Three is not a crowd

At least not when it’s your own kids.  The doe and her twins from last year visited the backyard again on a rainy, cold morning for a little breakfast snack.

It's clear from this alignment of their heads that the twins still have some growing to do.  They are shorter and still have smaller heads than mom.  Their ears appear to have darker hair around the outside margin than mom's, although that could be the light.  The glare from the window cuts right through the middle of the photo--sorry.

It’s clear from this alignment of their heads that the twins still have some growing to do. They are shorter and still have smaller heads than their mom. Their ears appear to have darker hair around the outside margin than mom’s, although that could be the light. The glare from the window cuts right through the middle of the photo–sorry.

This doe looks too skinny to be pregnant, so there may  not be anew set of fawns to follow her around this summer.

I wonder if this doe will produce another set of twins this spring.  Will she drive these youngsters away then?  Or will they help raise the next generation?

Backyard visitors

I haven’t seen them in a long while, but on this rainy morning, a couple of visitors stopped by.

I think this sad-looking creature might be one of the twins born last spring.  The little antler buds present means he'll grow his first set of antlers, if he recovers from the starvation it looks like he has been suffering.

I think this sad-looking creature might be one of the twins born last spring. The antler buds present means he’ll grow his first set of antlers, if he recovers from the starvation it looks like he has been suffering.  He was accompanied by a full-grown doe and a smaller female, who I think was his twin.

In January, the does and her two fawns looked much healthier than they do now.

In January, the does and her two fawns looked much healthier than they do now.

The doe gave this guy a head butt and a nip to move him away from where she was feeding, so he explored the area under the bird feeder.

The doe gave this guy a head butt and a nip to move him away from where she was feeding, so he explored the area under the bird feeder.  Part of his scruffy appearance is probably a result of molting from the winter coat to the spring-summer fur, but he looks like he needs a brush-out, badly!

A couple of hours later, I heard gobbling in the backyard, and found a tom Turkey taking shelter from the rain under my deck.

Tom Turkey strutted around the backyard gobbling occasionally, usually when he was facing away from me or behind a post.

Tom Turkey strutted around the backyard gobbling occasionally, usually when he was facing away from me or behind a post.

Before he left, he took a long drink from the bird bath.

Before he left, he took a long drink from the bird bath.

Even though his feathers shed water very nicely, turkeys get very damp heads in the rain.  I've never really looked at the top of a turkey's head.  Part of it looks like their brain tissue is exposed, but it's just wrinkly skin.

Even though feathers shed water very nicely, turkeys get very damp heads in the rain. I’ve never really looked at the top of a turkey’s head. Part of it looks like their brain tissue is exposed, but it’s just wrinkly skin.

Morning nap

Lately, the White-tailed doe and her twins have been spending their mornings under the evergreens in the neighbor’s yard where the sun tries to bring a little warmth to the day.  This seems to be a temporary “deer yard”, a safe place to rest while digesting their morning feed.

The doe kept watch while the twins napped.  One twin is hidden behind the wall on the right.

The doe kept watch while the twins napped.  One twin is hidden behind the wall on the right.

Let's go, Mom, I'm bored just sitting here.

Let’s go, Mom, I’m bored just sitting here.”

"OK, I'm ready, but junior is still napping."

“OK, I’m ready, but junior is still napping.”

"Wake up, time to go..."

“Wake up, time to go…”

I suppose the twins will stay with this doe until she has her next set of fawns in the spring.  In the meantime, she can teach them what’s good to eat in this winter world of vanishing food supply.

While the deer and the birds struggle to survive in our continuing cold, snowy weather, I am escaping for a couple of weeks to a warmer climate.  If there is an internet connection, I’ll post some photos from “down south”.

Under the evergreens

Brown lumps in the snow turned out to be the doe and her twins of last summer resting after a breakfast of stems. She seems to be the only surviving adult in the backyard now.  And it’s clear from what she and her offspring are browsing on that there isn’t much available in the backyard this year.

I disturbed her morning ruminations by poking the camera lens out the window (brrrr.....)

I disturbed her morning ruminations by poking the camera lens out the window (brrrr…..)

