Window on Nature
By Lowell & Kaye Christie, F47246
Whenever we aren’t on the road, our “window” on nature is often the sliding glass door at home. We set up our office so that we both have an easy view of the “back forty,” where we often get four-legged visitors.
Earlier this year, Lowell caught some motion out of the corner of his eye. It was a deer, no more than 10 feet away, standing on the cement slab outside the glass door. We both watched as it came closer and closer.
We couldn’t believe a deer would be so nonchalant in the presence of humans, so after it left we went outside to get a deer’s-eye view of the office. Perhaps it couldn’t see us through the plate glass and instead was studying its own reflection.
Was the deer in our window a one-time occurrence? We thought so, but a couple of days later it reappeared, studying something so closely that it pressed its nose to the glass. This can’t be real! Maybe the deer is just lonely.
But things settled down. Now our deer appears only once a week or so, but every time it’s up close and personal.
Identifying this deer wasn’t too challenging: short tail, black on top and white below, with enormous mule-sized ears. It was definitely a mule deer. We know that when you startle a mule deer after dark, you don’t even need to see it; all you need to do is listen. Rather than running, it bounds. Hearing those hoofed feet all strike the ground at the same time says the same thing: mule deer! Clomp . . . clomp . . . clomp.
The largest congregation of mule deer we have ever seen was in Mesa Verde National Park, the great cliff dwellings of the Four Corners region. We arrived at the park late one hot evening, having fought an overheating engine for the last 20 miles. While it cooled, we took a walk to ease the stress. Deer appeared to have taken over the lower campground. There were numerous people strolling along, but the deer outnumbered the humans two to one, which was just fine with us. When it’s people we’re looking for, we head for the city.
Remembering the second-largest group of deer we have seen in one place was easy, too; it was on the Blue Ridge Parkway. A gang of deer stood, watched, and walked along the side of the road. It was almost like a cattle roundup. This time they were white-tailed deer “” well-named, since, although their ears aren’t showy, the tail certainly is. (Mule deer tails are nondescript by comparison.) A white-tailed deer’s tail is heavily furred, with gray-brown on the top, and snow white on the underside. A twitch of that tail announces to any viewer, “I’m a white-tailed deer!” On the parkway they certainly had an appreciative audience.
That was, of course, an unusual experience. If you’re a walker or hiker, you already know how fast a deer can disappear. If you see a deer before it spots you, freeze. You may be lucky enough to enjoy the sight before the deer vanishes.
Neither mule deer nor white-tailed deer are big on travel. Those that live in cold regions migrate only far enough to get out of the nasty weather. We were astounded to learn that the home range of some deer may be less than one square mile. But of course, since they don’t get around much, aren’t privy to seeing nature photos, and aren’t big fans of nature programs on TV, how could they know what they’re missing?
This time of year, deer are pretty drab in color. The adults have shed their brown summer coats and are decidedly dull (that means a grayish-brown around here). The idea is to see without being seen, attacked, or eaten. Those sound like good enough reasons for them to alter their appearance.
But when spring comes, the bucks will begin growing new antlers, and before too long, fawns will begin to appear.
Imagine this: a doe senses when her fawn is about to be born, and she heads to a secluded area. That way, when birthing day arrives, she’s ready to welcome her foal. We’ve got to hope that labor isn’t as exhausting to the doe as it is to her human counterpart.
Within the first 20 minutes of a fawn’s life, the youngster is up on its feet and its mother has licked it free of its newborn scent to keep predators with keen noses from finding it. It will only be a few hours before the new arrival can stand alone, and a few days later, walk with its mama.
Still, the mother isn’t free to relax. She’s fully responsible for her offspring. That includes keeping a sharp eye out for predators and warning off other nosy deer. Over the summer, fawns grow fast as they benefit from their elder’s training. Before long, they’ll be ready to head out on their own.
Autumn comes, bringing more change. Previously passive bucks become aggressive, sparring with locked antlers to establish their place in the pecking order. When one buck backs down, the winner is the boss. It’s serious work. After all, to the victor go the does.
Unbelievable as it seems, our deer was back even as we finished writing this column. It didn’t seem to be asking to read the manuscript, so we were puzzled. Then came our answer. Our mule deer was a doe, and joining her just a few feet away was a fawn, its body still covered with spots. Hey, you two: come back when you can stay longer.