Entries tagged with “blacktail deer”.


When I drove up to Mitchell cabin last Wednesday, nine blacktail deer were grazing in the front meadow.

It’s common to have deer in my fields. Nine was the most in recent months although in times past I’ve had as many as 16.


Jackrabbits are also more abundant at present than they’ve been for a while.

The rabbits appear fairly comfortable around the deer, and it’s not uncommon to see them grazing side by side.

Unfortunately, cars and trucks take a toll on both the deer and the rabbit populations, so please keep an eye out for them when driving, especially at night. (Photo by Lynn Axelrod)


The rain we’ve been having in Point Reyes Station certainly enhances the scenery.

Here a tea rose on our deck sparkles with droplets after a wet morning. (Photo by Lynn Axelrod)


 

 


Horses grazing next to Mitchell cabin don’t seem to mind chilly weather, but on truly cold days, the folks at Point Reyes Arabians outfit them all with horse blankets.


 

 


Having escaped another yuletide feast, a wild turkey takes a leisurely stroll beside the cabin.

 

 

 

 


Perhaps the most emotionally compelling critter around Mitchell cabin this yuletide has been a young, three-legged raccoon that started showing up here in November. My partner Lynn was concerned about the little guy and soon named the raccoon “Peanut” because it was the runt of the litter. Maybe it hadn’t been getting enough to eat. We don’t know how Peanut lost his front-left leg. Perhaps in a fight with another raccoon. When we first noticed him, all that was left of the leg was a bloody spot.

By now the injury has healed over, and Peanut manages to get around fairly well with only three legs. He’s able to climb trees and even the lattice along our deck.

The name Peanut, however, periodically makes me chuckle. As it happens, back in the 1980s, I was part of a group that studied Spanish one evening a week in the old Dance Palace. Meeting at the same time elsewhere in the building were Mexican immigrants learning English.

Once when two of the instructors were to be away for a week, they arranged for the Spanish-speaking students to teach us English-speaking students Spanish and vice versa.

The approach was fairly straight forward. A Spanish-speaking student who was already fairly fluent in English would tell one of us the meaning of a Spanish word and then have the student use it in a sentence. When it was my turn, the woman conducting the class gave me the word cacahuetes, and I was immediately flustered when heard her say it meant “penis.”

I could pronounce ka-ka-wah-tays, but that wasn’t the problem. I now had to use the word in a Spanish sentence without embarrassing myself in front of the class. Then it struck me. The Marin Community Foundation had just awarded a $5,000 grant to a Stinson Beach filmmaker who was producing a physiological study titled Dick. “A Stinson Beach man is making a movie about cacahuetes,” I said in Spanish. The teacher looked surprised but quickly moved on.

When I got home from class that night, I told my then-wife Cynthia, “You’ll never guess what word they taught us tonight…. cacahuetes. Cynthia, who spoke Spanish fairly well, looked puzzled and asked, “What’s unusual about peanuts?”


Happy New Year!

 

A year ago I was hit with a medical problem called temporal arteritis, which sent me to the emergency room at Kaiser Hospital in Terra Linda. As I wrote here at that time, it was a big headache, but left untreated it could have led to blindness.

Temporal arteritis amounts to inflammation of an artery that goes through the temples (hence the name “temporal”) and feeds blood to the eyes. The problem is common enough that rheumatologists have developed a standard treatment using the steroid Prednisone. The cause of temporal arteritis is unknown, but it mostly hits us older folks.

Well, the Prednisone worked in that it took away the headache, but I had to consume it every day, and that itself produced temporary problems ranging from less-focused thinking to a loss of balance. I began taking increasingly serious falls. The worst was on Memorial Day when I fell to the ground from a standing position. I landed on stainless-steel metal and badly bruised the right side of my ribcage.

I had just about recovered from that fall when today I stumbled on my deck and landed on the left side of my rib cage. What a pain! As a result, I’m taking it easy on myself, which is why my posting this week consists of photos from my collection— not ruminations. Most of them have appeared here previously.

Gray squirrel at my birdbath.

The raccoons around Mitchell cabin are amazingly adventurous. These walked right in when I left the kitchen door open.

