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More Buck Schneakin'

Tuesday, December 11, 2018


As bucks get older, they get heavier in the shoulders and chest.  There are people who can age bucks by looking at them. I try. I have the small buck aged at 1.5 years, and the larger one at 3.5 years. Happy to be corrected. Might learn something! Experienced buck-agers, step up!

The neck swells during the rut. You can see that not much of that is happening yet with the small buck. The bigger one has a swollen neck, but he looks athletic and toned, not tanklike. He's pleasantly proportioned, not ponderous like a 4.5 or 5.5 year old buck would be. I've seen some monsters this year, and he's not one.

The forkhorn seemed pretty comfortable in his rival's company, lifting a rear hoof to give it a little attention.

 The big buck was listening and looking across the meadow. Bucks are all about possibility, about opportunity. During the rut, they're the guy who's pretending to be interested in you, but always looking over your shoulder to see who just walked into the bar. That guy.

 He sent a glance my way, freezing me still.

Then the forkhorn approached and clickety click, they were sparring again.

The last mini-match was the most vigorous.  A final salvo. I love the sprawly legs on the big boy here.

 The little buck got pushed back a few yards, and that, it seemed, was that.

The little buck sauntered toward me, and the big buck turned and cut across the meadow. 

He pooped all the way over, spreading his bucky scent far and wide. That guy, livin' large.

The little feller went over to scent mark on the west border of the meadow.

A lot of what bucks do during the rut is peeing and pooping and other sundry things that make for strong scent patches.

 Suddenly a big doe burst out of the border and launched herself through the flaming sumac.

Oh man, she was headed right for me, still rooted in my rickety blind of gray sunflower stalks.

She slowed down, caught her breath, and walked up the path, closer and closer.

 It was very still, so I think she heard my shutter.  Her head shot straight up. Funny, the bucks had completely ignored my shutter sounds, though they were doubtless close enough to hear them, as I'd heard their antlers clacking.

And that doe was outta there!

But being a doe, she had to stop and wheel around to wonder and stare for awhile. Bucks don't do that. When they go, they go!

I guess does tend to get away with curiosity. I have a notion that the relentless pressure of human hunting has shaped flight responses in deer, sorting their behavior by sex. You just won't see a buck getting all curious and walking up to you, stamping, or presenting his lung area for the perfect shot like this doe is doing. A buck who does stuff like that dies.

She gave me time to take a shot, yes, but also to take a deep breath and pull back and look at the incredible beauty of that morning. Of all that had happened, that I got to witness. The sun coming up golden behind the pines. The color, still leaking from the meadow. My Canon struggled and failed to truly capture it, but we got close. Please click on this photo and run through all of 'em embiggened. Don't know about you, but they look awful to me, small.

 Ka-thunk, ka-thunk! She was off again.

Back into the waiting arms (legs?) of the two bucks.

Little buck, still standing, watching the whole thing, wondering what got into her?

He decided to follow. Might be something worth running away from. Might get lucky.

Ecuador (Oct. 24-Nov 2) was ah-maaa-zing and I loved it, the birds and the Andes and the botany!! The wonderful companions! But I was so torn about missing the end of October in Ohio. The colors, the deer behavior, the weather...leaving my home with all this going on took FOMO to new heights.

I felt so blessed to catch the tail end of it all.

 I absolutely love the rut, 'cuz I jes' love schneakin' up on bucks. 

Schneakin' Up On Bucks

Sunday, December 9, 2018


 Every morning I get up in the dark. I raise the blinds and go back to bed to write in my journal. I write down my dreams, and then segue into whatever's on my mind. Maybe I plan something, start writing a talk, chew over something that's been bugging me, or just write about what I'd most like to do next. It's a hopeful journal.

Also hopeful is waiting for first light, to see if there's anyone out in the meadow. My heart pounds as the light comes up, especially if I see shapes out there.  On this morning, I saw two shapes in the path not far from the house. One was a pretty buck, and the other I couldn't quite tell. But from the way they were behaving, I knew it was time to suit up and get out there.

I schnuck out the front door, closing it soundlessly, and slunk over behind the Rose of Sharon. The clotheslines made a green cut across the scene, but at least I could sort of see what was going on from here.

 OMG! sparring bucks!

 It didn't look like a very even match to me!

 When they broke up I could see it was an 8 versus a spike. The big boy thought he saw something. I held perfectly still. And amazingly, they went back at it. With those damn green clotheslines still screwing up my shots.

This was not a pitched battle. It almost seemed gentle. Their motions were slow and smooth, without any of the furious pushes or shiftings of position you'd expect if they were really fighting.

The older buck had a beautiful high rack with long tines. I wouldn't call it massive, but it's my favorite kind of rack from an aesthetic viewpoint. I'd about had it with the clotheslines. I decided to go for it. So I waited until they went into another mini-match and then I took a deep breath and schlooped like Napoleon Dynamite across the open lawn. I raced over to the edge of the prairie meadow and buried myself behind the dead stalks of a big gray sunflower, holding my breath and staying down.

Oh so much better! And they never knew I'd done it. All hail testosterone and distracted bucks. From here, I could hear their antlers clicking together. It was so cool, with the sumac on fire behind them and the frost on the grass.

The older buck kept looking around like he sensed the presence of other deer. Maybe there were does around, and he could smell them. He wasn't 100% into the match.

