Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Inspired theft

I've been reading Dave Bonta's microblog "The Morning Porch" at http://www.morningporch.com/. Let me quote Mr. Bonta as to what his subject is, "The view and soundscape from my front porch first thing in the morning, in 140 characters or less."

He writes these wonderful,poetical, snippets of the landscape. Please go and see his writing. The impending act of committing those few characters to page seems to focus the world. Such close observation of the world but with the observer so present, not detached,is wonderful. Mr Bonta arrived at 140 characters from inspiration he got from twitter's 140 character limit.

I have been inspired by his writing; so inspired I am going to steal his idea. It seems such a wonderful practice to sharpen one's eyes and mind. O.K., one deviation, may be not at the crack of dawn since I'm do not particularly observe anything then, but more than likely it will be evening for my observations. My apologies in advance to Mr. Bonta for my poor approximations and deficient prose, I did not say I was a good thief.

So here goes my first Bonta-nature-gram from my back porch:

Last golden rays spill over the hillcrest. Dark cat's paws ripple the lake as yellow butterflies beat the breeze tumble from touch-me-nots.

Pam Croom © 2008

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Big Swim

Thursday (18th), I had a few minutes before I needed to leave to pickup my cat from the vet’s office. I looked out back and Breckenridge, the Muscovy duck, was waiting by the feed bowl. That would take two minutes so I booked out back to feed him. As I stepped off the porch, I heard voices in my neighbor’s yard. I did not pay too much attention and went on down to the lake. The voices sounded more excited and I looked over to the corner of the fence that showed from behind the arbor vitae hedge just in time to see Apple appears at the corner-he is inside the fence!

Oh No!!!

He was panicked, running about and running into the fence. My neighbor whose house it is was standing up near the top of her yard, and the neighbor next door to her was standing next to the fence. He was saying, “They’ll just run into a fence until they break their neck.”

Yeah, that is helpful! I thought to myself. “Apple, it is ok, " I said softly to him, but he was terrified. “ How did he get in?” I asked.

“I don’t know!!” she yelled back.

I started moving to the gate at the fence’s middle in front of the lake; all the while, Apple was more panicked by my walking past. My neighbor, seeing me heading in that direction, remembered the gate and she excitedly told me to open it. I whole heartedly agreed with that idea. I opened the gate and Apple was now at the top of the yard. I walked up the middle and angled towards him and he ran down toward the bottom, swung around, ran towards the gate, blasted right past it, and slammed into the far side. “Yep, be careful he’ll break his neck.”

Oh so helpful!

Apple ran back , pausing at the corner to look back in my yard, and then ran up to the top of my neighbor’s yard again. I was trying to turn and see him without scarring him much more. My neighbor directed me on up into the yard and Apple ran back down and across and again hit the fence. This time he turned and ran back a little bit slower and found the gate! He darted out, launched himself through the willow fringe. SPLASH! And he was off and swimming! I ran down the yard, closed the gate, and watched him from the shore.

The lake is really just a big pond, but it is pretty big and Apple is a rather small guy. Deer are excellent swimmers. Water is a refuge for them, a way to escape. I do not know at what age a fawn can swim well, but Apple had clearly passed that age. His head held high he swam with sure strong strokes, he did not falter. I was impressed and proud of him. He swam about two thirds of the way across the lake, and he frantically looked around; the area ahead of him offered no cover. He abruptly changed tack and swam about one quarter of the length of the lake to the shore-so far for such a little fellow to swim! Crouching at the shore, he looked up the line of trees and shrubs that border two yards. He bolted up the yard disappearing into the trees. I held my breath. The road, busy with after-five traffic, was just a few yards away beyond my view. No screeching tires, no sound of impact was heard. Good…

I ran back up my yard and out the front door. I drove the long way around so I could look down the tree line to where I last saw Apple. I could not see him and he had not been hit. Hopefully, if he continued across the road he would stop and not shoot past his mommy’s boundary and get lost. Does leave scent trails for their fawns that establish their natal ground boundary. Deer have an interdigital scent gland between the two halves of their hooves. Just as his mommy laid a trail, Apple would have left a trail that hopefully his mommy could use to find him. Saving a fawn and making it to the vet’s on time- talk about twenty minutes well spent!