Three animals who seldom hang out together in nature — a possum, fox, and raccoon — were convinced to eat peaceably together when I scattered honey-roasted peanuts on my deck. Animal populations, however, go up and down, and I haven’t seen many foxes or possums around Mitchell cabin recently.

A blacktail doe takes a rest behind my woodshed.

Two does and a flock of wild turkeys forage side by side uphill from Mitchell cabin, both species seeming oblivious of the other.

Two years ago, a lone peacock began keeping company with the turkeys. It’s pretty but its calls sound like a woman in distress.

Coyotes can often be heard at night howling around Mitchell cabin. Getting a chance to see one is far less common.

It’s far more common to see bobcats. Here one takes a rest while hunting downhill from the cabin.

A mother badger with her kit. The most ferocious predators near the cabin are badgers. Even a bear would be no match. Badgers live in burrows up to 30 feet long and 10 feet deep, for they are remarkably efficient diggers thanks to long claws and short, strong legs.  Although they can run up to 17 or 18 mph for short distances, they generally hunt by digging fast enough to pursue rodents into their burrows.

Lost in thought, a gray fix sits on my picnic table.

Jackrabbits, of course, are always around. Jackrabbits, which are also known as black-tailed hares, avoid predators by using “an element of surprise and escape that works well,” Point Reyes Station naturalist Jules Evens notes in his Natural History of the Point Reyes Peninsula.

“When a potential predator is detected, the hare will usually take shelter in the shade of a convenient clump of vegetation or behind a rock and freeze motionless. If the predator approaches very closely, the hare leaps into stride, zigzagging across open country until it finds shelter.”

Two young does graze beside Mitchell cabin. To me all this is my home on a hill, but it could just as easily be a zoological garden.

 

 

 

I’m always fascinated by how well some wildlife of different species get along with each other. Deer in particular seem to enjoy the company of other species.

I was reminded of this felicitous phenomenon when I spotted a hawk (lower right) keeping company with a small herd of deer grazing near Mitchell cabin. _____________________________________________________________

A curious blacktail doe watches a house cat clean itself on a woodpile.

I’ve also seen deer show similar interest in rabbits resting in my field.

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While another doe grazes, she keeps company with a great blue heron as the bird hunts gophers in my pasture.

A roof rat and a towhee eating birdseed side by side on our picnic table. It’s such a relaxed relationship that neither appears to notice the presence of the other. ________________________________________________________________

Some things that happen around Mitchell cabin are more of a surprise.

Friday night I was lying on my side looking into my woodstove when I noticed a phantasmagorical head sticking out of the flames.

At first it appeared to be wrapped in newspaper headlines. Lynn, however, explained that she had used some discarded fundraising solicitation forms to light the fire.

 

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Yet another truck wreck in West Marin. A week ago Saturday, a truck and trailer rig hauling grocery supplies overturned on the Point Reyes-Petaluma Road, blocking traffic for nine hours.

Shortly before noon today, a milk truck overturned on Highway 1 near Nicks Cove, closing the highway for several hours. “The truck, heading south near Nicks Cove, failed to negotiate a turn and landed on its side along the highway,” said Mike Giannini, a battalion chief with Marin County Fire Department.

“The accident caused a hatch to fail and allow approximately 4,000 gallons of milk to be discharged from the tank. Additionally, about 100 gallons of diesel fuel was spilled. Firefighters were able to contain the diesel with absorbent materials.

“At the time of the accident, the milk was approximately 100 yards from Tomales Bay,” Giannini reported at 5 p.m. “Crews are continuing to monitor any possible threat to bay waters.

“The driver of the truck was evaluated by Marin County Fire Department paramedics and was transported to the hospital for evaluation. The exact cause of the accident is under investigation.”

All this is getting to be routine. Let’s see where next weekend’s truck wreck occurs.

Around the first of the year I sometimes post a roundup of the creatures that have shown up around Mitchell cabin.

This year I’m doing it again, starting with a butterfly and dragonfly followed by a variety of larger critters.

This exhibit ends with a coyote, a bobcat, two badgers, and two deer rubbing noses.

