I slept in a tiny bit this morning and got up around 7:00. After giving the dog his breakfast, I headed over to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve for a walk. It was a chilly 34° at the river! Got up to about 70° by the afternoon. The air quality was bad enough today to spark a “Very Unhealthy” purple warning.
At the preserve, the first thing I saw was a small harem of female deer and a couple of fawns, along with a young spike buck. I got quite a few photos of him doing his “Flehmen Sniff” thing. He closes his nostrils and pulls air in and over the “vomeronasal organ” in the roof of his mouth to pick up on the pheromones of the females around him to learn if they’re in estrus or not. He lifts his top lip because the intake part of the organ is just behind his upper front teeth.
I also saw other deer dotting the preserve here and there including the big 4-pointer (who I think is now a 5-pointer, but I can’t tell for sure from the photos I got of him). He was tucked away on the other side of a field in the shade, so at first, I didn’t see him. When I stepped into the field, though, to get some shots of a Red-Shouldered Hawk (I saw two of them today) he moved, and only then did I realize he was there. It looked like one of the prongs on his rack had been snapped off, but he was still very impressive looking.
I found another older buck in a different part of the preserve, but his rack was really wonky. On one side, he only had on long prong, and on the other side, he had a 3-point antler with a gnarly-looking eye guard. The doe he was pursuing, though, didn’t seem to mind too much that he was “uneven”… Several different things can make the antlers messed up like that: the pedicle on the head from which the antlers grow may have been damaged somehow; or the antlers themselves might have been damaged while they were still in their velvet stage and growing; or the buck may have nerve damage in the hind leg opposite from the malformed antler.
CLICK HERE to see the album of photos.
You may also notice in the photos that the mature bucks’ necks swell during the rut. Although I couldn’t find any scientific studies about this phenomenon, the consensus seems to be that the swelling is caused by a dramatic increase in testosterone during the rut which affects the blood vessels and muscles in the neck (along with other parts of the body; hah!). The thick neck is apparently attractive to the females, and also helps to cushion the head and body when the bucks joust, absorbing some of the shock when the bucks butt heads. Interesting!
As I mentioned, I saw two Red-Shouldered Hawks in different parts of the preserve today, and I also saw a Red-Tailed Hawk, but that one flew off before I could get any good shots of it. Inside the nature center at the preserve, I also got to see Orion, the preserve’s Swainson’s Hawk. He’s still a youngster, so doesn’t have his adult coloring yet, but he’s a handsome bird.
Along the usual suspects like Wild Turkeys, California Scrub Jays, Northern Flickers, Spotted Towhees and Acorn Woodpeckers, I got to see a tiny Hermit Thrush in the scrubby brush on the side of the trail. I hardly ever get to see those little guys, so it’s always kind of a treat when I can get pictures of one of them.
There were lots of California Ground Squirrels and Eastern Fox Squirrels around. The squirrels can have a second breeding season in the fall, and I saw one of them carrying a big mouthful of grass to its nest. The cool thing was being able to spot the melanistic squirrel (all black) again. I hadn’t seen that guy for a year. The last time I saw him was actually on November 22nd last year. Maybe he only comes out once a year. Hah! (You can see last year’s photos HERE.)
I walked for about 3 hours and then headed back o the car. On my way out of the preserve, I stopped in at the nature center (which is when I saw Orion) and picked up several copies of “The Acorn” magazine published by the American River Natural History Association. My lichen photo is featured on the cover. Super cool!