As his play area has dwindled with rising water, I have expected the doe to move him away, may be even rejoin the herd. Sadly, I fear this will be the time that she will move him now. If she does not move him, I dread the possibility that he will be terrified of me since I chased him; I do not want to see him wildly running off blinded by fear again and I do not want to be the cause that he flees. Whatever happens, I hope he has learned a lesson that fear and caution are good things, but out of control panic can be deadly. Time will tell.

The question remains how he got inside the fence. I think the gate is too snug for him to slip between it and the fence. A few years ago a tree fell on the fence at the exposed corner where I had seen him. When the fence was repaired, it was about a foot shorter than the rest of the fence at that corner. I suspect he saw something yummy and the fence was short enough for him to jump it there. But once over he panicked and could not find his way back. Getting yourself into something is always easier than getting out-people and fawns alike; I have, more than once, slipped up a cliff face or tree and then once there looked back and thought, “Huh, wonder how I’m going to get down…..” So, I been there and done that and did managed not to break my neck either.

The next day I stayed out of the yard until almost dark. I slipped down to the lake and dumped out the duck food. I eased out onto the dock, listening for the quiet little noises Apple makes moving about in the dense cover. Then I saw him, he was all beautiful, whole, and now nonplussed. He stood there comfortable and sure of himself browsing a few forbs growing up through the shallows. Nonchalantly, he walked away, taking his time, but wagging his tail a bit just to let me know he was a wee bit put out by my presence on the dock. To say I was relieved and ecstatic is an understatement. Not only was he still in my yard, he was not scared of me, and doing his best to show me he was not concerned in the least. So, his mommy was not ready for him to leave the fawning ground! AND, Apple must have learned he can out run me so I am not much of a threat…”poor pitiful Pam she can’t run worth squat!”

Pam Croom © 2008

Monday, September 22, 2008

Baby Boxes!!!

Late August into September is the time that box turtles hatch here in north Alabama. If you have never had the luck to see a hatchling box turtle then you missed out on cuteness extremis! Most references that I found on the subject of box turtle nesting report that the turtles seek out sandy soil. There is not much sandy soil here; where it exists (or more friable soil at least) is along the rivers in the bottomlands. Bottomlands are subject to flooding, and submersion of the eggs for more than just a short time would kill the eggs. The female turtles that I have found appear to move upland to lay their eggs in clay soils. My yard is aquatic turtle nesting site central. All of the aquatic turtles, with the exception of the snapping turtles, nest way up the yard. Near the lake, the water table is only about a foot below the surface, and during rainy periods, it is near the surface. I think that by going higher up the yard (uphill, not just away from the lake), they guarantee the eggs will not sit in water. They do not choose the looser garden or compost pile (once a turtle nested in the compost pile edge) they choose the hard clay. The nest that are upland in the yard do not suffer depredation; skunks and raccoons only seem to find them after the hatch and the nest has been already breached by the hatchlings. The snappers nest lower down in the yard on small hillocks. A particular favorite spot of the snappers suffered a tree downing. The stump was ground and this loosened the soil adding a lot of wood chips to it; all of this made the soil much more friable. The snappers flocked to this spot to lay, and all the nests were found and the eggs destroyed. Years later the chips are rotted away, but the soil is still easy to turn and occasionally the nests are destroyed. I think the clay soils with less organic material seals the scent of the nest. The friable soil of the snapper’s nest probably does not seal as completely. Well, it is a possible interpretation of my observations.