Regular readers of this blog will recognize some of these photos from past postings.

Here a buckeye butterfly rests on a chrysanthemum that’s growing in a flowerpot on the deck. ___________________________________________________________________

A dragonfly pauses on the twig of a tree that’s next to the deck. Dragonflies can easily be distinguished from damselflies because when they are at rest they leave their wings extended while damselflies close their wings over their bodies when at rest. __________________________________________________________________

A Pacific tree frog on a bamboo shoot near our hot tub.

Some people call them Pacific chorus frogs. During the winter, their main mating season, males make their way to water and then charm females to the water with a chorus of chirping.

 

 

 

 

 

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Gopher snakes are not poisonous, but they mimic rattlesnakes, coiling up and wagging their tongues when threatened. This one was near the foot of our driveway.

A jackrabbit in the field outside our kitchen window pauses to look around .

This is the only chipmunk I’ve ever seen around Mitchell cabin. I’m just glad I had my camera nearby when it showed up.

A Western gray squirrel basks in the sun after taking a drink from our birdbath.

A roof rat takes a drink from the birdbath. These rats originated in southern Asia, and you’ll recall it was their fleas that spread the Black Death throughout Europe in the 14th Century, killing roughly half the people.

This cute possum used to be a regular nighttime visitor, but so many raccoons have been hanging around the cabin in the evening that we seldom see any possums these days.

Three raccoons in a tree beside Mitchell cabin. ______________________________________________________________

A gray fox enjoys the sun on our deck.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A coyote watches me park my car as I arrive back home.

A bobcat hunts outside our kitchen window.

A mother badger and her kit eye the world from their sett, as badger dens are called.

Two deer touch noses as a herd of six blacktails graze downhill from Mitchell cabin.

For reasons of space, no birds are included in this posting. Look for a gallery of our fine feathered friends in a week or two.

It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. I turned 71 Sunday, which was probably a good decision, but I threw out my back earlier in the week, which definitely was not a good move. You never realize how much use you have for something until you throw it out.

Just standing up is now a pain, and walking is even worse.

Doug Hill, president of the Berkeley City Commons Club, relays a member’s question to me at the end of my talk. (Photo by Dave LaFontaine)

As it happens, Morton McDonald, who has a home at Duck Cove in Inverness, had invited me to tell the Berkeley City Commons Club what I knew about Synanon from the cult’s days in West Marin. I had agreed to go last Friday but had to strut and fret my hour upon the stage from an overstuffed chair.

I’ve tried to portray my injury as caused by rugged work, telling friends I threw out my back while working with a chainsaw. “What were you cutting?” they ask. “Daisies,” I sheepishly reply. They’re inevitably startled. “No one throws out his back cutting daisies,” they say, “and no one cuts daisies with a chainsaw.”

It’s a long story. Former Point Reyes Light reporter Janine Warner and her husband Dave LaFontaine drove up from Los Angeles for my birthday and are staying for five days. My stepdaughter Kristeli, who is in her last year at New York University, will fly in Tuesday and stay for five days over Thanksgiving.

Vegetation was hanging over the railing along the outdoor steps, and I wanted everyone to be safe when they used the stairs. When I cut four or five dead fronds off a palm and three dead branches off a couple of pines, the chainsaw went right through them. But when I bent over to cut some woody branches from dead sections of two daisy bushes, a muscle spasm locked onto my back with all four feet.

Heating pads, back braces, and a ball-bearing-filled massage machine are helping, and I’ll no doubt recover in a week or two although post-traumatic-stress disorder could be a lingering problem.

I sign a copy of The Light on the Coast for Morton McDonald. The book includes a section on the paper’s investigation of Synanon, an investigation that led to a Pulitzer Prize for Public Service. (Photo by Dave LaFontaine)

In the “best of times” category, The Light on the Coast: 65 Years of News Big and Small as Reported by The Point Reyes Light, which I wrote with Jacoba Charles as coauthor, is now in its third printing. The Tomales Regional History Center is the publisher, and the book can be ordered online using the History Center link in the righthand column.