She still looks in good condition, and the twins look like wooly bears with their thick winter coats.

She still looks in good condition, and the twins look like woolly bears with their thick winter coats.

Time to dig for some more buried stems.

Time to dig for some more buried stems — the doe throws up a cloud of snow with her front hoof.

Reallly?  There's something to eat under all that snow?  This has to be really slim pickings.

Really? There’s something to eat under all that snow? This has to be really slim pickings.

Meanwhile one of the twins is browsing on buckthorn stems.  Good! eat that weedy invasive right down to its roots.

Meanwhile one of the twins is browsing on buckthorn stems. Good! eat that weedy invasive right down to its roots.

Nope, a couple of bites and he was all done with this buckthorn branch.

Nope, a couple of bites and he was all done with this buckthorn branch.  Oh well.

This youngster's hair coat looks like it is 6 inches thick; no wonder they don't mind the subzero weather.

This youngster’s hair coat looks like it is 6 inches thick; no wonder they don’t mind the subzero weather.

Strangely enough, the deer didn’t help themselves to the feast of sunflower seeds that the squirrels scattered under the bird feeder.  Missed a good meal there, dear deer.

It’s cold out there!

It was a brisk -12F (-24C) this morning when the deer visited the backyard.

white-tailed deer

Although the sun came out later, it didn’t do much for the air temperature. The deer chased each other around, but spent most of their time nibbling on the stems of buckthorn (good riddance!). So far, the winter cold doesn’t seem to have dampened their spirits any.

white-tailed deer

Coping with cold

Continuing on the theme of what animals do to survive winter cold, it can be just as much of a problem being large as being small in intensely cold weather.

deer-in-the-winter woods

When you are big-bodied, there are few places to take refuge from cold temperatures and wind chill, which increases the rate of heat lost to the cold environment.  In addition, large-bodied animals would need a large amount of food per day to maintain a warm temperature, and winter is typically the most difficult season in which to find it.

The twins munched their way across the backyard on a cold morning recently, in search of some nutrition from twigs and stems.

The twins munched their way across the backyard on a cold morning recently, in search of some nutrition from twigs and stems.

Their heavy winter coats insulate their core, but lots of surface area of exposed extremities could be vulnerable to high heat loss.  At sub-zero F air temperatures, even large-bodied deer will have to expend energy to stay warm. Daily food consumption is too meager to support that expense, so deer have to dip into the fat reserves they built up in the fall eating energy-rich foods like acorns.

From Outdoor Life:  What deer eat.  Aug 31, 2012

From Outdoor Life: What deer eat. Aug 31, 2012

The White-tailed Deer strategy for surviving winter cold is a conservative one — reduce energy expenditures to conserve body fat.  They let their extremities chill to the same temperature as their environment, so little heat is lost there.  They eat snow (for moisture), which lowers their core temperature and heart rate, and thus their whole-body metabolism.  They reduce their daily activity, spending less time foraging, which also saves some energy.  In short, deer coast through the winter relying on their fat reserves, hoping for an early spring (don’t we all!).

winter-deer

Face-off

I was surprised to see there were actually two bucks in the small deer herd in the backyard.  They were not particularly antagonistic toward one another and not really exhibiting real aggression.  Their behavior was more like the shoving matches of two brothers.

white-tailed bucks facing off

white-tailed bucks facing off

white-tailed bucks facing off

white-tailed bucks facing off

They both seem a little under-developed as bucks go, so perhaps they are just yearlings. Lack of aggression may mean the rut is mostly over, with male hormones waning, or perhaps these two are siblings and recognize each other. In any case, this face-off didn’t amount to much.

The nose knows

The deer were frisky in the backyard this morning, the younger ones racing around like little kids.  Then suddenly all the action stopped, and all (except one) looked in one direction.

The left-over seed heads in the wildflower garden get chomped by the deer at this time of year.

The left-over seed heads in the wildflower garden get chomped by the deer at this time of year.  I never realized there was so much variation in coat color of deer in the winter.  The doe in the left back of the group is quite dark.

And this is apparently what they were staring at, or anticipating the arrival of.