Box turtle nests are well camouflaged and difficult to find once the female turtle is done. After the babies leave the nest, it is not much more obvious than before they emerged. So do not feel bad if you have never found a nest or hatchlings either! When the hatchlings are ready to leave their dark and cozy egg chamber one of the babies punches out a small plug. Through this small hole, all the babies emerge. From the nests that I have seen, there seems to be one truly adventurous baby who opens the chamber; and when he is out of hole, he is out of there! Zip, zoom, gone! Baby number two generally is not so sure about the big wide world and is more cautious about moving out the chamber and leaving the area. After two leaves home, the others follow except for the last straggler. There usually is one reluctant baby who seems to think the whole idea of hatching and leaving is a really bad idea, and he can usually be found, headfirst back in his open eggshell. When I have popped the top of the chamber off and found the last baby I have it taken out of shell and always heads straight back for its shell! As cute as this delayed procession of emergence is, it might serve a purpose. It may increase the safety of the nestlings by spreading out their introduction to the world-if one is found and eaten the others are not right there next to it waiting to be picked off. One baby may die but the predator may not find the nest and give up allowing the other babies to live another day.

Hatchlings do not hatch and emerge immediately. They first must absorb their yolk sac. They can remain in the chamber for days before they leave. Some references speculate on clutches layed late in the year (some turtles lay a second clutch, usually in August) the babies hatch out and over winter in the nest chamber. I have seen lots of second clutches that never develop. A second clutch I was raising, over wintered, and successfully hatched, but the mother had buried them deep and they never emerged; by the time I dug them up they were dead (that was in February-too cold for them to have survived on their own anyway. This is the only time I have seen second clutches survive. It stands to reason that enough second clutchers must make it adulthood to select for this reproductive strategy trait. Perhaps the few that emerge from the nest in the spring have an advantage-may be more prey and more cover. The months to eat and grow before they have to hibernate may give them greater survivability through the winter. Perhaps the fall emerged babies cannot dig in deep enough to survive harsh winters, and spring emerge babies might be deep enough to survive had freezes. I do not know, there are not survivorship studies on box turtle hatchlings, but there are possibilities that are worthwhile exploring.

The babies in the pictures emerged the first week of September. They represent two different clutches. A third clutch died in the shell-the whole clutch (perhaps disease). I have seen some eggs that fail to develop; I do not know if they are infertile or other reasons, but they all seem to be attacked by molds. The pictures of the baby upside down show his umbilical scar from the absorbed yolk sac. Once hatched, the babies appear to dig into the duff or moss. I suspect early in life, in a forested environment, they just stay dug in where it is moist and wait for dinner to come to them. For their first few years, they are extremely vulnerable. They cannot close their shells, their shells are not that strong-not enough to withstand teeth-and they are small and swallowable. They are hors-d’oeuvres waiting to happen! I am amazed that any baby boxes escape the sensitive noses’ of skunks, raccoons, and opossums, and probing beaks of herons and crows! I am glad enough do make through their early years! Boxes are interesting animals, and it sure doesn’t hurt my interest in them that they are soooo cute as babies!!! The picture below is a baby next to a quarter; sometimes they are barely bigger than a nickle!

An excellent book that reviews the scientific literature of box turtles is: C Kenneth Dodd Jr., North American Box Turtles: A Natural History, Animal Natural History Series v. 6, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, OK, 2001.

2008 © Pam Croom

Friday, September 12, 2008

Change is Coming

Yesterday I drove to Nashville. I spotted black birds, returning migrants in large flocks. Over a field adjacent to I-565 I saw something that made my heart jump a little. Harriers coursing low over the grassy field; wings held up in the characteristic V, slipping silently and gracefully over the grass. These birds that are absent all summer have returned to Alabama their winter ground. Autumn seems to migrate in with them slipping into the slipstream of these magnificent birds drafting them all the way south. Fall will be here soon!!!

If the Harriers were not enough evidence of autumn's impending arrival, lower Tennessee had more than its usual amazingly large population of vultures; they too have returned for winter. A few years ago I saw a this magnificent display of vultures en masse. They were using a tree near I-65 as a communal roost just up the road a bit from the Booby Bungalow (a well known land mark that's name is self-explanatory). I'm not sure if there was a causal link of the roost's proximity to the Bungalow, but it is amusing to think of...a bunch of rolled patrons, drunk and unconscious lying passed out in a ditch with the vultures just waiting and hoping!

© Pam Croom 2008

Sneaky Shoes

What gear does one need to observe nature?

