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Monday, February 23, 2009

Weird deer behavior

The turbulent sky dominated the landscape this morning. To the east, lines of clouds dotted the horizon.To the west, a huge black cloud hovered and white clouds veiled the Continental Divide.We are in the midst of a 'global weirding' event, where the temperatures are forecasted to break 50 degrees every day this week. It barely touched freezing last night so the snow was still soft and mushy this morning - not ideal conditions for trail riding. After starting on my Stumpjumper with the misguided idea that its studded tires would be helpful, I headed home and traded it for my Fatback. The Fatback performed much better in the corn snow, allowing me to crawl up steep hills despite the slushy snow.

K thought that the snow conditions were ideal for scratching her back. Normally, as soon as I take out the camera, K stops rolling and acts dignified - as if she doesn't want her goofy antics caught in a photo. Today, the great back-scratching conditions outweighed her dignity, and she allowed me to take photos of her puppy-like conniptions.

While pedaling silently through the forest, K and I accidentally snuck up on a group of about six mule deer. The whole group acted oddly. K took a few steps starting to chase and the deer stayed rooted in place. I called K, and she decided to unleash a frenzy of barking before returning to me. The barking scared five of the six into fleeing. But, a doe stood stock still staring at us with hard eyes. Then, she took a couple of steps towards us. K was now glued to my side but she sharply barked a couple of times at the advancing deer. The barking startled the doe, and she finally pronked off after the others.

We've only run into a deer acting so boldly once before - last spring. In that case, the reason was obvious. I was riding with K just behind me on a heavily wooded trail cut into the side of a steep slope. From below us, a screeching sound erupted from some brush. A small spotted fawn exploded at full speed out of the brush and lept down the slope. I hopped off my bike and put K into a sit-stay to prevent her from chasing the fawn.

At that instant, I heard the heavy steps of an animal running toward us from higher on the slope. It was a mule deer doe, obviously the mother of the fawn, and she looked ready to charge. It was understandable because K and I stood between the doe and her fleeing distressed fawn.

Somehow, I maneuvered my bike between the mother deer and me, with K staying glued to my side. I lifted my bike over my head to look larger, and the protective mom stopped abruptly and stared. After what felt like an eternity but was probably 20 seconds, I judged that we'd reached an impasse - the doe had decided not to tangle with us. I put my bike down, and K and I meekly started to walk in the least threatening direction - away from the fawn. The doe followed us on a parallel path for a minute or so, staying about 20 yards above us on the slope. Then, she turned and purposefully trotted back toward her fawn.

I was amazed by K's good behavior - she could've made the situation a lot worse. First, she didn't chase the fawn. Then, she didn't react to the mother deer by chasing or barking. K seemed to know that we needed to be as non-threatening as possible and remained glued to my leg. Or, in a less flattering interpretation, she was terrified and decided to keep me as a barrier between her and the doe.

Unfortunately, K and I had no choice but to return home via the same trail. So, I decided that we'd ride an extra long loop before retracing our route - to give the doe and her fawn time to regroup and move on. It worked - they'd vanished when we made our return trip.

That mother deer encounter was my scariest wildlife confrontation. That's surprising given that I've met moose, lions, and bears during my rides. I've never yet come between a mother bear and her cubs - and I'm told that an angry mother bear encounter would likely eclipse my angry mother deer encounter.

When I saw the doe acting defensive today, I wondered if she'd had a very early fawn. She rippled with muscles - so I don't think that illness was underlying her strange behavior. I hope that 'global weirding' hasn't tricked wildlife into early reproduction because they'll have a harsh surprise if we have an ordinary March with huge snowstorms. That's a big 'if' since nothing about this winter has been ordinary.

At the end of our ride, the mountains appeared wintry belying the weird balmy 50 degree day. The swollen buds on the aspen trees seemed to fit the day much better than the stormy and snowy mountains.

1 comment:

  1. What a beautiful area you live in! I've been working on getting my dog to listen better after she chased two coyotes that were heading into the woods. She reluctantly stopped half way across the pasture and returned to me but I've been worried ever since that her "Come" skills are not very dependable.


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