He arrived a few minutes after the does had departed.  Did they hear him, or see him, or smell him???

He arrived a few minutes after the does had departed. Did they hear him, or see him, or smell him???

And this is what the buck did for the next few minutes.

The smell of the does gives him clues about their reproductive status.

He’s not grazing, he’s following a scent trail.  The smell of the does gives him clues about their reproductive status.

His head moves along the path the does took, then he suddenly moves it up and stands with his mouth open and tongue moving in and out.

His head moved along the path the does took, then he suddenly moved it upward and stood with his mouth open and tongue moving in and out.

Specialized glands on the lower part of the doe’s leg (tarsal glands) give off a particular scent when the doe is in heat, indicating when will be receptive to the male.

Tasting the air molecules?

Tasting the odor molecules?  A specialized (vomeronasal) organ located in the roof of the mouth detects the tarsal scent of the does.  Bucks use their tongue to capture and press those scents into the organ, which passes the information on to the brain via nerves.

He wandered off in their direction a few minutes later, so I assume they didn’t smell quite right, or he would have been in a bigger hurry to catch them.

Breakfast with the deer

My new habit is to get up before sunrise, just to see if the color can possibly be any better than it was yesterday.  Today was cloudy, but there were visitors in the backyard that drew my attention.  In fact, not just my backyard, but my neighbors’ backyards as well:  the local deer herd of 3 does and their 3 offspring were dining on bird seed and other delectables.

Bambi was thoroughly washing the grass with her tongue to pick up every stray seed that had fallen from the feeder.  Note big wet spot...

Bambi was thoroughly washing the grass with her tongue to pick up every stray seed that had fallen from the feeder. I think this is one of the twin fawns produced this summer; her sibling was busy with a different food source.

I threw a few rotten apples over by the fence, and the deer managed to find them in less than 6 hours.

I threw a few rotten apples over by the fence, and the deer managed to find them in less than a day.

Definitely a mouthful!  She reminded me of a heron with a fish to big to swallow the way she jostled the apple around in her mouth before getting it crunched up.

Definitely a mouthful! She reminded me of a heron with a fish to big to swallow the way she jostled the apple around in her mouth before getting it crunched up.

All that eating required some water to wash the food down.  I have never seen the deer show any interest in this bird bath in the summer.

All that eating required some water to wash the food down. I have never seen the deer show any interest in this bird bath in the summer.

Amazing! Deer drinks from bird bath!

Amazing! Deer drinks from bird bath!

The things you see when you get up early!

Something new

My daughter convinced me to try a different photo-editing program called Lightroom 5 (Adobe).  It’s easier to master than the full-scope Photoshop program, but has more fine controls than the PS Elements program I was using.  One of the nicest features is covering up all the annoying distractions in the images, like twigs that stick out in odd places, or power poles and phone lines in the middle of the photo.   So here are a couple of my first attempts at animal portraiture using Lightroom.

I removed some of the twiggy branches in the background and lightened the background to make the Junco stand out a little better.

I removed some of the twiggy branches in the background and lightened it to make the Dark-eyed Junco stand out a little better. 

This was taken in the early morning, and the light was too dim to give the bird much color. Lightening the background helped as well.

This was taken in the early morning, and the light was too dim to give this male House Finch much color. A light touch highlights with the brush tool helped, as did lightening the background around the bird.

I was out stalking deer the other day, and found three does in the way backyard, but they were too shy to come out from behind the vegetation. (Even in suburbia, deer must know when hunting season starts.)  To keep them from running off, I hid behind a tree and tried shooting through a maze of twigs and dried stems, thinking I could edit the vegetation out.  That proved impossible.

Out-of-focus seed heads in the foreground produced big blogs of tan over the doe's rear, which I replaced with some dead leaves cloned from the vegetation above her head.  I would have never tried this in Photoshop, but it's a snap in Lightroom.

Out-of-focus seed heads in the foreground produced big formless blobs of tan over the doe’s rear, which I replaced with some dead leaves cloned from the vegetation above her head. I would have never tried this in Photoshop, but it’s a snap in Lightroom.

Of course, it now takes me 10 times as long to edit a photo, but hopefully the results will be worth it.