A few of the senses you were born with will do, they are really all you truly need, along with the bit between your ears. Spending time out doors, actually seeing what is happening all about you, will sharpen all your senses and the between the ears bit too. Having said all that, let us talk about the unnecessary but fun accoutrements!

Let’s talk shoes…real shoes…not Jimmy Choo (I really have no idea what those are other than the name, and I had to Google it to check spelling)…but sneaky shoes.

I used to have sneaky shoes, an old pair of Minnetonka moccasins that were made of thick cowhide leather. I SnoPrufed them and wore them all over, stalking about close to silent as shoes get. In short, I wore them out. I could not find another pair like them as Minnetonka is now using cheap, thin suede. So, I started looking elsewhere for new sneaky shoes…

Why moccasins? Why not hiking boots? The great outdoors and hiking boots sound like a natural combination. True, but it depends upon what you want to do. Hiking boots are great for putting miles behind you and support. However, if you want to get near to animals, hiking boots are less than optimal. They are stiff and noisy. It is easier to approach animals closer with more responsive

shoes that allow you to feel your contact with the ground and make more of a natural padding sound that blends with natural background noise. Hiking boots make that great flat tha-wacking, stomping noise of vibram; it just takes way too much effort to keep the noise down. Now I am not saying that mocs are the cloak of invisibility; there is more to stalking than the right pair of shoes, but it does not hurt!

So back to my search… I looked and looked on the internet and kept coming back to Russell Moccasins, and looked long and lovingly, but alas and alack like most lovelies, they were not dirt-cheap and I hesitated. My husband saw me looking at them for the umpteenth time and said, “Why don’t you just go ahead and buy them, they can be your birthday present.” It did not take too much convincing to get me on board with the idea. So, I emailed Russell Moccasin and asked for a recommendation. I wrote them listing some activities I intended to do in them:

“I would be using these shoes for naturalist type activities-to closely approach animals. I live in north Alabama where it is… forested. So keeping sticks out and assorted leaves out of the shoes is a concern… The only large serious thorns are the occasional locust tree thorns; sharp rocks are more of a concern. I'll not only be in the rocky upland areas, but also the swampy bottomland areas so some water resistance is necessary…My ideal moc would take submersion. I'd love be able to get in an out of my kayak with them so I don't have to haul around multiple shoes.”

(Okay, I fudged a bit. Submersion as in getting in and out of a kayak is a bit understated; it is more like: I’ll be wading in a creek for four hours and after that I’ll be up to my ankles in some lovely mud. All right, I out and out fibbed, but I did not want them to think that I would be an irresponsible moccasin owner.) A nice man named Ralph promptly emailed with the following recommendation: “We suggest the Oneida Tracker made from Reddish/Brown Weather Tuff as in the 7" boot Tracker and with an extra thick slip sole between the outer Boarhide molded sole and the bottom or vamp of the shoe.” The Oneida looked like a funky cross between moccasins and chukkas, but it appeared to be what I needed.

What makes Russell Mocs special is that they are custom and handmade to your feet. Measurements were taken and feet outlines drawn, repeatedly (I am not sure why when my husband is so anal retentive about so many things why he was not A-R about foot drawing, but as it was for my shoes I was and multiple drawing were demanded). I mailed it all off to Russell, and received a receipt back noting I would receive my mocs eighteen weeks later! Handmade takes time! I waited with much anticipation; it was quite like waiting for your first pair of REAL big girl shoes mail ordered from the Sears Christmas book! (For those of you born in the latter reaches of the last century the Sears Roebuck Christmas book was pre-internet, pre -UPS/overnight shipping, and the equivalent of say… Amazon.com.)

Eighteen weeks to the day, the UPS man deposited a package on my doorstep containing the long awaited moccasins. Here are a couple of pictures. (Note: Russell did not supply the mud; it is an accessory I later added.)

I took them out of the box, slipped them on, and jogged in place.

“Hmmm…these don’t feel all that special.”