Two blacktails butting heads outside my kitchen window last week. I’d think a deer could easily get an eye poked out that way, but I’ve never seen a buck with an eye patch.

Marin County, and especially West Marin, have come to seem like a coastal refuge after last week’s Congressional elections, the conundrum of ISIS, California’s drought, and Stanford’s losing to Michigan State in the Rose Bowl.

In order to provide a respite from this world of troubles, I’m presenting this week a collection of happier scenes from around Marin.

St. Mary’s Catholic Church on Nicasio Square. Using locally milled redwood, townspeople in 1867 built the church for $3,000 (about $48,000 in today’s money).

I spent some time in Nicasio late last month, attending the opening of the new Nicasio Historical Society Museum and MALT Day at Nicasio Valley Farm’s Pumpkin Patch. While walking around the square, I was again struck by how unexpectedly well the New England architecture of several buildings fits with the old-west architecture of others, such as the Druid’s Hall and Rancho Nicasio.

Rob Roth on sax, KC Filson on piano, Píerre Archain on bass, and Michael Aragon on drums at the No Name bar in Sausalito. At far right, prominent Sausalito artist Steve Sara sketches the scene.

Last Friday evening, Lynn and I again ended up at the No Name bar  where we often go on Fridays. That’s the night the Michael Aragon Quartet performs modern jazz, much of it in the vein of John Coltrane and Cannonball Adderley.

When the quartet performed Adderley’s Mercy, Mercy, Mercy a month ago, they inspired me to see what I could find out about the late sax player (1928-75). Perhaps the most-intriguing trivia I turned up was the origin of his name.

Here’s the story. Julian Edwin “Cannonball” Adderley, a hefty man, already had a voracious appetite by the time he reached high school, and this led his classmates to call him “Cannibal.” The distinction between cannibals and cannonballs is, of course, so minor that most of the public didn’t notice when Adderley evolved from one into the other. __________________________________________________________________

The view out our bedroom window Sunday of a horse from Point Reyes Arabians grazing in the neighboring pasture.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Doe, a deer, a blacktail deer. Ray, a drop of golden sun…. A young deer in a spot of sunlight outside our kitchen window last week pricked up her ears as if the hills were alive with the sound of…. ?

Wild turkeys and deer coexist surprisingly well at Mitchell cabin. Obviously neither looks threatening to the other. The biggest dangers to them come from cars and hunters.

In the pine tree, the mighty pine tree, the raccoon sleeps tonight. In the pine tree, the quiet pine tree, the raccoon sleeps tonight. Wimoweh, wimoweh, wimoweh, wimoweh…. ________________________________________________________________

A mother raccoon and her kit at our kitchen door.

Young raccoons are recognizable by the time we get to see them notwithstanding their having been delivered in kit form.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Lynn and I hear coyotes around the cabin every few days, but we seldom get to see them. Here a coyote takes cover behind our woodshed.

The sloe-eyed coyote emerges from behind a clump of — appropriately enough — coyote brush. Coyotes are close relatives of gray foxes.

Keeping an eye out (and ears up) for coyotes and other predators, a jackrabbit sits in the field outside our kitchen window.

Among the other predators around here are bobcats. They don’t try to stay out of sight, but they trot off when they see humans.

And then there are the gray foxes. They live and breed on this hill, and until recently would show up at the kitchen door most evenings hoping to be fed just about anything — bread, nuts, dog food, whatever.

The foxes still show up occasionally in the afternoon to sun themselves atop the picnic table on our deck. Their nighttime visits, however, have come to an end for now, and I miss their vulpine partying.

The autumnal equinox of 2014 is upon us. Fall has begun. If we were in Great Britain — still including Scotland, hip, hip, hooray! — we would probably say that “autumn” has begun. Transatlantic linguistic differences, you know, old chap. Sort of like “truck” v. “lorry.”

Until the early 1600s, the English name for the season was “harvest,” but as more and more people moved off the farm and into cities where there was no harvesting, they began to call the season “fall of the leaf.” After all, it’s the time of year when leaves fall from trees. Eventually, the phrase was shortened to just “fall.”

