White-tailed deer are social animals, and multi-generational family groups of does and fawns are the norm. That said, this young doe has been alone since last fall (I see her once or twice a week while trail walking) and is now including the bird feeders in her daily routine. I suspect the family group was broken up due to hunting season or highway mortality.
Deer in this area have yet to be physically stressed by deep snow. However, more snow is on the way and the availability of palatable food resources will soon reach an annual low. In response, deer can be seen searching for food around the clock, especially in habitats where concentrated food sources like standing corn are absent.
Deer searching for waste grain in a snow-covered field
Deer tend to throw caution to the wind and frequent bird feeders when natural foods are scarce. This one, young and curious, investigated our backyard bird feeders this afternoon. Two or three others, less tolerant of human activity, will visit in darkness.
Winter landscapes are uniquely beautiful and dynamic. They also convey the environmental dramas that unfold, for better or worse, as animals respond to subnormal temperatures and deepening snow cover.
These images are a modest and heavily biased sample of winter scenes in Central New York captured February 8 – 13, 2015. Temperatures were well below freezing and average snow depth was about 20 inches.
The snowstorm that I alluded to in my last post (“Calm before the Storm”) arrived right on schedule. Yesterday, deer were bedded on bare ground; early this morning, I was clearing 8 inches of fresh snow from around the bird feeders and the kennel. According to the evening news, we’ll have 15 -25 inches before the system moves out this weekend.
Some of my most memorable field experiences have occurred because I could not sit still and enjoy a good winter storm through a window. Today, I bundled up, tucked my camera inside the bulky wool coat, and shuffled along quietly through 10 inches of snow. The trail intersects good deer habitat and my goal was to find and photograph deer in the midst of a Nor’easter, behaving naturally.
Everything was covered in snow, and much of the weaker vegetation was bending under the weight. There was also snow in the air, so visibility in thickly vegetated areas was less than 20 meters. These conditions are magical, even more so when a fresh track is encountered. Assuming the wind direction is favorable, a fresh deer track in the middle of a snowstorm means there is a rather large mammal within a stones throw of where you’re standing. Predator and prey, silent and invisible; who will be discovered first? I lose myself in these tense moments of hope and expectation, so focused on my surroundings that it almost hurts. What a rush!