Then…I laced them up. WOW! They fit perfectly; they were made to fit my feet! How good do they feel? They actually feel better than going barefoot! The mocs are supple and the leather is quiet. They give me excellent contact with ground so I can feel what is underfoot, yet offer enough protection from sharp objects. They also pass the turtle test. The only way I can get more than two steps out on my dock without the basking turtles diving off their logs into the lake is go out on the dock barefoot; they do not alarm immediately at the sound of padded feet. Slipping out on the dock is fine on cool days, but on ninety degree plus days, the sun-drenched dock is a wee bit abusive on my tootsies. Wearing my mocs I can get out as far as I can barefooted, and without burning my feet. Another test they pass is the tying test. With out any compunction I freely admit that I do not possess the ability to tie my own shoes-other people’s shoes not a problem, but my own no way. My bows look normal, but then they fall apart. I am an adult who shamelessly presents her incompletely shod foot to the nearest adult to finish lacing-up. That’s life, my life. BUT, my Russells stay tied! I know!!! Go figure!!!

I have had my Oneidas for several months now and love them more than ever, and they are holding up wonderfully. If the soles wear out I can send them back to Russell and they will resole them. To maintain them I occasionally clean the mocs with saddle soap and treat them with Obenauf leather preservative (it was the product Russell recommended). Obenauf is a natural product and does not have a chemically smell that might scare off animals. The stuff also makes your hands very soft. Are there any Obenauf people out there paying attention? I think you may have missed the boat; perhaps, you should market this stuff as face cream!

Whatever shoes get you out the door and outside are great- cheap or expensive, no matter, but if you want to want to try a different type of shoe, I whole-heartedly recommend moccasins. Whatever brand suits you- terrific, but I do not see how you can go wrong with Russells.

Hey, watch out for me in woods ‘cause you aren’t gonna hear me comin’ in my sneaky shoes!

Check out Russell boots and mocs at http://www.russellmoccasin.com/index.html.

Just a note-Russell Moccasins did not pay me or give me shoes to write this, but if they should so wish to, the gorgeous "Kick It Up A Notch" Oneida Camp Moccasins in the lovely hippo leather would be great.

© Pam Croom 2008

Monday, September 8, 2008

Continued...Why is there a fawn in my yard? Or where you are born and biology.

PART II Why she chose my yard might also have to do with who she is. Whitetail deer sexually segregate. Does live in matriarchal kin groups (the merry band of sisters) that spend their lives on undefended ancestral home ranges. A matriarchal society may have fawns, daughters, mothers, and may be even grandmothers or great grandmothers. Does with some experience may disperse a short distance away expanding the ancestral range. I suspect there can be several sub-kinship groups occupying roughly the same home range. Ozoga refers to the kin groups as matriarchal societies, which may not be quite the correct terminology from the behavioral biology use of the term, but society, in its common usage, is a very apt descriptive term for these groups. Bucks group in fraternal societies mostly of unrelated bucks with group membership being quite fluid. Does establish their fawning grounds within the larger ancestral range. Social status of a doe within a society, in large part, is determined by her breeding success. The matriarchs are experienced, mature, dominant does who are six years old (or more), probably great grandmothers, and kin group leaders and, are the ones who secure the best fawning ground. A doe new to motherhood will more likely get a less than optimal fawning ground (often next to her mother’s fawning ground). More than likely a young doe will not return to her first fawning ground for her second pregnancy. Senior does may lose their dominance rank in the hierarchy and may have to find new, less than optimal, fawning grounds. Young does generally only fawn a singleton for their first pregnancy. Similarly, very old does may only birth singletons like youthful dewy-eyed does. There has been a severe drought for over a year now and poor environmental conditions due to the drought could cause otherwise healthy mature does to give birth to singletons instead of twins. Both first-time breeding does and senior does will fawn in the later part of the birthing season being later by a few days, even weeks. Young does are inexperienced and less attentive than older does. So who is Apple’s mommy? She is most likely not an established matriarch, although possible a matriarch might have a singleton after a hard droughty winter, she probably would not have chosen my yard (despite the amenities like duck food it is probably not the luxury suite of fawning grounds). She is probably very young or very old since she gave birth to a singleton on less than stellar fawning grounds and that the birth was a few days after the end of the prime birth season.