 He could have annihilated the younger buck if he'd wanted to, but instead he just kept politely answering the repeated requests to engage.

You can see from the ear position that the small buck is feeling ornery.

He just kept buggin' the big buck.

I don't fully understand how antler fights work. How they keep from getting their eyes poked out. Especially when you have a tiny set of spikes and you're up against a long tined tree. I liked this next shot. Click on that one. You can see the whites of their eyes. As you can see I was shooting through the sunflowers, and they had no idea I was right there.

It occurred to me that the white throat and belly of a deer must have some powerful social signaling function, beyond the countershading camouflage value.  It's the white flag of surrender, perhaps.

And still that little cuss kept pushing it. Maybe he was practicing, knowing his battles would be for real next fall. It seemed to me quite charitable of the big buck to keep answering his challenges.

It isn't often you get to be present for a sparring match. I took a lot of photos. I'm going to save some for  the next post, because my gosh. A lot of stuff happened next. I felt so lucky to be there. It was as if I'd been given a Cloak of Invisibility.

Postscript: This morning, Dec. 9, I was schneakin' up on bucks from first light until 9 AM. What I was privileged to witness makes this look like child's play, literally. Gonna be a Deery December. Hope you like whitetails! :D xo jz

A Prayer to the Nature Gods, Granted

Monday, December 3, 2018

 Written in the middle of Ohio's whitetail gun season last week, when I always feel anxious for my friends in the woods:

Cruel Nature Gods, while you're sparing my friends, pass over this spike buck who wandered in to the feeders.

He's too young to be Ellen's son, Pinky, who's probably sporting six or eight points by now. I don't know who he is. He's just small and sweet.

He bears more than a passing resemblance to Buffy, who I am still waiting for. She should have shown up by now. I'm having another Half-ear Smalley moment with Buffy. As Ellen's companion for many years, Buffy's got to be at least 12 now, and I suppose one fine winter she simply won't appear.  I already miss her stocky, short-legged form.

If you can't be with the ones you love, love the ones you're with...Please deem this red-breasted nuthatch and his adorable female companion too small for the hawk to bother with.

Male red-breasted nuthatch-black cap.
They amuse me no end when they chitter at me first thing in the morning. They get so excited when I go rattle the feed bins. Then they flit all around me tittering as I fill the feeders. I adore them. Chatty little companionable things!

Female--gray cap.

And, Nature Gods, please keep this sweetly inquisitive young female yellow-bellied sapsucker from braining herself on one of my unprotected windows. At least around here, the favorite pastime of sapsuckers is flying pell-mell into plate glass. She's bounced off my studio window netting several times since she showed up. I always laugh when they do it--trying so hard to kill themselves, only to be foiled again.

She knows there must be food around because all the birds seem to be eating something. But she has yet to figure out the peanut feeder. She did find some peanut scraps in the cracks of the post she's sitting on. The nuthatches and redbellies process their peanuts there. She liked those. I hope she'll key in before too long. Other sapsuckers have, but it's been 20 years.

I laughed out loud when this titmouse landed as I was shooting as if to show her his sunflower seed.

It's a sunflower seed. They're good. Instead of pecking morosely at the arbor vitaes all day, you should try them, you silly gherkin.

I keep sending this bird mind pictures of delicious roasted peanuts. She's staring right down at Jemima's special feeder, which is always stocked with peanuts and Zick Dough. But she Just. Can't. Make. The. Connection.  Hanging out in the yard, 20' away, is a lovely peanut feeder you can land on and eat to your heart's content.

Don't you know that everyone who comes to Indigo Hill gets fed?  Pfft! I give up.

I have been working so steadily to finish my book that I prepared this post and forgot I'd done it. And while it was simmering away, hunting season came and went. I was locked in the house for six days, and thank the Lord it rained and was absolutely miserable the whole time. On the last day (Sunday Dec. 2), the sun came out like an extravagant apology, and of course the shots were ringing out all around, because now in Ohio we hunt on Sundays, over bait no less. So I spent most of the day puttering happily around the yard and greenhouse. I did all the things you can't do if it's cold and raining. The light was beautiful and I washed and hung out three loads of bedding.

This morning I awoke to find the gray flannel had closed over us again. Another dreary day. But wait! there was something out in the meadow. This is not an accident. It's the first morning after hunting season and you can bet the deer know it!

 The light was so flat and dull I actually didn't even see two of them at first. If you click on this photo, you'll see the one farthest in back is really beautiful--big square throat bib, strong features, large eyes, dark smooth coat. I can't be absolutely sure, because it's too far to see her ear notch, but I think it's my lovely Jolene, and I think the medium-sized doe to the right is her two-year-old daughter. With any luck, they're both with fawn from one of the beautiful bucks I've seen on the place this fall (more on them later!)

Who's the small doe to the left? When she raised her head, I knew in an instant. This is not a young animal. This is someone I know.

BUFFY Buffybuffybuffy Hello my love!!
Click on the photos and you'll see her all-red tail and the buff cast to her brows and coat. But it's by her build I recognize her first.
 If ever there were a textbook Buffy photo this is it. She's a short-legged thick little gal
and a bit on the squinty side.
Her left eye looks fine. I was SO glad to see my Buffy.

Hadn't seen her since March 8, 2018, a day with light.  The light will return. Buffy did.

All hail the Nature Gods, and the resilience of a little doe who knows where to hide. 
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