From what I read, the word “autumn” is at least three centuries older, but its origins are unclear. However, the French word for “autumn” is “automne,” so that may be a clue.

The cold-blooded countenance of a Western Fence Lizard.

The mostly dry, mostly sunny days of summer’s end were welcomed by a cold-blooded crew of Western Fence Lizards that daily warm themselves on the railroad-tie steps leading up to Mitchell cabin.

I’ve seen as many as three lizards at a time on the steps. Some scoot out of sight the moment they feel the vibration of my tread, but some don’t move at all, forcing me to be careful I don’t step on them. Actually, I don’t think that’s likely. Their staying still as long as possible is probably a form of camouflage they would abandon if I got too close.

The Western Fence Lizard diet mostly consists of insects and spiders.

Their nickname is “blue bellies” because of the color of their undersides, which can be seen when the males do pushups. It’s their equivalent of pumping iron in order to impress females and intimidate other males.

A Pacific tree frog right after I rescued it from my hot tub.

When I opened the lid of my hot tub Thursday to check the amount of chlorine and other chemicals in the water, a tree frog that had been hiding between the lid and the top of the tub took a flying leap into the caldron.

At 104 degrees, the water is hot enough to quickly kill a frog. I’ve seen it happen. This time, however, I had a sieve with me and was able to scoop the frog out in time to save it.

Autumnal raccoon kits begging at the kitchen door.

Three raccoon mothers and their kits show up immediately after sunset each evening to dine on whatever rations we’re willing to provide — slices of bread, corn chips, peanuts etc.

The kits are curious enough about the source of this bounty that they’ll sometimes take a step or two into the house when Lynn or I open a door to toss them their rations. However, most of the raccoons back away the moment we get close. The exception is one mother who sits beside the door and uses her front paws to unhurriedly take slices of bread directly from our hands.

Four wild turkeys uphill from Mitchell cabin.

It would be fun to be able to call them turkeys in the straw, but they’re really turkeys in the hay. Straw is basically grass with its seeds removed.

In 1988, a hunting club working with the State Department of Fish and Game introduced non-native turkeys into West Marin on Loma Alta Ridge, which overlooks the San Geronimo Valley. By now, however, there are far more turkeys than turkey hunters, and their flocks have spread throughout West Marin.

A turkey pauses to dine on grass seeds.

A jackrabbit likewise dines on grass uphill from Mitchell cabin.

Jackrabbits, which are also known as black-tailed hares, avoid predators by using “an element of surprise and escape that works well,” Point Reyes Station naturalist Jules Evens notes in his Natural History of the Point Reyes Peninsula.

“When a potential predator is detected, the hare will usually take shelter in the shade of a convenient clump of vegetation or behind a rock and freeze motionless. If the predator approaches very closely, the hare leaps into stride, zigzagging across open country until it finds shelter.

Jackrabbits have been clocked running at up to 36 mph for short distances.

“The effect on the startled predator is momentary confusion, which may afford the hare the advantage it needs to escape.” Their smaller cousins, the cottontail rabbits, prefer brush to open land. They have “poor running ability,” Evens explains, and “frequently fall prey to foxes, bobcats, weasels, hawks, and owls.”

A four-point buck, probably about a year and a half old, also forages in the grass uphill from Mitchell cabin.

“Columbian blacktail deer (Odocoileus hemionus columbianus) are the subspecies of blacktails native to the Bay Area,” Bruce Morris writes for Bay Nature. “According to the California Department of Fish and Game, there are now approximately 560,000 deer in all California, about 320,000 of which are Columbian blacktails….

“Blacktails have a typical lifespan in the wild of seven to 10 years, but they can survive in suburban habitat for as long as 17 to 20 years if unmolested,” Morris adds. “Suburban deer have minuscule home ranges, measuring three or four blocks for females whereas wild deer inhabit territories that extend for several miles.”

The other day I was walking up the front steps when I was so startled to see a deer right in front of me that I tripped and started to fall forward. Fortunately, I was able to catch myself and spring back, so I didn’t land on my nose. I’ll try to remember that sequence on Nov. 2 when daylight savings time ends and I have to reset the clocks.