But which one: young or old? She sticks close to Apple, which may indicate she is older. She seems very worldly-her sneaking skills are very good-almost silent. She also learns very fast; she has learned very quickly that I am not a threat and she no longer bolts away from me when I get to close she just sneaks off nearby. She is very skillful in getting the bird feed out of the little holes in the feeder. She will walk into a semi-enclosed space for yummy begonias. All those skills seem to me to be indicative of an older doe.

After Apple entered into his transitional phase like clockwork he started becoming more active using about two-thirds of the edge natal grounds. Apple on Thursday (9/4/08) for the first time ventured to the east side of the dock; he squirted under the dock (because of the drought most of the dock is out of the water) probably in a crouch judging from his tracks. With that adventure, he has now explored about three-quarters of the cover area. He has yet to explore the yard outside of the scrub/tree margin; I expect that will start next week or later when he starts following his mommy more. At eighteen days old he could pretty much out run any predator for a short distance if the need arose. He should have started nibbling some foliage, still; he will not be able to survive without his mother’s milk. He will start becoming active at night some now, and in a few days he should be come more active in general. This is the time that he should start interacting and bedding with a sibling. I still have not seen a sibling; I cannot believe that there are two in that small an area of cover, and that I have not found it yet. Of course, the twin could be very shy and good at hiding. There could be possibly be a twin at the end of the lake across the road in the pine thicket, but as mommy spends all day near Apple, and it would require her to be exposed for part of the way on feeding trips, I doubt there is a twin farther away. As for Apple being a he…well I do not know. If his mother is young or old statistically then the odds are on Apple being male.

How much longer will he be in the yard? I am not sure, but my best guess is they will leave when he is eight weeks or so. Although his mother could move him somewhere else at anytime if she feels threaten or the food situation degenerates, she will probably not move the youngster unless the situation warrants it. She might relocate him if he explores too far beyond the safety of cover. Apple will start following his mommy about some in a few days when he turns four weeks old, but he probably will not follow her around a significant amount of the time until he is at least eight weeks when he will start to travel and also to bed with her. That seems like a natural time to expand his range and for them to leave the yard. Time will tell…

Check out online:

http://www.outdooralabama.com/watchable-wildlife/what/Mammals/Ungulates/wtd.cfm A brief natural history of Alabama whitetail deer.


A not so brief book, Biology and Management of White-tailed Deer in Alabama by Chris Cook and Bill Gray of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources

Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (beware this is a large pdf file-not for the light hearted if you have dial-up).

Check out on the bookshelf:

Deer specifically:

Seasons of the Whitetail a four book series: Whitetail Autumn, Whitetail Winter, Whitetail Spring, and Whitetail Summer by John J. Ozoga, Willow Creek Press (1997)- Contains a lot of scientific research made readable for science and non science types.

Mammals in-general:

The Wild Mammals of Missouri by Charles and Elizabeth Schwartz (the Missouri Conservation Department Gods!!!), University of Missouri Press (2001). A terrific guide (not pocket sized) to mammals and pertinent beyond Missouri-for much of the Midwest and eastern US. The drawings of paws are very nice for trackers as they are exquisitely rendered and lacks the problem that some photos can have of lighting, fur in the way, and photos of preserved or dead specimens in questionable conditions. Life histories of the animals are given beyond the couple of paragraphs of most guides. It contains skull drawings, dental formulas, and pertinent natural history information. I love this book.

Wild Mammals of North America: Biology, Management, and Economics edited by JA Chapman and GA Feldhamer, Johs Hopkins University Press 1982. I would describe this book as a science encyclopedia. The book offers concise scientific literature reviews describing as the subtitle states- biology, management, and economics of each species. This book is more appropriate for science types, but a great entry into the world of science lit for non science types.

© Pam Croom 2008

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Why is there a fawn in my yard? Or where you are born and biology.

