

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos and video snippets.

I saw one of the boys reach his head up into a tangle a low-hanging branches and vines and rub his head and face all over them. I think he was both trying to get an older buck’s scent off of the branches, and put some of his own on them. The male deer have a scent gland right between their antlers (that the females don’t have) and they rub their forehead against trees and other outcroppings to mark their ill-defined territories, and announce to the females (and other males) just how mature and potent they are.

The bucks near the trailhead were all 2-pointers, and had settled down into a bachelor group to sleep for the night. There were no females around them, so all of their sparring was more for one another’s benefit than to impress the gals. I later came across the big 4-point buck, who seemed to have gotten himself a tiny harem of two receptive females. He wasn’t very accommodating today – on the move a lot — so I didn’t get very many photos of him.

In another area, I found a lot of females, many with their fawns. The fawns are all out of their spots now and getting bigger by the day, but they still like getting groomed by their mamas. This group was mostly in the shadows, so it was hard to get any good shot of them, but I did get a few…

There were also quite a few cooperative California Scrub Jays and Wild Turkeys out today, too, and I was able to get quite a few shots of them. I was also surprised by all of the Turkey Vultures around this morning. I even came across a pair sitting side-by-side on a branch, with one of them hunkered down so it was laying on the branch. And nearby were ones doing their outstretched-wing “heraldic” pose, trying to warm up in the early morning sunlight.

In the river, I caught sight of a small flock of Common Goldeneye ducks; mostly males and one female. They’re “nervous” birds, though, and take off at the slightest provocation, so they were gone before I could get to the shore.

I did get some photos of a male Nutthall’s Woodpecker, though. I’ve gotten to the point where I can distinguish the rapping sound of the Acorn Woodpeckers from other woodpeckers… The Nutthall’s rapping sound is “lighter” and quicker than the Acorn’s… So I followed the sound and was able to find the Nutthall’s high over my head, hanging upside down on the underside of a branch, pecking away…

I also got some distant photos of a male Red-Shouldered Hawk and a lovely Northern Flicker – an immature red-shafted male holding his tail feathers out like a fan of red darts…

The most irritating sighting of the day was of a fisherman standing in the river with his unleashed dog beside him. Effie Yeaw is a nature preserve; it’s illegal to fish anywhere near it. There are signs all over that say that, but some people feel they can just ignore the law. This is why we can’t have nice things.

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.