The old dichotomy of “nature v. nurture” may be a false one. As a couple of photos shot at Mitchell cabin last week demonstrate, nature also nurtures its own.

These photos are hardly remarkable in and of themselves, but they record what a remarkable variety of nature is just outside my window.

The sunset on July 14 gave the western sky the dazzle of a technicolor movie.

Even more dazzling was this simultaneous rainbow in the eastern sky. Numerous people around Point Reyes Station saw it, and several posted photos of the rainbow on West Marin Feed-Facebook.

After relentless begging with its beak open and its wings fluttering, a juvenile blackbird finally gets a parent to feed it birdseed even though it’s perfectly capable of feeding itself.

Last week Lynn spotted a fox on our picnic table peering in our living room between the slats of a chair. Its presence kept the blackbird at left on the railing and off the table.

The Gray fox was on the table to eat seed Lynn had scattered for the birds.

Staying well away from the fox, a jackrabbit eats grass just outside our kitchen window.

A doe and her fawns can be seen around Mitchell cabin virtually every day.

One of the sweetest-looking little animals around, a blacktail fawn walks past our bedroom window.

Fawns seem to be often on the run. At their age, it would appear, they enjoy being able to dash from here to there.

A young blacktail buck grazes by itself in the field below our deck.

A cross between a House sparrow and a Great horned owl?

Lynn and I correctly guessed the bird is actually a young House finch, but we had no explanation for its “horns,” so we dropped by the Point Reyes Station office of the Institute for Bird Populations.

Dave DeSante, the institute’s president and founder, was in the office, and we asked him what was going on with this bird. After pondering the bird’s unlikely appearance, he concluded the horns are actually pin feathers that somehow got ruffled on opposite sides of the finch’s head.

An adult, male House finch eats birdseed next to our birdbath. As I noted here back in May, their coloration is derived from the fruits and berries in their diets. Adult female house finches tend to be light brown with white streaks.

Nor is all peaceful around Mitchell cabin. A redtailed hawk — I believe it was this one — killed a collared dove on our deck last week. We heard the impact when it swooped down and seized the dove, leaving behind a mass of white feathers as evidence of nature’s savagery.

A raccoon, which had been showing up each evening on our deck begging for scraps of bread, showed up this past week with three kits in tow. No wonder she’d been looking so tired of recent.

Here the raccoons scour the grass around the deck for slices of bread Lynn threw there to keep them away from another, feisty raccoon on the deck.

And while the kits are perfectly able to eat bread, they still try to get mom to nurse them. They sort of remind me of juvenile blackbirds that want to be nurtured.

“Thinking is more interesting than knowing but less interesting than looking.” — Goethe

While in the Seahaven neighborhood of Inverness a week ago, Lynn and I happened to park under one of the everyday world’s oddities. I was once again intrigued by the sawed-off section of a tree limb that years ago had grown around the guy wire to a utility pole.

A closeup reveals how thoroughly the cable became embedded in what remains of a long-gone branch of a long-gone tree.

Nor is there only one overhead reminder of arboreal history. Further down Drake Way on the other side of the utility pole, another limb had grown around a pole-to-pole cable. The tree may be gone, but this relic of a limb remains.

A log in a tree? Now that’s a real widow-maker, I said to myself last week when I spotted it teetering 10 feet off the ground in a crotch of a pine tree. The pine grows at the entrance to neighbors Skip and Renée Shannon’s driveway.

However, when I walked around the tree to get a better look, the optical illusion became apparent.

A Western gray squirrel soaks up the morning sun beside my birdbath. I see squirrels around Mitchell cabin fairly often, but it’s hard to photograph one. The moment they’re aware I’m around, they dart out of sight. Last week I got lucky. The squirrel didn’t see me.

There’s always evidence that squirrels are around. They leave the ground underneath my pine trees littered with well-gnawed pine cones and the green tips of limbs. Squirrels like to feed on pine trees’ cambium layer, which is immediately under the bark. The bark that’s softest and easiest to gnaw through is at the narrow ends of growing limbs, resulting in squirrels forever gnawing off the ends.