Part I

Apple is now a few days past his three-week mark of life. His birth date may seem rather late to many, but here in Alabama, according to the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, the majority of deer births occur from late July into mid August, but any where from April to November is game. John Ozoga, in his book ¬Whitetail Summer, relates that researchers have designated three phases of a nursing fawn’s life. A fawn’s first phase is the seclusion phase which last the first ten days and while they weigh less than eleven pounds. The next phase is the transitional phase, which last approximately from ten to fifty days and within a weight range of eleven to thirty-three pounds. The last nursing phase is the juvenile ruminant phase where the fawn is aged fifty to one-hundred days old and weight range of thirty-three to fifty-five pounds. Apple now is long beyond the seclusion phase and into his transitional phase.

In the seclusion phase, a fawn moves little; what activity he carries out is during the day when most predators of fawns are inactive. The fawn stays hidden, which is its main defense against predation. This part of a fawn’s life is when it is most vulnerable as it may not be able to out run predator. The mother does not stay with the fawn in order not to draw attention to the youngster. A newborn fawn is nearly scentless if the mother stayed next to the fawn she would leave a substantial scent trail for predators to follow. The mother will run away from the area the fawn is in if disturbed; this tact may draw predators away from the baby. At this stage, the fawn is utterly dependent upon the mother. He will nurse two may be three times a day. The doe will groom him, and during the grooming session, she will nuzzle the fawn’s rump to evoke a voiding response of the bladder and gut and then she will eat the waste to minimize scent around the fawn. Apple during his seclusion phase only used two bedding sites; one just beyond the button bushes in the grass by the lake edge and about ten yards away, the one up on high ground by the ditch. I found his tracks only to those two sites bed sites.

In many references, the size of a fawning ground is reported as twenty to thirty acres. For my doe’s fawning site, this seems unlikely. West up the hill going up Green Mountain is a neighbor hood giving way to thick, steep, woods. Abutting the mountain to the south are some fields mixed with housing. Directly east and north of my yard is quite an expanse of housing. Directly south are a few houses that turn from house to corn, and soybean fields that extend eastward to the lowland area of the Flint River (the farm field area, sadly, is slated for a school and housing district with two hundred plus houses). There are pockets of trees in there and some edge habitat and a few yards that probably offer up yummy browse in an area that would be twenty acres, but it doesn’t seems a large quantity of high quality deer browse and fawn cover habitat. Where Apple’s mommy chose to have him is perhaps a fifteenth of an acre of edge habitat and quality cover (quality deer browse flourishes in edge habitats).

So why is the north side of my yard so appealing? Cover for one thing. Browse is another, of what is available, it is pretty good and includes landscape plants (my begonias and tomatoes, located near the house, are gone now). The neighbor’s fences fronts the lake, but leaves a corridor that they keep mowed with a narrow scrub margin next to the lake providing passage, cover, and browse. This year a dead spruce tree opened up the sky and the apple trees had a bow-busting bumper crop, and her tracks regularly lead up to the tree where she is browsing on twigs, leaves, and fruit. The over grown garden offers browse for the doe, and an overgrown adjacent field also contains some eats (deer are selective browsers and generally do not eat grass except for tender new shoots). Across the street to the south are a large garden to pick through, a small apple orchard, and a large fig bush for desert. Of course, the doe is packing away a pound or two plus a day of the ever-present duck food, and if she gets really hungry she is deft at working the bird feeders for food. Importantly, the lake’s waters-edge presents another rich transition environment for browse, water (lactating does require supplemental water daily), and a protective barrier. Always keep in mind that whitetail deer are ecological generalist-in other words they live pretty much everywhere and have learned to live where humans live. Predators are limited. No coyotes traipse about the yard. The yard has not been part of a fox’s range since the cheeky fox lived here two years ago. Despite a young grey fox attempting to steal BBQ this spring; he has not seemed to hung around and made the yard part of his territory. Bobcats are certainly down in the lowland area about the Flint, but they do not habituate my yard. Dogs rarely are seen roaming about. Our new neighbor has an affable yellow lab who is pretty oblivious to the world (and the fact there are deer next door). When they moved in they installed a wireless fence and the lab is restricted to his yard. However, the mere presence of his scent may keep predators such as fox out for a while, at least until they figure out the dog is not a threat.