“Well, we brought reinforcements too, so you can warn your king we’re going to keep advancing a pace at a time and over two until none of his knights is left standing.” (Photo by Lynn Axelrod)

California quail

A mother quail marched across the yard a week ago as a dozen chicks ran to keep up. Males and females both have crests. The males’ is black, the females’ brown. (Photo by Lynn Axelrod)

When a noise in the bushes caused momma to suddenly stop, the nervous chicks collided in a quailing pileup. But there was no danger, and soon all of them were off and running again. (Photo by Lynn Axelrod)

A purposeful doe and her small fawn hurry past the bedroom window.

“We live in an old chaos of the sun,/ Or old dependency of day and night,/ Or island solitude, unsponsored, free/ Of that wide water, inescapable./ Deer walk upon our mountains, and the quail/ Whistle about us their spontaneous cries.” — Wallace Stevens, Sunday Morning

 

Lynn looked out the kitchen window Thursday morning in time to see a doe and two fawns grazing only a few feet away. Immediately, I grabbed my camera.

The spots suggest the fawns are only about a month old.

Our word “deer” comes from the Old English word “deor,” which referred to animals in general, of course, including deer. In Middle English, the language of Chaucer (c.1343-1400), the word was spelled “der,” and the American Heritage Dictionary notes it could refer to all manner of creatures, including “a fish, an ant, or a fox.”

Even in the plays of Shakespeare (1564-1616), who wrote in Modern English (albeit of the Elizabethan variety), the meaning of the word remains uncertain. In King Lear, Act III, scene iv, the Earl of Gloucester’s much-abused son Tom ‘o Bedlam (disguised as Edgar) laments, “Mice and rats, and such small deer,/ Have been Tom’s food for seven long year.”

To our surprise, the fawns soon trotted under Mitchell cabin’s deck but before long emerged from the far side.

“All three major deer species native to North America (blacktail, whitetail, and mule) trace their ancestry back to a primordial, rabbit-size Odocoileus, which had fangs and no antlers and lived around the Arctic Circle some 10 million years ago,” Bruce Morris writes in Bay Nature.

Whitetails first appeared on the East Coast about 3.5 million years ago, as this blog previously noted. DNA evidence suggests they spread south and then west, arriving in Southern California about 1.5 million years ago.

In moving up the coast, whitetails evolved into blacktails, which resemble them in appearance and temperament.

The fawns soon followed their mother (note hoof at left) away from the cabin.

The blacktails eventually spread inland, meeting up with more whitetails coming from the east. Apparently the blacktail bucks were able to horn in on the harems of their parent species.

DNA tests have determined that mule deer, which are found from the Northwest to the deserts of the Southwest and as far east as the Dakotas, are a hybrid of whitetail does and blacktail bucks, author Valerius Geist writes in Mule Deer Country.

The doe crossed our parking area keeping an eye out for any threat to her fawns.

Columbian blacktail deer (Odocoileus hemionus columbianus) are the subspecies of blacktails native to West Marin and the rest of the San Francisco Bay Area. The California Department of Fish and Game a few years back estimated there were approximately 560,000 deer in all of California, about 320,000 of which were Columbian blacktails.

“Blacktails have a typical lifespan in the wild of seven to 10 years, but they can survive in suburban habitat for as long as 17 to 20 years if unmolested,” Morris notes in Bay Nature. “Suburban deer have minuscule home ranges, measuring three or four blocks for females whereas wild deer inhabit territories that extend for several miles.”

The fawns walked behind our cars as they followed close behind the doe.

Mountain lions, and occasionally bobcats and coyotes, prey on deer, but the biggest threat to West Marin’s blacktails are motor vehicles. In fact, being struck by automobiles is the biggest cause of deer fatalities nationwide: more than one million a year.

More surprising is the number of deer struck by airplanes, an average of one a week nationwide. Or so says Benner’s Gardens, which makes deer-fencing systems.

One last bit of deer trivia: “The male deer is usually called a buck, but the male red deer of Europe is a stag, or when mature a hart, [and] the female is called a hind or doe,” to quote the Encyclopedia Americana.