Why not choose the low land habitat down the hill at the Goldsmith-Schiffman preserve to fawn; it is great deer habitat-lots of edge, great browse, cornfields, water, and cover? Coyotes, foxes, bobcats, and feral hogs found there are threats to fawns to say the least. You might wonder how pigs are a threat; feral hogs will eat about everything including stumbling upon a small hiding fawn and eating it (they would not hunt them down, but if they found one they would probably eat it, as they would ground nestling baby birds, and small turtles etc.). Hogs also very effectively compete with deer for browse and mast like acorns. Another reason not to fawn down there is that there already are many deer there.

to be continued...

© Pam Croom 2008

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The Apple of his Mommy's Eye

Our yard is a small part of the home range of a merry band of deer sisters. This past winter they would drink at the lake, sometimes raid the bird feeders, and bed down in the sedges near the willows to ruminate during the night, but NEVER, and I mean NEVER did they bed down there during the day. Late spring/early summer they moved to a different part of their range and the girls’ tracks disappeared from the yard and lake edge. Eventually, as summer settled in, they returned to drink and sometimes ruminate between the touch-me-nots and willows. A few weeks ago, I noticed that the deer tracks had dwindled down to one deer. For a fleeting moment, I wondered about why there was only one deer, but something else caught my attention and I never returned to that thought to give it due consideration. By the next time I noticed the single track, the solitary doe’s presence had became settled in my mind with no thought of the others.

It was heating up on a Tuesday (19) afternoon this mid-August, and I glanced at the thermometer on the porch to confirm what I already knew-it was hot. In the hazy afternoon air framed between the vertical and horizontal supports of the porch and the window sash a large brown blob appeared down near the lake. I moved closer to the window and focused harder…harder…yep it was a deer in the yard, eating duck food at one o’clock in the afternoon! That seemed sooo wrong-they NEVER stay in the yard during the day!

Bang! I was hit by a realization. I grabbed the binoculars to confirm my revelation. Suddenly it all made sense! The curious single deer tracks made sense. A doe in preparation to fawn will establish and defend a fawning ground driving off her female relations. The reason a doe would dare expose herself away from cover mid-afternoon in my yard came into focus. She was a very hungry new momma who had just left her newborn after spending those first few hours cleaning, nursing, and bonding with him-learning the smell of his almost non-existent scent. The binoculars revealed I was right! Her milk had dropped and her udders were full; she had recently given birth. THERE WAS A FAWN OUT THERE SOMEWHERE IN MY YARD!!!!!

She polished off the duck food and leisurely strolled along the scrub, nibbling here and there, and then she stopped, crouched, and slipped through the scrub down to the lake. I gave her a bit of time to settle down, and then I set out to find her. I quietly stalked up to the dock and eased out on it. I peaked around bushes and there she was quietly laying behind the scrub on the lakebed. One of the pesky adolescent Carolina Wrens outted me and alarmed once. The doe looked up and sniffed the air, but was not too concerned at a single bird alarm call. The wind was with me and I retreated quietly without frightening her.

I knew, by this point in the life of her newborn, she would not be staying with the fawn, but would be close by. Given the limited cover, I just knew where the baby would be. I quietly approached the high ground along the ditch, and there he was on a small clear patch of brown earth, surrounded by weeds, tucked next to a downed branch. He held his head erect, his little nose quivered as he smelled my presence, but he did not spot me as he kept his head perfectly still. He was the perfect apple of his mother’s eye! Since his mommy’s tracks showed me she had been chowing down on the apple tree, I christened him “Apple.” Apple appeared to be a perfect fawn with four legs, a tail, two ears, a button nose, and beautiful spots on a field of red-brown hair. I have yet to find a twin (deer usually twin). I have not beat the brush, so to speak, looking for another fawn; I did not want to disturb Apple and his mommy. Time will tell after seclusion when deer twins come together if there is an Apple II.

© Pam Croom 2008
Google Google
Site Meter